Punakha, Thimpu, and Paro are the most visited places in Bhutan, they make up for the maximum tourists in Bhutan. Having spent a few days in Thimpu and Punakha, it was time we explore the countryside of the druk land and I personally prefer traveling to the more remote places that are not thronged by holidaymakers. A place untouched by excess tourism, where living off the land comes easy – where the theatricals of nature’s raw beauty can be witnessed. Now, for a place like this, you will have to cover extra miles and be on the road longer. Gangtey Valley in Bhutan is one such place.
When in Bhutan you have to adhere to some strict rules in terms of traffic, crossing the street, parking and also eating timings. The rule that bothers the tourists most is the “last order at”. Most of the restaurants/homestays serve food on a fixed schedule. The last order for breakfast will always be at 8:55 am, past 9 most of them close their kitchen. Similarly, for lunch and dinner, it’s 1:55 pm and 8:55 pm respectively. And trust me, the timings are followed uncompromisingly unless you are on a roadside shack ordering Maggi.
We had our breakfast at Zhingkham which was complimentary with the room booking. The hotel staff (predominately women) helped us carry our luggage up the hill to our waiting cabbie. While I was struggling with one backpack, my very petite Bhutanese peer swung one backpack on her back and picked up two overflowing suitcases and breezed her way on the winding stairs. Sharing pleasantries and my admiration for her deceptive body strength, I said my goodbyes to the extremely cheerful staff and we were on way to our next destination – Gangtey Valley. Punakha to Gangtey is approximately 80kms, which takes around 4 hours to reach mostly due to the national speed limit of 40km/hour which definitely makes the journey arduous if not borderline torturous.
Entering Phobjikha, I could feel the temperature plummet by degrees. It was drizzling in the valley, mist floating around carelessly across the valley, only to be trapped by the dense vegetation.
In the biting cold all I wanted was a warm snuggly bed and some wine, but we had been traveling without any hotel bookings throughout and so was the case in Gangtey too. Our options were now limited to talk to the locals and explore for a homestay in Phobjikha valley. And the option was preceded by the choice of either visiting the Gangtey monastery or looking for a place to stay. The latter was most definitely the easier of the two and the comfortable one, and I can say this for surety from previous experiences that in frosty evenings, once you nestle in and curl up in a shelter – it is extremely challenging to step out even if you have a monstrous appetite.
A warm bed can wait. The monastery was where we all decided to head to. The Gangtey monastery is also known as the Gangtey Gompa. The monastery overlooks the U-shaped glacial Phobjikha valley.
Gangtey is the winter roosting ground of the migratory and rare black-necked cranes – “birds of fortune” as they are known among the locals. The birds are highly revered among the locals, to an extent where the government and locals decided to bury the power lines just so the cable maze does not interfere with the habitat of the black-necked cranes.
Surrounded by mountains on all sides, the monastery and the valley brings in a deep sense of isolation.
Living in isolation appears to be extremely rewarding for a day or two, but when the extreme weather conditions start prevailing it is then that the comfortable room heating system, running hot water are sorely missed. The day to day life in isolation, especially in rough terrains is not easy, you can’t just walk into a departmental store and stock up on the stuff you don’t even require to get through the day. The daily struggle is what forces the locals to migrate to overflowing cities, that are on the verge of a complete breakdown.
Gangtey resembles more to a rogue planet, the rustic and earthy hues surrounding the valley, heavy moisture-laden clouds floating across on the brink of unloading their burden.
The human presence is so bleak that it made the Planet Earth appear like it just popped out of the cosmos womb and is overflowing with resources.
On the road to monkhood
Day-to-day lives of the monk novices
Apart from the monks that inhabit the Gangtey monastery, I could spot my species sporadically sprinkled in pockets only in the valley floor. Perhaps, that’s what the Planet needs right now, some time off from the most dominant species, to heal and gather back its depleting strength to carry our burden and the implication of our choices.
The monastery is surrounded by the village Gangtey. A mud road leading to the monastery is lined by beautiful wooden homes, carved in exquisite designs and colors.
A wooden cottage in the hills, blue sky and flower-laden apple trees in a yard. Now, who would mind a summer getaway home like this?
I can hear the birds chirping
Where the living is good, and the greeting is pleasant.
The fences are small.
Out from the Gangtey village, driving down the dirt road, we went to the floor of the valley in search of a homestay for the next two days. The next two days that we spent in one of the most picturesque valleys of Bhutan – Phobjikha Valley.
Next up on the blog would be a series of posts and pictures on Phobjikha valley and its inhabitants.
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