Paro Dzong. Bhutan. 2017.

June 2017

Sandwiched between two giants – China to the North and India to the South – the landlocked kingdom of Bhutan remains one of those off-the-beaten-track last-frontier kind of destinations for most travellers, not only because of its remoteness in the Himalayas, but also due to its prohibitive daily fee of $200-250 required by the government. Private tours have never been part of my travel repertoire, but after a year and a half on the road, being pampered never feels as good…

Trongsa Ta Dzong. Bhutan. 2017.

The Druk Air passage to Paro itself is an adventure (only eight pilots are qualified to fly there). My heart skips a beat in the final approach hugging the green mountains. A line of official guides await the lucky few foreign visitors. The first thing that hits me is not the thin air, but the robust Bhutanese national dish of green chili peppers in a cheesy sauce – ema datshi –served at lunch upon my arrival. “It’s enlightenment—it’s your third eye opening,” Anthony Bourdain said, tasting Bhutanese dumplings with ema datshi. After this first attack on your palate, the rest of the trip is just surprise after surprise, from a culture and land still mostly hidden from the rest of the world. Panoramas of Himalayan peaks and scenic valleys, royal palaces and picture-perfect monasteries, old forts and ruins, textile tradition and museums, religious rituals to prepare for afterlife and meeting the Divine Madman in his fertility temple, for those in needs!     

Paro Dzong. Bhutan. 2017.

From Paro, my ten-day deluxe tour takes me to the capital city of Thimphu to visit the famous Tashichho Dzong palace and monastery before climbing over the Dochu-La pass with a sweeping view of the Himalayas. We arrive at the scenic Punakha valley dotted with terraced rice fields and phallic folklores. The world-famous fertility temple, Chimi Lhakhang, is only a short walk away from town for those awaiting miracles. From Punakha, it’s a short three-hour drive to Gangtey to visit the famous monastery and enjoy a short hike to Yabesa village. From then on it’s a bumpy road all the way to the beautiful Bumthang valley in Central Bhutan famous for very old temples. The bouquet finale is a rewarding hike up 1000m to the picturesque Taktsang Monastery hanging on a cliff face above the Paro valley floor. It might well be the most expensive tour ever, but it’s well worth every dime!

Ten day tour to Bhutan. 2017.
Paro Dzong. Bhutan. 2017.
Paro Dzong. Bhutan. 2017.
Paro Dzong. Bhutan. 2017.
Himalayan orchid. Dochula Pass. Bhutan. 2017.
Fertility village. Punakha, Bhutan. 2017.
Punakha valley, Central Bhutan. 2017.
Punakha valley, Central Bhutan. 2017.
Punakha valley, Central Bhutan. 2017.
Punakha valley, Central Bhutan. 2017.
Bhutanese weaving. 2017.
Tshoglham – traditional boots. Bhutan. 2017.
Archery competition. Thimphu, Bhutan. 2017.
Chummey valley, Bhutan. 2017.

Religion is still very much part of daily life in Bhutan. A supplicant in waiting for blessing, monks passing through roaming monasteries, novices chanting scriptures, devotees circumambulating sacred temples for merit… Also, lighter moments: off time for young monks!

Paro Dzong. Bhutan. 2017.
Paro Dzong. Bhutan. 2017.
Paro Dzong. Bhutan. 2017.
Paro Dzong. Bhutan. 2017.
Punakha valley, Bhutan. 2017.
Jambay Lhakhang. Central Bhutan. 2017.
Jambay Lhakhang. Central Bhutan. 2017.
Tamshing Lhakhang, Bumthang valley, Bhutan. 2017.
Tamshing Lhakhang, Bumthang valley, Bhutan. 2017.
Punakha Dzong. Bhutan. 2017.
Punakha Dzong. Bhutan. 2017.
Bumthang valley, Bhutan. 2017.
Bumthang valley, Bhutan. 2017.
Bumthang valley, Bhutan. 2017.
Jambay Lhakhang. Bhutan. 2017.
Bumthang, Central Bhutan. 2017.
Lungchutse Monastery. Bhutan. 2017.

In Jambey Lhakang temple in the Bumthang valley, a group of elderly villagers spend days circumambulating around the temple to “prepare for their afterlife.” Closing down one’s final chapter of life on earth before being reborn into a new consciousness seems at once an individual and collective journey. How can one best prepare for this last adventure?

Preparing for afterlife. Jambey Lhakang. Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Preparing for afterlife. Jambey Lhakang. Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Preparing for afterlife. Jambey Lhakang. Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Preparing for afterlife. Jambey Lhakang. Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Preparing for afterlife. Jambey Lhakang. Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Preparing for afterlife. Jambey Lhakang. Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Preparing for afterlife. Jambey Lhakang. Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Preparing for afterlife. Jambey Lhakang. Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Preparing for afterlife. Jambey Lhakang. Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Preparing for afterlife. Jambey Lhakang. Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Preparing for afterlife. Jambey Lhakang. Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Preparing for afterlife. Jambey Lhakang. Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Preparing for afterlife. Jambey Lhakang. Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.

For ten memorable days, I enjoy taking portraits of village folks and farmers going about their daily life in their environments. If not for the prohibitive daily fee, I would have gladly stayed much longer in this photogenic country!

Yabesa Village, Central Bhutan. 2017.
Punakha valley, Central Bhutan. 2017.
Yabesa Village, Central Bhutan. 2017.
Punakha valley, Central Bhutan. 2017.
Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Thimphu, Bhutan. 2017.
Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Thimphu, Bhutan. 2017.
Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017.
Thimphu, Bhutan. 2017.
Thimphu, Bhutan. 2017.
Paro, Bhutan. 2017.
Thimphu market. Bhutan. 2017.
Charming horseman. Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan. 2017.
Marathon spectator. Paro, Bhutan. 2017.
Chimi Lhakhang, Bhutan, 2017.
Thimphu, Bhutan. 2017.
Thimphu, Bhutan. 2017.
Bumthang, Bhutan. 2017
Gangtey art school. Bhutan. 2017.

As always, I am drawn to smiley children, whether they are playing, heading to school, running an errand, or tagging along to the market… This is where their home is!

Changangkha Lakhang. Thimphu, Bhutan. 2017.
Thimphu market. Bhutan. 2017.
Thimphu market. Bhutan. 2017.
Gangtey, Bhutan. 2017.
Gangtey, Bhutan. 2017.
Thimphu, Bhutan. 2017.
Punakha valley, Bhutan. 2017.
Sudden rain. Hike to Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan. 2017.

If I were to explain my place and paths,

It is on the high snow-capped mountains

And the highland meadow of sershog flower

Where flower buds blossom.

There, my home is.

– Ap Chuni Dorji 

Dochula Pass. Bhutan. 2017.

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