Bhutan 2017 Photography Adventure Tour
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Spend 13 days in Bhutan in The Happiest Country in the World, May 01 to 13 2017.
Bhutan offers truly unique photography opportunities - unspoilt culture, nature and tradition. Matt has customised a tour with exclusive photographic access usually off limits events, as well as all of the must see sites.
New for 2017, we visit an exciting fire purification ceremony and festival in the East of Bhutan and will stay in homestay accommodation in the Haa Valley – which has only just been opened to tourism.
Our tour price INCLUDES return airfares to/from Bangkok - this is around $860 that is often not included in other tours. The price also includes transfers, domestic flight, bottled water, all meals and hotel tips. We will have SIM cards ready for everyone on arrival so you have mobile data whilst travelling (where network available). There are no hidden costs. We are travelling in a higher standard of accommodation - a mix of 3, 4 and 5 stars options that Matt has personally visited and checked.
We are flying one way from Paro to Bumthang - this saves a considerable amount of driving. We will see this beautiful countryside on the return trip. Less time in a car means more time meeting locals, exploring and photographing. We are also travelling with one of the most senior tour guides in all of Bhutan. Tshering has been in the industry for over 25 years and is known through- out the country. We will be taking two buses, two local guides, two drivers and two hosts. So you have lots of space for your gear and to travel in comfort, great guide/participant ratios, and I will be on hand throughout the tour for photographic guidance.
And for the first time, my wife Kate will be joining as your second host.
Detailed Itinerary 1-13 May, 2017
Day 1 - May 1, 2017: Arrive Paro
You will board your morning flight from Bangkok and fly on Bhutans national airline to Paro international airport (flight included). I will be waiting along with our local guides to collect you from the airport to transfer to our accomodations. We will head for an introductory group lunch before visiting the 17th century Paro Rimpung Dzong. We will walk back through town to explore Paro on our way to group dinner.
Day 2: Paro to Bumthang Overland
We will take a domestic flight from Paro to Bumthang. This local flight will take us over the regions of Bumthang – famously known as the Sacred Valley of Bhutan. Arriving at lunch time we will check into our 3 star resort for two nights. We will spend the afternoon exploring ancients temples of Jamphel Lhakhang, Kurjey and Tamshing on foot.
Day 3: Bumthang
This day we will drive to the exquisite Tang Valley for exploration and a visit to Ugyencholing Palace and museum. On the way we will visit Pema Choling Nunnery, which is home to around 100 nuns aged 12-70. Lunch will be local cuisine such as buckwheat noodles and pancakes. In the evening we will attend an evening prayer ceremony and photo session in an ancient monastery. Photography is usually not allowed indoors, but we have arranged exclusive access for our guests.
Day 4: Bumthang to Chumey
In the morning we will tour the Jakar Dzong, The Fortress of white bird. The Dzong was built in 1667 and offers spectacular views over the surrounding valley. In the afternoon we will take a scenic drive to Chumey Valley for the festival highlight of our tour. The drive to the valley is beautiful, winding through dense pine forest and over the Kiki la Mountain pass (2850 Metres).
En-route we will be able to see local women weaving “Yathra” – a woollen fabric famously originated from Chumey valley. In the evening around 6pm, we depart from our resort to attend and witness the “Mewang”, fire cleansing ceremony and rituals in Domkhar local temple. This ancient tradition is held the evening before the festival to clear the village of evil spirits, and it offers magnificent photographic opportunities.
Day 5: Festival
Today we spend the morning witnessing a traditional mask dancing and village folk dances in amazing colourful costumes of the Tshechu Festival. Bhutan’s festivals are joyous expressions of it’s Buddhist culture. People bring their finest clothes, their most beautiful jewels; they take out picnics and alcohol. Men and women joke and flirt.
The festival in Chumey is especially colourful, vibrant and traditional. In the afternoon, we drive over Yothong la Pass (3450 meters) and onwards to Trongsa. We will stop along the way to visit small villages, dzongs and other photographic opportunities as they arise.
Day 6: Trongsa to Wangdi
Today we rise early for a full day drive through the villages of Chedepji, Rukupji and over Pele Pass (3300 meters). After the pass we descend and make our journey to a lower fertile valley in western Bhutan used for the cultivation of famous Bhutanese red rice. If time permits we can visit Punakha Dzong in the evening before we settle in our hotel, otherwise the following morning.
Punakha Dzong is the second largest Dzong, and arguably the most impressive in Bhutan. It is positioned beautifully at the confluence of two rivers, and is most spectacular at this time of year with the lilac-coloured jacaranda trees in bloom.
Day 7: Punakha to Thimphu
In the morning we head to Chimi Lhakhang – a temple dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kinley, the divine Mad Monk. This temple is a centre of fertility, and a common pilgrimage for couples looking to conceive. The township is uniquely decorated with a vast range of phallic symbols and carvings.
As we head onward to Bhutan’s capital of Thimphu, we will navigate Dochula pass (3000 meters), which features a collection of 108 traditional stupa's. On arrival to Thimphu we will explore the weekend market which displays mainly local produce and handicrafts. We will also visit the Changlingmethang Stadium to watch and photograph locals competing in the national sport of Archery.
Day 8: Thimphu
Today we have a full day in the capital city of Bhutan. Thimphu is a small and quaint town by international standards, but after our time in more remote areas, its small population of 90,000 will feel like a bustling city! We will visit the traditional handicrafts college where students still undertake 3 and 4 year courses in traditional Bhutanese arts such as painting, sculpting, sewing and woodwork. We will see the students at work and have arranged full access to photograph as they practice their crafts.
We will also walk through town, visiting local market and handicraft shops and have an international cuisine for lunch. After lunch we will have several hours of free time for you to relax, or explore Thimphu on your own. This small city is safe to wander and offers rich street photography opportunities. In the afternoon we will head out to the famous Buddha Dordenma statue, which stands at an impressive 169 feet tall. This is a excellent opportunity to shoot the statue and surrounding fields in the afternoon light before heading back into town for dinner at a traditional Bhutanese restaurant.
Day 9: Thimphu to Haa
After breakfast we depart the capital city and start our journey to Haa Valley. We follow Thim chuu (chuu means river) and pass through the small hamlet villages of Dobji Dzong, Dawakha, Betikha and Jenkana.
We will have a picnic lunch near Bitikha with scenic view of its surrounding mountains and villages. In the afternoon, we continue our journey northwards through Haa town and will settle for the evening to experience a home and farmhouse stay in an old traditional Bhutanese house renovated into a charming Heritage Lodge. They are traditional homes renovated and converted to accommodate travellers. Rest assured they are comfortable, clean and warm and the food is some of the tastiest and most traditional we will experience.
Day 10: Explore Haa Valley
The Haa Valley was only recently opened to tourism and has remained beautifully quaint and untainted by the influences of modern development. On my last visit I joined locals ramming earth to build a new temple, and made portraits of some locals who had never had a photo taken of them in their life!
We will explore the Valley on foot, visiting a number of villages as we head through Haatey to town and also visit temples in dedication to “Ap Chundu” the main protective deity of Haa. In the evening we will prepare our own dinner in a local cooking session. The homestay chef will guide us through making a couple of local dishes including “Hoentey”, a style of stuffed dumplings unique to the Haa region.
Day 11: Haa to Paro
We make our journey from Haa valley to Paro over the Chele pa Pass, one of the highest motorable road in Bhutan (3988 mtr). If weather permits, we will be able to see snow capped peaks like Mt Jomolhari Jichu Drake and Tserim Gang - each above 7000 metres tall.
En route we will visit the Kila Gompa Nunnery, located on the cliffs below Chele pass at about 3,500m. There are around seven small temples and several retreat huts built into a dizzying sheer cliffside, where up to 70 nuns live in self-imposed isolation. There are great views from here of Paro valley below, a view of Jele Dzong across on the far ridge and also seen to the north, are Mt Chomolhari and Jichu Drake on a clear day.
Afterwards we head to Paro for lunch in town. In the afternoon we will visit Drakarpo (white split Cliff), one of the most sacred pilgrimage sites in Bhutan. Drakarpo monastery is located on a high cliff, with a path circling the temple. Buddhists walk around the temple and cliff 108 times ceremonially to tame the mind and remove negatives forces.
Day 12: Tiger's Nest Temple
Today is another major highlight, with a visit up to Tigers Nest Monastery which dates back to the 8th century.
Tigers Nest is one of the most spectacular and well known Buddhist temples in the world, but very few people get the chance to see it first hand. The ascent is steep and requires a moderate amount of fitness. We will take regular breaks and split into groups to allow everyone to go at their own pace.
We will take our time to admire the nature and amazing structure, before heading back down to the lookout for a late delicious buffet lunch. After the hike we will all be checking into the beautiful 5 star Zhiwaling Hotel in Paro, where everyone will have the opportunity to try traditional archery (included in price).
The hotel also has world class massage, spa and traditional hot stone baths (optional), as well as a fantastic restaurant. Our final group dinner is tonight.
Day 13 – May 13, 2017 - Paro - International Departure
Breakfast at Zhiwaling, then transfer to Paro airport for return flights to Bangkok (included).
Total cost $7600pp twin share.
Trip cost includes:
- Hotel and lodge accommodation, 11 nights, in 3 star hotels and lodges, double occupancy basis.
- 1 night in deluxe 5 star accomodation
- All meals and bottled water throughout the trip.
- Return flights from Bangkok to Paro
- Your Visa for Bhutan
- Local sim card
- All transportation within Bhutan, including a domestic flight.
- Entry fees to all sights visited.
- Tips for all hotels and locals.
- Group and informal individual photography instruction and photo review by Matt Granger, includes pre-trip consultations on gear selection.
- Group trip insurance
- Archery session on day 12.
Trip cost does not include:
- International flights to/from Bangkok
- Excess baggage on domestic flights (20kg limit)
- Alcoholic beverages
- Single supplement ($450)
- Hotel spa & massage services
- Shopping and extras.
- $1,500 deposit via paypal below required to secure your place. Compare our ITINERARY, INCLUSIONS AND PRICE - this is a very well priced package.
ONLY 1 PLACE REMAINs available
While this trip is cultural in nature, and designed to accommodate travelers of differing fitness levels, we will be reaching altitudes in excess of 3500 meters, or nearly 12,000 feet. Travelers are strongly encouraged to consult with their doctor prior to this undertaking to ensure they are fit enough to embark on such a journey, and to make any medically necessary preparations in anticipation of the trip.
While the trip is geared towards photographers, all are welcome, as there will be much to see and do beyond taking pictures. Aside from Tiger's Nest, where we will slowly walk up and down stairs, the trip will be of a medium exertion level. Hikes in the Haa Valley will be non-strenuous in nature, with most of the time spent photographing and observing the flora and fauna.
Minimum group size 8, max 12.