Bhutan is a country nestled in the Eastern Himalaya mountains, bordering Tibet and India, and regions of the country are some of the most remote in the world. For centuries, Bhutan remained in self-imposed isolation from the rest of the world. This conscious policy of isolation, complemented by formidable geographical barriers, enabled the country to maintain its independence throughout its history. This tiny kingdom cautiously opened its doors to outsiders in 1974, and visitors have been mesmerized by its spiritual life and forbidden aura ever since.
Almost everyone takes photos on vacation, if only to have them as memories. On this tour, you will learn new techniques to take better photos – even if it is just with your iPhone! Professional photographer Clifford Pickett is a Zephyr alumnus who will join this trip as our special expert. Our cultural journey includes moderate walks to monasteries, sightseeing in the capital and interacting with locals in what is essentially an original, unspoiled culture. We have adapted our itinerary to provide special opportunities for photography workshops and photo taking opportunities. No experience or special equipment is necessary and all workshops are optional, so you need not even be interested in photography to take this trip.
This is truly adventure travel, where we give up comforts we’re accustomed to and gain insight into another culture. The key is to relax, live in the moment, and not worry about things we can’t control. We Westerners generally value punctuality, productivity, and assertiveness. Buddhist cultures tend to be more forgiving, relaxed about time, and polite and gentle in awkward situations. Be prepared to forgo your Western way of thinking and experience an alternate way of life in a country that measures prosperity by gauging its citizens’ Gross National Happiness instead of financial benchmarks!
NOVEMBER 7 >> ARRIVAL IN BHUTAN: BANGKOK TO PARO TO THIMPU We meet very early in the morning today in Bangkok, Thailand, and take a flight together to Bhutan. The scenic flight into Paro offers a spectacular view of the Himalayan ranges. If you’re lucky, you may see some large mountain peaks jutting through the clouds. The approach and landing in Paro will be unlike any other flight you’ve taken! Upon arrival, we’ll be greeted by our local hosts and taken sightseeing in the Paro valley. We’ll begin by visiting Rimpung Dzong, built in the 17th century. A dzong is a distinctive type of fortress architecture found mainly in Bhutan: massive in style with towering exterior walls surrounding a complex of courtyards, temples, administrative offices, and monks’ accommodation. This dzong is now an administrative center and school for monks. In the afternoon, we’ll make the one-hour drive to Bhutan’s capital city of Thimpu, check into our hotel, and have a festive welcome dinner and an introduction to one of the well-loved dishes of Bhutan: “chili cheese.”
Accommodation: in Thimpu
Photo Focus: During the sightseeing portion of Paro valley, Cliff will be demonstrating how to use your camera, focusing on composition techniques. Working with the natural light with local monks as your focus, you’ll learn how to create stunning images on any camera, from your DSLR to your cell phone.
NOVEMBER 8 >> THIMPU SIGHTSEEING Today we visit a variety of sites: religious, political, intellectual, and commercial. The Memorial Chorten is a Tibetan-style shrine and a place of devotion for Buddhists. The Handcrafts Emporium is the market where you’ll find locally made crafts and souvenirs. We’ll also visit the local zoo to see the national animal, the Takin, which appears to be half goat and half cow. After lunch at the fun and popular “Zone” in Thimpu (have you ever tried a yak burger with fries?) we’ll visit a local hospital to see how traditional medicines are made.
Accommodation: in Thimpu
Photo Focus: From a photography standpoint, the various locations we will be visiting today, from dimly lit interiors to busy wildlife scenes, represent quite a challenge for the uninitiated photographer. Cliff will be teaching and demonstrating the techniques needed to capture beautiful and memorable images throughout the day, from tricks to maximize the low light capability of your camera to isolation techniques for effective wildlife photography in confined spaces like the zoo. After dinner, we will have our first photography mini-workshop on how to efficiently and effectively backup your images, find your favorites, do a quick edit and share them with friends and family both directly and through social media.
NOVEMBER 9 >> THIMPU TO PUNAKHA After breakfast, we will drive up and over the Dochu La pass to Punakha and this will take several hours. We will stop at the top of the pass to appreciate a panoramic view of the Himalayas and – depending on weather – participate in a short photography workshop. Then, we head down the switchbacks to Punakha! For much of Bhutan’s history, Punakha was a center of political, social, and religious life and was the capital of Bhutan until 1955. We visit the six-story tall Punakha Dzong, Bhutan’s most important historic and religious structure. Construction on this magnificent fortress along the river was started in 1637 and completed the following year. In 2011 the royal wedding was held here. You’ll also get to try Bhutan’s national sport of archery!
Accommodation: in Punakha
Photo Focus: Our focus shifts to landscape photography as we tackle Dochu La Pass. If we catch the weather and light just right, the scene will be stunning. These are the hero images, the ones we take home, print large and hang on the wall. From DSLR to iphone, any camera can capture the grandeur and beauty of this location with the right techniques. Here, Cliff will explain and provide a demonstration of quick but effective multi-exposure techniques such as High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging to capture the exposure range and panoramic stitching to increase field of view and capture the scale of the scene.
NOVEMBER 10 >> PUNAKHA TO PHOBJIKHA The Phobjikha Valley in Central Bhutan (also known as the Gangteng Valley, named for the impressive Gangteng Monastery) is a giant U-shaped valley carved by glaciers long ago. In the last week of October, the rare species of bird (Black-Necked Cranes) begin to arrive from the Tibetan Plateau to visit this vast marshland for the winter. Legend has it the black-necked cranes circle the Gangteng Monastery three times and also repeat the process while returning to Tibet.
Accommodation: in Phobjikha
Photo Focus: The photography today will focus more on landscape and compositional techniques. For those interested, Cliff will provide an in-depth demonstration of time-based capture for emotional effect. In true zen tradition, you’ll learn how to manipulate time in your images, with a focus on long exposure using a variety of tools and techniques for surprising results. This can be done quite effectively, even on an iPhone.
NOVEMBER 11 >> BLACK-NECKED CRANE FESTIVAL IN PHOBJIKHA The Phobjikha Valley is popular for its scenic splendor and cultural uniqueness. The valley is rich in biodiversity and has about a dozen globally threatened species. Part of the valley has been declared a protected area and is managed by Bhutan’s Royal Society for the Protection of Nature. Today we will partake in a beautiful festival honoring the Black-Necked Cranes. Later in the day, we will take an excursion to photograph the birds in their natural environment, staying to capure them in the waning light.
Accommodation: in Phobjikha
Photo Focus: With wildlife being the main focus of the day, our attention will turn to nature photography, using techniques such as panning, shutter speed tips to freeze motion or to imply it, focusing techniques and exposure, lighting, and composition choices to be made.
NOVEMBER 12 >> PHOBJIKHA – LOBESA Lobesa is an agricultural area in a serene and verdant valley a few hours from Phobjikha by car. Here we may meet farmers toiling in their rice fields and tending their vegetables. Nearby is the Lhakhang temple where women who are having difficulty conceiving children come to pray at a large altar, full of offerings from pilgrims. Given the rural area and a corresponding lack of light, tonight will be the perfect time to work on our nighttime photography skills after dinner.
Accommodation: in Lobeysa
Photo Focus: During the day we will have the opportunity to interact and photograph many locals. Portraits are an often overlooked aspect of travel photography. When done right, encounters and portraits of the people we meet often make for the most interesting and memorable experiences and photographs during our travels. Most of us shy away from the opportunity. Here we won’t, and you’ll learn how to approach subjects with curiosity and kindness and how to foster a pleasurable and memorable experience for both parties. After dinner, weather permitting, we may have the opportunity to venture out under a clear night sky to capture the stars and milky way in all it’s glory. Night time photography can be more of a challenge than other forms but the results are always well worth the effort.
NOVEMBER 13 >> LOBESA TO PARO After a leisurely morning we will again cross the Dochu La pass and go all the way back to Paro, a drive of about 4 hours. Prior to dinner, Cliff will offer a workshop on working with your images once you’ve downloaded them into your computer.
Accommodation: in Paro
Photo Focus: By now, you will have been acquiring quite a few images! But what do you do with them? Once we are settled back in at Paro, we will have a workshop on how to quickly sort through all of those images, weed out the best ones using a very specific method and then how to bring your best work to life using both apps on your phone and Adobe’s lightroom and photoshop desktop applications for those with laptops.
NOVEMBER 14 >> SIGHTSEEING IN PARO Today is a relaxed day so we can rest up for our hike tomorrow! We will have time to explore and shop in the Paro market and visit Ta Dzong, a monastery that was later converted into the National Museum in 1967. Inside the museum you will find many antique paintings, carvings, statues, textiles, and jewelry. You will have a bit of free time this afternoon.
Accommodation: in Paro
Photo Focus: Because we specifically built in free time on today’s itinerary, an overview of street photography tips will be provided to make the most of your wandering in the market and the unique items you encounter along the way. For those interested, a longer workshop will be held later in the day where Cliff will be showing some of the images he took along the way along with how he did it and how he processed them, so you can compare and contrast with your own images of some of the same scenes. We welcome you to bring your own images to the workshop, where he’ll provide a brief critique as well as demonstrate various post-processing techniques on the images for further clarity on how to bring out the brilliance in each image. From there, he’ll demonstrate best practices on how to quickly share your images with friends and family through building online galleries and posting to social media through Lightroom or just your cell phone.
NOVEMBER 15 >> PARO AND HIKE TO THE TIGER’S NEST No trip to Bhutan would be complete without a hike to the Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang) Monastery, located on the side of a cliff almost 3,000 feet above the Paro Valley floor. This hike is moderately strenuous (a little over two miles each way and almost 3000 feet up, then back). As believed by the Bhutanese, Guru Padmasambhava (a Buddhist saint who is famous because he converted the whole Paro valley to Buddhism) flew here on a Tigress’s back in the 8th century and meditated for three months. This hike, the exploration of the Monastery itself and lunch halfway down will take us most of the day. Tonight, we will celebrate with a round of Druk beers (or whatever beverage you choose)!
Accommodation: in Paro
Photo Focus: Today will be our creative karate kid moment! During the approach we will exercise and reinforce all of the various photographic techniques we have learned throughout the week. From landscape to nature to portraits, to architectural to long exposures playing with time, the Tiger’s Nest is the perfect location to put into practice all of your new photographic skills. Cliff will be available to demonstrate and reinforce these techniques as well as provide tips on how to best capture this unique location throughout the hike.
NOVEMBER 16 >> DEPARTURE From the Paro airport, we will fly back to Bangkok, where we can connect to our flights home, or extend our travels in Asia.
For more information feel free to reach out to me directly via my contact page or contact Zephyr Adventures. Information regarding this tour can also be found on Zephyr Adventures website as well. http://www.zephyradventures.com/adventures/bhutan-photography-adventure/#