David Lazar is one of the world’s foremost travel photographers.— Practical Photography
Bhutan is a 4,000 year old Himalayan mystery that only in recent decades has opened itself up to the world, at least to some degree. The Bhutanese are one of only a few peoples in the world that have never been conquered and always maintained their fierce independence. It is this independence combined with its remoteness that have kept the Land of the Thunder Dragon high on the list of the most unique and pristine travel and photographic destinations anywhere on earth. Is there any place else that places “Gross National Happiness” above their gross national product?
LJ’s Luminous Bhutan photo tour workshop is designed and led by Nat Geo contributor and all around great guy, David Lazar. David is teamed with local photography guidemaster Dorji, and together they have designed an itinerary that is both iconic and unique, with unmatched inside access. This access includes two colorful festivals (Tshechus) complete with whirling masked monks and joyous atmosphere; the chance to march and photograph as part of a tshechu procession; a private photo shoot with festival performers; off the beaten path monasteries and nunneries with freedom to photograph; fantastically colorful ancient Buddhist murals and giant prayer wheels, pastoral Bhutan and rural scenes, family home interiors and cottage industries, and the greatest little Homestay in all of Bhutan!
Luminous Journeys photo tours do not just bring you from location to location and make you fend for yourself, like so many of our competitors do, most especially in Bhutan. We take great pride in providing the extra value added you deserve – insight, instruction and true travel photography guidance throughout. This is done informally according to your own needs and stated requests. Another value add that most other photo tours don’t offer, is arranging a variety of photo shoots where you get the opportunity to work with locals in awesome settings. This is a great chance to work the way most professional travel photographers do while on assignment. Rest assured, David is not only one of the world’s foremost travel photographers, but one of those rare photo tour leaders who actually cares that you become a better photographer!
This photo tour will have a maximum of 10 – 12 participants. Please, for your own sake, avoid those overpriced Bhutan offerings that take 16 – 24 photographers! These are profit centers, not true photo tour workshops.
Dates – April 7 – 20, 2019 (14 Days)
Lead Photographer – David Lazar (See David’s Gallery)
Photography Guidemaster – Dorji
Tour Price – $6995 USD (only $466 per day)
Single Supplement – $885
Minimum Deposit – $1500
Locations Paro, Tiger’s Nest, Thumpu, Punakha, Phobjikha & Gangtey Glacial Valleys, Trongsa, Bumthang, Ura Valley
Hotels – 4 star, top 3 star, one wonderful homestay!
Tour Type – Small group photo tour workshops, 5 person minimum, 12 person maximum. In the unlikely event of only of only 5 participants, a $485 supplement may apply
Skill Level – Suitable for ALL skill levels, novice to advanced
Physical Difficulty – Moderate mountain walking, 3 hours to Tiger’s Nest w/ breaks and porters on request. You will need to be in fairly decent walking shape to make this hike, and if so age should not be a factor
Transportation – 1 internal flight retuning to Paro, late model air conditioned vans w/ plenty of space for each participant & gear. We do NOT take slow buses, or on the other extreme, separate SUV’s with only two pax each. This may sound good, but in practice is less than optimal for a well run photo tour
Remote Cultural Festivals
Private Photo Shoot w/ Festival Performers
Inside Access to Monasteries & Monks
Ethnic Tribes in Traditional Costume
Off The Beaten Path Locations
The Warm and Happy People of Bhutan!
Luminous Bhutan Photo Tour Workshop
With very limited flights to Bhutan from only a few Asian countries, Bangkok is the most convenient and least expensive overall place to gather and base. The trip will end here as well, so RT tickets to and from Bangkok are the best bet. We’ll meet at 4 pm in the airport hotel lobby to get acquainted and David will conduct a tour briefing and photography tutorial session. A group dinner and scintillating conversation follows as the excitement builds before we take to the skies for Bhutan in the morning!
After one of great scenic high landings in the world (there has NEVER been a major incident despite the online hype about it being dangerous) we’ll stop to photograph Paro Dzong. (Dzong = monastery fortress). Lunch at hotel, with views of Tiger’s Nest monastery above. Afternoon options include the town square, people & giant prayer wheel for motion blur images, & blue hour @ Paro Dzong. The evening wraps with a fantastic Welcome Dinner and introduction to sumptuous Bhutanese cuisine.
Day 3 – Cultural Paro & Thimpu – Capital w/o Traffic Lights!
Wonderful private morning shoot with cultural performers donning traditional clothes, masks, dancing, playing instruments and more. Good fun and some excellent photo opportunities. Drive to Thimpu with photo stops along the way. Thimphu is one of the last capital cities in the world without traffic lights, where traffic is managed by police in white gloves! Many photo ops today, including the Memorial Chorten & Farmers market.
Day 4 – Thimpu – Punhaka Glorious Mtn. Valleys and a Mighty Dzong
Drive over Dochula Pass w/ awesome Himalaya views & changing light on the 108 stupas at the top of the pass. Lovely lunch overlooking the Punakha Valley. This afternoon explore the Sob Sokha valley, including small villages & Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery perched high atop a mountain. After the nunnery is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan, followed by a visit to Punhaka Dzong for blue hour & nightscapes.
Day 5 – Punakha – Gangtey – Stunning Glacial Valleys
The serene and stunning glacial valleys of Gangtey and Phobjika are among the most beautiful in all of Bhutan. Shooting options include Himalayan mountain landscapes; Punakha Dzong in the morning light; interiors of Punakha Dzong with lots of monks, interesting architecture for impromptu portraits and temple scenes. Lunch outdoors at nearby Zomlingthang on the Mochu River before the 3 hour scenic drive to Gangtey. Stop to photograph nomadic yak herders that often camp in a small valley here.
Day 6 – Gangtey Monasteries – Architecture & Himalayan Grandeur
Morning drive to Gangtey Goemba – the awesome monastery on a hill overlooking Gangtey. This is an important monastery of the Nyingmapa School of Buddhism. Outstanding photo opportunities w/ monks walking in foreground and impressive monastery in background, both high and low angles. From the monastery trek through the cool and fresh forest and mountains to a remote and little visited novice monastery where we’ll have lunch with the monks and then spend the afternoon photographing them.
Day 7 – Gangtey – Trongsa – Bumthang – Scenic Beauty to a Royal Fortress
The glorious drive into Central Bhutan takes five short Himalayan hours with plenty of landscape and small village photo opportunities, as well as the massive Trongsa Fortress. Photograph the fortress as part of a landscape, and later, up close and personal with resident monks. Trongsa Dzong, built in 1648, is perhaps the most extraordinary in all of Bhutan. It was the seat of power for the first and second kings of Bhutan, and still holds great royal significance.
Day 8 – Domkhar Festival – Chamkhar – Music, Dance & Prayer Flags
Bhutanese festivals celebrating the history and tradition of the country’s mythology are colorfully expressed through very photogenic, outdoor dance dramas. It begins with traditional music played by monks on trumpets, and on a large drum and clanging cymbals. Masked men in colourful dress spin and dance in interesting formations, all part of the drama. Afterwards head over Kiki La Pass & a million prayer flags for sunset!
Day 9 – Chamkhar – Ura Valley – Monastery of the Great White Bird
Today begins with an excursion to Jakar Dzong, or “Fortress of the White Bird”. Very few visitors ever make it here, which is what we as photographers love! There are number of stunning images to be made of various scenic frames, especially with monks in them to add a colorful human element. Then walk through serene farming areas to Jambay Lhakhang temple. After a relaxing picnic lunch it’s off to the remote Ura Valley and our warm & charming Homestay.
Day 10 – Ura Yakchoe Tshechu – Inside Access & Private Photo Shoot
A day of excitement as we spend time w/ locals involved in the festival, and march w/ them as part of the procession through the streets of the village! You are free to photograph the procession from the outside, or from the inside as a special guest participant! Once at the temple, in addition to ground level, we have arranged for exclusive high angle access looking down on the performance. Yeah, we spoil you a little!
Day 11 – Ura Yakchoe Festival – Bumthang – Masked Dancers & Monks
Second day of the Ura festival will be just a half day. Today is the official mask dancing performances (yesterday was sans masks for the most part) to which we will have the same exclusive access. Break for a well-earned lunch and then drive to Bumthang. Afternoon visit Kharchu Dratshang monastery to photograph inside a large prayer room with monks, followed by some street shooting in Chamkhar.
Day 12 – Bumthang – Paro – Flight of Heavenly Valleys
Enjoy a leisurely morning and breakfast at the hotel before heading to the airport for the 10 am, 25 minute flight back to Paro. No, we don’t make you take the 10 hour drive like most of the others do! This afternoon is optional free time for spa or shopping, free shooting around town, and/or image review and Photoshop Tips & Tricks with David. Whatever suits you when the time comes…
Day 13 – Tiger’s Nest – Magic Mountain and a Hot Stone Bath
Tiger’s Nest is the most iconic site in Bhutan, for obvious reasons. The hike begins about 8:30 am from the hotel and takes about 3 hours up, and 2 hours down. This is by far the longest hike of the tour, but is not that difficult. Plenty of break time that includes a stop for lunch, w/ porters available! A traditional surprise awaits you on return to the hotel, followed by a very special Farewell Dinner.
Day 14 – Bhutan – Free Time, Relaxed Departure
Alas, it’s time to bid a fond farewell to the Land of the Thunder Dragon, also known as the Land of Happiness! You will miss this place! Arrive back in Bangkok by early afternoon (exact flight time not yet available) to catch your homeward flight. Please allow for possible delays and book a night flight. Of clourse you can always spend the night OYO and head out the next morning, or have some extended fun in Bangkok!
*Please note the above itinerary is only a brief. A 30+ page detailed schedule and information kit concerning traveling for photography in Bhutan will be sent to all participants approximately 100 days prior to tour start date.
**All photographs are by Luminous Journeys photographers or participants.
Photographer fees and top English speaking guide
In-country flights, airport & ground transport
All high quality meals during the tour
Ample bottle water & refresh towels throughout
All entrance, zone and camera fees
Local model, village, monastery donations
Bhutan Visa and Daily Visitor Fees
Extra drinks @ lunches/dinners (1 soda/water inc.)
Trip cancellation or medical insurance
Gratuities for hotel porters, local guide/driver
End of trip gratuities for photographer tour leader
More Knowledge – Better Pictures