BHUTAN : Himalayan Kingdom 2016


Taktshang Goemba (Tiger’s Lair Monastery),                      All Photos: © Bill Ellzey

BHUTAN Photo Workshop-Safari

November 8-22



3 people $7,150; 4-8 people $6,650 (deposit $900)


Details & Signup

About our Trip

BB1-120-3A photo trip to Bhutan is as much a cultural experience as an adventure into landscape.  You’ll quickly feel immersed in the calm, centuries-old Buddhist atmosphere especially in the countryside and smaller villages beyond the busy capital city, Thimphu.  Even Thimphu is not really large and bustling by most standards.  There are around 750,000 people in the whole country—and not one stop light.

Bhutan is known as Land of the Thunder Dragon.  The dragon is painted above fireplace hearths; on walls of buildings; sculpted into large, colorful, fearce-faced festival masks and writhes proudly on the wind-stirred national flag.

Ik04-203-EditIt’s also been called The Last Shangri-La.  But modernity is gradually edging its way in, thanks to the foresighted king, the father of the present king, who was schooled in the outside world and saw that those advantages would likely outweigh the disadvantages.  Before abdicating the throne he began preparing his monarchy for becoming democratic.  In 2008 Bhutan held its first democratic parliamentary election.

He is the king who made Bhutan famous for it’s overarching development philosophy of GNH—gross national happiness.  “It recognizes that there are many dimensions to development and that economic goals alone are not sufficient.” (Wikipedia)

BB1-261-Edit-1In 2008 our group included Tshering Dorji, born and raised in Bumthang, Bhutan.  He’s now a restaurateur in my hometown of Crestone, Colorado.  Although an extremely knowledgable government guide will be with us, a requirement for all tours, Tshering will accompany us as well.  In ’08 he was an invaluable asset and co-leader often cajoling us into places not normally accessible.

This 2 week workshop-safari will be filled with mountainous countryside; Himilayan views; winding roads; terraced fields; temples and fortress monasteries (dzongs); happy people in traditional garb; charming children eager to practice their school English cheerfully calling out “Good morning sir” and “Good morning miss.”

Ik08b-146-1You will find it most rewardng, on international photo workshop safaris, to have a good working knowledge of your cameras. However instruction is readily at hand for all skill levels in the field, while traveling in the van or coach, at mealtimes and evenings before bed. There will be preparatory instruction for the next day’s shoots and periodic reviews of participants work throughout the trip.  There will also be teachings on advanced shooting techniques, exposure, composition, and one on one counsel in the field.

More information and a check list will be sent when your deposit is received.


Important! About the itinerary: The detailed itinerary below is written by our tour manager.  It’s a fairly standard template.  However this trip being a PHOTO WORKSHOP-SAFARI, we have complete latitude for adjusting our day to day activities as influenced by light, weather, extra time at certain locations, or other contingencies relating to photographic needs and desires.  You will notice there are frequent opportunities to hike. Hikes are optional.

Sample Itinerary: Short version

Day 01—  Arrive Paro and Drive to Thimphu
Day 02—  Thimphu Sites & Sights
Day 03—  Thimphu to Punakha
Day 04—  Punakha to Trongsa
Day 05—  Trongsa to Bumthang (Jakar)
Day 06—  Bumthang Sites & Sights
Day 07—  Ura Excursion
Day 08—  Bumthang to Trongsa
Day 09—  Trongsa / Phobjikha – Punakha
Day 10—  Punakha / Phobjikha – Thimphu
Day 11—  Thimphu—Cheri Monastery; Tango Monastery
Day 12—  Oct 24  Paro Valley, Drukgyal Dzong, plus others
Day 13—  Taktsang Monastery [Tiger’s Lair]
Day 14—  Depart Bhutan


Sample Itinerary: Detailed 

Day 01— Arrive Paro and Drive to Thimphu

Paro approach; red peppers drying

Paro approach; red peppers drying

Fly from Bangkok to Paro on Druk Air. From a left window seat on clear days you can experience a spectacular view of Himalayan peaks as you approach Paro. On arrival you will be received by our representative and then start our two hour drive to Thimphu. The road winds along with the Paro River until you arrive at the confluence of Paro and Thimphu Rivers. From here we start north along the Thimphu River passing through paddy fields, villages and Apple orchards until we see the Capital City from a distance. We check in to our hotel, if time permits we will have sightseeing around Thimphu Valley. This will solely depend on the arrival time of the Druk Air. Overnight at Migmar Hotel or similar.

Day 02—  Thimphu Sights and Sites

Student painting a Thankha

Student painting a Thankha

After a late breakfast you will start your sightseeing of Thimphu this will be followed by a visit to the Medicine Institute traditional medicines are prepared according to ancient practices. Then we head to The Painting School where traditional art is still kept alive through instructions in the art of painting Thangkhas (sacred Buddhist religious scrolls). The Bhutan heritage Museum, a nineteenth century house, preserved to show visitors, how middle class Bhutanese lived in the past. Next we will visit the National Library and return to the hotel for lunch. After lunch we visit Textile Museum, the traditional gold and silver smith workshop, weaving center and other places of interest. Overnight at Hotel.

Day 03—  Thimphu to Punakha

Punaka Dzong, fort cum monastery

Punaka Dzong, fortress cum monastery

After breakfast we will start our drive to Punakha early before the clouds come in and block the views of Bhutan’s Snowcapped Mountains seen from the Dochula Pass. Leaving Thimphu the road climbs steeply through a forest of pine and cedar, festooned with hanging lichen high up near Dochula pass (10,460 feet / 3,140 m). This pass offers panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges as we descend along a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley of Punakha (1,350 meters/ 4,162 feet). Before proceeding further to our hotel we will hike up to the Chimi Lhakhang temple on a small hilltop. This temple is dedicated to the great Yogi in 14th century known as Drukpa Kuenley or popularly known as “Divine madman” to the westerners. It is believed that this temple blesses women who seek fertility; it is about one hour of round trip walk. We proceed to hotel; check in, lunch will be served here. After lunch we will proceed to Punakha town to view the majestic Dzong (fortress), situated between the two rivers Pho Chu and Mochu (male and Female River). This fortress is now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan). In the past this Dzong was the capital seat of the Kingdom. Return to hotel, Overnight at Meri Puensum or similar

Day 04—  Punakha to Trongsa

Flags & Fields near Punaka

Flags & Fields near Punaka

We will have a heavy breakfast today as our lunch will be late and simple. The drive to Trongsa takes approximately 6 hours. We start early for the fabulous drive to the central valleys of Bhutan through the breathtaking beauties and serenity of Bhutan’s rich flora and fauna.  As we cross the fertile valley of Punakha and enter into the valley of Wangdue Phodrang, we take an opportunity to photograph the majestic fortress of Wangdue Dzong, which stands on a spur of a hill at the confluence of the Tsang Chu and Dang Chu rivers. We then climb steadily passing through semi-tropical vegetation and then to Pele la Pass (3,300 m/ 10,989 ft.)  With an alpine environment of rhododendrons and dwarf bamboo, the Pass is traditionally considered the boundary between West and East Bhutan. During the clear weather we can view the high snow capped peaks specially the Mount Chomolhari (7,314 m/ 24,355 ft.). From here we will hike downhill through forest of dwarf bamboo and quite often Yaks grazing. With gradual descent, the hike will be little more than two hours to Rukubji Village. At the village, we will visit the village temple and the village houses. Our picnic lunch will be served here. We continue our hike till the highway where our car will be waiting for us. From here we continue our drive to Chendebji Chorten, where we will make a brief stop. This Chorten or Stupa was built in 18th century by a Lama known as Shida, in order to nail into the ground a demon that had been terrorizing the inhabitants of this valley and the Ada valley just over the ridge. Continue your drive to Trongsa, as you enter Trongsa valley, the huge fortress of Trongsa makes you wonder if you will ever reach it. Backing on mountain and built on several levels, the Dzong fits narrowly on a spur that sticks out into the gorge of the Mangde River and overlooks the routes south and west. The view from the Dzong extends for many miles and in former times nothing could escape the vigilance of its watchmen. Arrive Trongsa and overnight at Yangkhil Resort, this resort offers a superb view of the soaring mountains and the majestic Trongsa Dzong.

Day 05—  Trongsa to Bumthang (Jakar)

Trongsa Dzong, built 1647

Trongsa Dzong, built 1647

After breakfast we will drive to visit the majestic Trongsa Dzong. Built in 1647, by Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal. This Dzong was the source of many important historical events in making of Modern Bhutan. Our car will drop us at the junction of the road to Bazaar and the dzong. You will walk from here to the Dzong. After the visit the car will pick you up and drive to the trail head for our hike up hill to Dorje Gompa. This hike is uphill and takes about 2-3 hours. At Dorji Gompa you will be served with Picnic lunch. After lunch we will resume our drive to Bumthang crossing the Yotongla Pass and into the first of four valleys of Bumthang known as Chumey. We will visit Domkhar Palace, the palace that was used as the summer residence of 2nd king Jigme Wangchuk. Lunch will be served here in the open ground. We will make another stop at Tsungney village where we will observe the weavers weaving the famous Bumthang fabric known as Yathra. Continue our drive for an hour and arrive at the Chokhor Valley. Time permitting the car will drop you at the Chamkhar Bazaar. From here one can walk back to the hotel after photographing around the market. Overnight at Yu-Gharling Resort.

Day 06—  Bumthang Area

Himalayan Mountains


After breakfast we will start our sightseeing around Chokhor valley. We begin our walk around the valley from our Lodge carrying our day pack towards the Jambay Lhakhang temple through scattered and clustered villages of Jakar. A Tibetan King, Songtsen Gonpo, built this temple in the 7th century. Your next stop will be Chakar Lhakhang, which was built in the 8th century. This House was a castle of the King Sindhu Raja who used to rule the Bumthang Valley. Continue your hike to Kurjey monastery, it is here, the great tantric saint Padmasambhava had meditated and subdues a local deity known as Shelging Karpo. Continue your hike north and cross the Chamkhar River over a suspension bridge and we will arrive at Tamshing Lhakhang. Terton Pemalingpa built this temple in 1500s. Your final stop of the hiking will be at Konchogsum Lhakhang, built in 7th century.  Rest of the day free for you to explore the small town. Overnight at Yu-Gharling Resort

Day 07—  Ura Excursion



Bumthang is the general name given to a complex of four valleys-Chumey, Choekhor, Tang and Ura. Choekhor and Chumey are agricultural valleys while Tang and Ura depend mostly on the animal husbandry. Our third day in Bumthang will include driving to Ura village situated at 10,000 feet high above the sea. There is about 40-50 closely packed houses alongside cobblestone streets that give the village a medieval atmosphere. The drive to Ura takes about 2 hours, however we will stop at the Serthangla Pass, from where you can get the view of Ura Valley down below. We will start hiking downhill from here till we reach the Ura Temple, this may take between 45 minutes to 1 hour hike. We will visit the temple and continue our walk through the clustered village of Ura making frequent stops to converse with the villagers, children and womenfolk that wear a sheep skin on their back to protect from loads they carry. Our lunch will be served at a village house, after lunch we will walk towards the school and observe the young students of Ura engrossed in their lesson. We will then say goodbye to this beautiful village and drive back to Chamkhar for overnight (2 hours drive). Evening drive back to Jakar. Overnight at Yu-Gharling Resort. 

Day 08—  Bumthang to Trongsa

Nuns of Pema Choling, Tang Valley

Nuns of Pema Choling, Tang Valley

After breakfast we will start our drive back to Trongsa, this drive will take about two and half hours. En route we will stop at Tsungney village and see the weavings once again. Continue our drive back to Trongsa, Check into hotel, and after lunch we will drive south to Kungarabten. This small village had once played a very important role in the history of Bhutan. This place was the winter retreat of the Royal families. We will visit the small winter palace, and then start walking towards the Monastery of Nuns that is located above. This monastery is the home to over 100 nuns, who study and meditate here. We will visit the shrine, hostel, and maybe join for a short prayer with the nuns and return to hotel. Overnight at Yangkhil Resort.

Day 09—  Trongsa / Phobjikha – Punakha

Phobjikha Pass

Phobjikha Pass

After breakfast we will start our drive back towards west taking the same lateral highway from where we drove in. From Pele Pass we will take the left hand road to beautiful glacial valley of Phobjikha. This valley is the designated winter home for 100s of endangered black-necked crane that migrate here from the Tibetan plateaus. This valley is also known for producing the best potatoes in Bhutan. From the Phobjikha Pass we will start walking downhill to Gangtey Monastery. If you enjoy the nature then this is a beautiful walk. If lucky you may encounter the precious Red Panda and many bird species. We will visit the magnificent Gangtey Monastery that overlooks the valley. This monastery has recently under gone a major renovation and has been built into a very magnificent Monastery. Overnight in Phobjikha or Punakha 

Day 10—  Punakha / Phobjikha – Thimphu

Chortans, Dochula Pass

108 Chortans, Dochula Pass, 10,460 ft.

After breakfast we will start our 4 hours drive to Thimphu. We will have several stops en route for pictures and leg stretch. Our lunch will be served at Dochu La Cafeteria. If weather permits we will be able to see the northern snowcapped mountains of Bhutan from here. Continue our drive to Thimphu. Rest of the day free for shopping in the capital city, overnight at Hotel Migmar or 

Day 11—  Thimphu—Cheri Monastery; Tango Monastery

Ancient mural, Cheri Monastery

Ancient mural, Cheri Monastery

For those who wish to take a day hike will start 40 minutes drive North of Thimphu. We then cross a lovely traditional bridge that spans the Wang/Thimphu Chhu River and start our hike uphill towards the Cheri Monastery. This walk will take one hour of uphill. You will come across tame deer and soaring birds that are looked after by the monks of this monastery. This monastery was built in 1620 by Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal and is the first monastic establishment in Bhutan. After visiting around we will hike back to the road side, then take the car drive for about 15 minutes to the road head from where we will start our hike to Tango Monastery which will take again about one hour. This Temple was built in the 12th century, however, the present building was established in 15th century.

Day 12—  Paro Valley, Drukgyal Dzong, plus others

Downtown Paro

Downtown Paro, Evening

After breakfast we will drive back to Paro. This will take about 2 hours. We will check into hotel and then start our exploration of Paro valley by first visiting Drukgyal Dzong built in 1647 by Shubdrung Nawang Namgyal. The Dzong was destroyed by fire and left in ruins as an evocative reminder of the great victories it was built to commemorate. On a clear day you can get a magnificent view of the Mount Chomolhari, alt. 7314 m / 23,990 ft. Go round the fortress, it is a 30 minutes leisurely hike, this is a beautiful walk. Drive south to Satsam Chorten, built in memory of the late Dilgo Khentse Rinpochey, and continue on to Kyichu Lhakhang, built in seventh century by a Tibetan King, Songtsen Gonpo. After lunch visit the National Museum of Bhutan, (Ta Dzong) which contains works of art, handicrafts, costumes, armors and rare stamps. Take a leisurely hike down to Rimpung Dzong. You will walk through a traditional covered bridge across the river to your waiting car and drive to your hotel.

Day 13—  Taktsang Monastery [Tiger’s Lair]

Taktshang Goemba, Tiger's Lair

Taktshang Goemba, Tiger’s Lair Monastery

After breakfast our car will drop us at the starting point of the excursion to view the spectacular Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s lair). The trail to the monastery climbs through beautiful pine forest, many of the trees festooned with Spanish moss, and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. You stop at the cafeteria for a rest and refreshments and continue the hike (if not tired) for short while until you see, clearly and seemingly within reach, the remains of Taktsang monastery. Built in 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. The history states that Guru Padmasambhava, the Tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed here on the back of a flying tiger. When looking at the monastery flying tigers don’t seem so impossible after all. Lunch will be served at the cafeteria. After lunch we start our hike back to Paro valley, if time permits we will have some more sightseeing or a free day for more shopping in the small Bazaar. Overnight at Dechen Hill Resort or similar.

Day 14—  Depart Bhutan

After breakfast our car will drop us at the Paro International airport for our flight back to Bangkok.




Price includes: Twin sharing accommodation with full board in Bhutan; visa; entrance fees, transfers, as per the itinerary below; English speaking guide; government taxes of 35% royalty, 2 liters water per day.

Not included: Airfares; Excess baggage, laundry, phone calls, medical insurance, beverages, extra water, souvenirs/personal, gratuities for driver & guide, single supplement (if desired) $475, and expenses not specified.

Deposit & Payment: $900 reserves your place.  Balance is due 90 days out.  Sometimes family emergencies or other contingencies arise and you find that you must cancel your trip.  If you cancel before 90 days out, there will be a full refund.  If you cancel between 60 & 90 days out your refund will be less $300.  If you must cancel within 60 days of the trip there will be no refund unless your space can be filled.

Travel to and from Bhutan: There are no direct flights to Bhutan.  Connections are through Bangkok, Delhi, or Kathmandu.  If you’re traveling from the U.S. I recommend going via Bangkok and, if your schedule permits, spend 2-3 days acclimating to the time zone difference (and sightseeing and eating great Thai food).  Bangkok (BKK) to Paro (PBH) round trip is $840 U.S. (subject to changes) and includes airport taxes. Denver (DEN) to Bangkok round trip cost example is currently (mid April 2014) around $1,100-1,300. Airfares usually increase closer to departure date.

Ground travel: By Toyota Van or Toyota Deluxe Coach depending on number of participants.  Both are air conditioned.

Travel Insurance: Strongly recommended.

Sign up:

Send deposit and full payment to:
Bill Ellzey Photographs
PO Box 362
Crestone, CO 81131

Payments accepted by check or credit card.  If credit card add 3%.




Bill Ellzey Photographs
PO Box 362
891 Camino Real [shipping]
Crestone, CO 81131,USA
Phone: 719-937-7787