Bhutan Photo Tour 2018 dates are up…
Bhutan Photo Tour 2016
15 full days of experiencing and photographing the wonders of the isolated Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan. 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 for a 15 day immersion tour photographing the life, culture and landscape of Bhutan.
- Dates for 2016: Oct 3 – 18th 2016, 15 full days in Bhutan
- 2016 Tour Fully Booked and complete. See above for 2018
Bhutan, Land of Mystery & Contradiction
Bhutan is a magical place filled with lovely people, spectacular scenery, ancient buildings and a thriving traditional culture that dates back thousands of years. In many ways visiting Bhutan is like stepping through a doorway in time, ancient temples with serene saffron robed Monks chanting mantras bathed in clouds of incense smoke…
It’s quite a picture. Then somewhere a mobile phone rings. The Serene Monk stops his chanting, reaches into his volumous robe, pulls out his iPhone 7s and begins an animated conversation with someone on the other end of the line… Probably another serene Monk in another Ancient Temple across the mist shrouded valley.
This is Bhutan…
Bhutan 2016 – Three remote Cultural Festivals!
This year we have turned the itinerary around to allow us to visit three Cultural festivals in remote Central Bhutan. We won’t be going to the easy touristy festivals, instead we will be travelling overland through the regions of Punakha and into Bumthang to see the real thing, where the Monks and the farmers are the dancers and the local people dress in their finest and most colourful traditional dress for the festival days. 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 small, so there is always time to work on your photography and get plenty of tuition and guidance, as well as learning from each other.
Tour Highlights at a Glance
- 15 full days in Bhutan.
- 3 authentic cultural festivals.
- Small group size of only 10 People
- All your meals on Tour.
- Travel in cars not a bus, 2 participants to a car.
- We fly one way, so only half the driving!
- Highly experienced Bhutanese guides and drivers.
Itinerary: 15 day Bhutan Photography Tour 2016
Day 1 – Oct 3rd 2016 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 Paro, 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: Paro – Haa Valley.
We leave Bangkok after an early breakfast in our hotel. The departure area is just a 5 minute bus ride from the hotel. The flight to paro is just 4.5 hours, so we arrive well before lunch. We will be met at the Paro Airport by our guides and drivers, have a cup of tea and freshen up a little before heading off for our first stop in the beautiful Haa Valley, where we will spend a relaxing day acclimatising and experiencing our first sights of the Bhutan Landscape.
Day 3: Haa Valley.
The Haa district of Bhutan is a stunning open series of valleys situated between the town of Paro and the Capital of Thimphu, right next 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 our first taste of the wonderful regional food of Haa.
Day 4: Haa to the Thimphu Valley.
Today we begin a slow drive through more of the stunning Haa district, 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 descend into the Thimphu Valley and then down into Thimphu town itself, the Capital of Bhutan. 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 that it was swiftly removed and the small police box (with policeman inside) was reinstalled into the centre of the intersection. You will still find him there today directing traffic with an intricate ballet of hand signals.
Day 5: Thimphu Town.
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 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 6: Thimphu to Punakha.
Onwards to Punhaka and the Chimi Lhakhang, 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. To get to the Temple we walk through a small rural village and then across rice paddies where the rice harvest should be in full swing. In the afternoon we will explore the Punakha Valley a little more including the spectacular Punhaka Dzong built at the confluence of the Mo-Chu and Po-Chu (Mother and Father Rivers). We will end the day with a sunset shoot of the river confluence and the Dzong as foreground.
Day 7: Phobjikha Valley & Gangtey Tsechu – Festival.
From Punakha, we continue East and then South 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 first festival, the Gangtey Tsechu, which is held in the Monastery each year.
Day 8: Gangtey Tsechu – Festival.
We spend the whole day today in Gangtey and the Phobjikha Valley. This is day two of the Gangtey Tsechu, and things will just be starting to hot up with loads of great viewpoints as the locals dress in their finest for the festivities. 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 locals quite well in Phobjikha, so it’s always nice to visit in the afternoon to experience village life first hand.
Day 9: Gangtey to Trongsa.
Onward today to the steep and heavily wooded Trongsa Valley and the biggest and most spectacularly situated Dzong in Bhutan. The Trongsa Dzong is perched on a sheer mountainside commanding the valley in both directions. We will arrive here for lunch and spend the whole afternoon photographing and exploring, with lots of great shooting opportunities with Bhutanese Monks in striking saffron robes. Followed by a leisurely walk back to the hotel along the rim of the Trongsa Valley for the sunset and twilight light.
Day 10-11: Bumthang, Tamshing Phala Chhoepa – Festival.
Starting with an early morning shoot of the Trongsa Dzong in the valley, hopefully with a bit of mist, is a great way to begin the day. Followed by a substantial hot breakfast, before heading further East to the Central Bhutan Region of Bumthang.
Here in the capital of Jakar we will find our second Festival for the trip, The Tamshing Lhakhang Phala Chhoepa (Tsechu). Tamshing Lhakhang (Tamshing Temple) is considered one of the most important Temples in Bhutan, as it was built by the Bhutanese Terton (Treasure Discoverer) and Saint, Pema Lingpa in 1501. The Temple is in its original unrestored state, including the intricate story murals on the Temple walls, and is currently being considered for World Heritage Listing.
The Tamshing Lhakhang is a perfect location to witness a traditional Bhutanese festival, particularly as it is considered to be the origin of most of the Buddhist sacred dances that are used to celebrate the traditional Tsechus all over Bhutan. Many of these dances were originally created by Pema Lingpa as a way of teaching the stories of Buddhism throughout the Himalayan Region, and continue unchanged to this day.
We arrive here in Jakar for the second day of the festival and we remain right the way through day 3 which is the final day, and always the most exciting. By this time the dancers have had three days to loosen up and get into the flow as the excitement builds for the last performances. It is also the important day for the local Bhutanese when the big majority will turn out for the blessings for the year to come dressed in their finest traditional costumes, making for a veritable feast of photographic action and colours.
Day 12: Bumthang – Ura Valley Excursion.
After the action and colour of the previous two days we have 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.
Day 13: Chumey Valley, Bumthang – Tangbi Lhakhang Mani Cham – Festival
The third festival in our calendar for this photo tour of Bhutan, the Tangbi Lhakhing Mani Cham, is in another 15th Century Temple at the edge of the valley overlooking the Chamkhar River of Bumthang province. This temple was built by the 4th Shamar Rimpoche, a very high ranking Lama who travelled from Tibet in the 15th Century, he was also a contemporary of Guru Pema Lingpa, who built the Tamshing Lhakhang Temple of our previous festival. It was said that the two two great figures quarrelled at some point and Pema Lingpa took over the running of Tangbi as well. The dances at this festival will be similar to that of the Tamshing Tsechu, but with subtle differences due to the location and history of this temple. The setting is also completely different and will provide us with a new perspective. For those who are “festivalled out” or just want to see something different the 4 valleys of Bumthang provide an enormous choice of photographic subjects, from Temples, Dzongs and Monasteries, to towns, farmland and forests. The great thing about travelling in cars is that we don’t all have to go to the same place and shoot the same thing.
Day 14: Bumthang to Paro – Scenic Flight.
Today we leave our cars and drivers, though not our guides, in Central Bhutan to board our scenic flight back to Paro in the far West of Bhutan where it all began. We leave at a very civilised hour in the morning for the 45 minute flight over the foot hills of the Himalayas, viewing the areas we have just driven through from the air. It’s now you will get to see just how many curves those roads really have, and how precariously perched those small mountain temples are. We also get to experience again that stunning approach and landing at Paro airport, really it’s worth it just for that.
We will arrive just in time for lunch followed by an afternoon of wandering through Paro town, which is the best place to buy those beautiful Bhutanese textiles and festival masks to take home, and also to explore the Paro Dzong. It’s a good time to relax a little and prepare for the Tigers Nest walk the following day.
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 mark, but I think the walk is just too good to miss. The afternoon is free to have a hot stone bath at our Hotel, or wander a bit more around Paro. 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 – Oct 18th 2016 Breakfast and Departure.
Our last breakfast, 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, 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 2016: Oct 3 – 18th 2016, 15 full days in Bhutan
- 2016 tour Fully Booked. 2018 Tour dates are up HERE>>
- First night accommodation & breakfast in Bangkok to begin the tour.
- Flights from Bangkok to Paro (Bhutan) and return to Bangkok.
- Scenic domestic flight from Bumthang to Paro.
- Full 15 days in Bhutan with all land content.
- All you meals, transportation and accommodation in Bhutan.
- All photographic tuition and workshops for duration of the tour.
- Extensive photographic notes to help you remember all you have learnt.
What’s Not Included
- Flights to and from Bangkok.
- Evening meal in Bangkok.
- 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 guides and staff along the way.
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 12 years and his images can be found in numerous private collections all over the world. For the last 10 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 2016 will be Adam’s 7th 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.
Rather than putting reviews on my web page, which of course is very biased, I have a page on Trip Advisor where some of my past participants have put their own reviews. Read the Trip Advisor reviews Here>>