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PUNAKHA FESTIVAL

Paro, Thimphu, Punakha Festival, Phobjikha Valley, Tiger’s Nest

Enjoy one of the most colorful and energetic events in Bhutan – at the Punakha Festival

Bhutan is awe-inspiring from the moment you start flying over the Himalayas and land in a breathtaking valley. Bhutan is the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” and is as magical as it gets. A country where a handsome young Elvis look-a-like became King, cigarettes are illegal, chilies are a staple, rice is red and protective erotic art is painted on houses, schools and temple walls. A land that treasures Gross National Happiness more than Gross National Product. It is a small nation of about 750,000 people in the Eastern Himalayas, nestled between Tibet, China, and India. It has a unique government which has intentionally kept itself isolated from modernity. Bhutan’s extraordinary Buddhist sites and undisturbed traditional culture makes it the last remaining great Himalayan kingdom.

The Punakha Festival is one of the most anticipated events in the Bhutanese social calendar. The festival takes place at the beginning of the first Bhutanese month (based on a lunar calendar) and runs for a week. Throngs of locals and visitors descend on the Punakha Dzong – certainly the most impressive temple in the land – for a week of celebrations unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else in the world. Hundreds of masked and costumed dancers perform centuries-old stories in a competitive atmosphere. Everyone is dressed in their finest clothes, and thoroughly enjoying the festive event and all the social aspects that come with it.

Our Kingdom of Bhutan Photo Adventures are managed exactly like our other adventures around the world, utilizing fine 4 and 5-star hotels, excellent English speaking local guides, authentic cultural people-to-people experiences and more. We could run Bhutan for less but we choose to operate Bhutan at a level in keeping with our brand and consistently deliver the quality we have come to be known for.

This adventure is designed not only to guide you to the most photogenic locations carefully planned for the best light but to aid you in mentally visualizing a scene before capturing the decisive moment. Our aim is to raise your awareness and spark your creativity so that you not only go home with images to be proud of but use your new found skills to improve and expand your photographic technique in general. Apart from the technical aspect of learning your camera settings and capabilities, you will learn how to turn an ordinary image into an extraordinary image by using your own creativity. 

In addition, you will become knowledgeable on how to survey the landscape, utilize and approach your environment, photograph people indigenous to the region and the cultural considerations and challenges of photographing in a foreign country. Our time together will include individual and group discussions, inspiring ideas, and great fun. We cannot think of a better location to express your creativity than the exotic Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.

The Punakha Festival is one of the most anticipated events in the Bhutanese social calendar. The festival takes place at the beginning of the first Bhutanese month (based on a lunar calendar) and runs for a week. Throngs of locals and visitors descend on the Punakha Dzong – certainly the most impressive temple in the land – for a week of celebrations unlike anything you’ll see anywhere else in the world. Hundreds of masked and costumed dancers perform centuries-old stories in a competitive atmosphere. Everyone is dressed in their finest clothes, and thoroughly enjoying the festive event and all the social aspects that come with it.

Our Kingdom of Bhutan Photo Adventures are managed exactly like our other adventures around the world, utilizing fine 4 and 5-star hotels, excellent English speaking local guides, authentic cultural people-to-people experiences and more. We could run Bhutan for less but we choose to operate Bhutan at a level in keeping with our brand and consistently deliver the quality we have come to be known for.

This adventure is designed not only to guide you to the most photogenic locations carefully planned for the best light but to aid you in mentally visualizing a scene before capturing the decisive moment. Our aim is to raise your awareness and spark your creativity so that you not only go home with images to be proud of but use your new found skills to improve and expand your photographic technique in general. Apart from the technical aspect of learning your camera settings and capabilities, you will learn how to turn an ordinary image into an extraordinary image by using your own creativity. 

In addition, you will become knowledgeable on how to survey the landscape, utilize and approach your environment, photograph people indigenous to the region and the cultural considerations and challenges of photographing in a foreign country. Our time together will include individual and group discussions, inspiring ideas, and great fun. We cannot think of a better location to express your creativity than the exotic Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan.

Group Size

4 – 8 Guests

Experience | Difficulty

  • Beginner, amateur, enthusiast and semi-pro photographers
  • DSLR, mirrorless, compact or iPhone cameras
  • Moderate schedule
  • Travel by car or minibus
  • Moderate elevation changes and lots of walking (hiking optional)
  • (non-photographers also welcome)

Weather | Sun

Feb/March – Temps 60-70/35-47 F  16-21/2-8 C  Sunrise 6:30 | Sunset 6:00 (18:00)

Includes

  • Travel, landscape, architecture, people, nature, and photography
  • Visa and entry documents
  • Professional photographer | guide
  • Private guide and driver
  • Photo walks & discussions
  • Small group size (4 – 8 guests)
  • 4-star hotels (except in remote locations)
  • All meals
  • Local transportation
  • National Park entry fees

Travel Information

We suggest flying out of Bangkok, Thailand (BKK), however, you can also fly from Delhi, India (DEL) or Kathmandu, Nepal (KTM).
Druk Air is the official airline of Bhutan and we can assist you in booking your flights.
Bhutan Arrival & Departure Airport: Paro, Bhutan (PBH) – Transfer time to hotel 60min
Our adventure begins with our arrival at Paro Airport.
Travel Visa: A visa may be required depending on your nationality. Go to Visa Map to find out.

Accommodations

Thimphu – Hotel Druk, Ariya Hotel, TAJ Tashi or similar
Punakha – Dhensa Boutique Resort or similar
Phobhjikha – Thegchen Guesthouse or similar
Paro – Tashi Namgay Resort, Hotel Zhiwaling or similar

Helpful Links

Monks and Monasteries – by Ian Robert Knight
Getting to the Tiger’s Nest – by Ian Robert Knight
Photographing People in Asia – by Ian Robert Knight


Photographer Leader

Photographer Leader

Ian Robert Knight

March 1 – 10, 2020
February/March 2021 dates TBD (based on Lunar calendar)

*All prices are per person and based on double occupancy. Please select single occupancy for a private room. For your convenience, we offer optional early arrival and late departure accommodations so you can extend your stay before or after the trip. We typically stay in boutique hotels in the 4-star category. Not all destinations offer these types of properties. We look for unique hotels which offer cultural, historic and/or authentic features. Depending on the size of the group, smaller boutique hotels may have limited room inventory. In some countries or in remote locations, we may be limited to lodges or branded chain hotels. Breakfast is included only if included in our room rates.

ITINERARY

PUNAKHA FESTIVAL 10 DAYS

Day 1 | Paro - Thimphu

We will meet you at Paro International Airport (PBH) upon your arrival. Our driver and photographer guide will escort us to our hotel in Thimphu (2,320 m or 7,609 ft), the capital town of 120,000 residents. It’s a 1-hour drive to Thimphu with stops along the way. During the drive, we will have informal discussions on what our guests are trying to achieve in their photography, subject matters, styles and techniques.

In Thimphu, you will notice a lot more vehicles and concrete buildings than most places in Bhutan. The main street of Thimphu, Norzin Lam, is lined with shops of all descriptions mainly stocking goods imported from India, Korea, and Thailand. This is the only capital in the world where there are no traffic lights, only a few roundabouts. A policeman regulates the flow of traffic by gesturing/ hand signals. No McDonalds, KFC’s & Starbucks just yet.

In Thimphu, our first stop will be the Memorial Chorten built in the memory of the third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. We will also stop by the weekend market which is now housed in a relatively bigger two-storey building. All the locals come here to buy their weekly stock of fresh vegetables, cereals, fruits, meat, spices etc. 

In the evening we celebrate with our “Welcome Dinner”. (L) (D)

Day 2 | Thimphu

During breakfast, we’ll discuss PWA’s “10 Guiding Principles to Great Photography” as well as our “THE ART OF SEEING” photographic technique.

This morning, we visit Kuensel Phodrang where the world’s largest sitting Buddha statue is located. It is new and 169 feet tall and has a commanding view. It is largely funded by philanthropic money from Buddhists and well-wishers from Singapore and Hong Kong. We then explore the traditional arts and crafts school (locally known as the painting school) and the traditional medicine hospital. After lunch at a local restaurant, we go to a viewpoint in Thimphu called Sangaygang. There we will have the option to take a leisurely/easy hike of 1-1.5 hours. Later, we drive to Drubthop Lhakhang, the nunnery temple for a late afternoon photo walk. (B) (L) (D)

Day 3 | Phobjikha Valley

After breakfast, we will drive to the broad and beautiful Phobjikha Valley. The road trip will take about 5 hours, with a few stops along the way. After about an hour drive, the road gradually climbs through a forest of pine and cedar, festooned with hanging lichen high up near Dochula Mountain Pass (3,050 m/10,000ft.). This pass offers panoramic views of the Himalayan mountain ranges, as we descend along a series of hairpin bends to the fertile valley of Lobesa and Punakha (1,350 m/ 4,430 ft.). Look out for yaks in the high mountain passes along the way. We will reach the Phobjikha Valley in the early afternoon.

This valley serves as the winter home for the rare black-necked cranes that migrate from the plateau of Tibet when it gets extremely cold. The birds migrate sometime in late October and they return to Tibet in March. The villagers celebrate their arrival. The Black-necked Crane is also known as Thrung Thrung Karmo and is deeply revered as a heavenly bird (lhab-bja), which has harmoniously coexisted with the residents largely due to strong Buddhist beliefs. The lhab-bja appears in the Bhutanese folklore, songs, dances, and historical references. If the cranes are around, you will be able to witness them feeding in the marshy meadow. We will have the opportunity to photograph landscapes and small villages along the way. After check-in, we will review our images from the first few days. (B) (L) (D)

Day 4 | Phobjikha Valley

This morning, we drive to the beautiful Gangtey Monastery and after exploring the huge complex, we’ll hike downhill into the Phobjikha Valley, eventually reaching our hotel. Gangtey Monastery (locally known as the Gangtey Goemba) enjoys the valley’s prime real estate, on a forested hill overlooking the green expanse of the entire Phobjikha Valley. The extensive complex consists of the central goemba, monks’ quarters, a small guesthouse and outlying meditation centers. Much of the interior and exterior woodwork of the 450-year-old goemba was replaced between 2001 and 2008 due to a beetle-larvae infestation. It is an important monastery including the Nyingmapa School of Buddhism, the main seat of the Pema Lingpa tradition, located in the Wangdue Phodrang District in central Bhutan. 

We will spend the afternoon visiting and photographing the village and Monastery. If birding interests you, you may visit the crane information center. In the evening we enjoy a wonderful dinner. (B) (L) (D)

Day 5 | Punakha

We’ll begin our return to Punakha after a warm breakfast in our lodge. The drive back to Punakha should have us arrive in time for lunch.

Before proceeding all the way into Punakha town, we will eat lunch in Lobesa and then hike to the Chimi Lhakhang (temple) on a small hilltop. It is a pleasant 30-minute hike through rice paddies and a small village. This temple is dedicated to the great Yogi in the 14th century known as Drukpa Kuenley or popularly known as the “Divine Madman” in the west. He preached in a way that is unlike the stiffness of clergy and society of the time; he dramatized the teachings using songs and outrageous sexual humor. Bold phallus symbols and paintings on the houses or temples are as a result of his influence to date. It is believed that this temple blesses women who seek fertility. A popular pilgrimage spot for the Bhutanese, it is frequented by childless couples and parents who have difficulty raising children from all over the world.

We’ll continue the drive to Punakha and check into our hotel. (B) (L) (D)

Day 6 | Punakha Festival

Certainly, the highlight of your time in Bhutan will be attending the Punakha Tsechu (festival). 

A Tsechu is a Buddhist festival that celebrates the Guru Rimpoche, the saint who brought Buddhism to Bhutan. Locals and visitors gather in a festive setting to witness unique masked dances and celebrations. The Tsechu is one of the best ways to experience the ancient living culture of Bhutan.

This event takes place over 8 days in the first month of the lunar calendar. The Tsechu, which is largely a spiritual festival, is one of the most anticipated cultural and social events of the year in Bhutan. People will arrive dressed in their finest clothes, and will spend several days watching masked dancers. The dances, which are like plays, tell stories that depict significant historical events, where good triumphs over evil. The dances pay tribute to the life of Bhutan’s patron saint, the Guru Rinpoche.

The Punakha Dzong (fortress) where the festival takes place is absolutely the most beautiful of all the Dzongs in Bhutan. Looking like an anchored ship, the Dzong sits between two rivers – the Phochu and the Mochu (Male and Female River). This fortress is now used as the winter seat of the Je Khenpo (the Spiritual head of Bhutan) and the monk body. It also houses several government offices, including that of the Governor. This Dzong had served as the capital seat of the Kingdom for more than three hundred years. It was also where the first king was crowned in 1907. (B) (L) (D)

Day 7 | Punakha Festival

This morning, we will return to the festival for one last view of the festivities. As the festival winds up, expect to enjoy more wild and colourful costumes and dances, in one of Bhutan’s most popular festivals. On the final day, prizes are awarded for the singing and dancing competitions that have taken place over the past week.  

After lunch, we will take a short hike to walk over one of the longest suspension bridges in Bhutan, which is 10 minutes walk from the parking lot near the Dzong. In the afternoon we will explore the Sangchhen Dorji Lhuendrup Nunnery located on a hilltop with a spectacular view overlooking the valley of Punakha and Lobesa. 

Before dinner we’ll get the opportunity to photograph the spectacular Punakha Dzong at twilight, when it is lit up and looking its best. (B) (L) (D)

Day 8 | Paro

After breakfast, we’ll check out of our hotel, and begin a drive back to Paro. The journey will take about 3-4 hours, depending on how often we stop to take in the views on the passes and highways. 

The charming town of Paro lies on the banks of the Paro (or Pa) Chhu river, just a short distance northwest of the imposing Paro Dzong. The main street, only built in 1985, is lined with colorfully painted wooden shop fronts and restaurants, though these appear under threat as the town grows and multi-storey concrete buildings continue to propagate. For now, Paro remains one of the best Bhutanese towns to explore on foot and is worth an hour or two for a stroll at the end of a day of sightseeing. 

Afterward, we’ll check-in to our hotel, enjoy dinner and review our images from the last several days.(B) (L) (D)

Day 9 | Paro - Taktsang Monastery (Tiger's Nest)

After breakfast, our driver will drop us off for a view of the spectacular and famous Taktsang monastery (Tiger’s lair). From here we’ll take the trail to the imposing Taktsang monastery, which climbs through a beautiful pine forest, many of the trees festooned with Spanish moss, and an occasional grove of fluttering prayer flags. 

Built in the 1600s, this incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below. It is believed that in the 8th century, Guru Rimpoche, the tantric mystic who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, landed here on the back of a flying tigress to subdue a demon. Guru Rimpoche is supposed to have meditated here for three months and it is considered a sacred site for Buddhists.

Upon our return to the car, we drive further up the valley to Drukgyel Dzong (the fortress of the victorious Drukpas) built in 1646 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to celebrate victory over Tibetan invading forces and also to curtail further invasions from the enemy. The route is picturesque, and the site of the Dzong is magnificent (from here, only two-day hike to the border with Tibet). On a clear day, you can get a magnificent view of the Mount Jomolhari (7,314 meters / 23,990 feet).

After returning to town, we prepare for our festive “Farewell Dinner”, discuss the events of the trip, share our favorite photos and enjoy the fun and laughter. (B) (L) (D)

Day 10| Paro

After an early breakfast in the hotel we drive to Paro International Airport (a short distance away) for our departure. We urge you to extend your stay in Asia and make good use of everything you will learn on our photo adventure. (B)

(B) Breakfast, (L) Lunch, (D) Dinner, (E) Excursion

May all who come as guests... leave as friends®

OPTIONS AND BENEFITS

Pricing

 

All prices are per person and based on double occupancy. Please select single occupancy for a private room. For your convenience, we offer optional early arrival and late departure accommodations so you can extend your stay before or after the trip. We typically stay in boutique hotels in the 4-star category. Not all destinations offer these types of properties. We look for unique hotels which offer cultural, historic and/or authentic features. Depending on the size of the group, smaller boutique hotels may have limited room inventory. In some countries or in remote locations, we may be limited to lodges or branded chain hotels. Breakfast is included only if included in our room rates.

Private Guided Adventures

 

We offer amazing private guided photo adventures, cultural tours and vacations for individuals, couples, families and groups. We can customize any of our published adventures, as well as others, to meet your individual needs, schedule, budget and interests. This may include the finest 5-star accommodations, business-class travel, and private guides and fixers who are able to make the impossible possible. If you are not interested in a photo-centric vacation, but you love our approach to private travel, we will be happy to design and deliver an amazing adventure focused on travel, culture and cuisine. Click here to request a quote. Feel free to call us at 1-888-834-0288 or contact us for more information.

 

Travel Insurance

We offer travel insurance through the internationally recognized Travelex Travel Insurance Company, as well as evacuation and medical transportation insurance through MedJet, one of the best in the industry.

The cost for travel insurance can be as low as 4% of the total trip cost, depending upon age and other factors. Knowing you have trip cancellation coverage can make a big difference should you have to cancel for some unforeseen reason. Travelex Insurance Services is a BBB Accredited business with an A+ rating. Click here to learn more about why you should consider travel insurance.

Rewards Program

Start earning points today and SAVE $200 - $900 off future trips!
Simply register for one of our amazing photo adventures and begin earning points today!

How The Program Works
For every adventure reservation you make with Photo Workshop Adventures, you earn valuable points which you can redeem on your next trip. This is a great way to save up to 8% off future trips. Our Rewards Program is designed with three tiers: Orange, Gold and VIP Members. Points may be applied towards balance payments on your next trip, or you may choose to accumulate points for a free trip in the future.

ORANGE REWARDS
All guests begin with our Orange Rewards Program (Level 1), which earns 4 points for every dollar you spend. You begin earning points immediately after your first trip. A $5,900 spend earns 23,600 points with a value of $236 USD.

GOLD REWARDS
With our Gold Rewards Program (Level 2), you earn 6 points for every dollar you spend. Orange Members who reach 120,000 accumulated lifetime* points (approx. 4-6 trips), automatically move up to Gold Rewards. A $5,900 spend earns 35,400 points with a value of $354 USD.

Additional Gold Benefits:

  • Earn up to double points during promotional events
  • Advance notifications for upcoming adventures and special offers

VIP REWARDS
With our VIP Rewards Program (Level 3), you earn 8 points for every dollar you spend. Gold Members who reach 350,000 accumulated lifetime* points (approx. 8-12 trips) move up to VIP Rewards. A $5,900 spend earns 47,200 points with a value of $472 USD, (8+/-% discount).

Additional VIP Benefits:

  • Earn up to double points during promotional events
  • Advance notifications for upcoming adventures and special offers
  • Ability to Gift or Transfer points to others
  • Receive complimentary airport transfers at the destination location*


Redeeming Your Points

Redeeming your points couldn’t be easier. You can always log in to your account to check your points balance. When you are ready to book your next trip, register and pay your deposit. When you go to pay your balance you will be given the option to apply your points and receive a discount.

THINK ORANGE Magazine

Subscribe to our Think Orange Magazine and eNews. THINK ORANGE is a wonderful mix of stories and tips related to travel, photography, adventure, culture, art, technology, cuisine, lifestyle, people and more. Our objective is to immerse you in a world you may only fantasize about. Raise your awareness and inspire your creativity. Perhaps even help make you a better photographer. We deliver similar experiential experiences that our guests enjoy on our photo adventures. Like all of our adventures, our blog is “photo-centric”, while also allowing you to experience all the nuances and cultural aspects of travel and adventure. Welcome to our world. We hope you enjoy. Our eNews is a great way to receive information about upcoming photo adventures, exciting new destinations, photography tips, special offers and more. Subscribe today!

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Give someone you know a Gift Card, good toward any of our Photo  Adventures, Photo Tours, Private Guided Tours, Online Courses, Prints or Merchandize. Our beautifully personalized eGift Cards and Certificates are delivered to you electronically. They are fully transferable and have a 2 year expiration date. They are available in any amount from $100 to $5000. It makes a great gift for anyone who loves photography, travel or adventure. Order now, or email for more information.

Combine-N-Save

You can SAVE up to $1200 by combining two or more back-to-back 6-Day or longer Photo Adventures. Call us at 1-888-834-0288 or contact us for more information.

Private Online Lightroom & Photoshop Tutorials

We offer private online Lightroom and Photoshop photo editing tutorials for individuals who would like to improve their post-processing skills. Each is customized to meet your individual needs, schedule, budget and interests. We provide you with one-on-one discussions using online connectivity. Many of our Photo Adventure guests select our online post-processing as an extension to their trip. Click here for more information.