From bustling markets to prayer flag-strewn mountain passes, from happy monks in maroon robes to massive ancient fortresses, Bhutan is a Shangri La for image-makers. In the month of June the summer landscape takes on a luscious green with rice paddy fields covering all of Paro Valley, wildflowers strewn like dots of paint on the alpine meadows. In November the monsoon clouds are a distant memory and the landscape snap s into sharp focus with crystal light, inky skies and fabulous mountain views.
Arrival, check-in, show round and first photo opportunities. Uma Paro staff will welcome you at the airport for the 10-minute transfer to the property. After lunch, in order to aid acclimatization and to get your bearings, we invite you for an introductory photo opportunities with a short, guided local walk. Stroll through bustling Paro Town and out to the massive Rinpung Dzong - ’Fortress on a Heap of Jewels’. The trail then leads across Paro Chhu (river) via a traditional covered bridge (Nyamai Zam). This bridge provided the backdrop for scenes in the feature films, Little Buddha and Travellers and Magicians. In the evening, please join us for a welcome dinner and photographic adventure briefing with slide show.
- Uma Paro Hotel
- Amankora Paro Lodge
Depart for the one hour scenic drive to Thimphu, winding alongside two snaking rivers and passing countless fine examples of the quaint, traditional farmhouse architecture of Bhutan. The capital itself sprawls up the wooded western hillside of the Wang Chhu and is the centre of government, religion and commerce. After lunch, the drive is truly awe-inspiring as it zigzags up to the 3,1 4Dm-high mountain pass of Dochu La with its forests of fluttering prayer flags, maze of memorial chortens and sweeping views of the main Himalayan range. We then enjoy a short walk across rice paddies to Chimi Lhakhang, a fertility temple dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, a Tibetan Buddhist saint known popularly as ’Divine Madman’ because of his colourful and sometimes outrageous adherence to the Buddhist faith. The temple sits atop a picturesque hill surrounded by rice fields. By late afternoon the light is perfect.
Dochu La Pass, Chimi Lhakhang
- Uma Punakha Hotel
- Amankora Punakha Resort
A full day for further exploration of this scenic valley, low enough (1,200m) to allow bananas and oranges to grow. The destination for this morning’s optional walk up through whitewashed homesteads and farmland is Khamsum Yuley Namgay Chorten, a shrine recently built by the royal family depicting Guru Rinpoche in startling images. Heading down along the riverside the massive architectural edifice of the 17th century Punakha Dzong (fortress/monastery) soon looms into view. This was built in 1637 by Shabdrung Nawang Namgyal in a commanding position at the confluence of the Po Chhu and Mo Chhu (Father and Mother rivers). Bhutan’s second oldest dzong, it goes by the full name of Druk Pungthang Dechen Phodrang (the Palace of Great Happiness) and is arguably the country’s most attractive. It served as the seat of the Kingdom’s government until the time of the second King and today is the winter home of Je Khempo, the head abbot of Bhutan, along with a retinue of 1,000 monks. An afternoon stroll through the quant bazaar at Wangdue Phodrang to visit its dzong rounds off the day. Founded in 1638 by the Shabdrung, Wangdue Phodrang Dzong is located on a high promontory overlooking the Punatsang Chhu (river).
Khamsum Yuley Namgay Chorten, Punakha Dzong
Time to retrace our steps back over the Dochu La for a second chance of that wonderful view of the Himalayan range. An early morning start for the three-to four-hour drive means that on arrival in Thimphu, the capital’s weekend market is in full swing. Returning to the Chuzum or confluence we catch a glimpse of the three shrines in Nepali, Tibetan and Bhutanese style which were built to ward off evil spirits near the checkpoint. The journey will be broken with a visit to Tachog Lhakhang built by Thangtong Gyalpo. Also known as the ’Iron Bridge Builder’, this former saint from the 14th century introduced the art of building suspension bridges with iron chains.
The only way to reach his temple is by one of these photogenic bridges. On the final leg the road snakes alongside the Pa Chhu, through apple orchards and rice paddies, past quaint homesteads to our home in the Himalaya, Uma Paro. After check-in and a show round, we invite you to spend the rest of the day relaxing around the property, enjoying the facilities (Uma has two desktop computers in the library on which to view photos) or perhaps trying some other activities like the Bhutanese national sport of archery. In the early evening we pay our friendly Farmer Tshering a visit at his smallholding for a traditional Bhutanese dinner and the chance to shoot the farm at rice plantation time (June) or harvest time (November).
Start early for the drive to Chele La (pass) which at 3,988m is the highest road pass in Bhutan, snaking upwards through blue pine and rhododendron forests for 35 kilometres. On a clear day the view sweeps away to the snow-dome of Bhutan’s second highest peak Mt Jhomolhari (7,31 4m). This sacred prayer flag-bedecked pass has appeared in several Bhutanese films plus many fashion shoots in the past. Once we have captured our images, we walk down through the rhododendron forest to Kila Goemba, an ancient nunnery, before driving further down the mountain where we walk out to the Dzongdrakha Goemba complex (time permitting). Both locations are rarely visited by foreigners. Once we have paid our respects and made some offerings the photography can begin in earnest. Back at Uma Paro our guides await in their finest traditional costumes (gho for men and kira for women) to put on an archery demonstration for our cameras.
Chele La Pass, Kila Goemba, Dzongdrakha Goemba
A few kilometres north of Paro, we pay our respects at Kyichu Lhakhang. This is one of the oldest temples in Bhutan with its magic orange tree which bears fruit all year round. This ancient temple is connected to the famous Jokhang in Lhasa, the comings and goings of the worshippers making for unforgettable images. Nearby we have arranged a visit to a local school to meet the kids and hand out some disposable cameras for a school project. Afterwards there is the opportunity to shoot at the weavers centre in Paro. The rest of the day is free for more photography perhaps just to relax around Uma Paro, enjoying the peace and quiet.
Kyichu Lhakhang, visit to a local school
One of the most amazing and important pieces of architecture in Bhutan, Taktsang Lhakhang defies logic, gravity, and reason. Legend has it that this cliffside was where Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) landed on the back of a flying tigress, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet. To avoid the hot sun an early start is advisable for the two-hour climb to the Tiger’s Nest viewpoint. Descend steeply, and then climb up to the monastery, passing a waterfall and entering through the main gates, which are filled with murals.
Retrace our steps or alternatively (if time and energy levels allow) head further up to several remote temples and monasteries. Return to Uma Paro in the afternoon for some time to rest and relax and enjoy the facilities such as the steam rooms, swimming pool or a Bhutanese Hot Stone Bath followed by a soothing massage. In the evening you are invited for a firelit farewell dinner either in the courtyard at Uma Paro or at our Bukhari restaurant.
Trekking to Taktsang Lhakhang, relaxing at the hotel
After the breakfast, laid back until you are transferred to the airport for your onwards flight. Tour ends!
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