Set out into the mountains of Bhutan to shoot
images of exquisite temples, timeless farming
villages, and the towering Himalaya. Capture
scenes from a lively market or crimson-robed
monks against a backdrop of whitewashed dzongs. Hike into forests where wild moss creates
an otherworldly atmosphere, and photograph
breathtaking panoramas of snow-clad peaks.
Capture images of daily life in Bhutan on hikes to local villages and excursions to lively markets.
Hike to Bhutan's most famous pilgrimage site, Taktsang Lhakhang (Tiger's Nest Temple).
Photograph the exquisite carvings and sculptures of the newly renovated Gangtey Gonpa temple.
Mingle with community leaders and government dignitaries at a banquet dinner and gain insight into modern Bhutan.
Itinerary - 12 Days
Days 1 & 2 — U.S./Bangkok, Thailand
Depart the U.S., cross the international date line, and arrive in Bangkok the next night. Novotel Suvarnabhumi Hotel
Day 3 — Bangkok/Paro, Bhutan
From Bangkok, fly to the Paro Valley (7,300 feet) in Bhutan. Transfer to our hotel and enjoy time to relax, or take in outstanding views of the valley from Ta Dzong before walking down to Paro’s traditional center, Paro Rinpung Dzong. Tonight, gather for a welcome dinner.
Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Paro
This morning, drive to the ruins of a fortress that once protected the Paro Valley from Tibetan invasion. Then take a riverside walk through isolated farming communities. After lunch, visit the seventh-century Kyichu Lakhang. Kyichu is one of the two oldest temples in Bhutan, and is believed to be holding the left foot of an ogress whose body is so large that it covers Bhutan and most of eastern Tibet. Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Paro/Punakha
This morning, journey to Punakha, Bhutan’s ancient capital. Travel over the Dochu La pass (10,000 feet) and stop for tea and a view of 200 miles of Himalayan summits (weather permitting). Settle into our hotel in the golden Punakha Valley and enjoy dinner together. Meri Puensum Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Punakha/Phobjika
Travel to the alpine valley of Phobjika (10,000 feet), considered one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan. Along the way, the environment changes from semi tropical to pine forest, and then to an alpine environment—home to several species of rhododendron, dwarf bamboo, and Grey Langur monkeys Dewachen Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 7 — Phobjika
Against a backdrop of forest-clad mountains, the Gangtey Gonpa temple complex rises dramatically from a cluster of hilltop cottages. One of the oldest Nyingma monasteries in Bhutan, the Gangtey Gonpa has recently been renovated, allowing us to examine the fine workmanship of Bhutan’s best woodcarvers, sculptors, and painters during our visit. Then set off on a half-day hike, stopping to meet a family at a local farmhouse along the way. Dewachen Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 8 — Phobjika/Thimphu
Travel to Thimphu (7,900 feet), the capital of Bhutan and home to the royal family. Visit the National Textile Museum and browse its exhibitions. Bhutan’s weavings and brocades are considered spiritual expressions and are admired for their diversity and sophistication. Tonight, get a behind-the-scenes perspective on contemporary Bhutan during a lively Bhutanese banquet with members of the government, local dignitaries, and respected professionals. Taj Tashi Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 9 — Thimphu/Paro
After a morning exploring the country’s more modern side in Thimphu, visit the Traditional School of Painting and the Arts to watch students practicing the ancient arts of Bhutanese thangka painting, mask making, and wood carving. Late this afternoon, return to Paro for the night. Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 10 — Paro
Our journey in the kingdom culminates with a hike to the most famous pilgrimage site in Bhutan: Taktsang Lhakhang, or the Tiger’s Nest Temple (9,300 feet). Visible from afar, this stunning monastery clings to a vertical granite cliff 2,000 feet above the valley floor. This evening, celebrate your Bhutanese adventure at a festive farewell dinner and enjoy a private masked dance performance by some of the country’s finest dancers. Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)
Days 11 & 12 — Paro/Bangkok, Thailand/U.S.
Fly to Bangkok and check into our hotel. The following morning, transfer to the airport for your return flight via Bangkok, arriving home the same day. Novotel Suvarnabhumi Hotel (B, L; B)
For more than 30 years, Ira Block has covered assignments around the world for National Geographic magazine. His photographic subjects are as varied as the destinations stamped in his passport—from dinosaurs in the Gobi desert to hidden treasures in China, Mongolia, and Tibet; from Incan mummies in Peru to the North Pole by dogsled; from Aboriginal people in Australia’s Arnhem Land to the Native Americans of the southwestern United States. His enchantment with Asian culture led to “The Samurai Way,” a story he shot in Japan, and “Restless Spirits,” featuring the Terra Cotta soldiers of Xi'an, China. He recently led a photography workshop in Bangkok and has embarked on a personal journey into the study of an ancient Japanese martial art. Ira leads National Geographic photo workshops in New York City, and he has also taught in Abu Dhabi, Boston, Maine, and at the School of Visual Arts Digital Masters Program in New York. Ira’s most recent National Geographic story illustrated prehistoric global warming.
Prices are per person, double occupancy. For a single room, add $2,175. There is an additional Bhutanese government tourism tariff of $400 per person.
International airfare to/from Bangkok and airfare between Bangkok and Paro is not included in the expedition cost. The group flights between Bangkok and Paro is from $960 (subject to change).
In order to optimize photographic opportunities and allow for better access to our National Geographic photographer, we will limit these trips to 16 travelers beginning in 2016.
What To Expect
The average elevation in Bhutan is 8,000 feet above
sea level. This is an active trip, not suitable for those
with cardiac, respiratory, or circulatory disorders, or
limited mobility. We stay at first-class hotels in Bangkok,
Paro, and Thimphu; a Bhutanese-style hotel in Punakha;
and a rustic lodge in Phobjika.