Bhutan Photo Tour 2019
15 full days of experiencing and photographing the wonders of the isolated Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan with two highly experienced professional photographers and local Bhutanese guides.
Closed to the world for many years, Bhutan is like stepping back in time to a slower more gentle time, a place where the pace of life is more sedate and the people seem to be always smiling. Join Adam Monk & another guest photographer for a 15 day full cultural immersion tour photographing the life, culture and landscape of Bhutan.
Last year Tasmanian photographer Paul Hoelen came along to Bhutan for the first time. It was so successful and we had so much fun that this year we are doing it all again.
- Dates: October 5 – 20 2019
- Cost: US$8,985 Twin Share (see below for full details)
- Single Supplement: US$895
- If you would like to book for Bhutan 2019 email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
- or call on (+61) 415 854 179.
Tour Highlights at a Glance
- Tour begins and ends in Bangkok.
- 15 full days in Bhutan.
- 2 Authentic cultural festivals.
- Small group size of just 10 People.
- All your meals on Tour.
- Travel in cars not a bus, just 2 participants & 1 guide to a car.
- In Bhutan we fly one way, so only half the driving!
- Highly experienced Bhutanese guides and drivers.
- Photo Tuition from 2 full time professional photographers.
The Tour Plan for 2019 with two spectacular festivals.
Each Year I get the Bhutan festival calendar as soon as it’s issued to find the most exciting and culturally beautiful festivals for our group to experience. The rest of the tour is then planned around the festival dates. We don’t go to the big tourist festivals in Thimphu or Paro, where there are more foreigners than Bhutanese. These festivals are still genuine Bhutanese, but they lack atmosphere and photo opportunities. I concentrate on the outlying regions where the festivals are more authentic, where we tourists are in the minority and I always encourage my group to remember that we are guests and to be as unobtrusive as possible.
Two Festivals for this year’s tour
This year we are headed to two beautiful remote festivals, one is the Tamshing Lhakhang Tsechu (A Tsechu is a Buddhist religious festival and celebration) in Bumthang in Central Bhutan, and the other is the Gangtey Tsechu is the beautiful Phobjikha Valley. I have been to the Tamshing Lhakhang Tsechu, so I know this is a gorgeous festival in a exquisite temple with some of the most beautiful painted wall murals I ave ever seen, and while I haven’t yet been to the Gangtey Tsechu, I have been to numerous other festivals in this tiny remote temple (we were there just last year for the Crane Festival), and I know this is just too good a chance to pass up.
The plan for 2019 in Bhutan
After our arrival in Paro we will be flying directly to Jakar in Central Bhutan where we will meet our Guides, Drivers and cars (not a bus!). Here just outside of Jakar we will see our first festival in the tiny Buddhist temple that is Tamshing Lhakhang. Tamshing Lhakhang is one of the oldest and most important Buddhist temples in Bhutan, originally established by Pema Lingpa in 1501. After his death the temple gradually declined, and at one point was being used to store grain and raise chickens… Due to this lack of formal use the temple murals were never repainted,as was normal practise, so the ancient murals from that earlier age can still be viewed in all their crumbling beauty. Tamshing Lhakhang is currently in the process of being World Heritage listed.
We then travel overland along the stunning mountains and valleys of the Himalayas, through the gorgeous region of Bumthang (Land of Beautiful Ladies – According to one of my guides), into the steep and heavily wooded valley of Trongsa and then onto the isolated and unique Phobjikha Valley and the Gangtey Tshechu. In this festival the Monks and the farmers do the dancing and the local people come from all the surrounding towns and villages dressed in their finest and most colourful traditional clothing for the festival days. It is an amazing sight to behold and we are here for two whole days and three nights, so you will have plenty of time to take it all in.
Along the way we stop at many beautiful sites of both natural and cultural wonder, there will lots of time for some slow intimate photography with loads of interaction with the friendly locals. The group is kept to just 10 participants, so there is always time to work on your photography and get plenty of tuition and guidance, as well as learning from each other.
Flying one way across Bhutan
By flying one way, when most tours drive out and back, we save many many hours of driving, which allows us to spend lots more time immersed in the locations and the culture. Having cars instead of a bus, and 1 guide and a driver for every two guests means we have a lot more freedom to explore different locations and a lot more flexibility. If you would like to read more about these details head to my Bhutan Question & Answer page.
The full costs for the 2019 photo tour of Bhutan will be available shortly…
So all this is in process right now, I am just finalising all costs now for this year’s tour. Each year the tour in Bhutan is an adventure and each year the tour is unique, if you would like to be notified when I have finalised the details for Bhutan 2019 email me on email@example.com
Itinerary: 15 day Bhutan Photography Tour 2019.
Day 1 – Oct 05 2019: Bangkok.
We begin the tour in Bangkok, meeting the night before in our hotel to get to know each other a little before boarding our flight to Bhutan the following day. The nights accommodation in Bangkok, breakfast and the flights from Bangkok to Paro return, are all inclusive in the tour.
Day 2 – Oct 06: Arrival & Paro Valley.
We leave Bangkok after an early breakfast in our hotel and the departure area is just a 10 minute bus ride from the hotel. The flight to Paro is just 4.5 hours, so we arrive just in time for lunch. At Paro airport we will be met by our chief guide and driver who will take us to our hotel for tonight to check in and have lunch. After lunch we will spend the rest of the day leisurely exploring the beautiful Paro Valley.
Today the adventure really begins when we fly to Bumthang in Central Bhutan, where we will be met by our cars, drivers and the rest of our Guide team. The internal flight from Paro to Jakar in Central Bhutan takes us over the foothills and mountains of the Himalayas. If we have a clear day (which is usual at that time of year) we will have spectacular views of the countryside we will be seeing on our drive back. This short 45 minute flight is a fabulous way of putting the incredible terrain we will be passing through into perspective. After landing in Jakar and getting settled into our Hotel we will spend a little time investigating the beautiful region of Bumthang around Jakar and heading to the first day of the Tamshing Lhakhang Tsechu, which is just a short drive from our hotel.
Tamshing Lhakhang Tshechu
We have two full days and three nights in Jakar and the area has an enormous wealth of spectacular things for us to see, experience and photograph. The Tamshing Tsechu actually runs for three days, so we will see plenty of that, but there is also the lovely Jakar Dzong to explore. This Dzong (Temple Fortress) was built on a ridge overlooking the Chamkar valley in around 1549 on the site of an even more ancient temple. It is thought to be the biggest Dzong in Bhutan with a circumference of more than 1500 metres and it has many red robed Monks hurrying about their daily business, making for wonderful contract against the ancient white washed walls. We have a spectacular sunrise viewpoint of this Dzong from the site of our hotel just across the valley, so early mornings are a must in Jakar, especially if the valley below fills with fog.
Ura Valley day Excursion from Jakar
On our second day in Jakar we will take a break from the festival at Tamshing Lhakhang and head out on a full day trip to one of the most remote valleys of Bumthang. This is a day of peace and serene nature with a full day excursion to the fourth and most remote valley of the Bumthang region, the Ura Valley. Here we will leave the cars outside the valley and walk down the trail through beautiful autumn countryside and forested hills along the old walking trails that used to be the only link for these remote locations. We are walking downhill, so it’s not a strenuous walk, rather it is a chance to breath the fresh Himalayan air and listen to the sounds of birds, while photographing the beautiful views across the valley along the way. As we reach the bottom of the valley we walk into the outskirts of the traditional rural town of Ura.
The walk ends at the beautiful Ura Lhakhang Temple, where our cars and drivers will be waiting for us with a picnic lunch. The Ura Valley is Bhutan at its most real, daily life as it has been going on for centuries, and a fabulous place to experience it. On our return journey to Jakar, if the gods grant us a clear day, we could catch a glimpse of the spectacular Himalayas with sunset on Jomolhari mountain, on of the sacred mountains and the third highest peak in Bhutan, which incidentally is reputed to have never been climbed.
On our third day in Jakar we will head back to the Tamshing Lhakhang Tsechu, or, you might like to explore the Chamkar Valley or Jakar Town a little more. One of the best things about travelling in cars with lots of guides is that we have so much more flexibility to do different things in our locations. If you are all festivaled out, you just need to convince one other participant (as you will be two to a car) and we can send you off with your own guide and driver for a morning or afternoon excursion. This region is full of amazing and beautiful things to see, you will never be bored.
Day 6 – Oct 10: Bumthang to Trongsa Valley
From the Central Bhutan Region of Bumthang we begin our trek West across the 3000m high Yutonla pass to the steep and heavily wooded valley of Trongsa. The Trongsa Dzong is one of the most spectacularly sited Dzongs in Bhutan, perched on a sheer mountain commanding the valley in both directions. The Trongsa Dzong is the most spectacular that I have seen in Bhutan, it is hands down my favourite building ever. Trongsa Dzong was built in 1648 and has many levels cascading down the mountain on whose side it is precariously perched. It was once the primary seat of power over Central and Eastern Bhutan as the Dzong commands the only connecting trade route in both directions. Both the first and second Kings of Bhutan commanded the country from the ancient seat of Trongsa, and even today is customary for the Crown Prince to serve as the Trongsa Penlop (Governor) prior to ascending the Throne of Bhutan.
We will spend the night in Trongsa and our hotel is just a 30 minute scenic walk (along a level road) around the rim of the valley from the centre of Trongsa town and the Dzong. There are lots of great spots for sunset shots down the Steep wooded valley, and our Hotel has a spectacular viewpoint right across the Trongsa valley to the Dzong at sunrise.
For questions call Adam on 0415 854 179 (International +61 415 854 179) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Day 7-9 Oct 11-13: Trongsa to Phobjikha Valley – Gangtey Tshechu
We will spend the morning beginning with a sunrise shoot from our hotel balcony of the stunning Trongsa Valley with the spectacular Trongsa Dzong clinging to the hillside, hopefully with a bit of mist forming in the valley. After breakfast we are off again, heading through the Mangdi Valley, across Wangdue and the Sha Valley over the Pelela Pass at 3,400 metres in the direction of Punakha. Before reaching Punakha though we will be making a diversion, turning South and heading to the wide glacial valley of Phobjikha and the lovely town of Gangtey with its beautiful 17th Century Monastery and Temple.
The Phobjikha Valley is unlike anywhere else we visit in Bhutan in that it was formed through glacial action and it is wide and open with gentle slopes and woodlands on both sides. The town of Gangtey is situated on a high promontory at one end of the valley and has wide sweeping views right down the valley on all 4 sides. Gangtey is a spectacular location for our second cultural festival, the Gangtey Tshechu, which is held in the Monastery each year, and begins the day we arrive.
The Gangtey Tshechu
The Gangtey Tshechu is a very special festival that happens for 3 days a year in the Gangtey Goemba, and we are there for all three days of this festival. Gangtey is a particularly beautiful town in an almost unbelievably scenic location, so there will be loads of great viewpoints as the locals dress in their finest for the festivities and the Monks come into town from the communities all around.
But there are many things to see in the Phobjikha Valley and we will divide our time between watching the dances and stories at the festival and walking in the beautiful landscape of the valley itself. The Phobjikha Valley is actually a sanctuary for the endangered Black Necked Cranes that migrate here each year, and by the time we get there we should see the first of them coming into their winter home. We also know a few of the locals quite well in Phobjikha, so it’s always nice to visit in the afternoon to experience village life first hand.
Day 10 – Oct 14: Gangtey to Punakha.
Onwards to Punhaka and the Chimi Lhakhang, crossing the Pele-la pass at an altitude of 3,400 meters. The Chimi Lhakhang is the Temple of the Divine Madman. This Temple was built to honour the Lama Drukpa Kunley, whose outrageous and often sexual methods of sharing Buddhism are a legend all over Bhutan and thus he is known as the Divine Madman. We will end today with a sunset shoot of the spectacular Punhaka Dzong built at the confluence of the Mo-Chu and Po-Chu (Mother and Father Rivers). The following day we will spend exploring some of the many Temples, Monasteries and Palaces in the Punakha Region as well as the stunning Punhaka Dzong.
The Punakha Dzong was built in 1637 to command the confluence of the Po Chhu and Mo Chhu Rivers (mother and father rivers). The full title of the Punakha Dzong is Druk Pungthang Dechen Phodrang, which means the Palace of Great Happiness. In the past it has been the seat of Bhutan’s Government and is now the home Je Khempo the head of the Buddhist Monk body of Bhutan and more than 1000 Monks. The Punakha Dzong has many levels and corridors to explore as well as two stunning Temples. There are many great viewpoints of spectacular architecture of stark white walls contrasted beautifully with the deep red robes of the Monks as they go about their daily rituals. The Punakha Dzong also makes for a spectacular sunset and twilight shot.
Day 11 – Oct 15: Punakha to Thimphu.
After Breakfast in Punakha we will head in the direction of Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. On the way there we will stop for a shot at the Dochula Pass, where, weather permitting, we will be blessed with a spectacular view of the Himalayas stretching away into the mist before heading into the city of Thimpu. Thimpu is not what you expect from a capital city, it is set in a lovely rural valley with beautiful natural scenery on all sides and buildings built in the traditional Bhutanese style, but still with all the modern conveniences of a large town. A few years ago the local authorities installed a set of traffic lights at one of the main intersections in Thimpu, but there was such a large outcry about it that it was swiftly removed and the small police box (with policeman inside) was reinstalled into the centre of the intersection, where you will still find him today directing traffic with an intricate ballet of hand signals.
Day 12 – Oct 16: Exploring the Thimphu Valley.
Thimphu is the bustling city of Bhutan, but it is really just a big town filled with an amazing mix of the old and the new side by side. The ancient culture of Bhutan is alive and well in Thimphu, and we have many options of things to see an photograph here, including the lovely old Monastery and temples of Tango or Chari just a short drive out of town.
It’s about 1.5 hours walk up the hill through the Pine trees to reach the historic 13th century Tango or Chari Monastery and Buddhist Collage. Here we can spend all morning exploring and photographing the temples and Monks, before a picnic lunch at the edge of the forest and a sunset shoot of the magical Thimphu Valley with the incredible Thimphu Dzong as foreground.
Day 13 – Oct 17: Thimphu to Haa Valley.
Today we begin a slow drive through the lovely Thimphu valley on roads that wind around the mountains overlooking the lush forested valleys with rushing white water rivers. You will see the landscape change as we ascend from the Thimphu Valley up into the Haa district of Bhutan with its stunning open series of valleys situated between the town of Paro and the Capital of Thimphu, adjacent to the Chinese border.
The whole region was closed to tourism until very recently due to its very sensitive proximity to China, and in fact there is only one small, beautiful hotel. The Haa Valley itself is a stunning steep sided valley running North to South, with many spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and countryside filled with forests, farm land and rice paddies clinging to sides of the mountains. We spend the whole day here exploring the valley and the sights that Haa has to offer, as well as a taste of the wonderful regional food of Haa.
Day 14: Haa Valley to Paro.
Today we take a slow meandering path out of the Haa valley in the direction of Paro. Weather permitting we will do lots of walking on the quiet winding roads that pass the cultivated fields and farm houses of Haa.
It’s a place of small quiet villages of simple subsistance farming and gentle peaceful life, all with the backdrop of the spectacular steep sided valley and the Himalayan mountains! We end the day back where we began the journey 15 days ago in the lovely valley town of Paro.
Day 15: Paro – Tigers Nest.
We have saved one of the best until last… the hike to the Taktsang Monastery and the Tigers Nest. It is quite a long hike up, especially if you are stopping every 5 minutes to make photographs, which you will be. It is an amazing place built right on the edge of the cliff and every step of the walk up through the conifer forest is beautiful, take lots of memory cards!
You do have the option of a horse trip up to the Cafe at the half way point, but I think the walk is just too good to miss. Our wonderful guides and drivers will bring a picnic lunch up for us to a great spot on the side of the mountain, there is even hot tea. The afternoon is free to have a hot stone bath at our Hotel, or wander a bit more around Paro town. For those who have been missing their coffee, Paro also has the best coffee since Thimphu, and a great atmospheric little cafe to enjoy it in. This evening will be our last together, and the time to really say goodbye to our guides and hosts for this amazing adventure. We end the evening with a hot rum punch, a speciality of the Hotel barman, and a slideshow of memories.
Day 16 – Nov 19th 2018: Breakfast and Departure.
Our last breakfast together, then pack and off to the Paro airport for final goodbyes for our flight to Bangkok. Prepare to shed a tear or two here where you will say goodbye to our guides & Drivers, our constant companions and friends from the last two weeks. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself back in Bhutan in the very near future!
** This Itinerary is the plan, Actual tour may vary slightly due to festival dates, weather, road conditions or other things beyond our control. Either way, we will ensure you get the best photographic tour that we can provide and you will come away with fantastic images and memories that will last a lifetime.
The Important Details.
- Dates for 2018: Oct 5th – 20th 2019 – Booking Now.
- Cost: US$8,985 Twin Share**
- Single Supplement: US$895
** The tour price is based on a Twin Share price. To book the twin share rate you must specify a room partner, as we cannot be responsible for pairing you with others.
- First night accommodation & breakfast in Bangkok to begin the tour.
- Flights from Bangkok to Bhutan and return to Bangkok.
- Scenic domestic flight from Paro to Bumthang.
- Full 15 days in Bhutan with all land content included.
- All you meals, transportation and accommodation in Bhutan.
- All photographic tuition and workshops for the duration of the tour.
- Two professional photographers to help you get the best photos.
- Extensive photographic notes to help you remember all you have learnt.
- Fully functional Lightroom catalogue with Bhutan Keywords & Smart Collections pre-loaded.
- Bhutan Visas.
What’s Not Included
- Flights to and from Bangkok.
- Evening meal in Bangkok (night before we leave for Bhutan).
- Travel insurance (required as a condition of booking).
- Camera Insurance.
- Alcohol and extra beverages.
- Any extras you may wish to buy along the way.
- Tips for Bhutanese guides and staff along the way.
Booking Soon for 2019.
- Full details will be available shortly
- If you would like early notification for Bhutan 2019 email me at email@example.com
- or call me on (+61) 415 854 179.
Your Photo Guide – Adam Monk
Adam is an award winning landscape and travel photographer with a longstanding passion for the natural environment. He has been travelling and photographing the worlds wild places for over 25 years and the enthusiasm just continues to grow. Adam has been based out of his own landscape photography gallery in the port city of Fremantle Western Australia for the last 13 years and his images can be found in numerous private and corporate collections all over the world. For the last 11 years Adam has been organising and running photography workshops and photography tours to some of the worlds wild and beautiful places such as The Kimberley, Cambodia, Iceland, Greenland and of course Bhutan, where he has been visiting regularly since 2011. This trip in 2019 will be Adam’s 9th photo tour to Bhutan, it’s a place he never gets tired of and the anticipation before each tour is just like the first time.
Your Photo Guides – Paul Hoelen
Originally born in New Zealand to a Dutch Sailor and an American Nun, Paul has managed to put his four passports to excellent use before eventually settling on the beautiful, wild island of Tasmania. Paul is a Master of Photography in the AIPP and Fellow of the NZIPP, he has won many awards and judges regularly at a state, national and international level, runs photo workshops worldwide and writes for numerous magazines. Self taught, travel hungry and with a healthy thirst for adventure he thrives on the challenge and freshness of shooting a wide diversity of genres ranging from fine art nudes, landscapes, and large-scale event photography through to fashion, travel, documentary and environmental portraiture – though he’s most renowned for his exquisite landscape imagery.
If you would like to be notified when I have finalised the details for Bhutan 2019 email me on firstname.lastname@example.org