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A Photography Tour of the Epic Wonders of Bhutan

Bhutan’s incredible terrain is postcard perfect-lending itself to a photography tour that defies expectations. High mountain snow-capped peaks with ancient monasteries in their shadow, and sprawling valleys below under blue skies create colorful and vibrant scenes. The small country Buddhist culture is everywhere-monks walk the streets of towns like Paro, found at work and at play in remote outposts, and Bhutan’s annual festivals are awash with color and movement. Ground Control Tours partners with a national agency, the only way you can see the country, that gives those who jump in, a nine-day photography discovery tour that highlights the best of the culture, people, and scenery.

Day one if this adventure starts as your flight arrives and your guide meets you at the airport. After transferring to your lodgings and getting sorted, set off to explore Paro with a stop at the Ringpung Dzong-built in the 15thcentury as a fortress and shining example of Bhutanese architecture. The name of the fort and temple means 'Fortress on a Heap of Jewels,' the whitewashed walls built on a steep hillside overlook the sweeping valley below. Outside stone festival grounds conjure up images of ancient times, while the interior’s décor is impressive with deep wood hues. The Dzong is part monastery and part administrative center-and was used as a fortress against invaders from Tibet in early times.

After touring other sights in town that give glimpses into the culture, take a hike to an overlook of the valley, and a drive to the Drugyal valley-where startling views of ruins of an ancient fort against the backdrop of the magestic Jhomolhari mountain in the background give you a taste of things to capture through a camera’s lens in the days to come. The day’s activities wind down with a trip to Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, where dinner is served and you will stay for the night in a peaceful resort.

Day two starts early in the capital city at Kuenselphodrang an outlook that gives way to a scenic panorama of Thimphu valley surrounded by towering lush mountains. After breakfast head out to see the local culture sights-a painting school, folk heritage museum and the national library of Bhutan. When lunch is finished, the tour continues to the Changanghkah Temple, Motithang Takin Preserve, BBS tower and Dechenpodrang Monastery-all ripe with architecture and sweeping landscapes that lend themselves to a keen photographer’s eye. Before dinner, take a tour of Thimphu Tashichhoe Dzong-where photography is allowed inside the century old temple.

Day three is a travel day from Thimphu to Trongsa in the central region of the country. An early morning departure ensures that you arrive at the Dochula pass as the sun starts to rise-lighting up the multi-hued landscape against the 108 ceremonial stupas in the foreground, Stupas are small, traditional Buddhist shrines built in stunning fashion around the country.  After lunch overlooking snow-capped peaks, the journey continues down through hundred year old forests to the Wangdue and shar valleys to Pelela pass, an ancient mountain trail between Trongsa and Wangdiphodrang. Crossing the pass we enter into nomadic village of Sephu, where the people migrate seasonal to herd and raise yaks in the alpine plains of the mountains. After respectfully photographing the area, continue to Chendibji for lunch and a hike to the nearby Nepali style stupa.

From Chendibji the scenery continues with a relaxed two-hour drive to Trongsa, where dinner and above-the-bar accommodations await at a picture perfect resort. 

Following breakfast in the hotel visit the glorious Trongsa Gzong built on a precarious hill overlooking the Mangdichu River below. Photography opportunities include monks dressed in traditional colorful garb going through their daily routines in the stone-paved exterior courtyards of the temple. The next stop is the Trongsa museum, where ancient Buddhism treasures, arts and artifacts give more insight to the history of Bhutan.

After a lunch back at the resort, you hit the road and drive through the mountain pass of Yotongla, and the Chummey valley until you arrive in the Chamkhar town in Bumthang. 

Day five sees another early departure to an adjacent hillside with an early morning view of the town and the valley in its midst. Following a hearty breakfast, you explore the Jakar Dzong followed by Jambay Lhakhang, one of the oldest Buddhist temple in the country. Following a short hike, across Chamkhar River, the next stop is a visit the nearby Tamshing Monastery and Koenchogsum Temple. After lunch, we visit the iconic burning lake in Tang valley, a sacred Buddhist site where it is said that the enlightened can see a temple at the bottom of the pool. 

Day 6 finds you going through the Trongsa and Sephu valleys, and over the Yotongla and Pelela passes to Phobjikha, where lunch and a photographic opportunity of the pristine Gangtay temple awaits. As time allows, another trip into the area is to venture on a short village hike at Lobesa and visit the ancient Chimmi Lhakhang, a temple revered for curing human infertility.

Concluding our visit, drive to Punakha and freshen up in the hotel. After dinner, we drive to the proximity of Punakha Dzong to explore night photography.

Day Seven takes you from Punakha back to Paro-where natural marvels along the way are Khamsum Yuelay Namgyal Chhorten in the Kabesa Valley. Upon arrival, we hike across terraced rice filed and hamlets spreading across the gently rising hill of Sirigang to the Khamsum Yuelay Stupa. After breakfast we tour the inner sanctum of Khamsum Yuelay Namgyal before heading to Punakha to discover Punakha Dzong and its shrine, Kuenray. 

After lunch, we travel over more epic passes, where the twilight gives itself to brilliant shots over the valley and mountains in the distance.

Day 8 takes us on a three hour hike offering amazing scenery to the Tigers Nest-one of Bhutan’s most visited monasteries and a beacon for monks from around the country and the world. Perched at 900 meters on a steep rocky cliff above the valley, the monastery is a sight out of folklore set majestically against a stunning backdrop of mountains and the valley spreading towards the horizon. 

For more information about this incredible tour into the depths of the culture and the natural panoramas of Bhutan, contact a member of the Ground Control Tours team to start planning for your time in a country that time forgot. 

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