Photo Explorer Tours:
Custom Tours for Independent Photo Explorers

Photos ©Dennis Cox / Photo Explorer Tours

Nestled in the cradle of the highest mountains on earth, Bhutan, the "Land of the Thunder Dragon", provides a wide variety of photographic experiences that are unsurpassed. Isolated from the world until the 1960's, Bhutan is no longer unknown and mysterious. But with its independence and ancestral way of life, it is about as close to Shangri-la as one can get (boasting the world's highest "Gross National Happiness" according to King Jigma Singye Wangchuk). This tour can be timed to coincide with a colorful annual festival featuring mask dances in one of several locations which vary throughout the year.

A price quote will be determined for this tour which will include all ground transportation in Bhutan; accommodations in best available hotels; all meals (but not beverages); admission fees (but not "camera fees" or tips); and the services of our English-speaking photo guide, Dorji Tshering, who will facilitate the special requirements of the photographic group. A visa fee of $20 is not included and will be payable upon arrival at Paro airport and an airport departure fee of 300 Nu (local currency) is not included and will be payable upon departure.

Air service to Bhutan is only available on 72-seat jets operated by the national carrier, Druk Air, with dates for service coordinated for this tour through Bangkok. There is also service through Kathmandu, Delhi, Calcutta, and Dhaka, but service on days that fit this tour may not be available. Because Druk Air is always at the mercy of weather conditions, it is recommended that passengers allow at least 24 hours transit for connections out of Paro.

The tour price does NOT include international airfare to Bangkok, or other connecting cities Delhi, Kathmandu, et al, and return. The cost of flights on Druk Air from and back to your connecting city must be added to the tour price (these flights will be arranged by Photo Explorer tours). Overnight accommodations in Bangkok (or other interim city) enroute are not included, may be necessary, and can be arranged through Photo Explorer Tours (service fee required) or can be booked most economically directly through or


Bhutan Explorer Itinerary

Day 1 Morning flight from Bangkok to Bhutan's only airport at Paro (or from other Druk Air connecting city by arrangement). In Paro visit the National Museum, the fascinating ruins of Drukgyel Dzong (Monastery Fortress once used to defend against invading Tibetan forces from the north), and the 7th Century temple of Kyichu Lhakhang built by the Buddhist King Songtsen Gampo of Tibet. First of two nights at the Hotel Samdencholing.

Day 2 Continuation of Paro photographic itinerary with photography around the Paro Valley.

Day 3 Morning drive overlooking the scenic Paro Valley with its rich terraced farmland to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan. In Thimphu visit the dzong called The Fortress of the Glorious Religion, the National Memorial Chorten which is always surrounded by crowds of friendly people circumambulating, Changangkha temple, Zulekha nunnery, archery grounds, and the hyper-colorful weekly outdoor market, among other subjects, will provide a plethora of photo ops. First of two nights at Hotel Wangchuk.

Day 4 Continuation of Thimphu photographic itinerary with photography around the valley.

Day 5 Morning drive three hours to Punakha via the 10,900-ft Dochula Pass, where on a clear day there are spectacular views of the greater Himalayan ranges. Punakha Dzong (monastery), at the confluence of the Po and Mo (father and mother) Rivers, is the old capital dating from 1637 and winter residence for the chief abbot of Bhutan. Overnight at Damchen Lodge.

Day 6 Drive south toward Wangdi, the last town on the central highway heading toward central Bhutan. Wangdi (Wangdiphodrang) is the site of the country's most picturesque dzong and in the higher reaches of the Wangdiphodrang Valley cattle graze on some of the country's richest pastureland. Continue on to Trongsa in central Bhutan through a temperate zone of great biodiversity ranging from lush forest of conifers, rhododendrons, magnolias, orchid draped oaks, banana trees and cactus. The ancestral home of Bhutan's Royal family, the hilly landscapes surrounding the dzong and wooden slatted houses overlooking the town of Tongsa are spectacular. Drive to Bumthang. First of four nights at Tanshing Lodge.

Day 7 Bumthang, considered the most sacred and religious of all the valleys in Bhutan. The ancestral home of Buddhism in Bhutan, its wide central valley is the site of many important monasteries and temples that contain a wealth of valuable religious artifacts making it a place of pilgrimage for the devout Bhutanese people. In Bumthang, photograph at the White bird Dzong and the Flaming Lake, Membartsho, where sacred religious treasures were discovered in the 15th century.

Day 8 Continuation of Bumthang photographic itinerary including the 15th century Thangbi Temple.

Day 9 From Bumthang, travel to the Ura Valley for day long photo excursion.

Day 10 Depart Bumthang via Trongsa for the serene Gangtey Valley, home of the rare black-necked cranes that winter over from Tibet. Photograph the Gangtey Gompa monastery, one of only two Ngyingma (old sect) monasteries in Bhutan. Overnight at Hotel Dewachen.

Day 11 Drive today with photographic stops along the way to Punakha. Punakha is the ancient capital of Bhutan and is winter home to the Je Khenpo, the Head Abbot and hundreds of monks. In the afternoon photograph the Wangduephodrang Valley. Accommodations at Damchen Lodge.

Day 12 Drive from Punakha back to Paro with stops to photograph the landscapes enroute. First of four nights at the Hotel Samdencholing.

Day 13 Paro, including festival activities, if schedule permits.

Festivals, held in several towns at different times, feature colorful mask dances with monks as well as laymen dress in brilliant multi-colored costumes and wear masks depicting both wrathful and peaceful deities while reenacting the legends and history of Buddhism in the Dragon Kingdom. Brought to Bhutan from Tibet in the 8th century by Guru Rimpoche, who was know throughout the Himalayas for his supernatural powers, masked dancing was a powerful magic that was used to subdue and eliminate demons and evil spitrits that haunted the high Himalayan valleys. The various dances, which tell of the actions of great saints, recall the importance of virtuous behavior and provide visual religious teaching to the people, most of whom in the past were illiterate. Performed with commitment and dedication at most of Bhutan's great religious festivals, it is believed that the dances help to ensure the well-being and happiness of all living beings.

Day 14 More festival activities, if appropriate, and a hike to Taktsang ("the tiger's lair") monastery to explore one of the unique Himalayan Buddhist sites from the 8th Century.

Day 15 Excursion to the Haa Valley.

Day 16 Morning departure from Paro to Bangkok (or other connecting city) with arrival just after noon. NOTE: It is recommended that a connecting reservation be made mid-afternoon or later on second day after tour in case the flight from Paro is delayed by weather.

Stopping over in Bangkok?
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Photo Explorer Tours DENNIS COX LLC

2506 Country Village, Ann Arbor MI 48103-6500 USA

Phone 800-315-4462 or 734-996-1440


May all your journeys be care free,

And may all your days be filled with wonder. 

NOTICE: The photographs on this website are legally protected by United States and international copyright laws and may NOT be used for reproduction in any manner without the explicit authorization of Dennis Cox LLC.