Festival of the Black Necked Cranes (4-15 November 2016)

** Festival dates are tentative as unexpected changes can occur. Contact us to confirm dates **

Trip Overview

Every year, the endangered Black Necked Cranes from the Tibetan plateau fly over the highest peaks of the Himalayas – Mt Everest – to reach their winter roosting ground in Phobjikha/Gangtey valley. Instead of building an airport here in one of the widest valleys in Bhutan, the government chose to preserve the cranes’ natural habitat to preserve the species. As if that wasn’t enough, the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature, in 1998, introduced an annual festival to educate the local community on the importance of its preservation. This journey takes you through the cultural highlights of Bhutan combined with this unusual festival.

Trip Summary

4 November – Paro, Thimphu;  5 November – Thimphu; 6 November – Punakha; 7 November – Trongsa; 8-9 November – Bumthang; 10 November – Bumthang, Phobjikha/Gangtey; 11 November – Black Necked Crane Festival; 12 November -Phobjikha/Gangtey, Punakha; 13 November – Paro; 14 November – Paro; 15 November – Paro.

Festival of the Black Necked Cranes
Festival of the Black Necked Cranes


USD 2,613 (approx. AUD 4,442)


Prices based on twin share. Single supplement USD 446

*AUD estimate based on USD/AUD 1=0.7

Inclusions: accommodation, meals, dedicated transport, entry fees to museums and attractions, licensed guide and driver, visa processing fees, all administrative costs.

Exclusions: international airfares (contact us to arrange), comprehensive travel insurance, personal expenses and tips.


4 November 2016. Day 1- Paro, Thimphu

Arrive into Paro International Airport. During the flight to Paro, look out for the breathtaking views of Mount Everest, Kanchenjunga and other famous Himalayan peaks, including the sacred Mount Jomolhari and Mount Jitchu Drake in Bhutan. Paro is a beautiful fertile valley encapsulating a rich vibrant culture, scenic beauty and plenty of myths and legends. The sacred Mount Jomolhari (7,314m) reigns in white glory at the northern end of the valley and its glacial water plunges through deep gorges to form Pa Chhu (Paro river). You’ll be picked up at the airport and transferred to the capital city of Thimphu – the seat of government, religion and commerce in Bhutan. It’s a unique city with unusual mixture of modern development alongside ancient traditions. Thimphu was a wooded farming valley until 1961 when it became Bhutan’s official national capital. With an estimated population of 100,000 people, explore this unique city filled with an unusual mixture of modern development alongside ancient traditions. Spent the afternoon soaking up the local atmosphere at the National Memorial Chorten and 13th century Changangkha Lhakhang, one of the oldest temples in Thimphu and the spiritual home of all children born in the Chang valley. Overnight in Thimphu

5 November. Day 2 – Thimphu

Today enjoy a 50 minute hike to Cheri Monastery, believed to have been visited by Guru Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) in the 8th century. The trail starts by crossing a lovely wooden bridge Cheri Zam that spans the Wangchu River, one of the last remaining traditional suspension bridges in the Himalayas. Take some time to talk to the monks and teachers at Cheri about Buddhism and the significance of the monastery for the Buddhists in Bhutan. There’s several options for sightseeing around Thimphu valley in the afternoon. Sangaygang and Buddha Point have the best views of the valley from different vantage points. Near Sangayang is a sanctuary dedicated to the Takin, a cow and bull-like mammal is the national animal of Bhutan. Wait till you hear the interesting fantastical story of how this animal came to being! Head to the bustling Centenary Weekend Market by the Thimphu riverside for a selection of organic fruits, vegetables and snacks. Along the river is VAST art gallery and sculpture walk which showcases the works of local artsts. Or head to “Children’s Park” – a popular garden playground for children, and young Bhutanese on dates. Follow the sounds of the cheering and dancing crowd to the National Stadium to watch a game of the revered national sport of archery. Overnight in Thimphu.

6 November. Day 3 – Punakha

From Thimphu, head East to Dochula pass (3,100 meters), which on a clear day offers an incredible view of Himalayan peaks, before descending into balmy Punakha valley, the ancient capital of Bhutan. On this three-hour drive through the countryside you’ll see glimpses of everyday life in this most remote of Himalayan kingdoms. In Dochu-La area there are vast Rhododendron forests that grow to tree size and bloom in late April/early May covering the mountains in a riot of glorious spring colour. Take a 45-minute hike to Khamsum Yueley Namgyel Chorten, built to bring universal peace to the world. This is a great temple to study the symbolic meanings from frescoes and sculptures. From here you will get a birds-eye view of Punakha valley and the meanders of Punakha river. Walk back along the farm fields along the river bank. Visit Punakha Dzong, arguably one of the most impressive and beautiful in Bhutan. It was built in 1637 by Shabdrung – father and ‘Unifier of Bhutan’ and situated at the confluence of the Mo Chu and Pho Chu (Mother and Father Rivers). The three story main temple of the Punakha Dzong is a breathtaking example of traditional architecture with four intricately embossed entrance pillars crafted from cypress and decorated in gold and silver. Overnight in Punakha.

7 November. Day 4 – Trongsa

Drive to the 16th century Trongsa (‘New Village’ in the local dialect), the old seat of power for the first two hereditary kings of Bhutan. Trongsa has its humble origins as a lone tshamkhang (small meditation room) built by Ngagi Wangchuck (1517–54), the great grand-father of the founder of Bhutan Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, after he discovered self-manifested hoof prints belonging to the horse of the protector deity, Pelden Lhamo in 1541. Retreats, temples and hermit residences soon grew up around the tshamkhang which became the modern Trongsa. Visit the imposing Trongsa Dzong and the Trongsa Royal Heritage Museum. Overnight in Trongsa.

8-9 November. Day 5&6 – Bumthang

Continue East to Bumthang – the spiritual and geographic heart of Bhutan. Bumthang has an individuality that charms its visitors and separates it from other regions. Comprising of four smaller valleys namely Tang, Ura, Choekhor and Chumey, the deeply spiritual region of Bumthang is shrouded in religious legend. Bumthang is also the traditional home to the great Buddhist teacher Pema Linga to whose descendants the present dynasty traces its origin. Overnight in Bumthang. You will have two days to explore the many wonderful trails and monasteries in Bumthang valley. Visit the 7th century Jambay Lhakhang, one of 108 monasteries built  by Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo to subdue evil spirits in the Himalayan region. Located further along the valley, the sacred Kurje Lhakhang is a monastery comprising of three temples and surrounded by 108 chorten wall dedicated to Guru Padmasambhava – the founder of Tibetan Buddhism and who the Bhutanese and Tibetans believe is the Buddha of our time. Across the river from Kurje Lhakhang is Tamshing Lhakhang, believed to be built by Guru Padmasambhava’s recinarnation Terton Pema Lingpa, and contains very old religious paintings around the inner walls of the temple which had been restored at the end of the 19th century.

Have a peep of the Wangdicholing Palace as you head towards one of the most important pilgrimage sights of Bhutan- the Mebar Tsho (‘Burning Lake’). It was in Mebar Tsho that Terton Pema Lingpa discovered many holy relics hidden here by Guru Padmasambhava.  Naturally, the villagers at the time did not believe this man who claimed to be the incarnate of their beloved Guru. So to silence skeptical minds,Terton Pema Lingpa plunged in to the gorge with a burning lamp declaring, “If I am a demon, I shall die! If I am not, and am the true spiritual son of Guru Rinpoche, this lamp will continue to burn and I will recover hidden treasures!” Legend has it that he came out with the hidden relics and with the lamp still burning and hence, the name ‘Mebar Tsho’ came about. Overnight in Bumthang.

10 November. Day 07 – Gantye/Phobjikha

Today you’ll heading back West to Gangtey valley, home of the endangered Black Necked Cranes. This quiet, remote valley is the winter home of the famous black-necked cranes, who migrate from the arid plains of Tibet in the north, to pass the winter months in a milder climate. The valley also provides rich pastureland for cattle and the district is also famous for its fine bamboo products, slate and stone carvings. Visit the 17th century Gangtey Goemba and Phobjikha village. Overnight in Phobjikha.

11 November. Day 8 – Black Necked Crane Festival

You will spend the day attending the dazzling performances and festivities at the annual Black Necked Crane Festival. The arrival of the birds marks the beginning of Winter and to local villagers who believe that these endangered birds are the reincarnation of the two deities that protect the valley, the festival holds great spiritual significance. The festival gives farmers in the valley an alternative income through ecotourism and educate them on the need to protect the environment. The program usually starts by 9:30 am and lasts till late afternoon.

12 November. Day 09 – Gantye, Punakha

This morning learn more about the Black Necked Cranes and their habitat at the education centre.  You can use the center’s powerful spotting scopes to observe the cranes or take a walk along the nature trail for a closer look. Journey back to Punakha and stroll through the rice fields to Chhimi Lhakhang.  The temple is dedicated to the famous and unorthodox Buddhist master, Drukpa Kinley (endearing referred to by the Bhutanese as the ‘Divine Madman’), who is associated with the phallic symbols you would have seen on your travels in Bhutan so far. Learn about the master’s deeds painted on the walls and ask the locals you meet about his stories. You may be surprised by what you find out! The temple is also frequented by couples who are praying for children and families who come to be blessed. Babies whose parents have brought them here to be named will bear the first name of ‘Kinley’ or ‘Chimmie’. Overnight in Punakha.

13 November: Day 10 – Paro

Continue West back to Paro. Relax and stroll through the local stores along the streets of traditional houses, or head to the National Museum to see Bhutanese art, relics, religious thangka paintings, natural history artefacts, and Bhutan’s exquisite stamps, coins, and handicrafts collection. If you love fortresses, there’s the 16th century Rinpung Dzong, ‘fortress of the heap of jewels’ where some of scenes from the film ‘Little Buddha’ by Bernardo Bertolucci in 1995 was filmed, and the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang built by the famous Buddhist Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo. Next to the temple is the house that is now turned into a museum dedicated to the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. One can come across photographs and other artifacts belonging to the Rinpoche. Overnight in Paro.

14 November. Day 11 – Paro

Today you’ll hike up Bhutan’s most iconic and awe-inspiring Tiger’s Nest (Taktshang) Monastery. Perched seemingly perilously on the edge of a sheer cliff face, Taktshang is one of Bhutan’s most venerated pilgrimage sites. According to legend, Guru Rinpoche miraculously flew here on the back of a tigress, meditated in a cave here for three months and converted the whole of Paro valley to Buddhism. Resting at an altitude of 900 meters above the valley,  Taktshang is an architectural wonder and the spectacular four-hour walk will be sure to be one of your most overwhelming and unforgettable experiences. Spend the rest of the day at your leisure, enjoy a Bhutanese hot stone bath to relax from the day’s hike, or visit some of the local establishments and mingle with the locals for your last night in Bhutan. Overnight in Paro.

15 November. Day 12 – Paro (Departure)

After breakfast, you will be transported to Paro International Airport for your onward journey.