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Location: Between Punakha and Trongsa
Distance from Thimphu: 70 km (3 hrs)
Elevation: 800 to 5800 meters
Wangduephodrang is half an hour away from Punakha. Buffeted by afternoon winds, Wangdue is an important stop on the road east. Perched on a precipitous cliff above the Dang Chhu, the Wangduephodrang Dzong stands majestically on a strategic position.
Legend has it that Wangdue was once a desert, hence the cacti grown in profusion. But some believe the cacti were planted with a reason to discourage the invaders to climb the steep slope. The Phobji Gewog in the dzongkhag is famous as the winter nesting place of the black-necked cranes. The Jigme Dorji National Park extends into the northern part while a major portion of the dzongkhag falls under Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park.
Located on a strategic position, the Wangdiphodrang Dzong was built by the Zhabdrung in 1638. The impressive Dzong houses the provincial monastic community and can be visited with a special permit.
Phobjikha Valley (3,000m, 10,000ft)
It is located in the Black Mountains, the highest of Bhutan’s north south ridges. It is a 2 ½ hour (47 km) drive from Wangdiphodrang proper on a spectacular route. Besides the stunning landscape, the Phobjikha Valley is known for the rare Black-necked Cranes which inhabit the area from November to April. There is also the Black-Necked Crane festival in November every year.
It is a Nyingmapa monastery built on a small knoll, by Pema Thrinley, grandson of Pema Lingpa, the great Bhutanese saint of Bumthang, in the late 16th century. Known for its lovely paintings and statues, it is ringed with family houses of the gomchen, the religious laymen who worship the work at the monastery. It follows the Nyingma tradition of Buddhism and houses a Shedra (monastic school).
Nature walk; village excursion; cultural tour (Gangtey Goempa –Khewang Lhakhang)
After about 40 minutes from Gangtey goemba, you reach Semchubara. In the olden days the area was used as a common grazing ground for the cattle owned by the Gangtey monastery and the followers of the Truelku from Sha. The people named the place as Sem chen bara which means “the grazing ground for animals”.
In later years the land was distributed to the community by the second Gangtey Truelku.
Upon booking, a traditional tea reception at Aum Guchey’s house will be available (# 02-442217).
After about an hour’s walk you will reach the Khewang village. Traditional lunch will be served upon request with one of the local families at the village. Khewang Lhakhang is located a few paces away from the cluster of houses.
It is believed that the location of the temple was prophesized by Lam Drukpa Kuenley when he visited the valley. The temple was later built in the 15th century by Truelku Penjor Gyeltshen who was an incarnation of the great Tibetan saint Kuenkhen Longchen Rabjampa. The Truelku is said to have hired sculptors and labourers from Tibet. The temple was also built to control famine and diseases, to ward off ill wishes of other people who have sinned in the past to fine the path to heaven.
Visit the Lhakhang and continue the excursion to Phobjikha Primary School.
If you like, you can continue your expedition by driving to Lawog Valley and Kingathang.
In the olden days the valley used to be inhabited by the people from Mangde and Ada in summer. When they left their winter homes, the houses were looked after by the people from higher altitude who came down with their yaks and sheep to escape the harsh climate. Later, as the inhabitants found it difficult to manage house and land in different places, they sold their properties to the people looking after their houses.
It was believed that this village is located in the central part of the world meaning Kilkhor. The village was named Kilkhorthang but people also pronounce it as Kingathang. The beautiful landscapes formed by the glacial monument gives a spectacular sight of the valley. On top of one of the hillocks is a new monastery adding a spiritual ambience to the view.