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Bhutan: Bumthang, Paro, Phobjikha, Punakha, Thimphu
Phobjikha, Bhutan: Home of the black neck cranes
by Prakash Bang, Editor in Chief
The Punakha valley with its best-known marshland in Bhutan, is popular for its scenic splendour and cultural uniqueness. The valley is rich in faunal biodiversity and has, apart from the globally threatened black-necked cranes, 13 other globally threatened species. Within the ambit of the valley, an area of about 163 square kilometres has been declared a protected area, which is managed by the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN).
We left Bumthang after an early breakfast for our 170 km drive to Phobjikha. Like rest of Bhutan, even this drive was very scenic. Passing through Lawala Pass and fantastic views of the Himalayan range and the Jomolhari Mountain. At around noon we were at the doors of Trongsa Dzong.
Trongsa Dzong is the largest dzong fortress in Bhutan, located in Trongsa (formerly Tongsa) in Trongsa district, in the centre of the country. Built on a spur overlooking the gorge of the Mangde River, a temple was first established at the location in 1543 by the Drukpa lama, Ngagi Wangchuk son of Ngawang Chhojey. In 1647, his great-grandson Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal constructed the first dzong to replace it, called Chokhor Rabtentse Dzong with a shorter version of Choetse Dzong. It was enlarged several times during the 18th century; the Chenrezig Lhakhang was built in 1715 and a whole complex, including the Maitreya temple, was added in 1771. The dzong has since been repaired on several occasions; it was damaged during the 1897 Assam earthquake and underwent extensive renovation in 1927 and 1999.
Trongsa Dzong is an important administrative building, providing the headquarters of the government of Trongsa District. Trongsa provides a strategic central location to control Bhutan and for centuries it was the seat of the Wangchuck dynasty of penlops (governors) who effectively ruled over much of eastern and central Bhutan, and from 1907 have been Kings of Bhutan. It is also a major monastic complex, with around 200 monks. During the summer months, the monastic community often relocates to Kurje Monastery in the Bumthang Valley. It contains a notable printing house, responsible for the printing of many religious texts in Bhutan.
We spent an hour at the Dzong and then continued with our drive to Phobjikha. Just before the village, we made it a point to do a short trek of about 90 minutes known as the 'Gangtey Nature Trail' that starts from the Mani stone wall to the north of the Gangteng Gonpa and ends in Khewa Lhakhang. This is a must do comfortable trek along the edge of the mountain and through dense pine woods overlooking the marsh land below… the home of the black neck cranes. We did see a few cranes that were circling overhead and also a few in the marsh. Wish I had a long lens as did many other bird-watching tourists.
Our car was waiting for us at the end of the trek. This was quite thoughtful move… saving us the uphill trek back! For the night we were hosted at Hotel Dewachen. The next morning we would commence our long drive to Paro.
Phobjikha Image Gallery Photo viewer
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