Luminous Bhutan Photo Tour
Luminous Bhutan Photo Tour Workshop
Land of the Thunder Dragon
April 7 – 20, 2019 (14 Days)
Designed & Led by Nat Geo Contributor & Multi-Major Award Winner
Price: $6995 (Outstanding Value for Money @ $499 per day)
Hotels: Excellent 3 & 4 star + one great Homestay
Highlights :The Otherworldly Tiger’s Nest Monastery – Remote Cultural Festival – Private Photo Shoot w/ Festival Performers – Himalayan Landscapes – Inside Access to Monasteries & Monks – Ethnic Tribes in Traditional Costume – Stunning Ancient Temple Architecture – The Warm and Happy People of Bhutan!
Bhutan is a 4,000 year old Himalayan mystery that only in recent decades has opened itself up to the world, at least to some degree. The Bhutanese are one of only a few peoples in the world that have never been conquered and always maintained their fierce independence. It is this independence combined with its remoteness that have kept the Land of the Thunder Dragon high on the list of the most unique and pristine travel and photographic destinations anywhere on earth. Is there any place else that places “Gross National Happiness” above their gross national product?
LJ’s Luminous Bhutan photo tour workshop is designed and led by Nat Geo contributor and all around great guy, David Lazar. David is teamed with local photography guidemaster Dorji, and together they have put together an itinerary that is both iconic and inimitable, with unmatched inside access. David is not only one of the world’s foremost travel photographers, but one of those rare photo tour leaders who actually cares that you become a better photographer! Luminous Journeys photo tours do not just bring you from location to location and make you fend for yourself, like so many of our competitors do, most especially in Bhutan.
This access includes two festivals and a procession, off the beaten path monasteries and nunneries with freedom to photograph, jaw-dropping dzong locations with monks and Himalayan backdrops, fantastically colorful ancient Buddhist murals and giant prayer wheels, pastoral Bhutan and rural scenes, family home interiors and cottage industries, and the greatest little Homestay in all of Bhutan!
Luminous Journeys takes great pride in providing the extra value added you deserve – insight, instruction and true travel photography guidance throughout. This is done informally according to your own needs and stated requests. For example – are you shy to approach portrait subjects in a foreign country? No worries, David will guide you through his tried and true approach and you’ll have ongoing opportunity to apply what you learn as the photo tour workshop progresses. He’s always there to help you take your photography to the next level, while having a lot of fun along the way. Another value added that most other photo tours don’t offer, is arranging a variety of photo shoots where you get the chance to work with local models in awesome settings and see just how a professional travel photographer on assignment gets things done!
The architectural masterpieces called Dzong are combination monastery, fortress and administrative seats. Dzong’s are located at strategic locations all around the country. Punakha Dzong, (pictured above) was built in 1637, and is perhaps the most famous. It was this dzong that withstood two major attacks by Tibet in the 1600’s, and defeated the invaders soundly. It currently houses more than 1,000 monks (the total population of Bhutan is only 798,000) and sits near the confluence of two sacred rivers.
Photograph not One, but Two Bhutan Spring Festivals!
Spring festival season for Luminous Bhutan features inside access to two colorful events. The Tshechu is where history and tradition are passed on orally and visually. Bhutanese values, mythology and spiritual beliefs are expressed through these dance dramas. To ensure that our guests get as much authenticity and inside access as possible, we will visit two festivals, one on the beaten path, and one off, full of color and joy and whirling masked monks! It is here that you will truly get immersed with the locals, and even have the opportunity to march in the opening day procession! After the afternoon performance we will have a private photo shoot with several of the costumed performers back at our wonderful Homestay.
This tour will have a maximum of 10 – 12 participants. Please, for your own sake, avoid those overpriced Bhutan offerings that take 16 – 18 photographers! These are profit centers, not true photo tour workshops. Check out the “Itinerary” when you click the tab at the top of this box, and Details & Pricing for you guessed it, details and pricing!
Itinerary* – Luminous Bhutan!
April 7 – 20, 2019
Day 1 – Bangkok, Thailand – Briefing & Tutorial
With very limited flights to Bhutan from limited countries, Bangkok is the most convenient overall place to base from. We’ll meet at 4 pm in the airport hotel to get acquainted and David will conduct a tour briefing and photography tutorial session. Group dinner follows and we head out for Bhutan in the morning!
Day 2 – Bangkok – Paro, Bhutan – Land of the Thunder Dragon
After one of great scenic high landings in the world (there has NEVER been a major incident despite the online hype about it being dangerous) we’ll stop to photograph Paro Dzong (A dzong is a centuries old monastery fortress) en route to the hotel. We’ll spend about an hour inside Paro Dzong, then shoot landscapes that include the great structure from a nearby bridge, complete with prayer flag frame and mountain backdrop.
Lunch at hotel, with views of the iconic Tiger’s Nest monastery on the mountain above. An afternoon shoot at the town square with kids playing and others turning the giant prayer wheel is followed by another temple/prayer wheel location to try our hand at some motion blur photography. Finish up at twilight / blue hour back at a now illuminated Paro Dzong reflected in the river below it. The evening wraps with a fantastic Welcome Dinner and introduction to sumptuous Bhutanese cuisine.
Day 3 – Cultural Paro – Capital City of Thimpu
Wonderful private morning shoot with cultural performers donning traditional clothes, masks, dancing, playing instruments and more. Good fun and some wonderful photo opportunities.
Drive to Thimpu with photo stops along the way, including a fantastic suspension bridge with prayer flags. Thimphu is one of the last capital cities in the world without traffic lights, where traffic is managed by police in white gloves! With a population of only 150,000, they can get away with it. In Thimpu you have the ancient and the modern blended into one, seemingly effortlessly.
Photo possibilities include Buddha Point, where the largest sitting Buddha in the world (a 169 foot tall bronze) Shakyamuni Buddha overlooks the city; Choki Traditional Art School with access to photograph the students at work on their various expressions; the Memorial Chorten (Stupa) where charming elderly people circumambulate the Chorten with their rosaries and prayer wheels in hand, the Centenary Farmers Market, and more.
Day 4 – Thimpu – Dochula Pass – Punhaka
Drive over Dochula Pass w/ awesome Himalaya views – we will leave at 7am from hotel to be there before the crowds arrive around from 10:00am. 1.5 hour shoot, landscapes in changing light of the 108 stupas at the top of the mountain pass.
Lovely buffet lunch overlooking the stunning Punakha Valley. This afternoon we’ll explore the Sob Sokha valley, including charming villages and a Buddhist nunnery perched high atop a mountain with a huge stupa painted with mesmerizing “Nepali eyes”.
At Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery you can interact with the English speaking nuns and photograph them as they go about their daily routine in this amazing setting.
Next photo stop after the nunnery is the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan, followed by a visit to Punhaka Dzong for nightscapes. There is a local potato chip and tea shop right there, we can go inside the family house. It’s a nice place to visit if we need to wait for the lights to come up on the Dzong around 6:40. Set up tripods to photograph the Dzong with the river and bridge in the foreground at blue hour.
Day 5 – Punakha – Stunning Glacial Valleys – Gangtey
The serene and stunning glacial valleys of Gangtey and Phobjika are among the most beautiful in all of Bhutan. Shooting options include Himalayan mountain landscapes; Punakha Dzong in the morning light; interiors of Punakha Dzong with lots of monks, interesting architecture for impromptu portraits and temple scenes.
Lunch outdoors at nearby Zomlingthang on the Mochu River before the 3 hour scenic drive to Gangtey. Stop to photograph nomadic yak herders that often camp in a small valley here.
Day 6 – Gangtey Himalayan Monasteries
Morning drive to Gangtey Goemba – the awesome monastery on a hill overlooking Gangtey. This is an important monastery of the Nyingmapa School of Buddhism. Outstanding photo opportunities here with monks walking in foreground and impressive monastery in background, both high and low angles.
From the monastery trek through the cool and fresh forest and mountains to a remote and little visited novice monastery. We’ll have lunch with the young monks here and spend the afternoon photographing them as they naturally go about their business. David will also arrange for select monks and locations to photograph, both exteriors and interiors using window light. This is an especially rewarding and enjoyable day of cultural immersion and photography.
Day 7 – Gangtey – Trongsa – Chhumey, Bumthang
The glorious drive into Central Bhutan from Gangtey takes about 5 short Himalayan hours with plenty of landscape and small village photo opportunities, as well as the spectacular and massive Trongsa Fortress. Photograph the fortress as part of a landscape, and later, up close and personal.
Trongsa Dzong is perhaps the most extraordinary in all of Bhutan. Built in 1648 on multiple levels cling to the side of a cliff. This was the seat of power for the first and second kings of Bhutan, and still holds great royal significance.
Get some good rest tonight as we prepare for the next few days covering not one, but TWO great Tsechu festivals!
Day 8 – Domkhar Festival – Bumthang
Bhutanese festivals celebrating the history and tradition of the country’s mythology are colorfully expressed through very photogenic, outdoor dance dramas. Today is Day 1 of the Domkhar Festival which gets started around 9:30 am. It begins with traditional music played by monks on reed trumpets, and on a large drum and clanging cymbals. Masked men in colourful dress spin and dance in interesting formations, all part of the drama. As things proceed children and women join in, and clowns appear now and then to bring out the laughter. This goes on in all its various aspects all morning, while we as photographers look for angles and moments to capture some dramatic decisive moments. The afternoon performances become easier to photograph as most foreign tourists will have moved on.
After Domkhar drive toward Chamkar town in Bumthang and stop at Kiki La pass, another area at the top of a mountain with lots and lots of prayer flags blowing in the wind, and the chance to shoot the sunset for the first time! Quiet, big, and atmospheric space. We will arrive around 5:30 pm to Kiki La for the sunset light. After such an exciting and dramatic day – literally! – enjoy a special home cooked Bhutanese dinner tonight.
Day 9 – Chamkar Valley Excursion – Remote Ura Valley
Today begins with an excursion to Jakar Dzong, or “Fortress of the White Bird”. Very few visitors ever make it here, which is what we as photographers love! There are number of stunning images to be made of various scenic frames, especially with monks in them to add a colorful human element. There are some younger monks in residence at Jakar, the youngest being an adorable 4-year old!
Drive back down to a temple/stupa called Jambay Lhakhang temple, with old people praying and enjoying the serene setting. From here we take an easy hike & shoot through rural and farming areas, a little village, and on to another temple/monastery called Kurjey where we’ll have a lovely local picnic lunch.
After lunch it’s time to head for the Ura Valley, which is the Bumthang region’s most remote. It’s also home to the least touristed, but most photogenic Spring Tsechu Festival in Bhutan, Ura Yakchoe. But first we meet the charming family of the wonderful Homestay we’ll be staying at, which includes some of the very best home cooking in all of Bhutan! There should also be time to meet some more locals who are preparing for the festival tomorrow.
Day 10 – Ura Yakchoe Festival – Inside Access + Private Dancer Photo Session
A day of excitement as we spend time with locals involved in the festival, and go to Ura Lhakhang as part of the procession through the streets of the village to Ura Lhakhang. This is led by the head lama, village chief, performers and locals. You are free to photograph the procession from the outside, or from the inside as a special guest participant!
Once at the temple the morning show begins. Unlike at Domkhar where it’s no longer possible, we have arranged for exclusive high angle access looking down on the performance. No others will be allowed this vantage point. Of course you will have on the ground access as well, with the opportunity to work this event like a professional photographer.
Once the show is complete we do you one better, by having arranged for masked dancers to join us back at the Homestay for more controlled photo ops and portrait session. Yeah, we spoil you a little!
Day 11 – Ura Yakchoe Festival – Inside Access – Chamkhar, Bumthang
Day 2 of the Ura festival will be just a half day. Today is the official mask dancing performances (yesterday was sans masks for the most part) to which we will have the same exclusive access. What a way to climax your Bhutan photo tour workshop experience!
Break for a well-earned lunch and then drive to Bumthang where we will fly back to Paro early the next morning. This afternoon visit Kharchu Dratshang monastery to photograph inside a large prayer room with monks. From there we will walk down the hill to Chamkar town for a little free time to shop and street shoot.
Day 12 – Bumthang – Free Time – Short Flight to Paro
Enjoy a leisurely morning and breakfast at the hotel before heading to the airport for the 10 am, 25 minute flight back to Paro. This afternoon is optional free time for spa or shopping, free shooting around town, and/or image review and Photoshop Tips & Tricks with David. Whatever suits you!
Day 13 – Paro – “Tiger’s Nest”, Taktsang Monastery – Traditional Hot Stone Bath – Farewell Dinner
Tiger’s Nest is of course the most iconic site in all of Bhutan, for obvious reasons. Something you may not know is that two of David Lazar shots of the monastery are the most popularly seen online – one with the prayer flag foreground and one without. The hike to Tiger’s nest begins about 8:30 am from the hotel and takes about 3 hours going up, and 2 hours going down. This is by far the longest hike of the tour, but is not that difficult and there is plenty of time. And no worries, there will be porters to carry your gear if you so choose. There are several scenic photo stops on the way up, plus lunch.
A fabulous treat awaits once you return from Tiger’s Nest, a traditional Bhutanese hot stone bath with natural minerals and herbs that melt the body into total relaxation over the course of an hour. What better way to wrap up one the great photo adventures of a lifetime? Other than a fantastic Farewell Dinner, of course?
April 20 – Day 14 – Paro – Bangkok
Alas, it’s time to bid a fond farewell to the Land of the Thunder Dragon, also known as the Land of Happiness! You will miss this place! Arrive back in Bangkok by early afternoon (exact flight time not yet available) to catch your homeward flight. Please allow for possible delays and book an evening flight.
PLEASE NOTE the above itinerary is a close sample only, and changes by refinement and improvement are always possible.
*Image review and/or Photoshop/Lightroom tutorials are available on an ongoing basis by request.
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Praise for David Lazar Photo Tours
“What a great trip we had! … I cannot praise David highly enough… My photography improved by leaps… His lightroom and photoshop tutorials were exceptional… It was a fabulous tour with real pros that actually care that you become a better photographer. What more can one ask for?” — Patricia Pomerleau, USA
“My Luminous Vietnam Journey was far and away the best photo tour I have been on. It was more than a photo tour, it was an investment in myself as a keen photographer, it gave me the opportunity to engage with ordinary Vietnamese people and some extraordinary professional photographers in David and Phuoc – I have visited 42 countries and been on enumerable holidays and tours – this one really was the trip of a lifetime” – Lindsay Earle, Zimbabwe
“The Myanmar photo tour was wonderful…the group was so funny; we had a great time together. Everything ran flawlessly. We were treated like VIPs and of course the shooting was amazing! I can see you [Luminous Journeys] continuing to organize these for a very long time. You are the best at inspiring people to attend your photo tours, and living up to your promises. I just read the itinerary for India and I am very interested. I would love to join David [Lazar] on this tour!” —Paul D’, Switzerland
“I have to commend Luminous Journeys and David Lazar for putting together what I consider to have been the best photo tour we’ve been on…and we’ve been on quite a few around the world. From start to finish, Luminous Bali was impeccably researched, planned and executed with a rich, full and unique itinerary that left no photographic stone unturned.
David was a joy to travel with; often cracking us up along the way and, a fantastic mentor from whom I feel I learned a great deal. I really appreciated how genuine and generous he was sharing his knowledge and creative talent. I think my mom has unofficially adopted him! I should also mention just how much we adore Pande. What a gem. For future trips, the first place I’ll check for photo tours will be Luminous! Looking forward now to Vietnam in June with David.” – Lee Ann Birkenstock, USA
“My photo tour with Luminous Journeys and David Lazar was an amazing experience. Everything was organized perfectly so we could concentrate on photography. Besides being a great photographer David is also a really nice person and always willing to help. It’s really inspiring to see him work. I came back with the best photos I’ve ever taken” – Jani Uljas, Finland
“David Lazar is a wonderful, charming and eloquent travel companion. With his fine humor and graciousness he offers all participants breathing room for personal development. He does this in such a way that the group dynamic develops spontaneously and helps create new friendships in an atmosphere of mutual inspiration and support.
It was always fascinating to watch how David interacted with the local people from a photography standpoint. He was very natural and relaxed in his approach, even gentle, and would smile and use a few words in their native language. You could see them relax and very quickly develop a sense of trust with him. This paid off time and time again throughout the tour, both during focused photo sessions and free shoot situations. David loves to teach and pass on his knowledge and experience to participants. He taught me a lot about how to approach a shoot. Like how to see light with more discernment, and then find the best possible compositions to take advantage of that light. This was followed up on later with image review and editing, which he was always more than happy to do.
In short, David is a first rate photographer with an ideal personality for travel work and leading photo tour workshops. This along with the perfect organization from Luminous Journeys made for a truly unforgettable and rewarding experience.” – Renate Szinyei – Switzerland
“Having been on several organized trips to Asian destinations over the past few years I have found Luminous Journeys trip to Vietnam June 2016, to have been the best value for money organized tour that I have been on. The opportunities to take unique photos of people and landscapes could not have occurred without the professional organisation of the tour leaders. Their expert photographic guidance meant that all members of the tour were able to capture shots that were technically accurate and artistically composed. We were guided to areas and local villages that are not accessible to the ordinary traveller. I was happy to go on this photo tour and will be more than happy to do Luminous Journeys photo tours in the future.” – Robbie L, Australia
“Luminous Bali was a most interesting, well run and rewarding trip. The research that had gone into it and the attention to detail was impressive. I liked the fast pace and full days. We were left in no doubt that this was a photography trip and had a fabulous line up of opportunities to take good shots…no lessening of the photographic feast! As the primary leader, David was well organised and thoughtful and kept the entire trip ticking over perfectly. He was an absolute pleasure to travel with and I am most interested in travelling with him and your company in the future.” – Beth James, Australia
“I remember when I signed up for my first photo tour with Luminous Journeys in Myanmar. Benn [LJ’s photo tour director, Benn Stevens] told me that this trip will take my portfolio to the next level. Not only was he right about that; but images from that trip have also won me several awards in the last two years.
The photo tour in Bali was Utopia – the place, the people, the team and arrangements. The Luminous Journeys team did an excellent job with tour design and logistics… David Lazar & local Balinese guide, Pande Sura, were extraordinary. I have already signed up on my next trip with LJ and David in Vietnam.” – Sesh Seraday, USA