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Bhutan: A Spiritual Journey

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Key Information:
Tour Duration: 16 day(s)
Group Size: 2 - 12 people
Destination(s): Bhutan  
Specialty Categories: Photography and Videography   Cultural Journey  
Season: March
Airfare Included: No
Tour Customizable: No
Minimum Per Person Price: 6975 US Dollar (USD)
Maximum Per Person Price: 7770 US Dollar (USD)

Tour Itinerary:

Day 1: Arrive Bankok International Airport. Transfer from Bangkok International Airport to Gangtey Palace Hotel. Afternoon excursion to the National Museum, once the watchtower for the Rinpung Dzong, located high on a promontory overlooking the Paro Valley. After lunch in Paro town, photograph the covered footbridge and wooden gate. Overnight at Gangtey Palace Hotel. Includes: (D).

Day 2: Paro, Tiger's Nest and Thimhu. One hour drive to Chele La (la means pass) for one of Bhutan’s best views of the Himalayas. Boxed breakfast will be served. On a clear day, you can see panoramic views of the western Himalayan mountain ranges. Then, we return to Paro and spend the rest of the day up a forested path to Taktsang Monastery, also known as Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan’s most famous and scenic icon. The climb is steep and takes about (4 hours round trip) but those who want to can ride sure-footed ponies up (but not down). Lunch halfway down the mountain at the “Cafeteria.” After lunch we return to our hotel for a brief break before continuing to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. The drive will take you along Pachu and Thimchu Rivers. Overnight Hotel Jumolhari.

Day 3: Thimhu. After breakfast drive 30 minutes to Dodena to visit Cheri Monastery. Cheri is now a retreat center for Buddhist students and wild mountain goats, which inhabit the cliffs behind the monastery. Enjoy a full hot picnic lunch on the banks of the Thim Chu (Thim River) next to the picturesque Cheri Bridge. The bridge is festooned with colorful prayer flags. We will have a private photo shoot with two monks to fill our afternoon. In the evening, we dine at the residence of our Bhutanese hostess, Sonam Ongmo, and her charming husband Subarna Lam. Overnight Hotel Jumolhari.

Day 4: Thimphu - Punakha - Wangdi. Arise at 6am to visit the Zangtoepelri Temple (Paradise Temple) in the center of Thimphu, where we will photograph pilgrims who have labored on foot over high mountain passes to worship and seek blessings from the lamas well as local residents Return to our hotel for breakfast at 9 a.m. After breakfast, begin our journey to the East, en route stopping at 10,500 ft. Do Chula pass for tea and biscuits and enjoy our first view of the eastern Himalayan Mountains. Here we can spend some time photographing the Druk Wangyal Chortens, Proceed to Wangduephodrang after lunch and visit Punakha Dzong where we have obtained special permission to photograph the interior courtyards. Overnight: at Kichu Resort on the edge of the rapids of the Dangchu River.

Day 5: Wangdi - Trongsa. After breakfast, drive for the long journey to Trongsa. We will make numerous stops to photograph yaks and their herders, alpine flowers, lovely picturesque villages, and other roadside and panoramic scenes. Overnight Yangkhil Resort.

Day 6: Trongsa - Jakar - Bhumtang. Morning walking/photography tour in Trongsa town. In the afternoon, leave for the leisurely four-hour drive to Jakar Village in Bumthang. Stopping en route to photograph the endless cultural scenes. Continue on to Jakar, the central town of the Bumthang district. As you enter the Chhume Valley (the first of the four valleys that comprise the Bumthang Valley) you will visit a center of Yathra, the name of the locally produced hand-woven woolen cloth that we can photograph. Overnight River Lodge.

Day 7: Bhumtang - Ugen Choling. After breakfast, tour the Jakar Dzong and a few other important sites. Depart to the remote eastern side of Bhutan, the Tang valley and the village of Ugen Choling. Stop at a roadside temple and a nunnery at Bapzor village then drive to the end of the road at the village of Kesum. After a picnic lunch, pack horses will meet us for a one-hour hike over a suspension footbridge through farm fields and cluster villages and up a “hill” to the mystical Ugyen Choling Palace where we will spend two nights in the owner’s guesthouse. Its remote location makes it one of the less frequently visited historical sites in Bhutan, hosting fewer than two hundred guests per year. In the evening, join the villagers in visiting the Palace for an evening of cultural entertainment. Overnight: Ugencholing Guest House.

Day 8: Ugyen - Choling. Participate in the celebration and frivolity as our guides and drivers have a formal archery match in the center of the village and a formal lawn dart match next to the Palace. A private photo shoot has been arranged of a local lama and villagers in the courtyard wearing the masks and clothing worn in the local festival. Explore the village of Ugyen Choling and the surrounding countryside. Just take a guide to carry your gear and strike out from the guesthouse in any direction—all paths lead to photo ops.

Beyond the village are farmhouses and fields for cultural exchanges, mountains and meadows for landscape photography, stroll through the village and observe the daily life of the Bhutanese. Experience the hospitality and a welcome honor to enter any farmhouse to see how the Bhutanese live their lives. Overnight: Ugencholing Guest House

Day 9: Ugen Chloing - Ura - Shinkar. After breakfast drive to Ura Valley. Sheep pastures line the road and panoramic views of the Lunana Mountains can be seen on the approach to Ura. Explore and photograph the main monastery of Sobrang in Ura, with the quaint village, cluster of houses and unique temples. Our lunch will be served in the private temple of the Ura Lama followed by a meeting with the Lama himself to learn about his life and Buddhism in general. Exclusive permission has been granted for us to take photographs of ancient masks hanging on the walls, colorful frescos and other religious artifacts in the Buddhist temple.

Our private lunch is in the main chamber of the temple with the Ura Lama and his family after we get individual blessings from the Lama. In the late afternoon, drive to the nearby village of Shingkhar where we will spend the night at the Shingkhar Guesthouse, adjacent to Shingkhar Temple. A private cook prepares our dinner at the guesthouse. We have obtained permission to photograph the interior of this tiny 16th-century temple, resplendent in newly repainted frescos. Overnight: Shingkhar Lodge

Day 10: Shingkhar - Mongar. After an early breakfast, gear up for a fantastic 88-mile drive to Mongar. The journey takes us through the mist-covered Thumshing La Pass, which at 13,500 feet, is the highest pass in Bhutan. On the eastern side of the pass the three-hour drive plunges down through a sunless forest almost 10,000 feet to the village of Sengor. After crossing the bridge over the Kuru River, 15 miles further on the climbing twisting road, we come to the ancient trade route stop of Mongar which is built on the side of a mountain. The true homeland of the Eastern People, the Sharchogpas, begins from Mongar. We will explore the 19-century Mongar Dzong. Overnight in Hotel Druk Zhongar.

Day 11: Mongar. Free day in Mongar. There are many places of interest to visit with your guide or driver with you to carry your bags and serve as translator and cultural guide. Overnight: Hotel Druk Zhongar.

Day 12: Mongar - Trashigang. This morning, begin our three-hour drive from Mongar to Trashigang. We will cross at the 8,000 ft. Korila pass and stop for tea and cookies as we have all along the way whenever crossing a pass. Beyond the pass, driving through corn fields and patches of banana trees, we come to the village of Yadi where we will stop at a farm house and photograph weavers making natural dyes from native plants. After Yadi, the road zigs and zags in what seems like never ending switchbacks descending to SheriChu village at the Sheri River. After SheriChu, we come across roadside sheds where oil is extracted from lemon grass. After crossing two more rivers the road climbs up to Trashigang town at 3,775 ft. Overnight: Kelling Lodge.

Day 13: Trashigang. This morning we stay close to town and visit Trashigang Dzong and roam the streets of Bhutan’s second largest “city”. After lunch we will drive to the Trashiyangtse district to visit several famous sites, including: Chorten Gom Kora, Zorig Chusum, the School of 13 Traditional Crafts., Tsenkhar Ruins and Doksum village where most women sit weaving outside their house. Doksum is also the site of Bhutan’s only remaining 15th century iron chain bridge. Return to Trashigang. Overnight: Kelling Lodge.

Day 14: Brokpa Cultural Program. Today is a very auspicious day for us as we rise early and drive eastward through Rangjung and Radi to Phongmey village. We have organized a special cultural program by the Brokpa people of Merak and Sakten, to be held in the ancient temple. A group of fourteen Brokpas will make the two-day trek from Merak and Sakten, a district that foreigners are not allowed to visit, and bring by horseback all of their cultural trappings as well as festival objects and costumes. We will have the distinct honor of being some of the first Westerners to witness and photograph the Brokpa folk dances, including the famous Yak Dance.

Day 15: Trashigang - Samdrupjonghar. Spend our last full day in Bhutan mostly driving to Samdrupjongkhar, towards the southern border where we exit into India. Farewell Dinner and Workshop Closing. Overnight Hotel Tlt.

Day 16: Departure. End of the tour.

Airfare is not included in the tour price.

Price Includes:
- Quest workshop fee
- All lodging at approved hotels and guesthouses
- Airfare Bangkok-Paro-Guwhati-Bangkok
- Your own Bhutanese guide and driver throughout the trip
- Bhutanese visa fee ($20)
- Bhutanese Tourism Development Fund fee ($10)
- Bangkok Airport Tax ($20)
- Meals and bottled water (excluding bar bill and soft drinks)
- All transportation by motor vehicle and horseback
- All fees associated with special events listed on the itinerary
- Photo Assistants to assist you and carry gear.

Price Excludes:
- International airfare to Bangkok
- Overnight accommodations in Bangkok (or other interim city) en-route tips
- Extras in hotel-personal expenses; telephone, laundry etc.
- Alcoholic beverages
- Gratuities for Bhutanese guides, drivers and religious site offerings
- Excess baggage fees.