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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 - 11 Days
Day 1 — Bangkok, Thailand
Arrive in Bangkok this evening and check in to our hotel. Novotel Suvarnabhumi Hotel
Day 2 — Bangkok/Paro, Bhutan
From Bangkok, fly to the Paro Valley (7,300 feet) in Bhutan. Enjoy our stunning hotel—a member of the National Geographic Unique Lodges of the World collection—and capture dramatic images of the valley from Ta Dzong before walking down to Paro’s traditional center, Paro Rinpung Dzong. After a late-afternoon photo shoot with the monks in the courtyard of the dzong, return to the hotel and gather for a welcome dinner. Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 3 — Paro/Punakha
In the early-morning light, photograph the traditional decorative details of 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. Following a special Buddhist blessing ceremony for the safe passage of the group, journey to Punakha, Bhutan’s ancient capital. Travel over the Dochu La pass (10,000 feet) en route and train your lens on the 200-mile panorama of Himalayan peaks (weather permitting). Meri Puensum Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 4 — Punakha
Enjoy a full day to photograph the golden Punakha Valley, beginning with the impressive Punakha Dzong. Built in 1637 to guard the northern and southern approaches to the valley, the dzong served as the national capital until 1966. Late this afternoon, hike through terraced fields to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten, a hilltop shrine with sweeping views of the fertile valley below. Meri Puensum Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 5 — Punakha/Phobjikha
Travel to the alpine valley of Phobjikha (10,000 feet), considered one of the most beautiful valleys in Bhutan. Along the way, stop to photograph the changing landscape as it transitions from semi tropical to pine forest, and then to an alpine environment where rhododendron, dwarf bamboo, and Grey Langur monkeys can be found. Dewachen Lodge (B,L,D)
Day 6 — Phobjikha
Against a backdrop of forest-clad mountains, the Gangtey Goemba temple complex rises dramatically from a cluster of hilltop cottages. One of the oldest Nyingma monasteries in Bhutan, the Gangtey Goemba has recently been renovated, and the fine workmanship of Bhutan’s best woodcarvers, sculptors, and painters here makes for fantastic photography. 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 7 — Phobjikha/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. Taj Tashi Hotel (B,L,D)
Day 8 — Thimphu
Today, enjoy an opportunity to photograph the boisterous and colorful Thimphu Tsechu (festival). Villagers, dressed in their finest and most vibrant garments and jewelry, flock from the surrounding valleys to attend this important celebration. The festival is not only a significant religious event but also the main social gathering of the year. This evening, 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
Our journey in the kingdom culminates with an early-morning photo 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. As the sun sets behind the surrounding mountains, enjoy a rare opportunity to photograph some of the country's finest dancers close up at a private masked dance performance. Zhiwa Ling Hotel (B,L,D)
Days 10 & 11 — Paro/Bangkok, Thailand
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)
Chris Rainier specializes in the documentation of indigenous cultures, and is considered one of the leading documentary photographers working today. A National Geographic Explorer, Chris was a co-founder of the Society’s All Roads Photography Program and is a co-director of the Enduring Voices Project, documenting endangered languages and cultures. He serves as a contributing editor for National Geographic Traveler magazine. His life's mission is to document endangered cultures and help empower them to use modern technology to save their ancient traditions through a project he directs called the Last Technology Program. He has conducted expeditions to all seven continents and the North Pole. Chris has won numerous awards for his photography, including the Lowell Thomas Award given by the Explorers Club for his work with endangered cultures. Chris was recently elected a Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society in London.
ALT indicates a departure that has a slightly different itinerary than the one shown on this page. Click the ALT icon to see the day-to-day itinerary.
The itinerary shown describes the October 2016 departure, which includes the Thimphu Tsechu (festival) on Day 9. Festivals and celebrations on other departures include:
Punakha festival on the March 2017 departure
Private masked dance performance on the October 2017 departure
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, these trips are limited to 16 travelers.
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.