Bhutan | The Road to Phobjika Valley

Driving over Pelela Pass

Maybe the Beatles had Bhutan in mind when they composed “The Long and Winding Road.” Certainly, the East West highway (and I use that term advisedly) lives up to that description.  We spent many hours on serpentine roads with steep inclines and precipitous drop-offs as we traveled up and over the Pelela Pass (11,200 feet) on our way from Punakha to the Phobjika Valley.

Capped Langurs
Capped Langurs

The views were spectacular and we even caught a glimpse of these elegant Cappe dLangurs.  They didn’t seemed as pleased to see us, though. We stopped for a delicious lunch at the Tushita Cafe in Rukubji before beginning a truly otherworldly hike from Longtey to Gangtey.

Into the Woods!

Imagine an endless forest of rhododendron trees – or you can see them for yourself if you are as lucky as we were.  We spent several hours hiking through this magical place. Over 70% of Bhutan is under forest cover and it is the only carbon negative country (produces more oxygen than it consumes)!

Hiker for Scale

I will confess that I left my heavy Nikon in the van, so these photos are from my iPhone X – good but if I ever go back I will not make the same mistake.

Nomad Yak Herders’ Hut with Yaks!

These yaks were not at all perturbed by our presence and we delighted in theirs!

Phobjika_PrayerFlags_Kumbu la Pass
Prayer Flags at Kumbu La Pass

The Longtey Longmey hike  peaks at Kumbu la pass (11,850 feet) where we stopped to add our prayer flags and catch our breath! These colorful rectangular prayer flags are known as Lungdar and come in sets of five colors blue, white, red, green, and yellow representing the five elements.   While attaching the flags (and spinning prayer wheels and at many other times), believers repeat the mantra “May all sentient beings everywhere receive benefit and find happiness.” Prayer flags are positioned so the winds will carry the prayers and spread good will and compassion to all.

Manidhar Prayer Flags

This is the view looking back at where we came from! If you look closely, you may be able to see the small religious retreats up high.  These vertical white prayer flags are known as Manidhar. These are raised to honor a deceased person and it is believed that there are benefits from hoisting batches of 108 — an auspicious number as we saw elsewhere including the Dochula Pass stupas (see Bhutan | Picture Perfect Punakha).

Phobjika_View of Gangtey Goenpa
Village of Gangtey

The absolutely stunning view from our room at the Gangtey Gonpa lodge.  The tallest building in the rear is the Gangtey Gonpa (monastery), built in 1613.

Gangtey Monastery

The monastery is  of Nyingmapa school of Buddhism, the main seat of the Pema Lingpa tradition. There is a tremendous amount of history and the complex is home to many important artifacts and religious relics. (I cannot begin to do justice in a post, so please click the links for more information.)

Gangtey_Goemba Incense Burner
Traditional Incense Burner

Large incense burners in the courtyard are fed with pine boughs from the local forests. Incense plays an integral role in Bhutanese culture. Our guide is wearing the Bhutanese national dress for men, known as Goh. Although you cannot see it, there is a kangaroo-type pouch in the front which over the course of travels with Tsewang produced all sorts of useful information, tools and treats!

Black Necked Crane with Leg Up
Black-Necked Cranes

The Phobjika valley is the winter home for over 500 black-necked cranes. They arrive in late October from Tibet and I can only imagine what it would be to see the full contingent. The lone representative above has a broken wing and is convalescing at the Crane Information Center. There is an annual festival celebrating these magnificent birds who are said to circle the Gangtey monastery three times when returning to the valley and on departure. (This year’s festival is on November 11, 2018.)

Phobjika_Three Young Monks-2
Monastery Complex Gate

The young monks above are heading back to their college, as we depart for another hike! Next up: Bumthang!





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