Bhutan / Nepal Photo Expedition: November 10 – 23, 2013. Still 1 space left!
Tour Leader: Ralph Velasco. Trip limited to 10 participants.
The Kingdom of Bhutan, is a small country nestled in the cradle of the Himalayas, the highest mountains on earth. Unknown and mostly unvisited until the 1960’s Bhutan, known as the “Land of the Thunder Dragon”, provides the intrepid photographer with a unique and fascinating variety of photographic and cultural experiences. Bhutan remains, perhaps one of the last places on earth where can experience true Himalayan culture, seemingly unchanged for centuries.
The people of Bhutan exude calm, openness, warmth, and happiness. Villages are centered around temples where the melodic chanting of monks can often still be heard, and age-old traditions continue as they always have. With 90 percent of the population still engaged in agriculture, Bhutan remains a rural country almost devoid of industry and mechanization in areas outside the few large cities. The beauty of this pastoral landscape is the backdrop for our photo tour, which has been carefully timed to coincide with several small, off-the-beaten-track festivals, featuring colorful costumes, handmade masks, as well as unique and unusual dances.
Nepal is where the ice-cold Himalayas meet the steamy heat of the Indian plains. It’s a land of yaks and yetis, stupas and Sherpas and the home of three great mini-kingdoms of the Kathmandu Valley – Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. During our stay in Nepal we will visit and photograph many of the most important and photogenic areas, including Swayambunath, the monkey temple, Kathmandu’s Durbar Square, Bhaktapur,”The City of Devotees”, Bouddhanth, a colossal ancient Stupa and Pashupatinath the temple of Lord Shiva situated near the banks of the sacred Bagmati River where Hindu priests perform age-old ceremonies.
This will be a photo tour of amazing opportunities and experiences. We hope you decide to come along.
Trip Leader: Ralph Velasco. Limited to 10 participants.
We have timed this tour with one of the most interesting local festival that is held in the remote Bumthang Valley. One of the ancient sites of Bhutan, Jambey Lakhang attracts a large number of local villagers from all over Bhutan. There are Cham (mask) dances as well as fire ceremonies and perhaps the most mysterious fertility dance. (*Photography is not allowed during the fertility dance and you will know why, when you are there!)
Day 01: Nov 10 (Sunday): 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: Nov 11 (Monday): Kathmandu
After breakfast, visit Kathmandu Durbar Square. The complex of palaces, courtyards and temples, built between 12th and 18th Centuries, used to be the seat of ancient Malla Kings of Kathmandu. It is 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 77m high hillock on western side. This most glorious Stupa in the world, is one of the holiest Buddhist sites in Nepal.
Later we’ll drive to Bhaktapur. On arrival, we’ll enjoy lunch at Café Notopolo Restaurant. After lunch we’ll visit Bhaktapur, which is the second Sister City of the capital. Bhadgaon (Bhaktapur), which means “the City of Devotees”. Then we’ll explore Durbar Square and King Palace with its golden gate and 55-Window-Palace (15th century), the 5- story Nyatopala-Temple, the highest and probably the finest temple in Kathmandu Valley, built by King Bhupatindra. The 2-story Bhairabnath-Temple (18th century) as well as the Dattatraya Temple dedicated to God Vishnu and the Pujahari Math with its famous Peacock Window. In the evening we’ll return to our the hotel and after refreshment pick-up at 1830 hrs. to transfer to Bhojan Grija for special Nepali dinner with Nepali cultural dance.
Overnight in Kathmandu.
Day 03: Nov 12 (Tuesday): 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: Nov 13 (Wednesday): Kathmandu-Paro-Thimphu.
Early morning transfer to the airport to board the flight for Paro.
Met upon arrival at Paro airport. Drive to Thimphu (two hours). En route we will be passing through the confluence of two rivers that have on their banks, three small chortens, each built in Nepali, Bhutani, and Tibetan style. After lunch, we begin our walking tour of Thimphu including a late afternoon 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. Overnight in Thimphu.
Day 05: Nov 14 (Thursday): Thimphu
Early morning visit to Memorial Stupa. Later visit 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, 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, 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 Thimphu.
Day 06: Nov 15 (Friday): Thimphu-Punakha
After breakfast depart for Punakha. Enroute cross Dachu La from where, on clear days, some of the high mountains can be seen. On arrival, check in at the hotel. Later 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 07: Nov 16 (Saturday): Punakha-Trongsa
After breakfast, we leave for the long, yet stunning, drive to Trongsa, making numerous stops to photograph yaks and their herders, alpine flowers, lovely picturesque villages, and other roadside and panoramic scenes. From the Pele La Pass (10,825 ft.) we get our first glimpse of the Black Mountains. As we descend the pass we drive down through rhododendrons and ferns to reach Chendebji village. This was a night halt for mule caravans traveling from Trongsa during the reign of the 2nd King of Bhutan. Just below Chendebji village is the Chendebji chorten, a large white structure beside a stream. This chorten is modeled after Swayambhunath in Kathmandu and was built in the 19th century. An hour away from Trongsa we make our first sighting of the crimson-roofed Trongsa Dzong, with the Mangdechu river cascading in one continuous waterfall down through the valley beneath. Trongsa Dzong represents Bhutan’s link with its historical monarchy since it is the ancestral home of the first king of Bhutan, Ugyen Wangchuk. Trongsa Dzong represents the very best opportunity to capture the true essence of Bhutanese monastic and parliamentary architecture.
Overnight in Trongsa.
Day 08: Nov 17 (Sunday): Trongsa-Jakar (Bumthang)
After spending the morning at the Trongsa Dzong and wandering Trongsa town, we leave for the leisurely four-hour drive to Jakar Village in Bumthang. The route crosses Yotong La (10,800 ft.) marked by a chorten and an array of prayer flags. If the weather is clear we should see Jhomolhari (23,540 ft.) and other peaks, which marks the boundary between western and central Bhutan as well as the western border of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. Beyond this is Longte Valley where people raise sheep and yaks. We continue on to Jakar, the central town of the Bumthang district. As we enter the Chhume Valley (the first of the four valleys that comprise the Bumthang Valley) you will visit a center of Yathra weaving. Yathra is the name for the locally produced hand-woven woolen cloth. Distinctive patterns and bright earthy colors enliven the fabric that is used for a wide variety of purposes and sought after throughout Bhutan. Evening visit the Jambey Lakhang temple to see the fire ceremony. Overnight in Bumthang.
Day 9: Nov 18 (Monday): Bumthang
After breakfast attend the Jambey Lakhang Festival to see pilgrims doing a Kora (circumambulation) as well as various mask dances. Depending upon the schedule of the festivals, we will visit some of the nearby attractions like the Kurjey Lakhang. Jambay Lhakhang is one of 108 Buddhist temples built in the 8th century by the Tibetan king, Songtsen Gampo. Revered as one of the oldest landmarks of the arrival of Buddhism in Bhutan, this temple holds a unique Tshechu or festival. Overnight in Bumthang.
Day 10: Nov 19 (Tuesday): Bumthang
Today we’ll spend the day photographing the Jambey Lakhang Festival. Subjects will include festival dances and celebrations with the people of Bumthang and nearby villages all dressed in their colorful and unique costumes. Overnight in Bumthang.
Day 11: Nov 20 (Wednesday): Bhumthang- Wangduephodrang
After breakfast we’ll have a scenic drive back to Wangdue taking in the spectacular landscapes along the way. In the afternoon we’ll visit the Dzong situated on a cliff and have an opportunity to photograph the monasteries at the Dzong. Overnight in Wangduephodrang.
Day 12: Nov 21 (Thursday): Wangduephodrang-Paro
Morning excursion to Chimi Lhakhang, situated on a hillock in the centre of the valley, is dedicated to Lama Drukpa Kuenley, who in the late 15th century used humour, songs and outrageous behaviour to dramatise his teachings and due to this also known as ‘Divine Madman’. 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 about 30 minute walk across field from the road to the temple. The trail leads 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. Later drive to Paro and check in at the hotel. After lunch, we will visit Ta Dzong, originally built as Watchtower, which now houses National Museum . The extensive collection includes antique thangkha paintings, textiles, weapons & armor, household objects and a rich assortment of natural and historic artifacts. Then walk down the trail to visit Rinpung Dzong, meaning (“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.
Overnight in Paro.
Day 13: Nov 22 (Friday): Paro
After breakfast 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 hike to Taksang monastery view point which is perhaps the most photographed spot in whole of Bhutan. The round trip hike takes about 6 hours and we will visit only till the second view point.
Along the way, 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. Farewell dinner and photo sharing party.
Overnight in Paro.
Day 14: Nov 23 (Saturday): Paro-Departure
On time transfer to the International airport to board the flight for onward journey.
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 Circumnavigators 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: November 10 – 23, 2013
Cost: $7175 based on double occupancy. A single supplement of $725 applies.
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).
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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.
- 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.
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.
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.
To allow for any unexpected contingencies, all participants are strongly urged to purchase trip cancellation and interruption insurance.
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.
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.
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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 combintation softward program similar to like Lightroom. Additionally we strongly recommend a back-up device such as external hard drive.
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!