Photo Tour: Discovering the Spirit of Bhutan

Tour Intro

Bhutan’s ancient history relies heavily on Buddhism, local mythology, and legend. This country, nestled in the heart of the Himalayan Mountains, has, for centuries, remained a mystery to the rest of the world. Ghosts, angels, yetis, demons, and saints shaped the past. Fortunate are the few travelers to visit the Buddhist kingdom of Druk Yul (Land of the Thunder Dragon), or Bhutan as it is known to the outside world. Bhutan is holding on to its cultural traditions despite the homogenization process that has engulfed so many other small countries.

The tour includes opportunities to photograph some of Bhutan’s most visually exciting places, including the famed Tiger’s Nest monastery, dramatic landscapes, villagescapes, and the beautiful Bhutanese people. Our adventure includes the Shangri-La setting of the Paro Valley, the remote Wangdi Valley, the capital city of Thimphu, and the cultural heartland of the country, its thriving spiritual center abounding with numerous centuries old temples, shrines, and monasteries. There will be unique photographic opportunities that other travelers do not have the opportunity to experience, such as a private monastery and nunnery in the Bumthang Region. These provide intimate moments where you witness and photograph members during their candlelit prayers.

Ron enjoys a couple days of photography in Bangkok prior to the main program. He invites you to photograph with him at his favorite temples and early morning light at a floating market. A huge network of canals where hundreds of people go about their daily lives, is just the other side of the Chao Praya from the huge skyscrapers of the financial district but seemingly a world away. Bangkok’s canals are a magical place to visit and are a remarkable contrast to the frenetic pace of the rest of the city.

We invite you, the inquisitive traveler, to join photographer Ron Rosenstock on this special tour of Bhutan. We will have a cordial welcome in this country with its brilliant colors, compelling architecture, irresistible allure, and warm hospitality.

Ron started leading photo tours in 1967. In those years he has led hundreds of tours to many destinations worldwide. Ron has retired from Clark University after teaching photography there for thirty years. He has published three books of his exquisite black and white photographs: The Light of Ireland, Hymn to the Earth, Chiostro (Cloister), and his new color book Journeys. Ron’s work has been featured in over one hundred exhibitions, both in the U.S. and abroad, and his photographs are to be found in the permanent collections of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Mass., The Polaroid Collection in Cambridge, Mass., and the International Center of Photography in New York City.

Ron is happy to share his vision and insights to all who travel with him. Although he now only photographs with a digital camera, his philosophy of teaching hasn't changed since the early large format film days. He firmly believes that the photograph comes from within, not from without. Meaning you can't buy creativity, however, you have to learn to recognize that creative spirit within. Ron teaches exercises that will help that creative spirit come to the surface. These may consist of:  1) Entry ways to seeing  2) photographing in the NOW 3) practical aspects of printing, exhibiting and getting your work out there.

During the photo tour he will teach and use a digital projector several evenings. Most people who travel with Ron have a basic understanding of how the camera works, and others who know everything about the camera. He doesn't focus on technical knowledge, rather places the emphasis on a more Zen approach. Ron believes it isn't necessary to know all the latest digital technique, but it is necessary to know yourself. Please feel free to view Ron's website and e-mail regarding any questions. www.ronrosenstock.com.

Tour Highlights

Land cost includes Bhutanese Travel Visa and estimated Business Class round trip airfare Bangkok/Paro.
• Glimpse the traditions and customs disappearing from the rest of the Himalayan world.
• Full day hike to Taktsang Dzong, more commonly known as the Tiger’s Nest.
• Photographing amidst the ancient Buddhist Monasteries and Temples.
Trongsa Region: view the Black-Necked Crane as they settle in to their winter residence.
Bumthang Region: unique candlelit prayers at a private monastery.
Twelve days with acclaimed tour guide and professional photographer Ron Rosenstock.
Enjoy days in Bangkok on your own prior to Bhutan with Ron visiting and photographing his favorite temples and floating market.

Tour Itinerary

April 7-8: Travel Days

Photo By: Ron Rosenstock

Photo Location: Bhutan

(Due to length and timing of flights you will need to depart home in time to land in Bangkok (at the latest) – the evening of April 8th)

In order to experience such a remote country, it is necessary to fly in to Paro, Bhutan on Druk Airlines. You cannot make your own reservations for your flight into Bhutan. The airfare from Bangkok-Paro-Bangkok has been included in your land cost. Pending changes by Druk Air, our group will need to be at the Bangkok Airport at 4:45am on April 9. It is therefore necessary for you to book at least one night stay in Bangkok, Thailand. Although there are many hotel choices in Bangkok, we have included the evening of April 8 at the Novotel Suvarnabhumi Hotel Airport Hotel. The group will take hotel transfer to the airport very early on the morning of the April 9, where you will present your e-tickets sent to you prior to departure. If you have any questions, please contact our office. April 8 Overnight Airport Motel

Note – The flight from Bangkok to Paro departs very early tomorrow morning. If your flight into Bangkok is delaye, it would be easy to miss the group departure flight to Paro. You may want to take advantage of visiting a few of the Bangkok sights, recovering from jet lag, and assuring yourself that you will be on time for the Bhutan flight. Ron will be doing the same on his own and invites you to join him prior to the main tour.

April 9: Bangkok - Paro - Thimphu

Photo By: Ron Rosenstock

Photo Location: Bhutan

This morning we will return to the BKK airport via the hotel shuttle service for the flight to Paro, flight departure time 6:50am (reporting time 4:45am) on Druk Airline. We will be met by our guide in Bhutan and driven an hour and a half to the capital, Thimphu. After checking into the hotel and lunch, we will spend some time in town. Thimphu has a population of approximately 45,000, composed mainly of monks, the Kingdom’s royal family, government and civil service, and a growing middle class. Its emergence as a capital city began in 1952. Overnight Thimphu (B, L, D) two evenings.

April 10: Thimphu
Prayer Flags

Photo By: Ron Rosenstock

Photo Location: Bhutan

After breakfast we will photograph the National Memorial Chorten, with its sun-catching golden finial, making it one of the most visible religious structures in Thimphu; for many people it is the focus of their daily worship. Chortens are Buddhist reliquaries and memorials to the teachings of the Buddha. Sometimes stupas carry relics of the Buddha or revered monks. Whether or not there are relics inside, the stupas mark the landscape with reminders of the Buddha’s teachings. Also this morning, it may be possible to gain entry into Tashichho Dzong (dzong is a fortress-monastery), the most important monastery in the kingdom. In addition to housing the offices of the king’s government, Tashichho is also the summer residence of the central monk body. After lunch we will visit a traditional paper factory and a weaving center. Both opportunities allow us to photograph long-established art and craft techniques. 

April 11: Trongsa
Chortel

Photo By: Ron Rosenstock

Photo Location: Bhutan

Today we continue our journey across the Dochu La Pass, from where we will get our first look at the chain of Himalayan peaks strung along the northern horizon. The pass has 108 chortens, honoring those who laid down their lives while flushing out insurgents from southern Bhutan in December 2003. Next we reach Pelela Pass, which was, during ancient times, the boundary between western and central Bhutan. From Pelela, we drive down through dwarf bamboo vegetation, grazed by the migrating yaks during winter. En route visit Chendebji Chorten erected in the eighteenth century by a Tibetan over the remains of an evil spirit that was subdued at this spot. The chorten has painted eyes at the four cardinal points.

We drive for another hour after lunch, reaching the spectacular landscape of Trongsa and its impressive dzong. We shall stop for a few minutes at the viewpoint to see the dzong stretched along a ridge above a ravine. This town is right in the middle of the country, separated from both east and west by high mountain ranges. A large influx of Tibetans immigrated here in the late 1950’s and 1960’s.  Overnight Trongsa (B, L, D).
 

April 12-14: Trongsa - Bumthang

Photo By: Ron Rosenstock

Photo Location: Bhutan

The Trongsa Dzong is considered one of the most magnificent pieces of architecture in Bhutan, and the strategic location gave it great power over this part of the country. The only trail between eastern and western Bhutan still leads straight through Trongsa and used to run directly through the dzong itself. Given time we will also visit the Ta Dzong on the hillside above the town. During ancient times, Ta Dzong used to be a watchtower to guard Trongsa.

We drive further east, taking time to photograph the beautiful landscape of this region. Arriving to our hotel in the late afternoon, we will have a bit of time for rest, dinner, and perhaps some evening photography.

The fabulous temple is believed to have been built in the year 659 by the Tibetan king Songtsen Gampo in order to subdue a Tibetan demoness. Inside the main Jampey (or Jampa) Lhakhang are three stone steps representing ages. The first signifies the past, the age of the Historical Buddha. This step has descended into the ground and is covered with a wooden plank. The next age is the present, and its step is level with the floor. The top step represents a new age. It is believed that when the top step sinks to ground level, the gods will become like humans and the world, as it is now, will end.

We will experience rare opportunities not afforded other travelers, such as being invited to a private monastery and nunnery in the Bumthang region. Here we will join monks during their evening candlelit prayers. Given time we will visit a traditional farmhouse, providing opportunity to interact with the local families and learn more about their lifestyle. Overnight Bumthang (B, L, D).
 

April 15: Gangte


After breakfast in Bumthang we continue west to Gangte, with photographic stops along the way; we may even see the red Panda at Pelela. Driving through the mountains and over a high pass, we then enter Phobjikha Valley, popularly known to be the home of the black-necked cranes, which arrive in the valley in mid-October and stay through mid-March. The marshy center of the Phobjikha is a perfect winter residence for the flock of 350 rare and endangered cranes that migrate from the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The Bhutanese have great respect for these heavenly birds. We will also visit Gangtey Goenpa, the only Nyingmapa (oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Bhuddhism) monastery in western Bhutan. Overnight Gangte (B, L, D).

April 16-17: Wangdi - Punakha

After breakfast, we will view a local owned carpet factory, and visit a local community school, interacting and photographing the students. Later in the day, we will continue our drive to Punakha, stopping for lunch and photography at the nearby Wangdiphodrang Dzong. Like many other dzongs, it is situated on a dramatic promontory overlooking the valley, because its first purpose was that of fortress, protecting the valley against potential raids from Tibet. They later took on their second purpose, that of monastery for the training of monks and places of worship for laymen in the vicinity. In addition to photographing in and around the dzong, we will also take advantage of its setting to photograph this fertile, lowland (4,400’) valley, with its quaint houses and terraced fields.

Wangdi sits in the heart of the Punakha Valley, and we will devote a full day today to exploring this valley. The Punakha Dzong dates back to the seventeenth century and was the winter seat of the highest lama in Bhutan until the 1950’s. It is spectacularly situated at the confluence of the Mo and Phu Rivers. After lunch we will hike to the fifteenth century temple of the Divine Madman, walking through rice fields and farmhouses. It will provide opportunity for those wishing to photograph the phallic paintings on the houses; these paintings are believed to keep away the evil spirits and bad luck. Overnight  Wangdi or Punakha (B, L, D).
 

April 18-19: Paro
Tigers Nest Paro

Photo By: Ron Rosenstock

Photo Location: Bhutan

After an early breakfast we will continue back to Paro, arriving in the afternoon. There will be photographic opportunities along the way, and there may be time to visit the Ta Dzong, once a watchtower, or the Rinpung Dzong, built in 1646. The southern approach to the dzong has a traditional roofed cantilever bridge called a Nemi Zam. A walk across the bridge offers a spectacular view of the architecture and an opportunity to tread the same path as the ancient warriors.

Our next day we will have a full day hike up to Taktsang Dzong, more commonly known as the Tiger’s Nest. It was established in the eighth century when Padmasambava, the country’s patron saint, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, flew here on the back of his mythical tigress consort to meditate. The main buildings sit astride a sheer rock cliff face more than 2000’ above Paro Valley. The most prominent building burned to the ground in 1998, but was rebuilt with no visual architectural differences from its predecessor. Our hike begins at roughly 8,000’ and goes to just over 10,000’; we return to the valley floor in late afternoon, and enjoy a farewell dinner with our local guide this evening. Overnight  Paro (B both; one D).
 

April 20: Paro - Bangkok

After breakfast we will transfer to the airport for a morning flight back to Bangkok, arriving at approximately 5-6pm (subject to change by airline). The majority of carriers have flights returning to the States around midnight* (land home April 21). You can choose to stay at the airport until your return flight, or return to airport motel via the shuttle for day room, or additional night(s), or travel onward to other destinations. (B)

*Please note: We cannot be responsible for miss-connections between Druk Air and your other flights. Careful attention needs to be paid to flight times, and dates of travel.

Note: This itinerary has been carefully constructed to assure participants the best Bhutan has to offer; however, should events arise that are beyond our control, itinerary, activities, and hotel arrangements are subject to change without notice. Be assured that we will make substitutions that are as similar in quality and interest as possible.

Photo Leader

Ron Rosenstock
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Ron Rosenstock

Ron started leading photo tours in 1967. In those years he has led hundreds of tours to many destinations worldwide. Ron has retired from Clark University after teaching photography there for thirty years. He has published three books of his exquisite black and white photographs: The Light of Ireland, Hymn to the Earth, Chiostro (Cloister),and his new color book Journeys. Ron’s work has been featured in over one hundred exhibitions, both in the U.S. and abroad, and his photographs are to be found in the permanent collections of the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, the Worcester Art Museum in Worcester, Mass., The Polaroid Collection in Cambridge, Mass., and the International Center of Photography in New York City.

Ron is happy to share his vision and insights to all who travel with him. Although he now only photographs with a digital camera, his philosophy of teaching hasn't changed since the early large format film days. He firmly believes that the photograph comes from within, not from without. Meaning you can't buy creativity, however, you have to learn to recognize that creative spirit within. Ron teaches exercises that will help that creative spirit come to the surface. These may consist of: 1) Entry ways to seeing, 2) photographing in the NOW, 3) practical aspects of printing, exhibiting and getting your work out there. During the photo tour he will teach and use a digital projector several evenings. Most people who travel with Ron have a basic understanding of how the camera works, and others who know everything about the camera. He doesn't focus on technical knowledge, rather places the emphasis on a more zen approach. Ron believes it isn't necessary to know all the latest digital technique, but it is necessary to know yourself.

Please feel free to view Ron's website and e-mail regarding any questions.

 

Why do you LOVE nature photography?   by Ron Rosenstock

Let me use some of the same words, Nature photography is LOVE!  Since the very beginning of our species starting to walk upright, we have been recreating nature in various art forms, from cave paintings to digital photography. Technology has changed, but what is most important, hasn’t. The worlds greatest artists have received their inspiration from nature. We are as much a part of nature as nature is a part of us.  For those of us that take the time to smell the flowers, it’s so much more.  Poets but their feelings into words, painters paint and we photograph.  Each image we make is showing us on a deeper level, who we really are. “Listen, my heart, to the whispering of the world.  That is how it makes love to you”  Tagore.

Icebergs remind of Buddhist sand mandalas. Fleeting moments of incredible inspiration.  As our planet warms, there are more and more tremendous icebergs floating by the coast of Greenland, and on to warmer waters only to become part of the ocean once again.

It was great to travel with Ron, whose work I've long admired, and who knows the area, its people, and is so flexible with the itinerary. Aside from being inspired by his photographs, discussions, and the beautiful and interesting places he led us to, it was a wonderful to meet his local friends and even to be welcomed by some to their homes.

S Skoloff

Pricing and Details

US Dollars based upon minimum of 7 paying participants. There is a small group surcharge of $400 if 4-6 paying participants. All our program prices are based on double occupancy unless noted in exceptions.

Single rooms are subject to availability. We try to accommodate travelers who request single accommodations, as well as travelers who are looking for a roommate. If a single room is requested, or if we are unable to find a suitable roommate, you will be required to pay the supplement.

Testimonials

Ron was very helpful in all areas of the trip. I enjoyed his 'tutorials' each evening, especially the one where he took us through the editing process by showing us his before and after shots. He was also helpful when we were out shooting if we had any questions. He didn't speak above our heads but shared information in a clear way - the mark of a good teacher! He wa enthusiastic and fun to be with, which set the tone for a great trip.

J. Procell

This was a trip of a lifetime - we thoroughly enjoyed the guides and the country - Bhutan has wonderful people - and the landscape was fantastic!

M.Fernandez

The people are amazing. The Tiger's Nest, although very taxing, was excellent. I think you've found the best Bhutanese tour guide!

D Lavoie

What is a trip to Italy like with Ron? Lets see... Unbelievable food and fabulous accommodations.... Golden sunsets in rolling hills covered with ancient vineyards and olive trees... Wonderful and unusual people who make every experience special... Visits to special places I'd never find on my own... The time to explore tiny little towns with my camera... and the camaraderie of a group of people who are just as excited as I to be there and explore. And then there's Ron, who's list of friends all over the world are delighted to see us and extend their hospitality like we were family. Ron, who makes sure everyone is getting what they want from their trip while he enjoys each journey as if it were his own first moment of discovery. I can't wait to return.

M Russo

Additional Notes

What to Expect
This tour is designed to be a photo tour, and, as such, we must be flexible in our scheduling. Much of what we do, and when we do it, will depend upon weather, light, and the permission of the government-operated Bhutan Tourism Corporation. In the event that changes may occur, we will need to be flexible, which will also allow us to take advantage of new photographic opportunities.

Bhutan has made great strides in tourist accommodations and services in recent years, but please remember this is still a developing country, so we may experience occasional inconveniences. All our accommodations will be clean and comfortable, with private toilet and shower/bath. The hotels have been chosen for their proximity to prime photographic locations. Majority of accommodations do not have elevators, and rooms are on second or third floors, although there will be porters for your luggage.

Health and Fitness
Tour participants should be in good health and good physical condition to get the most out of the trip. You will find that every day includes many steps to gain access to each Dzong we visit. Although we will not be running marathons, we will be taking long walks in order to reach the prime photographic locations. We will be at various altitudes ranging from 4,000’ above sea level to 11,000’. While you will not be required to climb these peaks, some of the best scenic views are from the tops of these formations. There will be a few long drives on very winding, narrow roads.

Terms and Conditions

Unless otherwise noted, this information applies to all tours.

Airfare

Contact Strabo Tours if you would like rates on International Airfare. Please note on your trip application form if you would like us to assist you with your airfare needs, a charge is added for this service. If making your own arrangements, it is important to discuss flight times with Strabo Tours before booking any airline tickets. This will avoid you having to pay airline cancellation penalties. Please contact Strabo Tours for destination airfare estimates, specific flight time arrivals, and departures.

The land cost includes:
  • Group transportation for tour events in the tour van.
  • Accommodations based on two people sharing a room, singles are assigned on a first come, first served basis.
  • Services of driver, English speaking cultural guide (if applicable) and photographic leader, during the tour.
  • Meals as listed in itinerary (B=breakfast, L=lunch, D=dinner).
  • Park entrance fees, day tours and excursions as shown in the itinerary.
  • Extensive pre-departure information and services.
The land cost does not include:

Domestic or International air fare; other airfare if noted in exceptions; air fare tax; airport departure tax; airport transfers; additional transfers or accommodations that may be required by those not traveling with the group; excess baggage charges; meals not included in itinerary; activities taken on your own; passport/visa expenses; personal medical or travel insurance; any expenses of a personal nature, such as room service, laundry, beverages not included with meals, medical expenses, photographic equipment, any activities not specified in tour itinerary or listed as optional, or any items not listed in what is included; fuel surcharges; exchange rate surcharges; upon the completion of your trip, modest gratuities to the local guides and the drivers are customary; tips for meals not included in itinerary.

Fitness and Health

The majority of trips are not strenuous (see exceptions below for particular destinations) and anyone who is reasonably fit should be able to take part in most of the activities. You may experience general fatigue due to the long flights and the change in time zones. You will need to be sufficiently agile to climb in and out of the tour van and be able to carry and manage your own equipment. We will frequently hike trails ranging from easy to moderate. Some hotels do not have elevators or air conditioners.

If you have any special needs or any physical condition that you feel might prevent you from fully participating, please contact Strabo Tours with your concerns (607-756-8676).

You should also be aware that medical services or facilities might not be readily available during all or part of your trip. This could include emergency medical care, presence of physicians, or adequate medication.

Exceptions:

The following destinations require more physical activity. Bhutan, China, Patagonia, Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, Scotland, Domestic tours. On the African Safari you will spend many hours in a vehicle on game drives, land travel will sometimes be over very bumpy and dusty roads. Galapagos Cruise accommodations are in upper and lower berths (bunk beds) only.

The following destinations require more physical activity. Bhutan, China, Patagonia, Peru, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, New Zealand, Scotland, Domestic tours. On the African Safari you will spend many hours in a vehicle on game drives, land travel will sometimes be over very bumpy and dusty roads. Galapagos Cruise accommodations are in upper and lower berths (bunk beds) only.

Deposits, Cancellations AND Refunds

A deposit of $750 ($500 on domestic tours) per person is required. Specific tours may require an additional deposit due to accommodation bookings or transportation requirements. If applicable these will be noted on your invoice. Payment in full is required when bookings are made less than 120 days before the departure date. Space is subject to cancellation by Strabo if payment is not received when due.

If a passenger wishes to cancel they must send notification in writing to: Strabo International Tour, Co., P.O. Box 580, Dryden, NY 13053; fax 208-545-4119. At the time we receive your notification, the following per person charges apply:

  • 91 days or more before departure: $300 cancellation fee ($150 fee on domestic tours), plus Strabo’ costs, as well as fees that are charged by the suppliers providing the services included in your tour, and/or the airlines providing the air transportation.
  • 61-90 days before departure: $500 ($250 on domestic tours) minimum cancellation fee, plus Strabo’ costs, as well as fees that are charged by the suppliers providing the services included in your tour, and/or the airlines providing the air transportation. Fees may range from 25% to 100% of tour costs.
  • 60 days or less before departure or anytime after departure: NO REFUND.

Refunds for services that are voluntarily not used by you cannot be made.

Insurance

Each participant must be covered by medical insurance that is valid overseas.

We strongly urge you to evaluate your risk and to take out insurance on your trip. It is vital for you to realize that if you experience a delay or find it necessary to cancel or cut short your trip for any reason, you will lose part or the entire sum you’ve invested in it (see the section “Deposits, Cancellations and Refunds” in the trip brochure).

Travel insurance helps to minimize the risk of monetary losses you would incur in the event of a delay of your departure due to weather, airline strike, missed connection, etc., your inability to travel for reasons such as illness, injury, unforeseen financial complications and other personal circumstances, or if you were required to cut your trip short for medical or any other reasons.

There are restrictions and limitations on any insurance program. For this reason, please read carefully the enclosed pamphlet, which outlines their program of trip cancellation, baggage, and medical insurance. Trained agents are available to answer your questions, so don’t hesitate to call the toll free number in their brochure. It is to your advantage to apply for insurance at the earliest possible time, so don’t delay in making a decision.

Subject to Change

Itineraries have been carefully constructed to assure participants the best each destination has to offer; however, should events arise that are beyond our control, activities and hotel arrangements are subject to change without notice. The itineraries summarize typical areas you will explore. Since there is no possible way to visit all of them, your guides will plan each day considering the interests of the group and the weather at hand. Be assured that we will make substitutions that are as similar in quality and interest as possible.

Photo Release

Strabo International Tour Company, Inc. reserves the right and permission to use photographs of individuals on tour for use in promotional and publicity purposes. We also reserve the right to use clients photographs for promotional and publicity purposes, when submitted to Strabo International Tour Company, Inc.

Accommodations

Bhutan has made great strides in tourist accommodations and services in recent years, but please remember that it is still a developing country, so we may experience occasional inconveniences. All our accommodations will be clean and comfortable, with private toilet and shower/bath. The hotels have been chosen for your comfort as well as their proximity to prime photographic locations.

Single rooms are subject to availability and are not guaranteed*. We try to accommodate single travelers who request single accommodations, as well as single travelers who are looking for a roommate. If a single room is requested, we are unable to find a suitable roommate, or you are in a single for another reason, you will need to pay the single supplement.
*The availability of single rooms is determined by the policy of the Bhutan government, and is determined on a daily basis; therefore, there may be a maximum number of singles allowed at each accommodation. Travelers will need to remain flexible; rest assured your guides will do their best in accommodating all of our guests.
Note: Trip pricing is based on current exchange rates; should these rates change significantly, there may need to be an adjustment in the trip price.

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