To the south of Punakha is the valley of Wangduephodrang as the national highway heads towards central Bhutan. A brand new town carved out of terraced rice fields will soon replace the old town, a narrow street with single storied shops.

Wangdue Phodrang Dzong sits majestically on a steep ridge overlooking the highway that fork to the east and south of the country.

As the road heads towards Trongsa in central Bhutan, a turn-off below Pelela pass takes you into the magical valley of Phobjikha, home to the rare Black-Necked Crane that has made Phobjikha its winter home for centuries. The birds fly in from Tibet in October and November and leave just before spring.

Another significant landmark in Phobjikha is the famous Gangtey Gompa monastery (right), built in the 17th century.

Gangtey/Phobjikha Valley

The name commonly given to the Phojikha Valley, Gangtey is considered one of the most beautiful spots in Bhutan. It is a wide, flat glacial valley, well worth a visit of one or two days.

The area is best known as the home of the rare Black-necked Cranes, and thus is a protected area for wildlife. In Bhutan, the Black-necked Cranes have a celebrity status, as evidenced by the Crane Festival held every year on 12 November. Soon after their arrival from the Tibetan Plateau, the cranes circle the the Gangtey Gonpa before settling into their winter habitat.

Perched on top of a small hill, Gangtey Gonpa is a monastery complex with five temples that surround the main central tower. It is one of the main seats of the religious tradition based on Pema Lingpa’s revelations and one of the two main centres of the Nyingmapa school of Buddhism in Bhutan.

Trekking is a popular tourism attraction in Gangtey. The route followed by international trekking enthusiasts starts from the Gangtey Gonpa, passing through the Kumbu village, goes through the Gedachen and Khebayathang villages, leads to the Kilhorthang village and terminates in the Kungathang Lhakhang.