Festival Dates: 11th November (every year)
Black-necked Crane festival is an annual event which is celebrated on 11th November at Gangtey Goenpa (Monastery). The festival is an occasion for the locals to rejoice and celebrate the arrival of this endangered and majestic bird which make Phobjikha their winter home.
The festival is organized by the Phobjikha Environment Management Committee (PEMC), a local group composed of elected local leaders (with a strong female component), Government representatives, business community representatives, monks and Royal Society for the Protection of Nature (RSPN) representative. The festival was first initiated by the RSPN in 1998 to generate awareness and understanding on the importance of conserving the endangered Black‐necked cranes; to strengthen the linkages between conservation, economic welfare and sustainable livelihoods of the community; provide an avenue for the local community to renew their commitment to conservation of the black-necked cranes, and to showcase their cultural heritage and skills.
The festival includes cultural programs such as folk songs and dances (some with black-necked crane themes) and mask dances performed by the local people, crane dances and environmental conservation-themed dramas and songs by the school children. The program usually starts by 9:30 am and lasts till late afternoon.
Day 1 – Arrival in Paro-Thimphu
- Chen-Ray Travel & Tours representative will receive you with traditional welcome scarf at Paro International Airport. Drive to Thimphu with sightseeing en route, check in to the hotel.
- National Memorial Chorten: This Chorten (stupa) was built (1974) in honor of the late 3rd King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk “The Father of Modern Bhutan”. Built in a typical Tibetan style outside and with three shrines inside represents the mainspritual themes of the Nyingma School. The paintings inside depict tantric Buddhismin all its complexity. The complex is visited by people from all walks throughout the day and is one of the most public religious places in the capital.
- Buddha Point: Kuenselphodrang now popularly known as Buddha point since the construction of the world’s tallest Buddha (Dhordenma) Statue (169 feet) started. You can also enjoy the spectacular view of Thimphu valley below.
- Dupthop Lhakhang : One of the few nunneries in Bhutan.
- Tashichho Dzong: The present form this Dzong was consecrated as late as 1969 and it is a visual delight. The history of this Dzong dates back to thirteenth century but the original dzong was not at the present site that offers no defensive merit. The old one was built in 1216 or so by the founder of the Lhapa School and was located on a spur to the North-East of the present one. This Dzong was badly damaged during a subsequent struggle with the drukpas and later became the property of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal in the 1630s. In 1641 he rebuilt the Dzong christening it Tashichhoe (the Fortress of Glorious Religion). This became the summer residence of the Zhabdrung and the clergy and Punakha the winter retreat. A fire in 1772 resulted in severe damage and the Desi and Je khempo of that time decided to rebuild it at the bottom of the valley where it now stands. After the capital was moved to Thimphu, it was renovated and expanded in 1962.Day 2 – Thimphu (Phajoding Trek)
- The trek to Phajoding Monastery is around 3 hours up hill and around 2 hours down hill. But if there is more time then you can trek all the way up to Thuje Dra till you can see the skull mountain. The view from Phajoding Monastery and Thuje Dra of Thimphu is simply breath taking. From the top of Thuje Dra, you can see the Rhododendron bushes stretching all the way. This trek is part of the Druk Path Trek.
- In late noon we head back to Thimphu.
- The World Monument Fund (WMF) has listed Phajoding monastery as one of the 5 endangered cultural monuments that need most help in the world. Phajoding monastery was founded in 1224 by Phajo Drugom Zhigpo (Buddhist saint) who spread the Drukpa Kagyupa sect of Buddhism in Bhutan.
- Overnight at your hotel in Thimphu.
Day 3 – Thimphu to Punakha
- Drive to Punakha. Before reaching Punakha (about 22km from Thimphu) you will pass through a mountain pass “Dochu La” at 3100m above sea level. On a clear day, the view of the Eastern Himalayas from this pass is one of the best in the country. There are a hundred and nine chortens (stupas) in three tiers of forty five, thirty six and twenty seven circumscribing a single larger chorten at the top. This chortens are called Druk Wangyal Chortens or ‘Stupas of Victory’. The building of these chortens was initiated by Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck when her husband the fourth King, travelled to the South-East of the country in December 2003 leading his army against the insurgents from India.
- Chime Lhakhang: This Lhakhang dates back to 1499 which was built by Lama Drukpa Kinley who is till this day known as a Divine Madman. Located beautifully on a hilltop, it is about 30 to 40 minute walk passing through a charming village set in lush terraced fields. Lama Drukpa Kinley is beleived to have subdued a demoness residing in Dochu La with his ‘magic thunderbolt of wisdom’ and a wooden effigy of this is preserved within. There are also statues of him along with those of Lama Zhabdrung, Sakyamuni and Avalokiteswara. Devotees receive blessings from his wooden phallus and iron Bow and arrow that lie here and childless women are said to have their wish fulfilled after visiting this Lhakhang. Punakha Dzong: The Dzong straddles the confluence of two rivers- Phochu (Male River) and Mochu (Female River) is the most beautiful fortress in Bhutan. It was named as ‘Pungthang Dechen Phodrang’ or ‘Palace of Great happiness’. This impressive fortress was built in 1637. It was the second of the mighty dzongs built by Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel (person who unified Bhutan) and was the seat of government till the end of the reign of the second King.The site of the Dzong is believed to have received the blessings of Guru Padmasambhava (the Great Buddhist teacher who introduced Buddhism in Bhutan). In the eighth century he is believed to have prophesied: “…on the edge of the hill that looks like an elephant’s trunk, a man named Namgyal will come and build a fortress…”The most recent historic event the wedding ceremony of the present King His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema’s was held inside this Dzong.
Day 4 – Punakha to Gangtey, Crane Festival
- After early breakfast, drive to Phobjikha.
- In the morning, we join the local in their Crane Festival.
- After lunch, Nature Hike along the valley of Phobjikha to the Black-Necked Crane Information Centre which has informative displays about the cranes and the valley environment. You can use the centre’s powerful spotting scopes and check what you see against its pamphlet ’Field Guide to Crane Behaviour’. If the weather’s iffy you can browse the library and handicraft shop, and watch videos at 10am and 3pm. This is also the centre of the valley’s fledgling ecotourism initiative and they can arrange mountain-bike hire, a local guide, an overnight stay in a local farmhouse or lectures on the local ecosystem.
Day 5 – Gangtey to Paro
- After breakfast drive to Paro.
- Check in to your hotel.
- Evening visit Ta Dzong. Built in 1656 as a watchtower for Rinpung Dzong is now used as the National Museum which is a repository of not only precious works of art but also costumes, Armour and other hand crafted objects of daily life that provide a good snapshot of the rich cultural traditions of the country. It opens 7 days a week except on National Holidays.
- Rinpung Dzong: Built in 1646 by Lama Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal and strategically located to thwart Tibetan incursions into the rest of the country, this Dzong became one of Bhutan’s strongest and most important fortresses.
- Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
Day 6 – Paro – Haa excursion
- Drive to Haa (106 km).
- Stop at Chele La (3,988m). From the pass you can see Paro valley on one side and Haa valley on the other.
- The valley of Haa was only opened to Tourist in 2002 and Haa is the least visited valley in Bhutan due to the lack of Tourist infrastructure. This has helped in keeping Haa the way it has always been, with Bhutanese families living their traditional and simple life.
- Lhakhang Nagpo, Black Temple at Haa Valley It’s a very peaceful and tranquil place, suitable for meditation. The monastery was established in the 7th century by King Songtsen Gampo in his mission to build 108 monasteries in one day. It is situated towards the north of Lhakhang Karpo. Legend has it that King Songtsen Gampo released a black and a white pigeon to select sites to build the temples. The black pigeon landed a little north of the white pigeon, indicating the preordained site of the present Lhakhang Nagpo. The temple was named Nagpo (black) as it was built on the site where the black pigeon landed. Built on a lake; an opening in the floor of the temple serves as the channel to the underground lake. Lhakhang Nagpo serves as the seat for the guardian deity Da Do Chen. The principal relic of the monastery is the Choe-Lung-truel Sum.
Day 7 – Paro-Taktshang hike
- Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery: The hike to Taktshang Monastery perched on a cliff at 2950m/9700ft takes anywhere from 4 to 6 hours as per your hiking ability. It is an uphill hike to the Monastery. There is a cafeteria (Taktsang Jakhang) on the half way.Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava (the great Buddhist master) with his magical powers came to Taktshang in the eighth century, flying from the east of the country on the back of a tigress (a form that one of his consorts is believed to have taken). He is said to have meditated for about three months in a cave on the cliff and subdued the evil spirits. The primary Lhakhang was built around Guru Rimpoche’s meditation cave in the 1692 by the fourth Desi Tenzin Rabgay. This incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below.
- Kyichu Lhakhang: It was built in 659 by the Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. The temple fell into disrepair but was superbly restored in 1839 by the 25th Je Khempo (Chief Abbot). He also contributed the outstanding statue of Avalokiteshwara, with eleven heads and thousand arms, which is located in the sanctuary.
- Evening free for shoping.
- Overnight at your hotel in Paro.
Day 8 – Depart Paro
- End of your Travel to Bhutan. Our team will drive to airport and bid farewell.