Day 21: Phobjikha Valley and the Black-Neck Crane Festival

We woke up as the light came into our room…not from my alarm that had been set but not turned on! No worries, still lots of time for breakfast before we met our guide and driver at 8 to head off to the festival.

As we approached the temple area, high on a hillock in the middle of the valley, we knew we were going to be sharing our experience with lots of people! The roads ( single lane) were jammed with cars and buses and in one instance a half bed truck laden with folk singers in the back heading to the festival! ( I thought I heard music behind us!). The good news is that on the best of roads in Bhutan you can’t exceed 50 km per hour, and this was NOT the best of roads!!

Once at the festival, we were delighted that an entire centre section was reserved for international visitors ( that’s people like us!). They even had benches and chairs with backs!!! We, being the manga cakes that we are, opted for the chairs with the backs. It just meant putting up with 6 rows of people in front of us bobbing up and down as they took pictures of the events!

The festival began with the national anthem ( beautiful, but I wouldn’t have a chance of singing those quarter pitch notes!). The boys and girls scouts were all there in the centre leading the singing! Then there was a prayer sung to the 4th king who’s birthday this also happened to be. Next the officials began their short speeches, with some in English extending the warmest welcome to the international visitors today. The Speaker of the house in the parliament was there and spoke to us to thank us that not even he could secure a room in the valley because of this festival!! It’s interesting to note here, that work with the local farmers to collaborate with the environmental protection needed for the migrating cranes has led to a number of grants from the government to support tourism in the valley. Farmers can supplement their income with homestay facilities that give them the growth potential they are looking for. All very interesting and yet another example of the philosophy of Gross Domestic Happiness at work in finding compromises between the local village needs and the environmental ones.

After the speeches, the program started with local folk singers welcoming all. Then the school children sang a special song in honour of the 4th king. After that saw a dance performed by the local schools and then a younger school group performed a song to celebration National Children’s Day as part of the 4th King’s birthday.

Seating area for the dignitaries
Girls and Boys Scouts singing the National Anthem
School Children performing

Then a professional dance group from the eastern end of the country performed a masked dance of initiation and blessing.

Such Action and Colour! This group was from Eastern Bhutan
A number of monks enjoying the festivities!
Incredible costumes and masks!

We then saw the local “strong woman” contest, where each woman had to carry sacks of rice weighing probably 100lbs across the courtyard and lay it on top of a stump about a meter high. They needed to do this several times, and by the end they were definitely feeling the weight!

Here they are running with 100lbs of rice sacks and need to stack them on the posts ! They did this 3 times!

Following the women’s acts of strength we saw the highlight of the festival, the Black-Necked Crane Dance performed by the primary children of the local district.

Children perform the Black-Neck Crane Dance
The crowds are loving the festivities!
I don’t know about you, but I would find it hard to compete in a full length Kira and silk blouse and jacket!

When this was done, before the break for lunch, they had a tug of war between the local women’s folk dancing group and the regional women’s folk dancing group! In a best of 2 out of 3, the regional women’s group were the champions hands down!

We then decided it was time for our lunch as well. Kencho had arranged lunch in a local inn and restaurant, about a 20 minute drive from the base of the Temple area. What a delightful lunch and spectacular view!

After lunch we headed back to the Temple area to try and see the temple itself. Unfortunately the main hall in the temple was being used as the change room for the masked dancers, so we were unable to visit it today…maybe tomorrow am before we leave the valley.

We did see however, the tug of war with the men’s teams. What a crowd pleaser! Lots of back and forth before the decisions were made. All very exciting for the crowd.

… and the crowd went wild!

Our next adventure was hiking down from the temple area to our hotel. A lovely walk that took us down the hillside, through farm properties, on through a pine forest where we stopped at a lookout of the valley.

Pop up stalls where vendors were selling their wears. Lots of crowds here!
Dan caught a shot of Kenchu and I walking down the meadow from the Dzong
Dan and Kenchu walking through some local farms.

From there we headed down further to the valley floor. We could just see the first black-necked cranes returned from their daytime feeding areas to the marshy meadow at the base of the valley.

You can just make out the white specs beyond the stream. Black-Necked Cranes!

From there we hiked back to the hotel, where we all celebrated a great day with Bhutan Whiskey (highland)…all very civilized!

A beautiful end to another fabulous day!

We had one of the hotel staff light our bukhari (pot bellied stove) in our room, which made it nice and cozy for a rest and blog interlude before supper!

Tomorrow we are off to Punaka! Until then!

Categories: Himalayas: India, Nepal and Bhutan 2019


  1. I’m pleased to hear you are both safe and still enjoying Bhutan. Your blogs are great, but when you described yourselves as mangia-cakes, I thought you meant wimps, which neither of you are. So I Googled it and came across a meaning which does not apply to you either for you have much more than just salt and pepper in your kitchen! 🧸🐻❤️


  2. Looks like quite a Festivaland the hiking looks great too!


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