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BHUTAN

March 18, 2018 - April 1, 2018

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  • TRIP AT A GLANCE

    • Dates: 18 March – 1 April 2018
    • Duration: 11 nights
    • Location: Bhutan
    • Comfort: Classic
    • Prices
      From £4795 Land Only
    • From £5685 inc flights
    • Places available

There are places where you really can get away from it all. There are those where you feel you’ve gone back a few decades. And then there’s the Kingdom of Bhutan. No ordinary place, this devoutly-Buddhist, tiny, remote kingdom, nestling high in the Himalayas, remains an untouched Himalayan Shangri-La and intends to stay that way.

PRICE INCLUDES

  • Fully escorted by Colin Prior from arrival into Bhutan tuition.
  • 13 nights’ accommodation – 2 nights camping at Gasa Festival with all meals included.
  • Private transport throughout including airport transfers
  • Arrival and departure flights with Druk Air (Delhi–Paro–Delhi).
  • Bhutanese visa fees and processing.
  • The services of an experienced English-speaking, licensed, Buddhist guide of Bhutan.
  • Entry permits and fees to all temples, museums and monasteries.
  • Two days to photograph at both the Gasa and Paro festivals

PRICE EXCLUDES

  • Travel insurance
  • Indian Visa
  • Delhi Airport transfers (other than on Day 1 and Day 12 of the Land Only itinerary)
  • Tips for local support crew
  • Departure taxes
  • Miscellaneous expenses – drinks and souvenirs etc
  • Some meals as described in the Meal Plan

PLACES AVAILABLE

BHUTAN PHOTO TOUR

Join me on a photographic tour of Bhutan and experience for yourself the peace and culture of this remarkable kingdom. On the twentieth anniversary of my first trip to Bhutan, I have created an itinerary specifically for photographers which will allow you to capture the beauty of its landscapes, monasteries and festivals. We will start out with an exploration of the little-visited Haa Valley in the west of the country, before journeying to the spectacular Punakha Dzong, the former winter capital. We will then go out of our way to visit remote Gasa Dzong and to experience two days at its annual festival or tshechu. We also spend time in the capital, Thimpu and time our return to the Paro Valley to allow us to attend the well-known festival at Paro Dzong. These events offer a visual feast, bringing together colour, culture and ancient tradition, rich in photographic opportunities. Our final day will be spent visiting the Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest Monastery which sits high on a cliff-side in the upper Paro Valley. Bhutan’s landscape is Himalayan in character and features deep valleys covered in verdant green forests which are sporadically punctuated by the characteristic white, terracotta and saffron palette of the dzongs and monasteries. This theme of contrasts is one that seems to weave itself throughout the country and as one travels through the landscape, I am always surprised by the variety and

This theme of contrasts is one that seems to weave itself throughout the country and as one travels through the landscape, I am always surprised by the variety and diversity of the subject matter which confronts me. Whether it’s in the colour and texture of a roadside fruit shop, the harmony of a traditional farmhouse within its environment or the riot of colour witnessed at a tshechu, I am continually inspired each time I return to this country. In rural parts of Bhutan, many locals continue to share a close connection with the natural world and can recognize signs that we, in the West, have long lost. It’s not uncommon to observe agricultural methods, for instance, that were once practiced in the Highlands and Islands in the early nineteenth Century still being carried out to this day. Hunting is also banned nationally and consequently, Bhutan has become one of the world’s safe havens for tigers and other critically endangered species. So, if you fancy and walk on the wild side, join me on this fantastic trip to experience, first hand, the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

YOUR ITINERARY

DAY 1

Meet at the group hotel in Delhi. Transfers from Delhi Airport are provided.

Rendezvous at the group hotel in Delhi which is conveniently located close to the airport. Complimentary airport transfers are provided for all clients arriving on this day. We will have a first group get-together with Colin over dinner at the hotel. KE Land Only services begin with dinner and overnight at the group hotel.

ACCOMMODATION: Hotel with swimming pool

MEALS: D

 

DAY 2

Fly to Paro in Bhutan, meet our Bhutanese hosts and transfer to our hotel in the Paro Valley. Afternoon first photo session at Paro Dzong.

We have an early transfer back to Delhi International Airport to check in for the Druk Air flight to Paro. This flight is one of the most spectacular of all mountain flights, with views of the Nepal Himalaya as we traverse that country heading east. Then, descending into the Paro Valley, there are splendid views of alpine forests, small monasteries, temples and flat-roofed farmhouses. The Paro Valley is enchanting. A single road lined with willows, clear mountain streams, families working in the rice paddies and one of Bhutan’s most impressive Dzongs (fortresses) creates a memorable first impression. Our arrival, we meet our Bhutanese guide and transfer to our hotel. Depending on our arrival time, we should have plenty of time on this first day to go out to take those all-important first photographs of the holiday. At the time of our visit in the early spring, the Paro Valley is just coming to life with fresh vegetation and blossoming fruit trees. Paro Dzong is something everyone will want to photograph and the short hike up to the nearby temple of Dzongdrakha, which is home to troops of capped langur monkeys, will give the group a great overview of the Paro Valley and its picturesque farmland. This is a great introduction to photography in Bhutan. We return to our hotel for dinner and overnight. Altitude at our hotel in Paro is 2400 metres.

ACCOMMODATION: Hotel

MEALS: BLD

 

DAY 3

Drive across the Chele La (3988m) into the Haa Valley. Afternoon photography in Haa Village and at Katsho Gompa.

After breakfast at the hotel, we board our private transport for the exciting drive into the Haa Valley, the most westerly and one of the least often visited regions of Bhutan. To get there, we must negotiate a narrow, but generally well-surfaced road which switchbacks its way up to the Chele La (3988m) one of the highest road passes in the country. We will take a break at the top and fish out our telephoto lenses to make the most of the 7000 metre, snow-capped Himalayan peaks which are visible to the north – Chomolhari, Jitchu Drake and Tserim Kang. Closer to hand, the road at the pass is lined with Buddhist prayer flags, some white and some many-coloured. These make great photographic subjects, too. Descending into the Haa Valley, we check in at our hotel accommodation and have lunch, before going out on a walking tour with our cameras to nearby Haa Village. Haa is one of the most culturally intact parts of Bhutan and there is a rich heritage of typically Bhutanese architecture, wooden framed and white-painted, which we can visit and photograph. Some of the buildings, including the roadside shops, can be richly decorated and hung with drying chillis. Today, we can also visit Katsho Gompa, one of the largest and most important monasteries in the valley. If we are lucky we might come across a game of ‘khuru’ in progress, which is rather like archery, but with the competitors throwing large darts at a target up to 20 metres away. People in Bhutan are very approachable and usually happy to be photographed, but be respectful at all times. Dinner and overnight at the simple, but comfortable Rigsum Resort, the only hotel in Haa.

ACCOMMODATION: Hotel

MEALS: BLD

 

DAY 4 

A day of photography in the Haa Valley.

An early, pre-breakfast, start to capture the mix of morning mist and woodsmoke rising above the valley is an option. An unusual feature of the valley is the row of 3 rounded hills, called ‘rigsum’ which are said to represent Manjushri (the God of wisdom), Chenrezig (the Buddha of compassion) and Chana Dorji(the protector god of Bhutan). Later, there are lots of great photo opportunities in and around the Haa Valley, including two more famous monasteries, Lhakhang Karpo (White Temple) and Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple). Some of the most interesting objectives will involve a certain amount of hiking and Colin will make decision with the group as to which will serves the group best. The Haa Valley harks back to a simpler, more traditional time and we will look to take an easy walking trails amongst its wooded hills, during which we can incorporate a visit to a local home for tea and snacks – a most enjoyable way to spend a part of the day. We return to spend a second night at our hotel in the Haa Valley.

ACCOMMODATION: Hotel

MEALS: BLD

 

DAY 5

Drive across country and across the Dochu La (3050m) to Punakha.

Descending the Haa Valley we meet the Phuntsholing to Thimpu Highway at Chhuzom Bridge (2050m) (the entrance to the Paro Valley) after a couple of hours’ drive. From here, we drive eastwards, following the Wang Chu upstream through a mixture of rice fields and coniferous forest to a widening of the valley at Namseling. We pass Thimpu on our left-hand side, but don’t go into the town today. Instead, passing the impressive Simtokha Dzong in the middle of the valley, we begin the climb up towards the Dochu La (3050m). The newly improved road here passes through luxuriant temperate forest with lots of rhododendron and magnolia trees. Keep a look-out from the bus for the several species of deer and monkeys make their home in this forest. The Dochu La is marked by many prayer flags, a large chorten and 108 stupas. From a viewpoint just above the pass there is a magnificent panorama of the Eastern Himalaya, including the all of the giant 7000 metre peaks of Lunana. We will reach the Dochu La at around lunchtime where the Dochu La Restaurant provides a convenient place for us to take lunch. After lunch, we will drop down into the Punakha Valley, losing around 2000 metres of elevation over a distance of 50 kilometres and arriving at our Punakha hotel in the late afternoon. We will then go out to photograph the magnificent, 17th century Punakha Dzong, once the winter capital of Bhutan and still home to more than 1000 monks. Stunningly located alongside the Mo Chu (river), this is one of the architectural highlights of Bhutan. The elevation here is around 1200 metres and it is likely to be rather warmer than the Paro or Haa valleys.

ACCOMMODATION: Hotel

MEALS: BLD

 

DAY 6

Drive north to Gasa Dzong (2850m) where we stay in tented accommodation.

The road up to Gasa has only been in place for a few years and offers 4WD access to one of the most important dzongs in Bhutan. The drive takes us up into the Jigme Dorje National Park, following the Mo Chu and passing through a mix of rich agricultural land and semi-tropical forest. We start to get glimpses of the white-painted Gasa Dzong as we climb up to the village of Damji (2430m) and reach the site of our tented camp after 3 hours of driving. This region is inhabited by the Layaps, nomadic herders with a unique culture. Their main source of revenue comes from trading products derived from their yaks, such as yak hair textiles, cheese, butter and yak meat. They also harvest and sell cordyceps, (a fungus of extremely high value that is frequently used in oriental medicine). One of the great attractions of Gasa (apart from its dzong) are its hot springs and this afternoon there is the option to visit this series of riverside pools of different temperatures. We return to our camp for dinner and overnight. There is no suitable accommodation at Gasa Dzong, which is why we camp. This is camping in some style, with spacious tents complete with comfortable foam mattresses, a dining tent complete with table and chairs where you will eat your meals and relax and one (or more usually two) toilet tents. You will be served with a cup of `bed-tea` each morning and provided with a bowl of water with which to wash. Water for hand washing is also provided at each meal.

ACCOMMODATION: Camping

MEALS: BLD

 

Day 7

A full day of photography at the Gasa Tsechu.

We will spend the day at the Gasa Tsechu. The biggest and most important of Bhutan’s Buddhist festivals are called ‘tsechus’. The name means ‘tenth day’ and refers to the fact that they are held on or around the tenth day of the Tibetan lunar calendar. The focus of these events is usually a series of ritualised costume dances, performed by monks and by laymen or gomchens. Tsechus have a wider function, however, bringing together people from far and wide and providing an opportunity for them to meet and to trade and to dress up in the very best traditional clothing. Since Gasa is tougher to reach than some of the bigger festivals, we expect that most of the festival-goers will be locals and we will have a better and more authentic photographic experience as a result. At the festival, we need to be careful to act in an appropriate manner. Whist the Bhutanese are very accepting of the behaviour of outsiders, it is a definite ‘no-no’ to stray onto the dance-floor in search of the perfect shot – do not do this! We spend a second night at our tented camp.

ACCOMMODATION: Camping

MEALS: BLD

 

DAY 8

At the Gasa Tsechu, afternoon drive back to Punakha.

Another day to soak up the colour and pageantry of this unique religious event. As well trying to capture the colour and movement of the dances, we will seek out some of the more interesting characters attending the show. People from villages as far away as Laya, to the north, will have come to the festival and their womenfolk wear distinctive conical hats made of strips of bamboo and colourful beadwork. If you can win their trust, there are some memorable portraits to be taken. In the mid to late afternoon we will board our transport for the 3-hour drive back to Punakha, where we check in at our hotel.

ACCOMMODATION: Hotel

MEALS: BLD

 

DAY 9

Drive to Thimpu and afternoon photo exploration in the Bhutanese capital.

For those who want another opportunity to photograph Punakha Dzong (this time, at sunrise) an early start is in order. Then, after breakfast, we drive back up to the Dochu La and descend to Simtokha Dzong, before turning off into the Thimpu Valley, reaching our hotel in the Bhutanese capital after a little under 3 hours. After lunch at the hotel, we have the whole afternoon to explore this very individual town. Amongst the photographic highlights are the massive and ‘monolithic’ Tasichoedzong, the National Memorial Chorten, the produce market, the handicraft workshops and the mix of ancient and modern shopfronts. There will be plenty of opportunity to buy souvenirs of Bhutan whilst in Thimpu. The town is also a great place for people-watching and this can provide lots of interest photographic subjects. Overnight at our Thimpu hotel.

ACCOMMODATION: Hotel

MEALS: BLD

 

DAY 10

Drive to Paro and spend the rest of the day at the Paro Tsechu.

After an early breakfast at our hotel, we board our transport for the short drive (1 hour and 15 minutes) to our Paro hotel. After dropping off our gear, we head out to Paro Dzong to immerse ourselves in the second day of the Paro Tsechu. Once again, we will want to experience and to photograph some of the masked dances. There are many such ritual dances during the course of the festival and these take place on the large paved courtyard at Paro Dzong. The dances are subdivided into three categories: those that are intended to give moral instruction, those that are designed to drive away evil spirits and those that celebrate the Buddhist faith in its many guises.

ACCOMMODATION: Hotel

MEALS: BLD

 

Day 11

A second day at the Paro Teschu.

We return to Paro Dzong to try to capture the essence of what is one of the world’s great religious festivals. As much a spectacle as the festival itself are the throngs of local people who flock to the festival in their thousands, dressed in their finest clothes. All around the festival ground a tent city springs up with people trading all manner of goods and with stalls offering delicious food and drinks. Late in the day, a highlight is the procession of monks and dancers as they re-enter the dzong. We return to spend another night at our Paro hotel.

ACCOMMODATION: Hotel

MEALS: BLD

 

DAY12

Hike to the Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Monastery (3120m).

Today we enjoy a walk up to the most iconic site in the whole of Bhutan and one of the most important religious sites in the entire Himalaya, Taktsang Temple, or Tiger’s Nest Monastery (3120m). This spectacular monastery has a most stunning location, perched on a ledge of a cliff high above the valley. It was partly destroyed by a fire in 1998 but, thanks in part to international aid, is now completely restored to its former magnificence. To reach the monastery involves a return trek of 3 to 4 hours, but we will not be in a hurry and there are lots of great photo opportunities on the way. High up, there is a classic viewpoint for Taktsang, looking across the gorge to the monastic buildings which cling to the cliff wall opposite. There is a small café located at this viewpoint and this makes an excellent lunch spot. The whole day is dedicated to this hike and the photo possibilities it presents – the flower-lined pathways, pine forests and waterfalls, as well as the smiling monks that we meet along the way. In the afternoon we will return to our Paro hotel.

ACCOMMODATION: Hotel

MEALS: BLD

 

DAY 13

Paro Thongdrel (unfurling of the giant thanka) and fly to Delhi.

Today we will be up very early to witness the grand finale of the Paro Tesechu, which begins well before dawn. The festival culminates in the unfurling of a sacred silk thangka (so large if covers the face of an entire building), a once in a year event. The thangka is considered so sacred that just catching sight of it is said to absolve the viewer of all sins. The thankga will be rolled away again before dawn, hence our early wake up call, but the dances and blessing should continue until mid-morning. We will then return to the hotel and have some free time before going to the airport to take the Druk Air flight to Delhi. Arriving in Delhi in the afternoon, we have the use of day rooms at our hotel close to the airport. Some free time and then a final dinner at the hotel before transferring back to Delhi International Airport to check in for our homeward flight. KE Land Only services end on arrival at Delhi Airport.

MEALS: B

PRACTICAL INFORMATION

With mainly short walks and plenty of time to acclimatise to the altitude, but some long drives on winding roads, this cultural adventure has been graded as easy to moderate so is suitable for guests of all ages, needs, fitness levels and abilities who possess a keen sense of adventure.

WALKING CONDITIONS

The walks and treks on this tour are mostly on established pilgrimage and village trails used by locals and monks, and there are no particularly difficult sections, although some of the trails are steep and rocky and can be muddy and slippery after rain. Boots with ankle support are recommended. Any reasonably fit person will thoroughly enjoy the walks and riding ponies can sometimes be hired for some tougher hikes. Your guide carries extra mineral water, snacks and a comprehensive mountain first aid kit at all times.

RECOMMENDED PERSONAL EQUIPMENT

The ability to respond to changeable weather with appropriate clothing will enhance your enjoyment. The key is to bring comfortable clothing, which will maintain your body temperature under a variety of weather conditions.

If you are at all susceptible to the cold, a down jacket or windproof fleece is the most effective way to keep warm and can quickly change your mental outlook.

  • Lightweight boots
  • Waterproof jacket and trousers
  • Hat for sun protection or warmth
  • Casual clothes for evening wear
  • Personal wash kit
  • Head torch
  • Optional: sunglasses, sunscreen, and lip salve
PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT

Carrying equipment for every eventuality is counter-intuitive and you should avoid your experience outdoors being overshadowed by the weight of your bag – at the end of the day you are here to enjoy and not endure.

 

Cameras – Camera equipment is very much a personal choice and is dependent on individual preference, budget, and experience. Whether you shoot with a 35mm DSLR or a mirror-less system is unimportant. What is important however is that you are familiar with your camera’s layout and menu structure and understand the differences between the shooting modes.

 

Camera bag – bring a camera bag that allows you to comfortably carry your equipment over rugged terrain. Backpacks distribute the weight between your shoulders and hips making walking much easier than a bag with a shoulder strap and are normally protected from wind and rain.

 

Tripod – the ideal tripod needs to be light enough to carry comfortably but sufficiently robust to be used in winds. A tripod engenders a more contemplative approach to the photography and allows the use of slower shutters speeds. A wide range of models are available from Manfrotto and Gitzo and for more advanced photographers, carbon fibre tripods offer a lighter weight solution but essentially do the same job as those made from aluminum.

 

Lenses – like cameras, these come down to personal choice and will be determined by the type of subject matter normally pursued. Many photographers choose two zoom lenses; a 24-70mm and a 70-200mm, which will account for 90-95% of the images taken with only two lenses. Another popular combination is 24-105mm and 100-400mm. Some photographers prefer to work with prime lenses which offer improved performance at their designated focal lengths which means carrying more lenses and accordingly more weight. If the intimate landscape interests you, a 100mm Macro lens can be ideal.

 

Filters – many photographs find it difficult to shoot an image without some sort of filter. A filter needs to add value and if it isn’t then you are potentially degrading the image by placing a sheet of resin in front of your lens. The most commonly used filters in digital photography are graduated neutral density filters. These differ from neutral density filters in that they allow you to control contrast locally. They come in a variety of densities and gradations but in my experience, the most useful are a 0.6 soft and 0.6 medium gradation. Several brands of ‘grads’ are available but by far the best are manufactured by Lee Filters. They also offer a professional filter holder which allows the gradation to be moved within the holder, relative to the scene.

 

You may find a polarising filter desirable, although personally, I dislike the artefacts that it creates within an image and most what it achieves can be replicated in Lightroom more naturally. Some photographers favour Lee’s ‘Big Stopper’ which increases the exposure by 10 stops and transforms water and clouds into amorphous forms.

 

Backup and storage – Ensure that you have adequate memory cards and a means of backing up your work, either on a laptop, iPad or supplementary hard drive. Bringing your own laptop will allow you to see what you have shot each day and will facilitate critique sessions.

 

Remote release – essential to eradicate camera shake when the camera is mounted on a tripod.

 

Spare batteries – bring extra batteries for backup.

Lens cloth – a lens cloth is useful for removing rain.

HOW TO BOOK

All booking for the Bhutan Photo Special is though KE Adventure Travel.

By Phone: +44 (0) 17687 73966

Email: sales@keadventure.com

INSURANCE

It is a condition of booking that you are insured against medical and personal accident risks. This must include cover for the activities to be undertaken during the trip. We also strongly recommend you take out cover for cancellation and curtailment and baggage cover. We work with and recommend Campbell Irvine Insurance whose policies are specially designed for adventure holidays and are underwritten by AXA Insurance.

Insurance can be arranged directly at Campbell Irvine.

Details

Start:
March 18, 2018
End:
April 1, 2018