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Black Necked Crane Festival

 Black-necked Crane Festival in central Bhutan. The Monastery sits high above a broad valley overlooking the Phobjika Nature Reserve, which hosts hundreds of wintering Black-necked Cranes. Monks pray for the safe return of the birds, as they are considered Boddhisatvas or “agents of God.” According to legend, the cranes circle the monastery clockwise three times as a sign of their devotion before landing in the marshy valley. After the cranes’ long journey south from Tibet, local villagers gather at the Monastery for a colorful festival celebrating their safe arrival. School children present pageants about the cranes and local nature conservation, the Gangtey monks adapt their traditional temple dances to themes related to the cranes, and more celebrations and gift-giving ceremonies abound amidst the country fair atmosphere. Whether it’s the dramatically beautiful cranes, the fascinating Bhutanese culture, or the many opportunities for day hiking, this festival trip has something for travelers from all walks of life. This trip includes other not-to-be-missed sights such as Taktsang Monastery, several of the greatest Dzongs, the great museums and palaces of Punakha, Paro, and Thimphu.

Day 1 Arrive Paro
This morning you’ll fly from Bangkok to Paro on Druk Air, experiencing breathtaking views of the Himalayan ranges such as Mt. Jichu Drak and Chomolhari during your journey. You will be met by your guide on arrival at the airport in Paro and transferred to your hotel, where you will have a trip briefing with your guide. The afternoon and evening are free for you to rest or walk around Paro (7,380 feet) and savor the atmosphere. From the dress of Paro’s people to the traditional architecture, you’ll know you are in a place that is different from anywhere else on earth. You will be amazed at the fresh, clean air and peaceful natural environment.

Day 2 Paro Tour
Spend a full day seeing all that Paro has to offer on a guided tour. Stops on the tour include the impressive Paro Rinpung Dzong, a large Drukpa Kagyu Buddhist Monastery and fortress housing Paro’s monastic body and government offices. This area contains some of Bhutan’s finest architecture. From here there are views of the Nyamai Zam, a covered wooden bridge that spans the Paro Chhu; Ugyen Pelri Thang Palace, currently the residence of the Queen Mother (closed to the public); Chhoeten Lhakhang, a large, Bhutanese-style chorten; and Druk Choeding, the town’s almost 500-year-old temple. You may also want to consider visiting a local farmhouse if time permits. Bhutanese farmhouses are very colorful; they are traditionally built out of mud walls and wooden frames without the use of nails. They typically have three levels – the ground floor is for the animals, the second floor is used as family living quarters, and the third floor is generally used to store food and hay for the animals. This is a great way to get a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Bhutanese farmer.

Day 3 Paro to Punakha

Set out on a morning hike to Taktsang, the famous “Tiger’s Nest” Monastery. This very sacred monastery was built in the 17th century in memory of Guru Rimpoche, and was recently rebuilt after a disastrous fire in April 1998. This is a fairly vigorous hike and the trail may be a bit muddy. If you are unable to make the hike, you can make the trip on a hired pony, or you can view the monastery from the road below. Afterwards, drive to the ruins of Drugyel Dzong and take in the spectacular views Mount Chomolhari (if the weather is clear).On the way back you’ll stop at Kyichu Lhakang, one of the oldest and most beautiful temples in Bhutan. It is believed to have been built in 659 AD by King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet. In the afternoon, drive to Punakha Valley. Blessed with temperate climate and fed by the Pho-chu (male) and Mo-chu (female) Rivers, Punakha is the most fertile valley in the country. Until 1955, Punakha served as the country’s capital and today it is the winter seat of the Chief Abbot and the central monk body. The Punakha Dzong was built at the confluence of the Pho-chu and Mo-chu Rivers in 1638 by Shabdrung, and renovated with detailed arts and crafts from 1994-2003. Punakha is also home to many different Himalayan birds, including the heron, kingfisher, lapwing, ibis bill, shell duck, and cormorant, all of which migrate in the winter.

Day 4 Punakha Dzong to Phobjikha Valley
Today you’ll visit Punakha Dzong, the second of Bhutan’s dzongs, which served as the seat of the government for many years. Afterwards, drive a few hours to the Phobjika Valley, a designated conservation area and one of the most important wildlife preserves in Bhutan. It is also home to the endangered Black-necked Cranes (Grus nigricollis). These exotic creatures are an important part of life for the local people of the Phobjika Valley and you will find that the cranes are reflected in the local culture, traditions and beliefs.Other wildlife you might see include barking deer, wild boars, Himalayan black bears, and even leopards if you are lucky. Next, you’ll stop at Gangtey Village and visit the Gangtey Gompa, a monastery that dates back to the 17th century and overlooks the Phobjika Valley. Its complex includes monks’ quarters, meditation justifys, a school, and a small hotel. The Phobjika Valley provides some wonderful short hiking and exploration opportunities. It is also the perfect spot to relax and enjoy the scenery. Spend the night at the beautiful Dewachen Resort (pending availability).

Day 5 Black-Necked Crane Festival
Spend the day witnessing the Black-necked Crane Festival, held by the Royal Society for Protection of Nature. You will enjoy masked dances performed by children, women, and monks – all celebrating the safe return of the Black-necked Cranes. This is also a good time to purchase handicrafts at the stalls, or perhaps try your hand at a Bhutanese game. You’ll also visit the Crane Observation and Education Center today to learn about the feeding and roosting habits of the Black-necked Crane. While the Monastery Festival is not as venerated as the famous Tsechus held at other dzongs in Bhutan, you may find that the informal atmosphere, smaller crowds, and more varied program makes this event more enjoyable. The festival’s setup allows for better access to the ceremony, more opportunities for photography, and plenty of time to take in the comfort of your surroundings.

Day 6 Wangdue/Thimphu
After a leisurely breakfast, make the estimated two hour drive to Wangdue and view the impressive Wangdue Phodrang Dzong from the outside. For many centuries, this was one of Bhutan’s most powerful Dzongs. Check the river for waterfowl and the skies for migrating raptors and cranes. It is another estimated two hour drive to Thimphu, a charming town that sits in the heart of the Himalayas. Thimphu’s development is strictly monitored and buildings cannot exceed a certain hight nor can they be designed in anything but the traditional Bhutanese style.

Day 7 Thimphu Tour & Weekend Market
Spend your morning at the not-to-be-missed weekend market and get an up close look at local life in Bhutan. The Bhutanese gather in Thimphu to sell their vegetables, traditional masks, textiles, incense, and jewelry, and there is often an archery competition taking place nearby. This is probably the best place in Bhutan to buy traditional crafts. You then head out on a full-day guided tour of Thimphu, beginning with the Tashichho Dzong. This Dzong was built in 1216 and completely renovated between 1962 and 1969 without using nails or written plans. You’ll also visit the National Library, established to preserve many ancient Dzongkha and Tibetan texts; the Folk Heritage Museum, which has been turned into a replica of a traditional farm house as it would have looked about a hundred years ago; the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, where traditional herbal medicines are prepared and distributed; and the National Textile Museum where you can learn about the national art of weaving. You can also witness a folk dance from the Royal Academy of Performing Arts in the evening with advance notice.

Day 8 Thimphu/Paro
You’ll have the morning at your leisure to relax, take a final stroll through town, do some last minute shopping, or return to some of the nearby sites for another visit. In the afternoon, return to Paro for a final night.

Day 9 Paro/Onward
This morning you will be transferred to the airport for your onward flight home.

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