IN FOCUS: BHUTAN

 

by

 

The Travel Photog

 

WELCOME TO BHUTAN!

INTRODUCTION:

Beautiful Bhutan sits in the valley of the incredible Himalayan Mountain Range.  It is the land of some of the most physically and spiritually beautiful people in the world, and is known for its principle of “Gross National Happiness.”  Unlike other countries that may measure their international might and success based on money, Bhutan focuses its attention on the general happiness and welfare of the people.  Education, health, psychological well-being, respect for nature and the environment, and good governance are just a few of the pillars of this Gross National Happiness.

 

When we think of Bhutan, the words that come to mind are peace, beauty, kindness, and harmony.  This harmony can be felt in your soul from the moment you land in this enchanting country. It is a land of flowing rivers, majestic mountains, spiritual monasteries, and incredibly kind people.  Show a smile and a complete stranger just might invite you into their house for some nuts, or a warm beverage.

 

The image above depicts Taktsang Monastery, or the Tiger’s Nest.  Perched on the side of a mountainous cliff, Taktsang Monastery is the iconic site that every photographer wants a shot of.  The yellow and blue cloths that frame this photos are Buddhist prayer flags.  As the threads of these prayer flags are torn and carried off into the wind, so too are the prayers that are written on the flags.

 

The Tiger’s Nest is becoming less and less of a secret to world travelers and photographers. Because of this, you need to be prepared for crowds.  From the trailhead in Paro, it took us approximately two hours to get to this breathtaking vista.  Even though you can take horses (or as locals jokingly call, “bony ponies”) part of the way up to the monastery, the final leg of the journey requires uphill hiking.  So, be sure to be in decent health, and get a good night’s sleep the evening before your adventure.  We promise you, the energy you spend hiking up to this spectacular vista point will be well worth it.  When you’re done with your spiritual adventure, we suggest taking in a massage and a well-deserved rest at the gorgeous Nak Sel Resort in Paro.

 

As for photography, bring everything you’ve got…including a 16-35, a 24-70, and a 70-200 zoom.  The beauty of Bhutan truly lies in its spiritually beautiful people, so be sure to take a lot of portraits, in addition to taking incredible landscape and architectural photos that are present seemingly everywhere you look in this country.

 

To capture Tiger’s Nest from afar, we would suggest a mid-range 24-70. Some of the better vista points are at a distance from the monastery, so an ultra-wide is not generally necessary, unless you’d like to capture lots of sky and mountains in the background.  Note: Photography is strictly prohibited inside Tiger’s Nest.


*For our most detailed photo guide packed with photos and descriptions, see our Store.

To see more of our photos from Bhutan, see our Gallery.

“NOT TO BE MISSED” SIGHTS:

• Taktsang Monastery, “The Tiger’s Nest,” Bhutan’s iconic site in Paro

• Kyichu Lhakhang, Paro

• Paro Dzong, Paro

• Memorial Chorten, Thimphu

• Punakha Dzong, Punakha, the most beautiful dzong (fortress) in all of Bhutan

• Trongsa Dzong

• Bumthang

• Any archery match or Buddhist tsechu (festival)


FAVORITE PHOTO TOUR GUIDE:

Guide: Robin Smillie, Rainbow Photo Tours of Bhutan
Based out of: Thimphu, Bhutan              

Website: rainbowphototours.com

(Robin Smillie’s company, based in the US)
rainbowbhutan.com (Local tour company, located in Bhutan)

Preferred

Photo Guide

To be clear, Robin Smillie (Rainbow Photo Tours of Bhutan) is a US-based professional photographer who uses a local tour company (Rainbow Tours & Treks) to help guide and transport his clients.  Robin has been a pioneer in the Bhutanese travel industry, running group photography trips since 2002 after falling in love with the country.  Over time, Robin has refined his tour, training his local Bhutanese guides and drivers to create the ultimate experience for his photographic clients.

 

To us, Robin’s specialty lies in his ability to create unique and genuine cultural experiences throughout the country that allow you to really immerse yourself into the Bhutanese way of life.  In addition to visiting some of Bhutan’s most iconic sites, Robin makes sure that his clients experience festivals, home stays, blessing ceremonies, school visitations, and much more.

 

The local guides and drivers that Robin employs are amongst the best in the world.  They are hardworking, super friendly, and trained in helping you to setup photographic shots.  They will engage the locals in conversation, and encourage these locals to pose for you.  Also, the guides are committed to making your travel experiences memorable.  Don’t be surprised if they get you into previously unvisited locations, or if they break out into song and dance for your birthday or anniversary.

 

Robin caters to photography enthusiasts of all levels.  You can be a DSLR user, or a casual iPhone user, it doesn’t matter.  There are no evening workshops or critiques, so don’t feel intimidated if you’re a casual snap shooter just looking for some selfies for your Facebook album.

 

Finally, every pair of clients travels with one guide and one driver (who can act like an unofficial guide).  This is like a 1:1 ratio of clients to guides! There is a suggested daily itinerary, but each client can do as much or as little as they want on a daily basis.  You don’t have to do exactly the same thing as the other clients in the overall party, and you can do activities at your own pace. The drivers will happily stop at serendipitous photo ops that always present themselves throughout the trip.  You pay a premium for this privilege, but if you can swing it financially, we would highly suggest traveling with Robin and his group of highly trained tour guides and drivers.


For:

• Photographers of ANY skill level (novice photographers welcome)
• Travelers looking for cultural immersion
• Portrait, architectural, and landscape photographers
• Unique Bhutanese experiences not available on other tours


Maybe Not For:

• Budget-minded travelers
• Travelers NOT interested in interacting with the locals
• The strict travel photographer looking for sunrise shoots, sunset shoots, and evening photo critiques and workshops.

 

Sample photos from our tour with Robin Smillie and Rainbow Photo Tours of Bhutan:

FAVORITE HOTEL:

Nak-Sel Boutique Hotel & Spa.

Address: Ngoba Village, Lango Gewog,
Paro, Kingdom of Bhutan.

Website: naksel.com

Before and after your long trek to The Tiger’s Nest, you’ll want to rest at the beautiful Nak-Sel Hotel & Spa.  Situated in the middle of a lush green forest and mountain range, eco-friendly Nak-Sel is the perfect getaway for weary travelers looking to re-energize.  For ultimate comfort, book a massage after you hike, or sit back and relax as you enjoy the natural surroundings from your own front porch.  The hotel rooms are spacious, clean, and beautifully decorated.