Phobjikha is a bowl-shaped glacial valley on the western slopes of the Black Mountains, bordering the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. Because of the large flock of black-necked cranes that winters here, it is one of the most
important wildlife preserves in the country. In addition to the cranes there are also muntjacs (barking deer), wild boars, sambars, serows, Himalayan black bears, leopards and red foxes in the surrounding hills. The Nakey Chhu drains the marshy valley, eventually flowing into the lower reaches of the Punak Tsang Chhu. Some people refer to this entire region as Gangte (or Gangtey), after the goemba that sits on a ridge above the valley.
The road to Phobjikha diverges from the main road 3km before the Pele La. It’s then a 1.5km drive through forests to the Lowa La (3360m), where you may encounter a few stray yaks. After the pass the trees disappear and the scenery switches dramatically to low-lying dwarf bamboo as the road descends to Gangte village and goemba. From the goemba junction, the road switchbacks down past the turn-off to the valley floor, past extensive russet-coloured fields of potatoes. Gangte potatoes are the region’s primary cash crop and one of Bhutan’s important exports to India.
The valley is snowbound during the height of winter and many of the valley’s 4700 residents, including the monks, shift to winter residences in Wangdue Phodrang during December and January, just as the cranes move in to take their place. The local residents are known as Gangteps and speak a dialect called Henke.