The professor and Tibet House cofounder—a former monk—tells T+L about a Buddhist retreat high in the Himalayas.
Credit: Courtesy of Amankora

“The Phobjikha Valley is a magical hidden place about six or seven hours by road east of Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. You climb up and up, going by yaks, herders, nomads. The air becomes misty and cooler as you cross a pass at 11,000 feet. And when you arrive in the valley, you see the Gangtey Monastery perched above, as if it’s flying up there.

Hidden valleys are auspicious in Buddhist tradition, and the Gangtey Monastery is particularly auspicious, because it’s the wintering place of the black-necked cranes. Each fall, the cranes arrive from Tibet and circle three times, clockwise, around the monastery before they gather in the marshland. In Buddhism, it’s a sign of respect when pilgrimaging to holy places to circle clockwise. Now, you could say that the cranes circle in this way because of thermal currents—and that very well may be—but it confirms the local belief that the black-necked cranes are the reincarnations of the monks of the Gangtey Monastery.

It’s best to visit the valley in the fall when the cranes arrive, or in early spring before they leave. When you see them coming against the clouds, with a reddish-golden light behind them, the effect is like watching a magnificent Japanese screen come to life.”

Tibet House is a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving Tibetan culture. The organization’s annual benefit concert will be held February 3 at Carnegie Hall in New York City (

Reported by Dani Shapiro

The Dewachen Hotel (Phobjikha Valley; 975-2/442-550;; doubles from $500, including meals, transportation, and the country’s $250 daily tourist fee) is a traditional guesthouse that looks up at the Gangtey Monastery.”

Amankora Gangtey (Phobjikha Valley; 975-2/331-333;; doubles from $2,000, including meals, transportation, and fees) is a small, very comfortable resort with a beautiful view of the valley as well as wonderful food.”

“A fantastic day hike in Phobjikha begins at the marsh where the cranes are. From there you can walk to the Gangtey Monastery.”

“Many guesthouses have stone baths. The water is heated by rocks known to have special mineral properties. You get in after a hike and it’s marvelous.”

Dewachen Hotel

The traditional guesthouse looks up at the Gangtey Monastery.

Hike the Phobjikha

A fantastic day hike in Phobjikha begins at the marsh where the cranes are. From there you can walk to the Gangtey Monastery.