Bhutan through Third Eye Travel

By Steve Chan
This item appears on page 30 of the October 2015 issue.
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Primarily to photograph the country and people of Bhutan in a new and different way, three friends and I booked an 11-day private tour through Third Eye Travel (Fremont, CA; 800/456-3393, www.thirdeyetravel.com).

For all four of us, the total cost of the April 14-24, 2014, tour was $3,900, which included internal flights, hotels, taxes and service charges, all meals, private driver, guided touring and site entry fees.

Our guide, Ms. Sonam Wangmo, and driver, Mr. Dawa, greeted us at the airport in Paro and were with us for the entire journey. Sonam provided extensive information about the places we visited and suggested stopping at places not in our itinerary. 

The various locations visited in Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Trongsa, Bumthang and Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) were feasts for the senses. We saw stunning architecture, beautiful artwork, intricate carvings and detailed embroidery and met many wonderfully friendly Bhutanese people while immersed in this rich cultural experience.

So we could get unique photographs, Sonam said she would get us to locations when the light was right, but what made our tour extraordinary was that she had made arrangements for us to visit locations outside of the norm for special photo shoots. Here’s a partial list of sites visited.

During our 1½ days at the fascinating Paro Tshechu (a festival), she obtained permission for us to photograph the giant thangkha (painting of deities) from the dignitaries’ stand, which gave us an elevated view of the festival site and crowd.

In Thimphu, we shot the sunrise at Kuensel Phodreng (Buddha Point) and were allowed special access to the National Memorial Chorten, Dupthop Lhakhang (a nunnery), Dechen Phodrang Monastery and the Painting School at the National Institute for Zorig Chusum.

On the way to Punakha, we shot the sunrise from Dochula Pass, with its stunning panoramic view of the Himalayas. We had very special photo shoots in the Serigang Valley and at the Punakha Dzong. We shot both sunset and sunrise at the Pho Chhu River, with early-morning shoots at the imposing Punakha Dzong Fortress, a hilltop with fluttering prayer flags and views of sculptured rice terraces.

Heading from Trongsa to Bumthang, she arranged for us to breakfast with a family in their home. Later we made an impromptu stop to photograph an archery competition and traditional wool weaving.

On the way from Bumthang to Trongsa, we had photo shoots in Kharchu Dratshang Monastery and at the Tamshing Lhakhang temple. The Tamshing temple is extraordinary for its 16th-century mural painting.

During our 5½-hour drive from the Trongsa Dzong to Punakha, we had an extended visit at the Nobding primary school. The students showed delight in our visit.

Around Paro, Sonam learned that students at Dechen Phodrang Monastery were preparing for their traditional Bhutanese trumpet lessons and others for ritual cake making. She obtained permission for us to attend. At Dechenphu Monastery, we had a special portrait session with a group of senior monks.

On our last full day in Bhutan, we went to the beautiful Taktsang Monastery, then visited Kyichu Lhakhang Monastery, Drugyel Dzong and Paro Dzong.

I found the Bhutanese people to be very proud of their cultural heritage and very friendly to guests visiting their country, which was extremely beautiful and clean and felt very safe. Our hotel accommodations were very clean and comfortable. I would not hesitate to recommend a visit to this wonderful country.

Third Eye Travel was great to work with and very price competitive. A diligent professional, Sonam Wangmo was a special guide — flexible and exceedingly caring.

STEVE CHAN

Fremont, CA

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Primarily to photograph the country and people of Bhutan in a new and different way, three friends and I booked an 11-day private tour through Third Eye Travel (Fremont, CA; 800/456-3393, www.thirdeyetravel.com).

For all four of us, the total cost of the April 14-24, 2014, tour was $3,900, which included internal flights, hotels, taxes and service charges, all meals, private driver, guided touring and site entry fees.

Our guide, Ms. Sonam Wangmo, and driver, Mr. Dawa, greeted us at the airport in Paro and were with us for the entire journey. Sonam provided extensive information about the places we visited and suggested stopping at places not in our itinerary. 

The various locations visited in Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Trongsa, Bumthang and Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) were feasts for the senses. We saw stunning architecture, beautiful artwork, intricate carvings and detailed embroidery and met many wonderfully friendly Bhutanese people while immersed in this rich cultural experience.

So we could get unique photographs, Sonam said she would get us to locations when the light was right, but what made our tour extraordinary was that she had made arrangements for us to visit locations outside of the norm for special photo shoots. Here’s a partial list of sites visited.

During our 1½ days at the fascinating Paro Tshechu (a festival), she obtained permission for us to photograph the giant thangkha (painting of deities) from the dignitaries’ stand, which gave us an elevated view of the festival site and crowd.

In Thimphu, we shot the sunrise at Kuensel Phodreng (Buddha Point) and were allowed special access to the National Memorial Chorten, Dupthop Lhakhang (a nunnery), Dechen Phodrang Monastery and the Painting School at the National Institute for Zorig Chusum.

On the way to Punakha, we shot the sunrise from Dochula Pass, with its stunning panoramic view of the Himalayas. We had very special photo shoots in the Serigang Valley and at the Punakha Dzong. We shot both sunset and sunrise at the Pho Chhu River, with early-morning shoots at the imposing Punakha Dzong Fortress, a hilltop with fluttering prayer flags and views of sculptured rice terraces.

Heading from Trongsa to Bumthang, she arranged for us to breakfast with a family in their home. Later we made an impromptu stop to photograph an archery competition and traditional wool weaving.

On the way from Bumthang to Trongsa, we had photo shoots in Kharchu Dratshang Monastery and at the Tamshing Lhakhang temple. The Tamshing temple is extraordinary for its 16th-century mural painting.

During our 5½-hour drive from the Trongsa Dzong to Punakha, we had an extended visit at the Nobding primary school. The students showed delight in our visit.

Around Paro, Sonam learned that students at Dechen Phodrang Monastery were preparing for their traditional Bhutanese trumpet lessons and others for ritual cake making. She obtained permission for us to attend. At Dechenphu Monastery, we had a special portrait session with a group of senior monks.

On our last full day in Bhutan, we went to the beautiful Taktsang Monastery, then visited Kyichu Lhakhang Monastery, Drugyel Dzong and Paro Dzong.

I found the Bhutanese people to be very proud of their cultural heritage and very friendly to guests visiting their country, which was extremely beautiful and clean and felt very safe. Our hotel accommodations were very clean and comfortable. I would not hesitate to recommend a visit to this wonderful country.

Third Eye Travel was great to work with and very price competitive. A diligent professional, Sonam Wangmo was a special guide — flexible and exceedingly caring.

STEVE CHAN

Fremont, CA