Following an overnight stay in Punakha, we head toward the remote glacial valley area of Gangtey. We will stop near Sopsokha for a short walk across terraced rice fields to the temple of Chimi Lhakhang. Located on a hillock, this temple is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenlay, an eccentric religious teacher of the late 15th-century who used humor, songs, and outrageous behavior to share his teachings, earning him the title of Devine Madman. Also known as a fertility temple, women travel there to pray, and it is rumored that many become pregnant shortly after. Chimi Lhakhang has a very peculiar design aesthetic, as you will find colorful phallus symbols painted on the buildings throughout.
We pass through Wangdue, the last town before entering the isolated areas of central Bhutan. Dramatically perched on the side of a hill, we will see Wangdue Phodrang Dzong. Unfortunately, a 2012 fire gutted the building, so we are only able to view it from the outside as reconstruction is underway. Wangdue has a small market and the area is known for its fine bamboo work and stone carvings. We will also see the Buddha face, a natural phenomenon that has seemingly formed out of natural rock.
Traveling through the pristine mountains of central Bhutan, we enter the Phobjikha Valley, also known as the Gangtey Valley. This bowl-shaped valley borders the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, and the entire area is a wildlife preserve. Here you may see the black-necked cranes (Grus nigricollis) that migrate here from November to March. You might also see other native animals, such as muntjac, sambar, serow, leopard, red fox, or yak.
On a hill overlooking the entire valley is the Gangtey Goempa, a large 17th-century monastery. The tshokhang (prayer hall) was built in Tibetan style and has eight great pillars. A five-day teschu (festival) is held here every fall where locals and monks perform traditional dances with colorful masks and swords to ward off evil spirits and celebrate the harvest.
Here you have the option to stay in a hotel or take the rare opportunity to room with a local family. Typically staying in a modest farmhouse, you will immerse yourself in family culture and share in their gracious hospitality.