A travel diary in photographs reveal the stunning beauty of Bhutanese landscapes as we go from tranquil Punakha to the wintry valleys of Phobjikha, chasing birds along gurgling rivers and endless blue skies.
The barren terraced fields, and traditional houses with smoke spiralling into the air, surrounded by magnificent mountains and spectacular blue skies above, bring to mind the homely comforts of a Bhutanese winter in Punakha.
Tourists raft through one of the most scenic rivers, with the Punakha Dzong radiant in the winter sunlight in the backdrop.
The stunning dzong of Punakha is known as the Pungthang Dechen Phodrang Dzong, which translates to ‘Palace of Great Happiness’, and is among the most beautiful dzongs in Bhutan.
The pristine beaches of the Punatsang Chu are a haven for birds of all colours.
A Great Cormorant skims over the river at Punakha.
Ducks fly over Punakha Dzong
Ruddy Shelducks swim leisurely along the perfect stony beaches of Punakha river.
Watching birds flitting over a river is a truly meditative experience.
As the short winter day nears its end, the waves shimmer in the waning light.
The peaceful valley of Phobjikha illuminated by early morning light. Several families in Phobjikha operate homestay businesses, offering clean, warm rooms and hearty traditional meals.
The wide glacial valley of Phobjikha, comprising of marshy plains surrounded by immense blue mountains, bring to mind epic, fantastic stories from ancient times.
The main attraction of the valley in the winter months are the black-necked cranes that migrate annually from the Tibetan plateau.
A meandering river wends its way across the wide marshes which make up the winter habitat of the cranes. In the early morning, the valley echoes with the musical, indescribable call of the cranes.
A sparrow soaks in some sunshine in the chilly morning.
Cranes may be the most photogenic birds in the valley, but they are not the only ones.
The wide marshes are dotted with the cranes, which feed on whatever insects, worms, grains, and roots that they find here.
The Khewa Lhakhang is a 14th century temple that sits just beside the marshes, in the lap of rugged mountains.
Utility vehicles leave behind a trail of dust on the unpaved roads through the valley.
The people of the valley have made many concessions for the sake of these beautiful birds, revered traditionally as ‘lha-bja’ or ‘heavenly birds’. The lovely absence of power lines in the valley is to protect the birds- the cables which finally illuminated homes in the valley recently, were painstakingly set underground.
Black-necked cranes are the only cranes to live at such high altitudes, wintering among faming communities which have traditionally protected them. Their lives are intertwined with those of humans, as they are dependent on grains in the winter.
Colourful flags in Phobjikha
Adult black-necked cranes typically stand about 1.3 m tall and weigh 5-5.5 kg. (Source- WWF)
Their red crown is actually a featherless patch of skin. (Source – WWF)
A tractor emerges from the morning mist along a dirt road above the valley in Phobjikha.
Mist rising from the valley in the early morning hours.
Prayer flags surround a lookout point, from where the view of the valley is out of this world!
Sunlight pierces though clouds in Phobjikha
A charming street leads to the famous Gangtey Gonpa, which overlooks the valley.
Local legend says that the cranes circle the gonpa thrice before alighting into the valley when they arrive in winter, and thrice before leaving the valley for the Tibetan plateau in summer.
The Wangduephodrang dzong was completely destroyed by a fire on 24 June 2012. Thousands of people from Bhutan and abroad supported the rebuilding efforts, participating in several fundraising drives. The dzong is slowly being rebuilt to its former glory.