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Day 104: Gantey

Michael Palin - Himalaya'And today there are 270.'

He is certain that his close relationship with the King helped. King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, educated in Britain, succeeded to the throne after the death of his father in 1972. He was 27. Before that, I get the impression that he and Benji had some pretty good times together, a sort of Falstaff-Prince Hal relationship. As Benji puts it to me.

'I was his court jester. I used to make him laugh.'

'So saving the cranes was a payback for the times you've cheered him up?'

Benji nods.'I believe that. I believe that very strongly.'

We aren't far from the village when we have our first sight of them. In the brilliant morning sun, some 30 or 40 birds are pecking around for grain and insects in a recently ploughed field. They stand about three feet tall (1m) and look to me like a cross between a goose and a heron, with slender, pale grey bodies, black tails and, of course, black necks. The only splash of colour is a tiny red cap. They aren't arrestingly beautiful by any means, and I suppose I'm a little disappointed that rare doesn't necessarily mean resplendent. Indeed, Benji, in his red and green check kho with black, knee-length stockings and pristine white trainers, is a lot more exotic than the birds we've come so far to see. But their rarity has won them respect and the black-necked crane is thought to have great religious significance, proven by the fact that when they first arrive in the valley they always circle the monastery on the hill three times.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 104: Gantey
  • Country/sea: Bhutan
  • Place: Gantey
  • Book page no: 241

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