Wangdue Phodrang is one of the largest dzongkhags in the country. As the district covers 4,308 sq. km and ranges from 800-5800 m in altitude, it has extremely varied climatic conditions ranging from subtropical forests in the south to cool and snowy regions in the north.
Most of Wangdue Phodrang District is environmentally protected. The northern half of the district falls within the Wangchuck Centennial Park, with northwestern pockets belonging to Jigme Dorji National Park. Southeastern Wangdue is part of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. Also protected are the biological corridors crisscrossing the district that connect Bhutan’s extensive national park system. The dominant language in the region is Dzongkha, spoken in the western two-thirds of the district. Communities along the border with Bumthang District in the northeast speak Lakha. Along the same border, in central Wangdue Phodrang, inhabitants speak Nyenkha. In the southeast region, remnants of the autochthonous ‘Olekha (Black Mountain Monpa) speaking community barely survive.
One of the most notable sites in the district is Phobjikha Valley. This valley is the habitat of the rare and endangered Black Necked Cranes that roost there during their annual migrations. The residents of the valley have garnered much acclaim for their conservation efforts to preserve the habitat of these beautiful birds. Every year the Black Necked Crane Festival is held in Phobjikha in order to protect and spread awareness of the cranes. The festival includes songs, masked dances and plays by the local school children. This event is one of the most unique and popular festivals in the country.
With its diverse climates and rich natural resources, Wangdue Phodrang Dzongkhag is home to many rare and exotic animals like Red Pandas, Tigers and Leopards. There are also large numbers of rare birds such as the Black Necked Crane, White-Bellied Heron and the Spotted Eagle.
Must see when in Wangdue Phodrang:
1. Pele La Pass
Photograph by idealtravelcreations.com
To the east of Wangdue Phodrang rises the Pele La Pass at 11,230 ft above sea level, boasting of being the highest motorable road in Bhutan. With steep, curvy tracks, dangerous hairpin bends and sheer vertical drops down the mountain side, the Pele La Pass that crosses over the Black Mountain between Western and Central Bhutan is not one for the faint hearted. Winter often sees snow avalanches and road blocks on the Pass.
On clear days a drive over the Pass gives you a stunning view of the Jhomolhari and Jichu Drakye mountain peaks. The Pele La Pass is 59 km from Wangdue Phodrang.
2. Wangdue Phodrang Dzong
Photograph by footage.framepool.com
The Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is one of the most significant of Wangdue Phodrang’s early sacred sites. According to legends, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal was once told by an old man that the country could be united if he would build a Dzong on a hillock that was shaped like a sleeping elephant. Zhabdrung sent his aide to find a similar hillock, and the aide soon returned and reported that at the place where the Dangchhu and Punatsangchhu rivers met, he saw four ravens that flapped their wings and flew away in four directions. Namgyal foresaw this to be a good sign and had the Dzong built on the hillock in 1638.
A massive fire that broke out in the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong in 2012 had brought down the Dzong, though most of the artefacts and sacred relics were recovered. Finishing touches to a brand new Dzong are being given at the very place where the original Dzong was built. You can walk around the countryside near the Dzong, which looks magnificent with a sertog or a golden pinnacle on the Utse (central tower) installed recently.
3. Rinchengang Village
Photograph by denkarsgetaway.com
The Rinchengang Village, one of Bhutan’s oldest villages, sits on the banks of the Punatsangchhu River, right opposite the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong. According to history, most of the occupants of the village were stone masons who had helped in the construction of the ancient Wangdue Phodrang Dzong. The village is about 20 minutes hike from the Thimphu Wangdue Phodrang Highway.
Visit Rinchengang village to wonder at the pattern in which the houses are built-two-storied and huddled together in bunches so tight that you cannot squeeze yourself between two houses! From up the valley you find ideal locations for photographing the river and the Dzong on the other side.
4. Temple of Sha Radap
Photograph by travduck.com
The Sha Radap or the Rada Lhakhang temple sits quite close to the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong. On the eastern side of Wangdue is the Shaa region where the inhabitants are predominantly nature worshippers. The temple was built for the deity Sha Radap, the divine being who protects the inhabitants of the Wangdue region. According to legends, one gets his wishes fulfilled by the benevolent god if he rolls the dice kept in the temple and prays to Sha Radap.
Young parents bring their babies to be blessed by the monks in the temple and it’s said that the blessed children are usually called Rada.
5. Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park
Photograph by kuenselonline.com
Covering a vast area of 1,730 sq km, the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, once known as the Black Mountains National Park, shares its space with the districts of Trongsa, Tsirang, Sarpang, Zhemgang and Wangdue Phodrang. The National Park is situated on the south-eastern side of Wangdue Phodrang. Largely due to its extent, the park contains ice capped mountain peaks on the one side and alpine pastures, temperate and sub tropical forests on the other. You can spot 391 species of birds, including migratory and endangered species, musk deer, Himalayan Black Bears, Red Panda, Clouded Leopards and the Royal Bengal tiger within its precincts.
The Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park is about 58 km from Wangdue Phodrang.
6. Gangteng Monastery
Photograph by stock.irablock.com
The Gangteng Monastery, also known as Gangtey Monastery, is in the Phobjikha Valley of Wangdue Phodrang District. Established in 1613, the Monastery belongs to the Nyingma tradition of Buddhism propounded by Pema Lingpa.
The original monastery had been revamped with a new structure, with a central hall made with exquisite Tibetan architecture. The monastery has five temples, a guest house, a monastic school and meditation halls. The colourful murals, frescoes and statues and the collection of ancient weapons and arsenal in the monastery are so lovely to see. On a trip to Phobjikha Valley, do visit this magnificent Monastery. The serene sanctity of this temple seems to overflow into the green, lush countryside that lies around the temple.
7. Phobjikha Valley
Photograph by kesari.in
The Phobjikha Valley is a glacial valley at an elevation of about 2,900 m. The ‘U’ shaped valley lies on the western side of the Black Mountains that splits Western and Central Bhutan. One of Bhutan’s most significant marshy lands, the Phobjikha Valley is one of the best places that tourists could visit in Wangdue Phodrang district. The number of birds that make Phobjikha their homes, including the Black Necked Cranes that fly in from Tibet for winter, adds to the charm of the valley. A variety of Dwarf bamboo grows over the lushly marshes of Phobjikha that the cranes feed on.
It is said that upon flying to Phobjikha, the cranes fly around the Gangteng Monastery thrice and do the same before flying back to their homes in Tibet. You can also find Barking Deer, Leopards, Red Foxes, Sambar and wild boars. Phobjikha Valley is about 65km from Wangdue Phodrang.
8. Adha and Rukha Villages
Photograph by bhutan.travel
Adha and Rukha villages on the southern side of Wangdue Phodrang are quaint, charming villages that offer you a peek into the rural communities of Bhutan. You can camp out into the open or better still, arrange to stay in the houses of the friendly villagers who will be most obliged to act the perfect hosts. The villagers will amuse your evenings away with enchanting village folklores and serve a variety of delicious local cuisine.
Take a trip, preferably in autumn as you can watch the harvest being done and furthermore, summer unleashes mosquitoes and leeches.