Bhutan Photosafari – Journey across the Dragon Kingdom 17th to 25th October 2015

Tiger's Nest Monastery

Tiger’s Nest Monastery

This amazing adventure takes us all the way across the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, as you drive from west to the central valleys and to the far-flung east, all through some of the most beautiful and unspoiled scenery in the world. October also coincides with autumn in Bhutan. One can experience the beautiful autumn colours of the Himalayan everywhere along the route.

This journey is the ultimate immersion into the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan, as we travel across the country ending our trip in India. We begin in Western Bhutan (Paro) as we explore temples accessible only on foot, and hike to the famous Tiger’s Nest Monastery. As legend has it, Guru Rinpoche meditated in the cave where the temple is now located after reaching it on the back of a flying tiger. We travel to Central or the cultural heart of Bhutan and explore the fascinating culture and legends that pervade this beautiful valley, highlighted by a day at the colorful Buddhist festival known as Jakar Tsechu. Continuing east, we explore areas of Bhutan that are seldom visited by western guests. This journey is truly a unique experience for those who are looking to take in all that is special about Bhutan.

Paro International Airport

Paro International Airport

ITINERARY

17th October: Bangkok – Paro

Flying into the country’s only airport in Paro, situated in the beautiful Paro valley. The clear mountain air, forested ridges, imposing monasteries and welcoming Bhutanese people in their striking national dress, provides a breath-taking first impression. On arrival at Paro airport, after immigration and customs formalities, your guide will receive you and transfer you to the hotel in Paro.

Paro is one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan with its slate-roofed farmhouses, graceful willow trees and rushing glacial river beneath snow-covered peaks.

Your journey starts with the visit to the following places;

Kyichu Lhakhang: The Jowo Temple of Kyichu is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan, originally built in the 7th century by the Tibetan Emporer Songtsen Gampo. It is considered to be one of the 108 border taming temples he built.

In 1971 HM Kesang Choden Wangchuck, the Queen of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, built a Guru Temple next to the old Jowo Temple, which was consecrated by HH Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Since then, the annual rites of great accomplishment for the deities Vajrasattva, Palchen Heruka, and Vajrakilava have been held in this temple for the well-being of the country under the patronage of HM Kesang Choden Wangchuck.

There is a belief that the two orange trees in the courtyard of Kyichu Lhakhang bear fruit throughout the year.

Rinpung Dzong: Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the “fortress of the heap of jewels” stands on a hill above Paro Township.  The approach to the Dzong is through a traditional covered bridge (called the Nemi Zam) and then up a paved stone path running alongside the imposing outer walls.  The valley’s annual springtime religious festival, the Paro Tsechu, takes place in the courtyard of the Dzong and on the dance ground on the hillside above.

Ta Dzong: On a ridge immediately above Rinpung Dzong is Ta Dzong, built as a watchtower to protect Rinpung Dzong.  (“Ta” means “to see” in Dzongkha, so the watchtower of a Dzong is always called a “Ta Dzong”).   On account of their function, watchtowers are always round in shape.  In 1968 Paro Ta Dzong was inaugurated as the National Museum, and now holds a fascinating collection of art, relics, religious thangkha paintings, Bhutan’s exquisite postage stamps, coins and handicrafts, together with a small natural history collection.

Drukgyel Dzong: Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal built this Dzong, with a picturesque village nestling below its ramparts in 1646, to commemorate his victory over the Tibetan invaders.  Though largely destroyed by fire in 1951 and rebuilt, the towering outer walls and central keep remain an imposing sight.  On a clear day, there is a splendid view of Mt. Jhomolhari from the approach road to Drukgyel Dzong.

Altitude at Paro: 2300m

Overnight: Tenzinling Resort in Paro or similar

Friendly Bhutanese family.

Friendly Bhutanese family.

18th October: Hike to Tiger’s Nest

Today, we will rise early and hike up to Tiger’s Nest Monastery so as to have better pictures with better lights. This monastery retreat was built into a sheer cliff face high above the Paro valley. Legend has it that the Tibetan Buddhist saint Padmasambhava flew across the Himalayas on the back of a tiger and landed here, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan. The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags.

After the hike, a short drive brings us to the capital city of Thimphu, which is the seat of government, home to Bhutan’s royal family, the civil service, and foreign missions with representation in Bhutan. It is also the headquarters for a number of internationally funded development projects.

Your sightseeing in Thimphu includes visit to;

Weekend Market: Most of the Thimphu population and many valley dwellers converge on the bustling weekend market, held down by the riverside.  A wide range of foodstuffs and local arts and crafts are sold at the market, which runs from Friday afternoon to Sunday.  A visit to the market provides great photo opportunities, as well as the chance to mingle with local people and perhaps buy some souvenirs.

Buddha Dordenma Statue: This massive statue of Shakyamuni measures in at a height of 51.5 meters, making it one of the largest statues of Buddha in the world. The statue is made of bronze and is gilded in gold. The throne that the Buddha Dordenma sits upon is a large meditation hall.

The Buddha Dordenma is located atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park and overlooks the Southern entrance to Thimphu Valley. The statue fulfills an ancient prophecy dating back to the 8th century A.D that was discovered by Terton Pema Lingpa (Religious Treasure Discoverer) and is said to emanate an aura of peace and happiness to the entire world.

National Memorial Chorten: Bhutan’s third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, who had wanted to erect a monument to world peace and prosperity, originally envisaged the building of this landmark. Completed in 1974 after his untimely death, it is both a memorial to the Late King (“the father of modern Bhutan”), and a monument to peace.

In the evening, we will drive around the town to capture some night scenes, including that of Tashichhodzong.

Approximate walking time: 04 hours.

Altitude at Thimphu: 2400m

Overnight – Hotel Amodhara in Thimphu or similar

Parliament House and Palace in Thimpul Valley

Parliament House and Palace in Thimpul Valley

19th October: Thimphu – Wangdue

Early morning drive to Dochu La (3050m) to shoot sunrise over the eastern horizon.  One can also have a spectacular view of the Himalayas to the north when the sky is clear from Dochu La. This place is marked by 108 chortens (Stupa), which are Buddhist reliquaries, memorials to the teachings of the Buddha. Sometimes actual relics of the Buddha or revered monks are inserted into the dome of the stupa, but whether or not there are relics inside, the stupas mark the landscape with reminders of the Buddha’s teachings. From here, it’s about a little more than hour’s drive down to sub-tropical Punakha and Wangdue Valley.

We will visit Punakha Dzong that was built by Shabdrung, in 1637, on a strategic place at the confluence of Pho Chu and Mo Chu rivers. The Dzong has played a hallowed role in the history of Bhutan. It served as the seat of Shabdrung’s government, several foreign delegations were received here in 18th and 19th century, the election and coronation of the first King was observed in 1907 and the Third King convened the first National Assembly in the Dzong. The central monastic body continues to reside here in winter. The embalmed bodies of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and

Terton Pema Lingpa is housed on the top floor of the main tower. Damaged by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, the Dzong has been fully restored by the present King from the latest fire in 1987.

Later, we will take a drive to Talo village, perched on the hillside high up above Punakha Valley; We can take picture of the rice fields on the way, walk through the villages and visit some farm houses, interact with farmers and have clear understanding of the rural Bhutanese lifestyles.

Approximate driving time: 03 hours

Altitude at Punakha: 1300m

Overnight: Hotel Vara in Wangdue or similar

Panakha Dzong, Bhutan

Panakha Dzong, Bhutan

20th October: Wangdue – Bumthang

We travel a winding route to Bumthang across series of mountain passes and valleys. The landscape around Trongsa is spectacular and its impressive Dzong, stretched along a ridge above a ravine, first comes into view about an hour before the winding road suddenly leads you into the town.

Visit and experience the masterpiece of Bhutanese architecture at Trongsa Dzong. It was Shabdrung’s great – grandfather who founded the first temple at Trongsa in 1543. In 1647 the Shabdrung had begun his great work of expansion and unification, realizing all the advantages that could be gained from Trongsa’s position; he constructed the first Dzong at the place where his ancestors had erected the temple. The Dzong was called Choekor Rabtentse. In 1652, Minjur Tenpa, the Penlop of Trongsa, had the Dzong enlarged. The Dzong is built in such a way that in the old days, no matter what direction a traveler comes from, he was obliged to pass through the courtyard of the Dzong. This helped to make the Penlop of this Dzong as powerful as it had a complete control over the east – west traffic. The watchtower above the Dzong further strengthened its defense. The father of the first king known as the black regent and the first king served as the Governor of Trongsa before the emergence of the Bhutanese Monarchy, since then it has become a tradition for the young crown prince to serve as the Governor of this place before he is crowned.

We then continue to the town of Jakar, one of the most spectacular valleys in Bhutan and also the holy heartland of Buddhism.

Approximate driving time: 08 hours

Altitude at Jakar: 2,600m

Overnight – Mountain Lodge in Jakar or similar

Mask Dance at Jakar Tsechu Festival

Mask Dance at Jakar Tsechu Festival

21st October: Jakar Tsechu (Festival)

We will spend the whole day at this remarkable event and have total immersion! We will be watching many ritual dances, which are performed beside the temple. There are a number of different dances, 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. As fascinating as the dances themselves will be the activities of the local people who flock to the festival from far and wide, dressed in their finest clothes.

Altitude at Jakar: 2600m.

Overnight – Mountain Lodge in Jakar or similar

22nd October: Bumthang – Mongar

The drive from Jakar to Mongar will surely enchant you as it offers one of the most spectacular views of the country. Evergreen junipers and colorful rhododendrons cover the hillsides, as the fresh new scenery unfolds with every twist and turn of the winding road. The sound of the rushing streams and cascading waterfalls greets you as you look down at the valley looming in the distance below the precipitous rock face. You will be so captivated by its beauty that the eight hours journey will hardly be noticed.

Approximate driving time: 08 hours.

Altitude at Mongar: 1600m

Overnight – Wangchuk Hotel in Mongar or similar

 

23rd October: Mongar – Trashigang

From Mongar we drive to Trashigang, the principal township of the largest and most populated district in the country. Trashigang, although is the biggest of Bhutan’s twenty districts in terms of the population, it sees very few tourists. Trashigang lies in the far east of Bhutan, and is the country’s largest district.  Trashigang town, on the hillside above the Gamri Chu (river), was once the center for a busy trade with Tibet.  Today it is the junction of the east-west highway, with road connections to Samdrup Jongkhar and then into the Indian state of Assam.  This town is also the principle market place for the semi-nomadic people of Merak and Sakteng, whose way of dress is unique in Bhutan.

En route, we will have a short diversion to Gom Kora temple, behind which is a large black rock. It is said that Guru Rinpoche have meditated here in this cave and one can see the impression of his thumb, hat, and his body on the rock.

After lunch, we will visit Trashigang Dzong, standing at the extreme end of a rocky outcrop far above the river gorge. It serves as the administrative seat for the district and the local monastic community occupies part of the Dzong.

Later, we will drive to Radhi village that is famous for its rice fields. It is often known as the “Rice Bowl of the East” because of its verdant rice fields that supply most of the grain to eastern parts of the country. We will stop at Rangjung Monastery on the way.

Approximate driving time: 03 hours.

Altitude at Trashigang: 1070m

Overnight – Hotel Doejung in Trashigang or similar

Buddhist Monk, Bhutan

Buddhist Monk, Bhutan

24th October: Trashigang – Samdrup Jongkhar

Our road from Trashigang brings us to many interesting sites and ultimately descends to the plains passing through the dense tropical forest full of teak, bamboo, and ferns, before arriving in Samdrup Jongkhar. Located near the Indian border, we spend the night here before saying farewell to Bhutan and driving to Guwahati, the capital town of the north-eastern Indian state of Assam, for your departure flight.

Approximate driving time: 08 hours.

Altitude at Samdrup Jongkhar: 150m

Overnight – Tashi Gasel Lodge in Samdrup Jongkhar or similar

25th October: Guwahati – Bangkok

After breakfast in the hotel, drive across the border to the airport in Guwahati in time to catch up your onward flight to Bangkok or New Delhi.

 

-TRIP ENDS –

Bhutanese Lady at the village

Bhutanese Lady at the village

 

Air Flight details

Flight options flying to Paro.

  • Singapore to Paro – direct
  • Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok (many airlines). Bangkok to Paro (Druk Air – amount US427.00)
  • Kuala Lumpur to Kathmandu to Paro

Flight options flying out from Guwahati (India)

  • Guwahati to New Delhi (AirAsia or other airlines) Delhi to Kuala Lumpur (Malindo Air or other airlines)
  • Guwahati to Bangkok (Druk Air – amount US158), Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur (many airlines)

We can help you book the Druk Air passage from Bangkok to Paro and also Guwahati to Bangkok.

Photosafari is dedicated photo trip for photographers organised by photographers. If you are interested to join or to enquiry for more details, please email to: Maxby Chan 

 

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