bhutan

oct 26-nov 8, 2017

$5,490 (per person, based on double occupancy)

The Buddhist Kingdom of Bhutan lies along the lofty ridges of the eastern Himalayas, bordered by China (Tibet) to the north and northwest, and by the Indian states in, south and west respectively. Opened for tourism in 1974, after the coronation of the present King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Bhutan is perhaps the world’s most exclusive tourist destination. The country still retains all the charm of the old world, and travelers experience the full glory of this ancient land as embodied in the monastic fortresses, ancient temples, monasteries and stupas which dot the countryside, prayer flags fluttering above farmhouses and on the hillsides, lush forests, rushing glacial rivers, and – perhaps most important of all – the warm smiles and genuine friendliness of the people.

Itinerary

Day 1 - Arrival at Paro Airport (2,200m/7,218ft) 

Fly into the Himalayas with Druk Air, Bhutan’s National Carrier. The green wall of hills known as ‘Dooars’ or gateways to Bhutan rise ever higher as the plane flies north towards the Tibet border. Silvery rivers rush along the valleys, waterfalls plunge down forested mountainside, and to the north, the great snowcapped peaks of the inner Himalayas rise up to the heavens. Farm houses dot the hillsides on either side of the plane. As the aircraft enters the Paro valley, look down and you will see Paro Dzong on the hillside overlooking the Paro Chu (river), with Ta Dzong, formerly a watchtower and now the National Museum, above it. Our representative will meet you at Paro airport, and after completion of arrival formalities you will be transferred to Bhutan’s capital, Thimphu, an exciting blend of tradition and modernity. Dinner and overnight at our hotel in Thimphu. 

Day 2 - Thimpu 

Today we will explore the Thimpu City. Thimphu sightseeing will include visit to National Memorial Chorten: The building of this chorten was originally the idea of Bhutan’s third king, H.M. Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (“the father of modern Bhutan”), who had wished to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity, but was unable to give shape to his idea in his lifetime due to pressures of state. Tashichhodzong: The “fortress of the glorious religion”, was initially erected in 1641 and rebuilt by King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck in the 1960s. Tashichhodzong houses some ministries, His Majesty’s secretariat, and the central monk body. It is open to visitors during the Thimphu Tsechu (held in autumn) and while the monk body is resident in its winter quarters in Punakha. We will take you to the local traditional market where all village people assemble to sale their products – vegetable, fruits etc. We will have lunch at a local town restaurant with typical Bhutanese red rice and curry. Later we take you to the city center to have your own time to explore. There are several Handicrafts shops: A wide assortment of colorful,  handwoventextilesandothercraftproductsisavailableforpurchaseatthegovernment­run Handicrafts Emporium and many smaller crafts shops around the town. Back to hotel for freshen up and later in the evening we take you to a Bhutanese farm house where you can interact with the local host and experience a traditional folk show. After dinner, we drive back to the hotel and, in-route, see the beautiful illuminated Dzong of Thimpu from a distance. It is a good opportunity to take some nice night shot with a tripod. 

Day 3 - Thimpu To Punakha ­

We drive to Punakha (70 Km) via the Duchula pass (3050 meters). From here one can have superb view of the Mountain ranges on a clear day. Drive on to Punakha which served as the capital of Bhutan until 1955 and still it is the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot). Blessed with a temperate climate and fed by the Pho Chu (male) and Mo Chu (female) rivers, Punakha is the most fertile valley in the country. Enroute we will have lunch near Chimi Lathnag and explore the possibilities of some village life photography with lush agricultural field on terraced land and harvesting. Continue driving to Punakha Dzong. Placed strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers, the Dzong was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative center of the region. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored in recent years by the present monarch. Later we head to the hotel and have a relaxed evening followed by dinner. 

Day 4 - Punakha to Gasa 

Today we drive further up the Punakha valley along the scenic Mo Chu River towards Gasa. Gasa has become a tourist destination because of its pristine forests and the exceptionally scenic location of its Dzong. The high altitude makes farming difficult, although government programs seek to establish mustard and summer vegetable planting programs. Residents herd yaks and dzos – crossbreed of Cow and Yak. A narrow road from Punakha, which is mostly unpaved, reaches up to the Dzong. We will have lunch in Gasa and while coming back we will have the opportunity to try River Rafting in the Mo Chu River. 

Day 5 - Punakha - Wangduephodrang - Gangtey (Phobjikha)

After breakfast, we drive to Wangduephodrang. Wangdue district is famous for its fine bamboo work, stone carvings, and slate which is mined up a valley a few kilometers from the town. Then we drive up a winding mountain road through oak and rhododendron forest, and over a high pass down into the Phobjikha valley, surely one of the loveliest high altitude valleys in Bhutan. Phobjikha is one of Bhutan’s few glacial valleys, and chosen winter home of black necked cranes, migrating from the Tibetan plateau. We explore Phobjikha valley and also visit Gangtey Gompa (Monastery), the only Nyingmapa monastery in western Bhutan and the richly renovated monastery offering rich architecture and paintings.

Day 6 - Full day in Phobjhika Valley for the Black necked Crain festival 

In the morning, we will go for walk close to the hotel, and see the children who walk for hours to reach their nearest school. Phobjikha is a paradise for nature lovers and hikers. There are lots of great places for hikes around the valley. We will also visit the famous Crain Festival. The Annual Black-­necked Crane festival is celebrated in the courtyard of Gangtey Gonpa, in Phobjikha valley. The festival is an occasion for the locals to rejoice and celebrate the arrival of this endangered and majestic bird which becomes an inseparable part their daily lives during the winter months. Overnight at Phobjhikha.

Day 7 - Phobjhikha to Trongsa

Today, we continue on to Tongsa across Pele­la pass (3,300m/10,830ft), the traditional boundary between east and west. The pass is marked by a large white chorten and prayer flags. There is an abrupt change in vegetation at this point, with mountain forest replaced by high altitude dwarf bamboo. Stop en route at Chendebji Chorten, patterned on Kathmandu’s Swayambhunath Stupa, with eyes painted at the four cardinal points. It was built in the 18th century by Lama Shida from Tibet, to cover the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot. Arrive at Tongsa in the afternoon and check into the lodge for the night. 

Day 8 - Trongsa to Bumthang 

After breakfast, walk by Tongsa Dzong (built by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in 1647) and climb up a steep path to visit the Ta Dzong (watchtower), dedicated to the epic hero, King Gesar of Ling. Then we drive to

Bumthang, over the Yutong­la pass (3,400m/11,155ft). The road winds steeply up to the pass, then runs down through coniferous forest into a wide, open, cultivated valley known as the Chumey valley. On arrival in Bumthang, check in at your lodge. After lunch, we’ll visit Kurje Lhakhang (“where the saint’s body is imprinted on a rock”), Jambey Lhakhang (7th century), Tamshing Monastery (housing some of the oldest wall paintings in Bhutan), and Jakar Dzong (administrative center of the region). Stroll in the village, visit the little handicrafts shop at the entrance to the town, and perhaps take refreshments at a local restaurant. Dinner and overnight at the lodge. 

Day 9 - Bumthang - Jambay lhakhang Drup Festival

One of the most spectacular festivals in the country, called Jambay lhakhang Drup is hosted here. The festival lasts for five days. The highlight of the festival is the fire ritual that is held in the evening where crowds gather to witness the ritualistic naked dance (no Photography allowed). We will explore the Bumthang valley and experience the colourful festival . We will also visit Kurje Lhakhang, one of the most sacred places in the kingdom as Bhutan’s “patron saint”, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) meditated here. From Kurje monastery, a tarmac road heads south along the right bank of the river to Jambey Lhakhang. This temple, erected by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century, is one of the two oldest in Bhutan (the other being Kyichu Lhakhang in Paro). After lunch, we will visit Tamshing Lhakhang, founded in 1501 by Pema Lingpa. It contains interesting and ancient Buddhist wall paintings. Later on we will visit Jakar Dzong, “the dzong of the white bird”, then take a stroll through Bumthang’s market area before returning to the lodge. 

Day 10 - Festival and Ura Valley 

Today we have another day to enjoy the festival and also we have the opportunity to take a drive to Ura Valley one of the most interesting villages in Bhutan. There are about 40 closely packed houses along cobblestone streets, and the main Ura Lhakhang dominates the town, giving it a medieval atmosphere. We will have plenty of time to take photographs of landscape and people in the villages, harvesting and engaged in daily life. We head back to Bumthang Valley in the afternoon. 

Day 11 - Paro

Today we take a morning flight to Paro from the small air field at Bumthang. This 30 minute flight is an alternative to 8 to 9 hour long journey through the same road. We reach Paro airport and transfer to Hotel. We take early lunch and then go for a short village visit and interact with village families and see their household activities. In the afternoon we visit a farm house and try a unique traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath. The stones are especially collected from the river which has medicinal value and is very relaxing and beneficial for authorities, blood circulation, skin diseases etc. This will be followed by a traditional Bhutanese dinner with the head of the family of the farm house. 

Day 12 - Paro - Taktsang Monastery 

After early breakfast we take you to an excursion to Taktsang Monastery, also known as Tiger’s Nest. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche, founding father of the Bhutanese form of Mahayana Buddhism, arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery. Taktsang was damaged severely by fire in 1998 but was restored again. It is a place really worth visiting in the Paro Valley. The monastery structure is a man-made wonder and it is difficult to believe that how could this structure be built on such a location. On our way back we will have a picnic lunch organized among the woods and then visit Drugyel Dzong where the road ends. On a clear day the towering peak of Mount Jomolhari, (7,314 m / 24,000 ft) appears as a backdrop. This mountain marks the frontier with Tibet, and is regarded as sacred. Drukyel Dzong, with a delightful village at its foot, is built on a rocky spur that blocked the Paro valley and protected it from invasions from the north - it means “fortress of the victorious Drukpas”. In 1951, a butter lamp fell and started a terrible fire. Only the walls remained and Drukyel Dzong became no more than a dramatic silhouette falling into ruins. Upon reaching the hotel, we have a free evening. We can go for a short stroll in the downtown market to observe the city life of Bhutan.

Day 13 - Paro

Today is a leisure day, which anyone can spend at the town for personal activity or we can get together for a walk. The town of Paro has unique character with traditional shops, emporium, eateries, and coffee center. Take your time to laze around this beautiful town along the Paro River. You can also spend time in your hotel spa. This is also a buffer day in Paro just in case the flight from Bumthang to Paro does not operate in bad weather, etc – which is a common phenomenon in Bumthang. 

Day 14 - Departure

Today we fly out from Paro.


PRICE: $5,490

  • Per person in double occupancy room
  • $490 additional for single room accommodation

price includes

  • Transfer to and from airport upon arrival and departure
  • 13 night accommodation 
  • All meals
  • Private transportation
  • Highly qualified local English speaking guide
  • All park and site entrance fees 
  • Visa fees
  • Tax and royalties to Bhutan Government 
  • Domestic flight from Bumthang to Paro (one-­way, economy class)
  • Professional photography instructors Chris Marquardt and Tim Vollmer

price does not include

  • International airfare to and from Bhutan
  • Alcoholic beverages
  • Gratuities
  • What is not mentioned as included

 

tour overview:

  • Dates: October 26-November 8, 2017
  • Price: $5,490 (per person, based on double occupancy)
  • Location: Bhutan
  • Education: field instruction, class instruction and one-on-one critiques
  • Highlights: Landscape, architecture, ancient ruins, nature, vistas, people, Bumthang Festival, visiting typical Bhutanese villages, Tiger Nest, farm houses, local culture, interact with villagers
  • Points of Interest: Paro, Thimpu, Punakha, Gangtey, Bumthang

Photography instructor: Tim Vollmer

Photography instructor: Chris Marquardt

Photography instructor: Chris Marquardt

Tim has everything. He has the knowledge, the eye, the patience. He is an amazing photographer, one of the best I know. A great person and professional photographer. Highly recommended him - he is just amazing.
— Sharon Hahn