Bhutan / Nepal Photo Expedition: October 12 – 24, 2014

Overview

Tour Leader: Ralph Velasco. Trip limited to 10 participants.

It is difficult to match Nepal for dramatic scenery. Home to the world-famous, 8,848 metre high Mount Everest, it is a Himalayan country with many UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Most of these are ancient temples or palace complexes that display extraordinary craftsmanship. The Nepalis’ complex blend of religious beliefs and traditions is reflected in the exquisite thangkas, gold-painted stupas and intricate carvings seen at every turn.

Bhutan is perhaps the most fascinating of the Himalayan kingdoms as entry was forbidden to visitors until 1974 and even after that numbers were still minimal. Landlocked by the mighty Himalayan peaks, Bhutan has been doubly protected from external influences, and as a result, the traditional way of life has survived largely intact, making it the perfect destination for a photographic tour. Bhutan’s scenery is magnificent; monasteries hang over precipitous drops, often wreathed in mist, and there are pristine forests, fertile valleys, and high rugged mountain passes – all of which make Bhutan a varied and exhilarating destination. The cultural life in Bhutan is also rich – villagers assemble for vibrant local festivals in the dzong or monasteries and there is mask-dancing in the temples. Archery is Bhutan’s national sport, and the gracious, gentle Bhutanese still wear traditional dress: elegant wraparound skirts or ‘kira’ for the women and checked, floor-length belted robes or ‘Gho’ for the men.

This will be a photo tour of amazing opportunities and experiences. We hope you decide to come along.

Itinerary

Trip Leader: Ralph Velasco. Limited to 10 participants.

Day 01 (Oct 12): Arrive -Kathmandu

Arrive in Kathmandu. On arrival, you will be transferred to the hotel. On arrival, check in at the hotel, get settled in. Orientation meeting at 6:00pm, followed by dinner in the hotel. Overnight Kathmandu.

Day 02: Kathmandu

After breakfast, we’ll visit Kathmandu Durbar Square, the complex of palaces, courtyards and temples, built between 12th and 18th Centuries. It was the former the seat of ancient Malla Kings of Kathmandu. It is also the place where kings of Nepal are crowned and their coronations solemnized. We’ll also visit Swyambunath. The four seeing eyes of Swoyambhunath Stupa watch over the valley from the top of 77-meter high hillock. One of the most glorious Stupas in the world, Swyambunath is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal.

Later we’ll drive to Bhaktapur. After lunch, we’ll explore the sites of Bhaktapur, the second Sister City of the capital. Bhadgaon (Bhaktapur), “the City of Devotees”. We’ll visit Durbar Square with King Palace and its beautiful golden gate and 55-Windows-Palace built in the 15th century. We’ll also visit the 5- story Nyatopala-Temple, the highest and probably the finest temple in Kathmandu Valley, built by King Bhupatindra. We’ll also see the 2-story Bhairabnath-Temple (18th century), the Dattatraya Temple dedicated to God Vishnu and the Pujahari Math with its famous Peacock Window. That evening, we’ll have the opportunity to experience a Nepali dinner followed by a Nepali cultural dance. Overnight in Kathmandu.

Overnight in Kathmandu.

Day 03: Kathmandu

After breakfast visit Pashupati Nath Temple, it is the holiest Hindu pilgrimage spot situated 5km east of Kathmandu, the temple of Lord Shiva. The temple is listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Monument List. Although only Hindus are allowed inside the temple, visitors can clearly see the temple and the activities performed in the temple from the eastern bank of Bagmati River. Also visit Boudha Nath Stupa, the focal point of Tibetan Buddhism in Nepal and lies 8km east of Kathmandu and is the largest stupa in the South Asia, looming 36m overhead. It is also listed in the UNESCO World Heritage Monument List and is also known as Khasti. The name ‘Boudhanath’ is composed of two different words Boudha and Nath. Boudha means wisdom and the suffix Nath stands for Lord. Thus Boudhanath means the Lord of wisdom. In this area there are more than 45 Buddhist monasteries located at the base. Afternoon drive to Pattan and enjoy the lunch at Pattan Café. After Lunch have the sightseeing of Pattan City. In the evening return back to the hotel and after refreshment pick-up at 1830 hrs. to transfer to Hotel Dwarika’s for special 6 course Nepali farewell dinner at Krishnarpan Restaurant. Overnight in Kathmandu.

Day 04: Kathmandu

Today we’ll visit several villages around Kathmandu including Bungamati, Khokana, Dakshinkali and Kritipur. In the evening we’ll share a special 6 course Nepali at a local restaurant. Overnight in Kathmandu.

Day 05: Kathmandu-Paro-Thimphu

You’ll have the morning free. After an early lunch, we’ll transfer to the airport to board our flight for Paro, Bhutan. This is one of the most spectacular flights of the world. You will be flying next to Mt Everest, along with other important peaks such as Mt Kanchenjunga and Mt Chomalhari. On arrival in Paro, we’ll board a private bus for the drive to Thimphu (2 hours). Enroute we’ll see three small chortens, each built in a different style; Nepali, Bhutani, and Tibetan. If time permits, we will take a walk in the market of Thimpu. Overnight in Thimpu.

Day 06:

We’ll start the day with an early morning visit to Memorial Chorten which provides spectacular opportunity to photograph devotees spinning the prayer wheels as well as doing the kora around the memorial stupa. This National Memorial Chorten was created by the third king, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, as a monument to world peace and prosperity. 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 world peace. The paintings and statues inside the monument provide a deep insight into Buddhist philosophy.

Later we will visit several important sites of Bhutanese culture starting with the National Library, which holds a vast collection of ancient Buddhist texts and manuscripts, some dating back several hundred years, as well as modern academic books mainly on Himalayan culture and religion. We’ll also visit The Institute for Zorig Chusum (commonly known as Painting School) where students undertake a six-year course on the 13 traditional arts and crafts of Bhutan. Finally, we’ll see the Textile and Folk Heritage Museums. These museums provide fascinating insights into Bhutanese material culture and way of life and Handicrafts Emporium: This government-run enterprise displays a wide range of beautifully hand-woven textiles and craft products. It also carries a small collection of books on Bhutan, Buddhism and Himalayan culture. Overnight in Thimpu.

Day 07: Thimphu-Punakha

After breakfast we’ll explore Thimpu market before boarding our private bus to Punakha. Enroute we’ll cross Dachu La pass from where, on clear days, some of the high mountains can be seen. On arrival, check in at the hotel. After a bit of rest, we’ll re-group and visit Punakha Dzong.

Punakha is blessed with a temperate climate and is home to one of the country’s most important dzongs. Punakha Dzong is placed strategically at the junction of the Pho Chu (male) and Mo Chu (female) rivers. The monastery was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to serve as the religious and administrative centre of the region. Damaged over the centuries by four catastrophic fires and an earthquake, it has been fully restored in recent years by the present monarch and is a breathtaking and glorious site on first glimpse from the road. Overnight in Punakha.

Day 08 & 09: Punakha

We’ll have two full days to wander and photograph weekly market in Punakha. We’ll get to witness and photograph a cultural dance performance exclusively for our group. Overnight in Punakha.

Day 10: Punakha-Paro

On this morning’s excursion, we’ll visit the temple of Chimi Lhakhang. Situated on a hillock in the center of the valley, Chimi Lhakhang is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley (15th century), also known as the “Divine Madman”, due to the humor, songs and outrageous behavior he used to dramatize his teachings. This temple is also known as the temple of fertility. It is widely believed that couples who do not have children and wanting one, if they pray at this temple, they are usually blessed with a child very soon. It is a scenic 30 minute walk to get to the temple. We’ll follow a trail that will lead us across rice fields to the tiny settlement of Pana, meaning ‘field’. It then follows a tiny stream downhill to Yoaka and across more fields before making a short climb to Chimi Lhakhang.

After lunch, we’ll travel by private bus to to Paro, (5 hrs). After some rest, we’ll will take a late afternoon walk to explore in the market of Paro in the beautiful afternoon light. Overnight in Paro.

Day 11: Paro

After breakfast, we’ll drive to Drukgyel Dzong, a ruined fortress where Bhutanese warriors fought Tibetan invaders centuries ago. The snowy dome of sacred Chomolhari, “mountain of goddess”, can be seen in all her glory from the approach road to the Dzong. Later, you’ll have the opportunity to hike to the Taksang monastery view point which is perhaps the most photographed spot in whole of Bhutan. The round trip hike takes about 6 hours, we will visit only till the second view point. Along the way, we’ll see the 7th century Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the 108 temples built in the 10 Himalayas by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo. The building of this temple marks the introduction of Buddhism in Bhutan. Overnight in Paro.

Day 12: Paro

After breakfast, we will visit Ta Dzong. Originally built as Watchtower, it now houses the National Museum. The extensive collection includes antique thangkha paintings, textiles, weapons & armor, household objects and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts. After our visit, we’ll walk down the trail to visit Rinpung Dzong, (“fortress of the heap of jewels”), which has a long and fascinating history. Along the wooden galleries lining the inner courtyard are fine wall paintings illustrating Buddhist lore such as “four friends”, “the old man of long life”, “the wheel of life”, scenes from the life of Milarepa, Mount Sumeru and other cosmic Mandalas.

Afternoon is free for own activities. Overnight in Paro.

Day 13 (Oct 24):

Guests will be transported to the airport to board the flight (once more over the Himalyas) for onward journey home.

Overnight in Paro.

Leader

Ralph Velasco

Award-winning photographer Ralph Velasco is an international tour guide who has led cultural photo tours to Egypt, Central Europe, Spain, Mexico and throughout the United States, and he’s participated in a number of humanitarian and People-to-People programs to Cuba, and he’s photographed in more than 40 countries on six continents.

His first app for iPhone and iPod touch is called “My Shot Lists for Travel” and he’s the author of: “Ralph Velasco On Travel Photography: 101 Tips for Developing Your Photographic Eye & More.” Additionally, Ralph is an award-winning blogger who regularly contributes to popular photography websites including Lightstalking.com, Digital-Photography-School.com, PhotographyTalk.com and the Travel Photographers Network.

For two years running he was awarded “Open Photographer of the Year” by the Professional Photographers of Orange County and he belongs to the Circumnavigaters Club, an exclusive group of travelers whose charter requires that its members have traveled around the world, in a single journey, having crossed every one of earth’s meridians.

Dates & Prices

Dates: October 12 – 24, 2014

Cost: $6375, Single supplement $625

Trip is limited to 10 participants.

Includes: All 13 nights lodging, ground transportation, airport transfers, English-speaking guides, all meals, entrances, Bhutan Visa fee and service taxes, as well as tips to guides, drivers, and porters. Also includes flight from Kathmandu to Paro. Tour finishes in Paro, flight can be arranged from Paro back to Kathmandu for approx $290 or to Bangkok for approx $525 (based on today’s prices).

Reservation Form

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Terms

Jim Cline Photo Tours LLC

Deposit and Final Payment

A deposit of $600 per person is required at time of booking. Full payment is due 90 days prior to departure.

Cancellation

  • On cancellations more than 120 days prior to departure, all monies are refunded less a $275 administrative fee and less any monies spent on participant’s behalf such as airline or other tickets.
  • Less than 120 but at least 90 days prior, total deposit amount is forfeited.
  • Less than 90 but at least 75 days prior, 50% of trip price is forfeited.
  • Less than 75 days prior to departure, 100% is forfeited.

Notification by phone or email is acceptable, but please follow with written notice. In the unlikely event we have to cancel a tour, a full refund will be given.

Responsibility

Jim Cline Photo Tours LLC, and their agents act only in the capacity as agents in all matters pertaining to hotel accommodations, sightseeing tours, and transportation, and are not responsible for any loss, damage, theft, or injury to person or property resulting from a defect in any vehicle, or the actions of any persons who provide services for this tour or for the action or inaction of any third party. Baggage is at the owner’s risk entirely. The tour operator reserves the right to withdraw the tour at any time, to decline any person as a member of the tour for any cause at any time. All prices are based on current rates of exchange and, while every effort will be made to hold them firm, they are subject to change. All participants are required to submit a signed Acceptance of Risk and Release of Liability form prior to the tour’s departure.

Health

It is the responsibility of each tour member to inform the tour operator of any possible health problems or handicaps upon registration. By forwarding a signed reservation form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements.

Trip Insurance

To allow for any unexpected contingencies, all participants are strongly urged to purchase trip cancellation and interruption insurance.

Itinerary

While Jim Cline Photo Tours LLC endeavors to make the itinerary as accurate as possible, it should be considered as an approximate schedule of activities rather than a rigid schedule of events. Trip itineraries are subject to revision due to weather, ocean or trail conditions, government restrictions, and other reasons beyond our control. The tour leader has the right to make changes in the published itinerary whenever in his sole judgment conditions warrant, or if he deems it necessary for the comfort or safety of the tour.

Country Info

Visas:

Health Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

Money: Currency exchange rates

ATMs, Credit Cards, Travelers Checks:

Internet Access

Electricity

Equipment

Suggested equipment: Digital SLR with lenses offering a focal length from wide (24mm or wider) to telephoto (100mm or longer), laptop or netbook computer running image viewing software such as Breeze Browser or Photo Mechanic and an image editing program such as Adobe Photoshop, or a combination software program similar to like Lightroom. Additionally we strongly recommend a back-up device such as external hard drive.

Packing Ideas

Lay out all your clothes and camera gear on the floor; next, remove half the clothes, then double the number of memory cards….you are now ready for this tour!

Trip Evaluation Form

Bhutan/Nepal Evaluation Form

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