Small Group Safari

Bhutan Ultimate Photography Safari

Discover the natural and cultural wonders of this captivating destination with COMO Uma Bhutan and photographer Michael Turek.

Duration 8 days
Price From $6,044
When Jun 2019
Destination Bhutan

Safari Overview

Join Natural World Safaris and COMO on an exclusive small group photography workshop that takes you to the heart of the enigmatic Himalayan nation of Bhutan. A landlocked country where religion and nature have come together to form a unique Buddhist culture, Bhutan’s reputation has given rise to monikers such as ‘hidden treasure’ or ‘the last Shangri-La’. This 8-day journey allows you to discover, experience and photograph the essence of Bhutan – its enchanting cultural heritage, Buddhist traditions and breathtaking landscapes – with guided excursions, photography tips and invaluable tuition from one of the world’s leading photographers, Michael Turek, who will serve as your specialist leader throughout the trip.

Even now, in the second decade of the 21st century, Bhutan remains an often inscrutable and inaccessible destination for many travellers. As such, this unique adventure will give you unparalleled access to the country, as you hike through spectacular mountain scenery, partake in fascinating cultural visits, climb up to the gravity-defying Tiger’s Nest Monastery, visit the iconic Punakha Dzong where a retinue of 1,000 monks reside, traverse remote Himalayan trails and receive a blessing at the Temple of the Divine Madman. We are focusing on the valleys of Paro and Punakha, both of which are famed for their magnificent dzongs, lush forests, serpentine rivers, snow-capped mountains, rural villages and ancient temples.

What Makes This Trip Extraordinary

  • Having the unique chance to witness the dramatic landscapes and rich culture of this remote Himalayan kingdom, alongside expert local guides.
  • Visiting the most prominent and sacred of Bhutan’s centuries-old temples and monasteries, gaining valuable insights into its ancient Buddhist traditions.
  • Hiking up to Taktsang (also known as the Tiger’s Nest), Bhutan’s most iconic monastery, perched high on a cliffside above the Paro Valley.
  • Learning from esteemed photographer Michael Turek, the specialist leader for your trip, who will conduct photography workshops and teach you the art of Kodak photography.
  • Immersing yourself in the natural world with stays in two stunningly located COMO lodges, voted the best hotels in Asia by readers of Condé Nast Traveler.
  • Hiking through Himalayan mountain trails, picturesque pine forests and idyllic river valleys.
  • Visiting the villages and rural farmsteads of Punakha.

Eschew the standard safari experience and set foot in the Land of the Thunder Dragon.

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YOUR ACCOMMODATION

During your stay in Bhutan, you'll be staying at the country's two premier luxury hotels: COMO Uma Paro and COMO Uma Punakha. Judged as the top two hotels in Asia by Condé Nast Traveler, these serene resorts have expertly blended the trappings of COMO's coveted portfolio with the ancient traditions of Bhutan. COMO have employed Bhutanese artisans to construct and decorate their properties, and have even converted the former home of a Bhutanese nobleman into COMO Uma Paro's main building. Unparalleled hilltop locations provide COMO's guests with simply spectacular views of the Paro and Punakha Valleys, each a verdant landscape peppered with traditional Bhutanese homesteads and monasteries.

From the organic gardens and spa treatment rooms to the hot-stone bath houses and well-appointed Bukhari restaurants, both hotels complement Bhutan's natural majesty by providing a warm and welcoming base from which to explore. At both COMO Uma Paro and COMO Uma Punakha, you'll be able to enjoy a deeply comfortable and luxurious retreat after a day’s cultural activities and adventure pursuits, from Himalayan trekking to archery and white-water rafting. Take the chance to indulge in luxury travel experiences that truly immerse you in the elusive essence of Bhutan, its culture, landscape and religion.

Day by day

Day 1

Arrive Paro

Upon arrival in Paro International Airport, you will be met by our local representative and transferred to your lodge (approx. 15 minutes’ drive). Later this afternoon you will meet up with the rest of the group, as well as your specialist leader Michael Turek. After the briefing you will be taken on a short orientation tour of Paro, where you will get to walk through and explore the local terrain – among the most rugged, mountainous and visually stunning in the world. Bordered by China and India, the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan is a Buddhist nation unlike anywhere else on earth; this trip offers the chance to gain unique insights into Bhutanese culture, its natural landscapes and religious traditions. Uma Paro Lodge, situated on the cusp of the Paro Valley, will be your home for tonight. With sweeping views of the Himalayas and an array of pine-clad mountain slopes, this 38-acre estate is the perfect spot to begin your journey.

Overnight: COMO Uma Paro D

Day 2

Paro - Thimphu - Dochu La - Lungchutse - Punakha

Today you will be driven to the town of Punakha (approx. 4 hours’ drive), visiting Bhutan’s capital city, Thimphu, en route. Located on the western hillside of the Wang Chhu River, Thimphu is Bhutan’s centre of government, religion and commerce. Whilst in Thimphu, you will take in some of the major attractions, including the Buddha Dordenma statue, the National Memorial Chorten (a religious structure used as a place of meditation), a view of the Trashi Chhoe Dzong Monastery, and the Folk Heritage Museum. After leaving Thimphu, drive on to Punakha and stop at the 3,000-metre-high mountain pass of Dochu La, famous for its 108 chortens and Buddhist shrines. From Dochu La you have the choice to hike to Lungchutse temple, a moderate 2 ½-hour hike. The trail from Dochu La slowly climbs through a forest of hemlock, birch and rhododendrons until reaching an open meadow. From there you will again enter into a forest of moss-covered rhododendrons, gigantic hemlocks, junipers, and bamboo undergrowth. The trail leads past a row of fluttering prayer flags up to Lungchutse. After the hike you will be transferred to your vehicles and drive on to Punakha.

Overnight: COMO Uma Punakha B, L, D

Day 3

Chimmi Lhakhang - Punakha Dzong - Khamsum Yulley

Today is a full day of exploration through the lush Punakha Valley, which at 1,200 metres above sea level has a low enough altitude for bananas and oranges to grow! The morning starts with a short walk past farmhouses and rice paddies to Chimmi Lhakhang, a 15th-century fertility temple dedicated to Drukpa Kuenley, a Tibetan Buddhist saint, better known as the Divine Madman! This site has long been a pilgrimage for couples hoping to start a family. Heading further down the valley, continue to the 300-year-old Punakha Dzong. Built in the 17th century by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who founded the Kingdom of Bhutan, this fortress once housed the country’s government. It is now the winter home of Je Khenpo, the head abbot of Bhutan, along with a retinue of 1,000 monks. After lunch, continue on a walk passing rural homesteads and farmlands to Khamsum Yulley Chorten, a shrine recently built by the royal family. After returning to your lodge in the evening, you will have the chance to get photography tips from Michael.

Overnight: COMO Uma Punakha B, L, D

Day 4

Punakha Valley - Paro - Chuzom - Drakarpo

After breakfast today, return to Paro over the Dochu La Pass for another chance to view the Himalayan mountain ranges. At the Chuzom, the confluence of the rivers Wang Chhu and Paro Chhu, you can glimpse three nearby shrines. These shrines were built to ward off evil spirits, each with a different style of architecture: Nepali, Tibetan and Bhutanese. Time permitting, drive 30 minutes to Drakarpo Monastery. The temple is precariously perched on the edge of a rocky cliff and is one of the main sacred sites in Bhutan. Here you will find the body-imprint of Vajrayogini and a stone boot believed to belong to Guru Rinpoche, venerated widely by adherents of Tibetan Buddhism as a “second Buddha”. Returning to the lodge, your drive will take you through picturesque mountain scenery, passing apple orchards and rice paddies. On arrival at the lodge you can choose to spend the rest of the day at leisure or try your hand at archery, Bhutan’s national sport. This evening presents another opportunity to receive photography tuition from Michael.

Overnight: COMO Uma Paro B, L, D

Day 5

Floating Goddess Day Hike

Today you will embark on a day hike. After breakfast you will be transferred by road to the river valley of Do Chhu. From here you will start your hike. The mountain trail passes tiny hamlets and then continues through ancient forests as you follow the course of the Do Chhu River into this remote valley. In June, the different species of flowering rhododendrons are a riot of colour. As you reach the head of the valley, the trail switchbacks as it steepens, from where you will see the Chumbu Monastery, high above with craggy peaks. The monks at this spectacular and remote monastery welcome all pilgrims and visitors, particularly if they are bearing small gifts and offerings for the supernatural statue of the ‘Flying Yogini’ that seemingly floats in the air! After paying respects, we will climb to a mountain lake and then return to the lodge. This trek is of moderate difficulty and takes 7 to 8 hours depending on fitness. This evening presents another opportunity to receive photography tuition from Michael.

Overnight: COMO Uma Paro B, L, D

Day 6

Chele La Pass - Kila Nunnery Shedra - Ta Dzong - Drukgyel

Early this morning, drive to Chele La Pass, which at 3,988 metres is the highest motorable pass in Bhutan. The drive takes you through blue pine and rhododendron forests for the first hour. On a clear day you can get spectacular views of Bhutan’s second-highest peak, Mt. Jhomolhari (7,314 metres). At the top of the pass you will disembark from the vehicles and hike to Kila Nunnery with your guide. This walk takes you past a sky burial site and descends through dense rhododendron forests. Kila Nunnery Shedra is an ancient nunnery nestled in a craggy mountainside below one of the seven oldest nunneries in the kingdom – Dupthob Chhoeje Norbu and Dupthob Temba established it in the early 9th century. After making offerings, the hike descends further and after an hour you join the road. Here you can either choose to get on to mountain bikes with your guide and descend down to Paro Valley or transfer back to Paro in the vehicles. Later today (and time permitting) you may visit Ta Dzong, which is home to Bhutan’s National Museum and Rinpung Dzong (also known as ‘Fortress on a Heap of Jewels’) and further up the valley visit the Drukgyel Dzong.

Overnight: COMO Uma Paro B, L, D

Day 7

Taktsang Hike (Tiger’s Nest) - Ugyen Tsemo - Zangdopelri

Today you will hike up to and explore Taktsang (or ‘Tiger’s Nest’) Monastery, one of the most important and iconic cultural sites in Bhutan. According to legend, this cliffside is where Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava landed on the back of a flying tigress, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet. The trip starts early morning to avoid the hot sun during the 2-hour climb to the Tiger’s Nest viewpoint. We will have a steep hike past a waterfall, ending among beautiful murals at the monastery’s main entrance. If time allows, there is the possibility of heading further up to visit the remote temples of Zangdopelri, built in 1853, which sit on the opposite ridge. Overlooking Taktsang, this is the spot to get the best pictures of the Tiger’s Nest. Continue higher on to the summit of the ridge directly above Taktsang Pelphung, to Ugyen Tsemo. It contains beautiful frescoes of Guru Padmakara. The view from Ugyen Tsemo is worth the climb. Then descend and have a picnic lunch. After lunch you will return to the lodge, where you have the evening at leisure before the final night’s dinner. You will have time to recharge before dinner – make use of the steam rooms and swimming pool or indulge in one of the spa treatments.

Overnight: COMO Uma Paro B, L, D

Day 8

Depart Paro

Today you will be transferred to Paro International Airport (approx. 15 minutes’ drive) for your onward flight (international flight not included). Paro is an excellent spot for onward travel in the region, as you can fly to India and other destinations in Asia. We can arrange private, customised post-trip itineraries on request.

Trip Details

This is a small group safari departing on a single set date in June 2019.

Please note that the pricing shown is based on a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 12 travellers, and is subject to Bhutan Government Regulations and any additional Government charges that may be implemented between now and your departure date.

2019 Departure Price
Jun 2 - 9 From £4,640

Please note that the trip price excludes the cost of international flights, Indian visa arrangements and a £350 workshop photography processing fee. Solo travellers are required to pay a single supplement of £1,440.

Activities within the workshop may require a certain degree of physical fitness. Natural World Safaris & COMO Uma Bhutan retain the discretion at any time to decline to allow guests to participate in any activity, if it is reasonably believed that in the interests of the guest's health, the guest should not do so.

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