The Real Bhutan: From the Bustle of Punakha to the Serenity of Phobjikha

From the dry valley of Punakha and Wangdue Phodrang, the main road east winds its way up to commanding heights of the foothills of the Himalayas.  The altitude gains on the journey are impressive.  The mountains rise sharply above the valley floor and the road turns and curves over and over again.

On this section of the drive, the landscape changes dramatically and quickly.  In places, the road is well-maintained and the drive is easy.  In some spots, the road is very narrow and in the event of an accident or broken down vehicle, things come to a stop.  For folks used to moving quickly, making time on a tour to get from point A to point B, this road is not for those folks.  Travel in Bhutan is more than just getting to the next view or stop; being in Bhutan is about accepting the pace of life that is about experience and what I call calm abiding….accepting what comes in whatever way it comes.  Just remember, it’s all about the experience, the friendships and connections made and not about ticking off boxes of “been there, done that.”

On the road through Wangdue-Phodrang.
Hazy skies as we leave Wangdue headed for Trongsa.



Getting REALLY close.








Once above the valley floor, the winding, coursing track leads to small villages, many on the very side of the road.  Houses are dotted along the way and, near the top of the climb, a cafe that serves black tea with milk (milk tea) and small biscuits or crackers.  The place is comfortable and quiet even with a crowd.  Tables inside and outside the building are scattered with some comfy chairs and places to just be.  The moment out of the bus and in the cafe is a kind respite from the road.

Relaxing in a cafe, on the road to Trongsa.

As we pile back into the bus, we settle in for the road to Tsangkhap and Trongsa.  The din of the bus engine whines as we travel around hills and through dense forest.  Along the way is the turn off to the Phobjikha Valley and the absolutely stunning vista, winter home to the black necked-crane.  If you are lucky, a mated pair will remain in the valley and a stay in the area will allow you to hike across the valley floor, seeing the vistas and mountains that rise sharply above the small stream that meanders through the grasses hugging the rolling hills.

Our hike through the valley was absolutely perfect as the weather had just cleared and we walked through the pine trees that dot the landscape above the valley.  Our trail is roughly maintained and in places disappears into the pine needles below our feet.  No matter, you can see the valley stretched in front of you as you wander.

….and if you are really lucky, you’ll join a soccer match.
Hiking Through the Phobjikha Valley




A stay in the valley is serene and having the chance to visit the local Nature Center and learn about the migration of black-necked cranes is worth the effort to reach this place.

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