Culture, Colors & Countryside Photo Tour
INSTRUCTOR: Peter West Carey
GROUP SIZE: Maximum of 8 (4 spots available)
AIRPORT: Paro International Airport - Paro, Bhutan (PBH)
DATES: March 6 - March 18, 2023
COST: $8100 double occupancy. $600 single supplement.
ACTIVITY LEVEL: Relatively Easy - Driving tour with day walks. Maximum elevation 14,000'.
Bhutan is a mystic country with a rich and deep Buddhist tradition. Photography opportunities are seemingly endless in this mountainous, inviting land where a slower pace of a life and Gross National Happiness are treasured.
With thirteen jam-packed days, this tour promises to bring you close to the culture, customs, and traditions that ground the Bhutanese people and give their country a unique place in the world. You will be shooting a range of subjects and have opportunities to learn new techniques to bring home incredible photos: people, mountains, wildlife, religion, landscapes, night scenes, culture, waterfalls, street photography, food, architecture and the almost timeless life in rural Bhutan.
This will be a tour unlike any you have ever taken and will leave you with cherished memories (and the photos to relive them) for a lifetime.
Day 1 - Arrive in Paro (2,200 m/ 7,800 ft). Our scenic flight to Bhutan will pass over the majestic Himalayas before you touch down in one of the few accessible valleys in the mountainous country. Our first stop is to a local hotel to freshen up and then we'll explore the National Museum and other cultural sites around the small town.
Day 2 - A short, scenic three hour drive brings us to Haa Valley (2,670 m/ 8,811ft.). On the way we'll stop atop a 3,800m/13,000' pass to soak in the multiple towering Himalayan peaks (weather permitting). Our day will be replete with monasteries, dzongs (fortresses with beautiful handcrafted architecture) and river views. The central shrine in Lhakhang Nagpo is said to be almost identical to that of the Jowo temple in Lhasa, Tibet. Legend has it that local deities assisted in the construction of Lhakhang Karpo and as a result, the place came to be locally known as 'Hay' (meaning 'surprise') which later became 'Haa' due to varying interpretations and pronunciations over time.
Day 3 - After breakfast, depart Haa for Thimphu (2,326 m/ 7,632ft) via a forest of pine and cedar with panoramic views of the Himalaya. Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital is situated on a broad green valley surrounded by terraced rice fields. Thimphu has a population about 100,000 people and you will notice lot more vehicles and concrete buildings. The main street of Thimphu, Norzim Lam, is lined with shops of all descriptions mainly stocking goods imported from India and Thailand. This is the only capital in the world where there are no traffic lights, only a few roundabouts. A policemen regulates the flow of traffic by hand signals! We'll visit the mini zoo to see ‘Takin’ the national animal of Bhutan. There are only a handful of them and they look rather unique. They are the only occupants of the mini zoo and there is folklore to their existence.
Day 4 - We'll be staying in Thimphu today and take a short 45 minute drive for a small hike to Cheri Monastery. With sweeping views down to Thimphu and Buddhist prayer flags leading the way, the walk is an chance to get close to nature and explore the monastery. Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyel (first ruler of Bhutan) built this monastery in 1620 and established its first order of monks here. After a short walk down to our transport, we'll head back to Thimphu to explore its city life with side explorations in the valley.
Day 5 - Our Eastward journey begins today with a drive over Dochula pass (3,050 m/10,000ft.) and then down into Punakha Valley (1,226 m/4,025ft) to visit Chimi Lhakhang, a 14th century temple known commonly as the Temple of the Divine Madman. After Lunch, we continue our drive toward Punakha Dzong (Fortress) situated between the two rivers Pho Chu and Mochu (Male and Female River). This fortress is now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan). This Dzong had served as the capital seat of the Kingdom for more than three hundred years. Punakha also has a thriving local market with fantastic photographic opportunities. Dinner and overnight at hotel in Punakha.
Day 6 - Less than three hours drive from Punakha is the Phobjikha Valley (2,889 m/ 9,480ft), a calm, wide expanse perfect for night photography. This is also the valley rare Black-necked Cranes winter-over after their incredible migration from Tibet, requiring a flight over the Himalayas! The Black-necked Crane is also known as Thrung Thrung Karmo and is deeply revered as a heavenly bird (lhab-bja), which has harmoniously coexisted with the residents largely due to strong Buddhist beliefs. The lhab-bja appears in the Bhutanese folk lore, songs, dances and historical references. In 2018 there were 626 cranes counted in the country of Bhutan with 504 of those in the Phobjikha Valley!
Day 7 - Today is a good day for sunrise photos and a short hike to Gangtey Monastery, situated on a perch overlooking the agricultural Phobjikha Valley. Our transport will pick us up from the monastery for a lunch break before heading to the Black-necked Crane Visitors Center and further explorations around the valley. Overnight for a second night at the same hotel.
Day 8 - On to Trongsa (2,107 m/6916ft)! As we enter Trongsa valley, the huge fortress of Trongsa dominates the entire landscape. No wonder, it is the largest Dzong/fortress in the country. Like all other Dzongs, it has been built on a strategic location. The view from the Dzong extends for many miles and in ancient times nothing could escape the vigilance of its watchmen. We will have most of the day to explore this incredible structure.
Day 9 - The road between Trongsa and the Bumthang Valley (2,579 m/8,462ft) crosses Yotong La Pass (3,400 m/ 11,200 ft.) and takes less than three hours (but possibly longer as we stop to take photos of roadside waterfalls and panoramic views). Opportunities abound in the valley on our first day in town, including visits to hilltop monasteries, short walks through farming villages and sites sacred to local Bhutanese.
Day 10 - The sightseeing today will be followed in the style of Bhutanese tradition, which is in clock wise direction. Our transportation will drop us at the Kurjey Lhakhang, one of the holiest temples in the country. It is believed that in the eighth century Guru Padmasambhava had meditated here and subdued the local deity known as Shelging Karpo. Begin our flat hike from here crossing the suspension bridge and visit Padmasambhava Lhakhang. This is another meditation site of Guru Padmasambhava. It was founded by Terton (treasure seeker) Pema Lingpa in 15th century and was restored by the Grand Queen Mother of Bhutan's present King. Bumthang valley is truly the most sacred place in Bhutan. Continue our hike to Tamshing Lhakhang, founded in early 16th century by Terton Pema Lingpa. We'll then be picked up and spend a relaxing evening at dinner before more night photography opportunities. Overnight again in Bumthang.
Day 11 - Today we enjoy a modern luxury; a 40 minute flight over what took us five days to drive. Arriving back in Paro we will have a relaxed day exploring the Paro Dzong and surrounding countryside. In the evening it will be time to fuel up for our exciting and breathtaking hike tomorrow.
Day 12 - After breakfast, our transport will drop us at the starting point of the excursion to view the spectacular and famous Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest). The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest, many of the trees festooned with Spanish moss, and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. We stop at at a teahouse for a short while until we see, clearly and seemingly within reach, the imposing Taktsang monastery. Built in 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. It is believed that, in the 8th century, Guru Rimpoche, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed here on the back of a flying tigress to subdue a demon. Guru Rimpoche is believed to have meditated here for three months and it is considered like a Mecca for Buddhists. We'll return to Paro in the afternoon for our farewell dinner.
Day 13 - It's time to head home or possibly on one of our Tour Extensions!
- Airfare to and from Paro, Bhutan from Bangkok, Thailand or Delhi, India
- Airfare from Bumthang Valley to Paro
- All lodging and meals
- Professional photography instruction to your skill level
- Use of a local Bhutanese driver, van and a local guide/interpreter
- Entry visa
- Airport pickup and drop off
- Sightseeing entrance fees
- Insurance for local staff
What's Not Included
- Airfare from your home to Bangkok or Delhi
Deposit: $200 – This deposit secures your spot on the tour and is refundable in accordance with our Cancelation Policy. It is applied to your total tour cost.
Tour Cost with Double Occupancy: $8100 USD
Single Supplement: $600 USD
Tour Extensions: Various prices based on activities. See Tour Extensions section below.
Is This The Right Photo Tour For Me?
If you enjoy a country steeped in tradition with a truly welcoming spirit, this is the tour for you!
Bhutan is a Buddhist country and the religion's influence can be seen everywhere. From traditional clothes to hand-carved scrollwork on almost every building. You need not subscribe to Buddhist philosophies to enjoy the trip. If you have any kind of curiosity of other cultures and an open mind, you'll enjoy your time in Bhutan.
This is a driving tour with short day walks and hikes. If you can walk two miles or kilometers comfortably, you will be fine on this tour. We designed our days around only spending two to there and a half hours in a van between destinations with ample opportunities to get out and stretch our legs daily. Not too much sitting, not marathon of trekking.
Nights are spent in hotels with a possibility of a farm stay one night. Bhutan's tourism industry is evolving so accommodations are basic, but clean and tidy. Hotels are in the three to 4.5 star range during the trip with private bathrooms in all locations.
All skill levels of photography are welcome and we shape our instruction to meet your needs. Some guests show up having just bought a camera and need all the basics while others have experience but want to take it up a notch in a country rich in subject matter. Our groups are kept small (6 guest maximum) just for this reason; so everyone can achieve their photographic goals and gain knowledge in a world-class setting.
If you have further questions, send us an email or fill out our contact form. You can also give us a call at 818-284-6142 or Skype Explore.Inspire.Educate and we’d be glad to answer any and all questions about our tours.
Our Bhutan tour does have a little hiking here and there but for the most part the activity/exertion level is low. We will be carrying our camera bags with us each day and the longest walk/hike is approximately 4 miles/6.4 kilometers.
We enjoy the comfort of a van with local driver on all our day-to-day activities and sleep in hotels at night.
Tour Fine Print
Booking a tour and your deposit:
To book a Far Horizon Photo Tour to Nepal a $500 deposit per person is required. Once the initial deposit is made, the balance can be paid in increments, if desired. A final invoice will be sent to you, by email, shortly before the due date. Reservations are taken on a first come first serve basis and we do not hold your spot until your deposit has been received. A tour registration form will be sent to you upon receipt of your deposit and it needs to be completed and submitted. Deposit can be paid by check, credit card, PayPal or cashier’s check.
Our mailing address is:
Far Horizon Photo Tours
18960 Ventura Blvd #42
Tarzana, CA 91356
Full tour payment is due 90 days before the start of the tour. Rates are based on tariffs, U.S. exchange rates, hotel rates and vendor fees at the time of tour reservation. Our tour rates are subject to change due to unpredictability of costs, exchange rates, and tariffs. Once you book your tour and submit your deposit (or full payment if paying less than 90 days prior to departure date) the price of your tour will not change.
Cancellation Policy and Charges:
We are committed to running our tours and ask that our guests be committed to them as well. But we realize Covid -19 is causing havoc with planning.
If you cancel your booking, it will result in the following refunds:
More than 45 days prior to departure: 100% of deposit and any amounts paid.
Less than 45 days before departure: : 100% refund for Covid-19 related reasons (like testing positive, or the airlines canceling flights, or your country or Nepal shutting its borders). Otherwise, no refund, but amount can be applied to future travel.
This policy is only in effect for the 2023 tour season. We are trying to strike a balance between the need to secure facilities before the trip begins and the uncertainty we are all experiencing as time marches on.
Tour Interruption/Cancellation Protection Insurance and Traveler’s Insurance:
All traveler’s are required to purchase and show proof of traveler’s insurance which covers overseas illness, trip interruption/cancellation protection, and emergency evacuation. You may also wish to purchase flight protection insurance. We can suggest Insure My Trip as a reputable option for such insurance.
Single Share Program:
Our Single Share Program is for travelers (of the same sex) who are traveling on their own but who are interested in sharing with another single traveler, thus avoiding paying the single supplement.
We do our best to find a share for those who request this option (based on a first-come basis). However, if no other single books, you must be willing to pay the single supplement. In other words, although we’d love to, we can’t guarantee a match with another traveler.
Your single share will not be confirmed until everyone on the tour has made their final payment.
Please note that it is not our preference to include a single supplement fee, but, unfortunately, we are charged this by accommodations at all of our destinations. If we were to eliminate this fee, we’d have to raise the tour cost for every participant.
- Visit multiple UNESCO World Heritage Sites and other cultural highlights
- 13 days in a beautiful, slow-paced, scenic country
- Individualized Professional photography guidance suited to your skill level
- Explore Buddhist Monasteries and Temples steeped in tradition and ceremony
- Night photography opportunities with more stars than you can possibly count
- Witness the rare Black-necked Crane migration from Tibet with two nights in Phobjikha Valley
- Carry only your camera and a small day pack during the day. Everything else is taken care of for you as we drive the countryside.
- Fly and Drive Itinerary - Why cover the same ground twice? We will save days of driving by including a short flight across the country in the itinerary.
- Short walks and hikes to see village and city life up close