Latest news from the Himalaya and Karakoram

Monday, 2 March 2015

Black-necked cranes in Bhutan

Photo: Black-necked cranes in Phobjika valley in Bhutan
A Black-necked crane (Grus nigricollis) has an average height of 1.5 meters, weighs about 5kg and lives approximately 70 to 80 years. There are an estimated 11,000 Black-necked cranes in the world and about 500 of these birds spend the winter in Bhutan. Black-necked cranes can also be found in Pakistan, China, northern India and Vietnam. Over the summer these birds breed on the Tibetan plateau, Ladakh and Kashmir then migrate to lower altitudes for the winter. It is worth pointing out that our Ladakh Sky Trail GHT itinerary passes next to Tso Kar lake known as an important breeding ground for Black-necked cranes.

Black-necked cranes migrate to Bhutan from late October to end of February. In Bhutan the cranes are called Thurung-thrung Karm and are known as “heavenly birds” because of their beauty and association with long life. Phobjikha valley is one of the best places to see these birds. There are also crane overwintering areas in Gyetsa village (start of Kitiphu Ridge trek), Jakar in Bumthang valley, Punakha and Wangdi.

Phobjika valley is accessible by road and is located 129km from Thimphu and 89km from Trongsa, after crossing Lawala Pass at 3,360m the road descends to Phobjika valley at an altitude of 2,900m. Phojikha is often called Gangtey after the name of the monastery in this valley.

Photo: beautiful Phobjika valley
Photo: Gangtey gompa in Phobjikha valley
On November 12th the annual Black-necked cranes festival is held in Phobjikha valley. The festival includes cultural and mask dances, short plays and exhibitions organised by the local community.

Photo: wetlands of Phobjika valley from Gangtey Nature Trail

Photo: Dwarf bamboo is favourite food of the cranes

Photo: Black-necked cranes in Phobjikha valley
Photo: Black-necked cranes in Phobjikha valley
Photo: cranes in flight above Gyetsa village
Phobjikha is located on the north western edge of Jigme Singye Wangchuk National Park and is protected due to its ecological significance and rich natural heritage. Phobjikha valley has the largest wetland in Bhutan and is habitat to about 300 Black-necked cranes that migrate in winter from their breeding grounds in Tibet.

On arrival to Phobjkha we suggest you walk along the Gangtey Nature Trail with views onto the wetlands where you will hopefully see Black-necked cranes in their roosting grounds. At end of the nature trail you will meet up with your transport for the drive up to the Black-necked cranes visitor centre.

Photo: Black-necked crane Information Centre
Photo: 311 cranes counted in December 2014 by Information Centre
Photo: Life sized crane at Information Centre
It is important that all tourists carefully read and follow the Green Code of Conduct listed below:
  • Stay on the trails, do not walk wherever you desire.
  • Do not tamper or collect flowers and plants.
  • Dispose your garbage at a proper place and carry back all non-biodegradable wastes for recycling/reuse or to a safe disposable site.
  • Do not use camera with flash; it will disturb the cranes and other wildlife.
  • Wear dull-colored clothes when near the crane roost. Bright clothes will alarm the cranes.
  • Be as quite as possible when near the crane roost. Also refrain from using vehicle horns in the valley.
  • Use only designated campsite (consult RSPN/DoF for a proper campsite).
  • Avoid using firewood. Do not leave fire unattended.
  • Respect the cultural heritage and customs of the area
Photo: Phobjika Conservation Area with Green Code of Conduct
The Mountain Company organises several itineraries visiting Phobjika (Gangtey) valley including our Luxury Classic Tour of Bhutan, Classic Tour of Bhutan and Kitiphu Ridge trek. For our standard tours and treks in Phobjika we use Hotel Dewachen , Hotel Yo-Lo-Koe or Hotel Gankiling whereas for our luxury tours we use the wonderful Aman Kora Gangtey or Gangtey Palace. Please get in touch with us if you would like to visit Bhutan and its wonderful Phobjikha valley.

Roland Hunter

The Mountain Company