Photo by: Ron Rosenstock
Location: Bhutan
PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR

Bhutan Discovering the Spirit

  • 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.
Region

Asia and Pacific

Destination

Bhutan

Dates

April 10-23, 2020

Duration

13 days

$6895

per person, double occupancy*

*U.S. dollars based upon minimum of 7 participants. There is a small group surcharge of $400 if 4-6 participants. 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 (subject to availability), or if we are unable to find a suitable roommate, there is a single room surcharge of $695.

Tour Overview

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...

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.

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.

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.

Photo Leader

Ron Rosenstock

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

Tour Itinerary

April 10-11: Travel Days

(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 11th) 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 12. 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 suggest booking at the same airport hotel Ron will be the evening of April 11, the Novotel Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel. The group will take hotel transfer to the airport very early on the morning of April 12, where you will present your e-tickets sent to you prior to departure. If you have any questions, please contact our office.

Note – The flight from Bangkok to Paro departs very early tomorrow morning. If your flight into Bangkok is delayed, 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 12: Bangkok - Paro - Thimphu

This morning return with Ron to the BKK airport via 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 13: Thimphu

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 14: Trongsa

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 15-17: Trongsa - Bumthang

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 18: 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 19-20: 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 21-22: Paro

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).  

April 23-24: 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 24). 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.