PHOTOGRAPHY TOURS BHUTAN

Bhutan is one of the last true unspoilt countries on earth. A Himalayan kingdom packed with unparalleled natural beauty, gentle people high with Gross National Happiness. And festivals amongst the most colourful on the planet.

Join us for 10 days culture, adventure and majestic photo-blessed scenery, touring this Buddhist stronghold of soaring, Himalayan peaks, tranquil countryside dotted with traditional farmhouses, monasteries and temples, claret-robed monks, fluttering prayer flags; and fast flowing slate-coloured rivers – starting with a party unlike any you’ve ever been to before.

It won’t be this untouched forever.

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“Creative Escapes are a good option if you want a dedicated learning holiday. Group sizes are small, meaning there’s more 1-on-1 time with tutors, less competition for spots to shoot from and plenty of supportive group critiques. Creative Escapes – the name says it all!”

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Highlights.

A place of untouched natural beauty – steep, pine-forested mountains are sliced through with deep valleys and peaks reach 7,000 metres – this is one of the only countries on the planet to actively discourage mass tourism – Bhutan gets a trickle of visitors compared to its neighbours in Nepal, India and Tibet.

Instead of GDP, Bhutan measures it’s success on peoples happiness, not earnings; the air is some of the freshest on the planet (Bhutan is the only country in the world to be carbon negative, where it produces less CO2 than it absorbs), and with TV only introduced 11 years ago, this is one of the last, original societies left.

You’ll depart hypnotised by the beauty of the Himalayas, discover how Buddhism is intrinsic to Bhutanese culture and shoot some of the stunning fortress monasteries dotted across the country. And right from the start, we’ll take centre stage at the Jambay Lhakang Tsechu, one of the most photogenic festivals on every Bhutanese calendar – for a party to never forget.

Movement and story: shoot work from the festival with identity
Shoot planning: use time effectively and come back happy every time
Telling stories through your work – creating images with impact
Learn how to critically evaluate your work during and after the process
Techniques in formal portraiture; getting the sitter to come to you
A look at Magnum photographic style; key approaches, tricks and impact
Blending, looking beyond the obvious, objectivity, perspective and positioning Putting you in the picture: elevating your work to the next level
Editing your work effortlessly, without looking forced

Itinerary.

Touchdown into Paro on the first day of your Bhutan Photography Holiday – and transfer to the city’s elegant old town. After some snooze, we’ll take our first peek at this elusive country – swinging by Paro’s traditional centre, Rinpung Dzong, to shoot the monks in the courtyard.

The city is perfect for building your street reportage skills; it has fewer tourists than almost every other Asian country, so it smacks of authenticity and ripe to capture a series of images few have ever seen. Between the majestic temples, the real action lies in the markets and backstreets, rose-cheeked, giggling locations provide fabulous interest for photography.

Later, we’ll head out and enjoy some local Jasha Maroo (spicy chicken), Ema Datshi (Rice with chillies and cheese), all washed down with Ara, the local rice wine, a real party starter.

Next morning, we’ll learn insider tips on how to shoot unique images from a festival, ensuring you work methodically, choose the right shots at the right time, and move beyond shooting ‘everything’ to crafting unique images with identity. Late afternoon, the first glimpse of the festival, Jambay Lhakang Tsechu. We’ll do our first recce to prepare our next day’s shoot, and then take our positions next morning to capture some magic. Fronting the enormous Dzong, locals dress in their finest outfit and jewelries, watching sacred mask dances in an arena, competitors shooting ancient archery bows, markets, concerts; all the trimmings of a festival. You’ll have the whole day and part of the next morning to shoot your collection of the festival; our tutor will always be on hand to help refine and focus your work to elevate your images into extraordinary photographs. And if theres time, we’ll swing by the microbrewery run by a Swiss national, Mr Maurer, who produces chilled wheat beer to soothe any creative exhaustion.

That evening, once the festivities have finished, we’ll have a detailed review of all your best, getting key tips from the group, then back out again the next morning to utilise these new found skills to best effect. It’s 5 hours to Gangtey from here, crossing the Yutong-la pass at 11,000 feet with spectacular views, then overlooking the river Mangde, Trongsa Dzong – the ancestral home of the present Royal Family – sits majestically with fabulous views of the Himalayas, with a sheer drop to the south that often just disappears into cloud and mist.

Against a backdrop of forest-clad mountains, the Gangtey Goemba temple complex rises dramatically from a cluster of hilltop cottages – only a few hours from Trongsa. One of the oldest Nyingma monasteries in Bhutan, Gangtey Goemba has recently been renovated, and the fine workmanship of Bhutan’s best woodcarvers, sculptors, and painters here makes for fantastic photography.  Come afternoon, time to capture the glacial valley of Phobjikha, considered one of the most beautiful landscapes in Bhutan. Along the way, you’ll capture vistas dotted with prayer flags, local hamlets with authentic, characterful faces, and fields covered in dwarf bamboo. Later, we’ll take a dip in the hot springs at Gasa, then a short 2 hour hop to Punakha.

This morning, we’ll visit Chimi Lhakhang – the Temple of Fertility – built by Lama Drukpa Kuenley (also known as the Divine Madman) in the 15th century. Monks, rows of prayer wheels and beautiful slate carvings; the Bodhi tree here believed to have been brought from Bodhgaya. This is a photographer’s paradise.

Later, we’ll depart towards Thimpu, another 2 hour journey, weaving a route through the magical Punatshangchhu River and Wangdue Valley, then rising high up to 3160m at Dochula Pass for a view of the Himalayas unparalleled in Bhutan. Afternoon, the first glimpse of Bhutan’s coolest city, Thimpu.

Small town size, but with capital city attitude, Thimpu is perfect for street photography. We’ll start with a small project, a triptych to challenge your series (and narrative) skills, discuss how to create atmosphere, and look beyond the obvious.

We’ll start at the buzzing weekend market, then hit the streets packed with monks en route to multiple monasteries, and swing by the Taschi Chho Dzong, the most lavish temple in the land, also perfect at night.

Later, we’ll head out clubbing, Thimpu has welcomed a bunch of famous DJ’s from all around the world and well known for its party scene.

This morning, we head to our final stop, Paro, just over an hour away, and chance to have some you time; perhaps you fancy to take a cooking class in Bhutanese food at a local homestay, meet up with a palmist to see what your lines say about you, or try the ancient art of painting Thangka. Else, you might just want to wander the streets of Paro, shooting locals and getting under the skin of this unusual culture.  

Your next morning starts with a 15 minutes drive to the base of the Taktshang Monastery, then you begin the gentle ascent to Tiger’s Nest, one of the most important – and stunning – locations in Bhutan. This symbolic structure clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. Legend has it that Guru Padmasambhava (the second Buddha) flew here on the back of a tigress. The views are of course incredible, unforgettable. Iconic.

We’ll take our time perfecting the best shot, then take a tour around the inside of the monastery, before descending to Drukgyal and late afternoon shoot the peak of Jumolhari, all 7,329 meters of it. This is a photoshoot to savour.

And, to complete this magical day, we’ll light 108 butter lamps at Kyichu Temple and shoot a special prayer by the monks. Satisfaction guaranteed.

With a final show of all your best images that night, a party to end all parties, then next morning there is just time for final 1-on-1’s, a kit review based on your progress, plus help picking out a range of shots for competition entry, printing or further development, plus some steer on some further techniques to look at once home. 

Details.

11 – 20  November, 2019

10 days. 9 nights. Starts and ends in Paro, Bhutan.

£2995 / £380 single supplement

Price includes  10 days, 9 nights full board accommodation at 3* hotels 10 full days tuition from our UK-based professional photographer All inland travel permits as described by Bhutan Tourism Board Traditional ‘Khada’ (silk scarf) on arrival All Royal Government of Bhutan Royalties and Taxes as applicable on date All tours and intercity transportation with accompanying English speaking guide Pony charges for hike to Tiger’s Nest Bhutan visa processing charges and Visa fee Multiple 1-on-1 tuition sessions

Price excludes international and internal flights, lunch and dinner.

 

There are no direct flights to Bhutan from the UK, so we will need to fly via Delhi, which is the easiest hub to get there from (You can also fly via Kathmandu, Bangkok or Singapore if you would like to). Return flights to Paro via Delhi are around £750, with an internal flight required at around £120.

"Fabulous locations, amazing hotels & great memories. Thanks to Creative Escapes I have moved from taking a gazillion bland photographs to images I am really proud of. Already thinking about my next trip!"


Lorraine Byrne, Dublin