Wednesday 13 May 2015

The hidden valley of Phobjikha

Our journey was getting better with every passing hour. After traversing what seemed like endless mountainous roads, we were finally reaching our next destination. But first, let me show you some bridges we crossed along the way.

The crystal clear rivers of Bhutan, fed by glacier-melts of the Eastern Himalayas, cut through the kingdom's valleys and plains to finally converge at Bramaputra River in India. Most of the magnificent bridges here were constructed with financial support from countries like India, Switzerland and Japan. 

We were staying in a village called Phobjikha for the night. Located in one of the kingdom's few glacial valleys, this village is inhabited by the families who take care of the Gangtey Monastery, a 17th century monastery that perches on a hillock rising from the valley floor. This is one of Bhutan's most beautiful areas and it's still almost untouched by modernisation.

Encircled by pine forest in a hidden valley, Phobjikha is best known for the rare black necked cranes that migrate from the extremely cold winters of the Tibetan Plateau to pass the milder winter here. These elegant birds can be seen from end October to March when they circle the monastry on their way back home.


Unfortunately, this wasn't the season for crane watching. Still, to me, visiting the village was akin to entering the lush alien world of Pandora where I could see strange blue Na'vi characters just like in Avatar.

Of course that was my imagination running wild.  What we saw were rustic farmhouses with animals grazing in the yard. 

Potato is the main cash crop here. Almost every home has stacks of firewood and a patch of mustard with gorgeous yellow flowers growing in the backyard. The villagers still rely on firewood as they did not have any access to electricity until a couple of years ago.

It was drizzling when we finally arrived at Dewachen Hotel. The entire vehicle was caked in mud after manoeuvring the narrow and muddy track.

We were bowled over by the beauty of the hotel and its surroundings. At an altitute of 2,900m, it can get very chilly at night. We hovered around the fireplace in the dining hall to keep ourselves warm. 

The rooms here are also fitted with an iron stove fired by pine wood. We later discovered that the logs burn out so quickly, we had to keep refuelling every 30 minutes. Instead of relying on the stove, I put on my thermal wear and slept soundly under the warm covers that night.

It was still drizzling when we woke up the next morning. There was no electric supply that morning and I was craving for a hot cuppa. I made my way to the dining hall to ask for hot tea. 

The reply I received was classic! "Sorry madam, we're still setting up the fire stove."

I did some jumping jacks in the room to stay warm while waiting for breakfast to be ready.

The plan that morning was to trek through the vegetation of dwarf bamboos that adorns the Phobjikha valley. Our guide gave us that questioning look but how could we miss the opportunity to trek the Gangtey Trail? 

So off we went in the rain.

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