Epic Bhutan

specialDeparture: TBA March – April 2023  Epic Bhutan
This immersive cultural trip with terrific photo opportunities to Bhutan is led by National Geographic photographer Abhi Hajela.
Abhi is a frequent visitor to Bhutan.  He loves the Buddhist spirit that is found in the people, the stunning landscape and the Himalayas. On this trip we visit the rice paddies of Punakha along with majestic temples where pilgrims pray and novice nun’s chant the day away.  This trip includes a special access experiences that separate this Bhutan tour from the standard organized trips. 
There are 3 spaces left on this small group tour. 

CALL NOW  415-331-3791

NOTE:  Itinerary/festival subject to change due to new dates


Day 1
Arrive New Delhi  (subject to change, alternative Bangkok as entry point)

We are greeted and escorted to a nearby airport hotel. The group will meet for a trip overview, and then proceed to dinner. For those arriving a day early we can arrange a day tour to a few of our favorite spots in Delhi for some street photography.

Day 2
New Delhi – Paro – Thimphu
Altitude of Paro: 2280 M

Leaving the hotel mid morning we will make the short 15 minute drive to the airport to board our flight. The airport is known for its high altitude, and coming into land is always a breathtaking yet safe travel experience. Coming out of the clouds toward Paro Airport, you are likely to see 18,000 foot peaks of the Himalayas. At 6,500 feet long, the runway at Paro is actually shorter than its elevation. Besides the challenge of flying through some of the world’s tallest peaks, the runway is carved out of the mountain foliage.

Your Bhutanese Guide shall receive you at the Airport and then drive to Thimphu. On the route we will stop to photograph the villagers and majestic scenery. Check In Hotel. In the evening visit the Tashichhodzong. The unique architecture outside and inside the Dzong is worth adding to your collection.

In the evening, we shall attend a prayer ceremony by a Buddhist Lama for a safe and beautiful trip in Bhutan followed by a short lecture on the Gross National Happiness, an index used by Bhutan to measure the nation’s progress.

Day 3
Altitude of Thimphu: 2350 M

Today we will have numerous opportunities to capture the essence of this peaceful city. Depending on the light we will determine the order of the day. The group will shoot the 150 foot tall statue of Buddha Drodenma. The base is filled with125,000 smaller statues. The most well know structure the National Memorial Chorten (stupa) is a four story building decorated with statues and iconography and we will spend time capturing images of it. The day will be spent shooting the iconic landmarks of this city without a stop light and traffic police in white gloves. The crimson robed monks, street vendors and traditionally dressed government workers all are easily photographed. At the Changangkha Lhakhang we will encounter many pilgrims and an astrologer will determine, based in your birth date which prayer flag is appropriate. The inner murals of this 12th century temple are easily photographed.

Thimphu’s weekend market occupies the west bank of the Wang Chhu. Vendors from throughout the region start arriving on Thursday and remain until Sunday night. The incense area is one of the more interesting sections, full of aromatic raw ingredients and pink cubes of camphor and saffron that are used to flavor the holy water given to pilgrims. We will wander and photograph the merchants and people shopping in the stalls. A pungent collection of dried fish, strips of fatty pork and discs of datse (soft cheese), as well as bottles of wild honey make this a shoppers delight and great photo opportunity. The cereals section has red rice and kapche, the ground roasted barley beloved by highland Bhutanese and Tibetans (known as tsampa across the Himalaya). We will visit the Jungshi handmade paper factory and shoot the workers as they turn the tree bark into paper on ancient machines. Most of the paper is now used for writing prayers and sacred texts. Lastly we will visit the best authentic crafts market in Bhutan for some a shopping experience. The evening dinner will be in the hotel and afterward photo leader Abhi Hajela will give a slide presentation of his work.
Meditation session in the Hotel before Dinner.

Day 4
Thimphu – Punakha
Driving Distance: 78 km
Driving Time: 2.5 Hr
Altitude of Punakha/Wangdue: 1310 M approx

Leaving after an early breakfast we will cross the Dochula mountain pass and the iconic 108 stupas at the top and is 10,000 feet in altitude. We will possibly drop in and immerse ourselves in the traditional villages of the Sob Sokha valley. There we will photograph people in the fields and the women cooking in their humble abodes. If the group wants more landscape shots we will do that. Our photo group will visit the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery. The nunnery is perched on a ridge amid pine trees overlooking Punakha and Wangduephodrang. The temple complex houses a permanent learning and meditation center for nuns where apart from religious training; it provides skill training such as tailoring, embroidery, statue making and thangka painting. During the visit you can spend time in the prayer hall and listen to the nuns chanting and reading religious books.

The winding road then leads to the longest suspension bridge in this Buddhist land. The last shoot of the day will be timed for blue hour at the Punakha Dzong. Punakha Dzong is said to be one of the most beautiful dzong in the country, especially when we are there and the lilac-colored jacaranda trees bring a lush visual component to the dzong’s towering whitewashed walls. This dzong was the second to be built in Bhutan and it served as the capital and seat of government until the mid-1950s. All of Bhutan’s kings have been crowned here. Group slide show after dinner.

Day 5
Punakha – Gangtey/Phobjikha
Driving Distance: 76 km
Driving Time: 2.5 – 3 Hr
Altitude of Gangtey/Phobjikha: 2900 M

After breakfast we will visit the Nalanda Buddhist University for a portraiture event where the monks will be our friendly subjects. Architectural photography will also be encouraged. A picnic lunch in the small quaint village of Zomilingthang on the banks of the Mochu River. The yak herders should be roaming and we can meet and photograph them in the fields. Weathered hands and strong features make for good images. From there we will drive three hours to our hotel in Gangtey passing through magnificent scenery. The glacial valley of Phobjikha and Gangtey are the most spectacular in the country. We will stop along the way to shoot landscapes.

Day 6
Altitude of Gangtey/Phobjikha: 2900 M

On this day we will visit the monastery of Gangtey Goempa, known to hold the most sacred relics in Bhutan. This impressive monastery will take time to shoot as we will do it from various angles. Lunch will be in a local restaurant. Late afternoon will be free to download photograph and image review with Abhi. In the late afternoon, we will visit a local farm family for a cooking demonstration and a home cooked dinner. We shall also experience the Bhutanese National dress and the Archery.

Day 7
Gangtey/Phobjikha – Punakha
Driving Distance: 76 km
Driving Time: 2.5 – 3 Hr
Altitude of Punakha/ Wangdue: 1310 M

After breakfast, drive to the Khewang Village, where we’ll visit an old temple and little visited monastery for a photo shoot.

Drive to Punakha. On the way in Nobding Village, visit a School (Subject to that we get the permission to visit) Lunch in Punakha. After noon, hike through terraced fields to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten, a hilltop shrine with sweeping views of the fertile valley below.

Day 8
Punakha/ Wangdue – Paro
Driving Distance: 135 km
Driving Time: 4 Hr
Altitude of Paro: 2280 M

After breakfast, drive to Thimphu. Visit the Zorig Chusum (The school of 13 Bhutanese traditional arts and crafts). Photograph the students working on various arts. Lunch in Thimphu. Afternoon, visit the Royal Silversmiths at work and then witness an Archery Match. Visit crafts market in Thimphu for some a shopping experience if we didn’t do so when in Thimphu. In the evening, drive to Paro. Dinner and overnight in hotel

Day 9
Altitude of Paro: 2280 M

Today we will photograph the most well known location in Bhutan, Tiger’s Nest. Leaving our hotel after a hearty breakfast, we will make the three hour climb. We saved this till the end so that you are full acclimatized. The hike is not overly difficult and we will have porters assist us. We will have lunch along the climb. Coming down should take two hours. Legend states that Guru Rinpoche—also known as Guru Padmasambhava—arrived in Bhutan by flying on the back of a tigress. He visited several caves and cliff sides in order to meditate and subdue local demons. He spent a large amount of his time on the mountainside above the Paro Valley, sanctifying the place that would later become one of Bhutan’s holiest monasteries—Paro Taktshang or Tiger’s Nest. Towards late afternoon, drive to a Village House for a traditional hot stone bath. It is believed that the hot stone bath has medicinal values.
Once back down group members can go for an optional massage.

Day 10
Paro Festival
Altitude of Paro: 2280 M

After breakfast, attend the Paro festival. Locals dressed in their finest clothes , many among them who have come covering a lot of distance to attend the festivities. We shall take the opportunities to Photograph the Mask dances, cultural dances, people and the way of life. The festival also provides a platform to understand the Bhutanese lifestyle and can be a great deal of socializing as well. Spend the whole day in the festival. Dinner and overnight in hotel.

Day 11
Paro Festival
All day at Paro Festival capturing mask dancers, and cultural events. Dinner and overnight at hotel.

Day 12
Paro – New Delhi (Subject to change)

Time to make our way back to India where we will catch our flights onward. The afternoon is free. Most flights leave early in the morning hours. Photographs taken, friends made, experiences had, a country explored.

CALL NOW for DETAILS  415-331-3791