The clashing noise of the cymbals and drawn-out sound of the long horn extends over the courtyard walls as I enter the gates of the Gangtey Monastery in central Bhutan for the first time. Immediately as I pass through, I am enthralled by the mixture of colorful masked dances known as cham and the melodies helping contort the dancers’ bodies in deep devotion. This is my first time to Bhutan, and the first time I get to witness a tsechu (religious festival), where masked beasts battle to purify and protect the communities of Phobjikha Valley. The community is gathered to celebrate the arrival of the endangered black-necked crane, which will be a part of the locals’ daily lives through the winter months. Luckily I happen to be in Phobjikha shortly after the arrival of 100-plus cranes, which adds to liveliness of the festival and significance of my experience.

–Video and story by Seth Masarik, Wilderness Travel staff, Hidden Bhutan

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