Land of the Thunder Dragon with Jaime Kowal and Pema Tashi

A Photographic and Spiritual Journey Including the Jambay Lhakhang Festival November 10 - 20, 2008

On this unique photographic and spiritual journey, you will be taught the dynamics involved in shooting a successful, visually stimulating travel story in captivating Bhutan.

Return home with a beautiful travel story that highlights the friendly locals, sacred sites, majestic panoramas, and the overall essence of Bhutan. The Bhutanese, who follow a predominantly Buddhist path, hold a deep respect and reverence for their natural environment and, therefore, practice a harmonious existence with their surroundings. It is a privilege for us to visit such a special place. Whether you are an adept photographer, a photography enthusiast, or a spiritual seeker, this journey to Bhutan will help you to see and capture the world through new eyes. READ MORE

Tour Leader Jaime Kowal

Jaime Kowal is a professional photographer, author, teacher, and social entrepreneur. She specializes in travel photography and portraiture, masterfully capturing the beauty of all she encounters. 

Tour Leader Pema Tashi

Pema Tashi is a cultural guide certified by the Department of Tourism and has over a decade of experience in the Tourism Industry. He is, by birth, a Buddhist and a keen follower of Buddhist philosophy.


I could not have imagined a better Bhutan experience. Jaime and Pema were brilliant guides and our itinerary was perfectly planned to maximize our 10 day journey.Kristi Birnie, North Vancouver, BC


Many thanks for organizing such an amazing trip to Bhutan. It was perfect from the beginning to the end...I would definitely recommend Sacred Earth Journeys to my friends! Ghislaine Grasser, Geneva, Switzerland


Tour Description

Nestled in the eastern Himalayas, the stunningly beautiful and serene country of Bhutan, Land of the Thunder Dragon, has attracted visitors from all walks of life. From mystics to scholars, pilgrims to teachers, all those who have touched upon this land have blessed it with an invaluable spiritual legacy that has shaped the life of the Bhutanese and which continues to inspire all those who now journey here. Aside from the unspoiled and awe-inspiring natural scenery, visitors are impressed by the magnificent architecture and the rich culture and heritage.

Cliff Temple in Bhutan
Cliff Temple, Bhutan

The Bhutanese, who follow a predominantly Buddhist path, hold a deep respect and reverence for their natural environment and therefore, practice a harmonious existence with their surroundings. To ensure the preservation of this fascinating land, Bhutan maintains a controlled visitor policy, thus making it an honour and privilege to have the opportunity to visit such a special place and capture its enchantment through photography.

On this unique photographic and spiritual journey, you will be taught the dynamics involved in shooting a successful, visually stimulating travel story. The trip begins with the process of generating story ideas with the guidance of professional photographer Jaime Kowal. Throughout the 11 day program, your story and ideas transform into real images with the help of daily critique, discussions and demonstrations. Topics covered include accurate metering and exposure, the rules of composition, creative uses of light, effective editing, sequencing, story development and developing an effective digital flow. Return home with a beautiful travel story that highlights the friendly locals, sacred sites, majestic panoramas, and the overall essence of Bhutan. 

monk in Bhutan
A playful monk with one of our group members

Our journey also includes a fantastic opportunity to witness the special Jambay Lhakhang Festival, a vibrant festival of colourful costumes and intricate masks, Fire Dances, and traditional Blessing Ceremonies. This unique festival is a wonderful way to learn of the traditional spiritual practices of the Bhutanese, while expanding your knowledge of Buddhist Dharma and philosophy.

Whether you are an adept photographer, a photography enthusiast, or a spiritual seeker, this journey to Bhutan will help you to see and capture the world through new eyes. Let Jaime’s wisdom, expertise and guidance assist you in becoming a more competent and skilled photographer and let this extraordinary country full of joy and intrigue help open your heart and spirit.

Arrive in Paro at the country’s only airport and transfer together to our hotel in Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan. Along the way we will enjoy the beautiful landscapes and trickling streams that wander their way through the countryside before reaching this small and peaceful city. After checking into our accommodations and settling in, we gather in the conference hall for a short presentation and introduction to Bhutan with Pema.  This will be followed by a welcome reception and dinner, and brief lecture on how to develop a strong photo essay or story. Later we enjoy an evening outing to familiarize ourselves with the land. 
(Overnight at Jambayang Resort, Thimphu)


Bhutan rice field

We will have an early start this morning to enjoy a presentation and lecture by Jaime who will show selected examples of successful travel imagery. We will identify the concept for each individual’s story idea and teach you how to strengthen your photography skills through various assignments that will be accomplished throughout the trip. Our first assignment will be offered to us this morning, and we can get started right away on location at Zorig Chuksum, the School for Thirteen Arts & Crafts. The institute, established in 1971, welcomes students from across Bhutan to learn the art of traditional craft making. 

Enjoy the remainder of the day independently to continue your assignment and roam through the streets of Thimphu. Peruse the small local shops that boast a diversity of traditional goods and enjoy the lively weekend market atmosphere. Stroll through the courtyards of the Tashicho Dzong, a medieval fortress and monastery that houses the King’s Throne room and government office, to view the temples, sculptures and brightly painted mandalas. Browse the National Library and its many ancient Buddhist texts and manuscripts which provide insights into this cloistered culture, or drift over hills to gaze at the picturesque monasteries that dot the beautiful landscapes.
In the early afternoon we will enjoy a discussion at our hotel on Gross National Happiness, Bhutan’s development in philosophy, by our lecturer Mr Sonam Kinga.  Later in the afternoon we gather for dinner and to download and edit our slides. After dinner we enjoy a slide show presentation of our day in Thimphu with a constructive critique from Jaime. 
(Overnight at Jambayang Resort, Thimphu)

Thimphu Temple in Bhutan

After breakfast, we depart for a long scenic drive to Trongsa via Wangdue, passing undulating hills, sheer mountain valleys, dense forests and meadows where yaks graze freely. En route, we stop at the Dochula Pass at 10,500 ft for tea and biscuits and enjoy the breathtaking views of the spectacular Himalayas. We will spend time photographing the Druk Wangyal Chortens, a unique cluster of 108 chortens that spiral up to form a main monument which was built as a tribute to the selfless service and visionary leadership of His Majesty the King and is a symbol of appreciation, loyalty, dedication, and love of his people. Then on to Wangduephodrang where the prominent feature is the imposing Wangdi Dzong.

We continue on our way along one of the most beautiful roads in Bhutan, crossing rivers and streams, dense forests and quaint local villages. We will make numerous stops to photograph herds of yak and their shepherds, pretty alpine flowers, picturesque villages, and stunning panoramas. After travelling through Pelela Pass, blanketed by high altitude dwarf bamboo, we get our first glimpse of the Black Mountains. These mountains, which separate Western Bhutan from Central Bhutan and whose peaks range between 1500 to 2700 metres, form a watershed between two major river systems, the Mo Chhu and the Drangme Chhu. The fast-flowing rivers have carved out spectacular gorges in the lower mountain areas and the woodlands provide most of Bhutan's valuable forest production. This drive between Wangdue and Trongsa is the most scenic and exciting leg of the journey. Winding through cloud cover and crossing many waterways, we pass by chortens with water-driven prayer wheels and colourful rock carvings then descend into the captivating Trongsa Valley. We check into our hotel just before Trongsa to admire the majestic views of the Trongsa Dzong across the Valley. 

After a rest and dinner, we gather together to review how to efficiently download, edit and prepare our new images for a slide show critique the following morning. Jaime and her course assistant will provide support and answer any questions.
(Overnight at Yangkhil Resort, Trongsa)


This morning we spend a couple of hours constructively critiquing our photographs, learning new techniques, and building upon our travel stories and ideas. Jaime will give a lecture on how to use your flash to capture all of the exciting evening events. Then we are off to visit and photograph the Trongsa Dzong, one of the most impressive Dzongs in Bhutan which represents Bhutan’s link with its historical monarchy. Built in 1644, this masterpiece in architecture includes a labyrinth of courtyards and corridors in addition to the 23 Temples inside the Dzong itself. This impregnable fortress was once used as the seat of power during the Wangchuck dynasty and is now the ancestral home of the present Royal Family. Trongsa Dzong offers the best opportunity to capture the true essence of the Bhutanese monastic parliamentary architecture and houses sacred images and religious relics, intricate wood carvings, and beautiful frescoes emblazoned on walls and pillars. With a little patience, monks will float in and out of your frame as you photograph the remarkable and rare structures.

After an early lunch, we depart for Jakar over the Yongtong La Pass that separates the Trongsa Valley from Bhutang. After dinner at our hotel we head out to the festival grounds for tonight’s full moon and the commencement of the Jambay Lhakhang Festival, Bhutan’s grandest festival. Here you will see the Bhutanese adorned in their finest apparel or traditional costumes. Masked dances are performed to instruct onlookers in the ways of Buddhist Dharma and later in the night, the Fire Dances and Blessing Ceremonies take place. Make sure to walk around the many stalls to shop for beautiful handicrafts and jewellery. 
(Overnight at Yozerling Lodge, Bumthang)

Monastery Bells in Bhutan

After an early breakfast we spend a couple of hours downloading and reviewing images from the previous day. Enjoy a lecture by Jaime which explores the idea of authentic portraiture and how to achieve a trust and rapport with your subject. We then return to the festival grounds for the Jambay Lhakhang Festival to feast our eyes on the show.

Festivals here are known as Tshecus, meaning 10th day of the month, on which Saint Padmasambhava was born, and thus are celebrated to commemorate his birth. Spend hours attending the most photogenic day of the festival to capture the lively scenes, traditional dances, colourful costumes and intricate masks. Sit or stand on the edge of the cobblestones and work with your tripod and equipment to photograph fantastic close-ups and wide panoramas.

A wonderful day of fun and merriment and an excellent opportunity to capture wonderful memories and to practice our new skill set of photographing people!  In the afternoon, return to our lodge for a discussion with a Buddhist Monk on the topic of emptiness. 
(Overnight at Yozerling Lodge, Bumthang)


Bhutan Monks

This morning we gather again to download, edit and share our images. Jaime will share ideas of how to capture the essence of a place through photography. After a lively question and answer period, we head out to explore the broad Trongsa Valley which ranges in altitude from 8,500 to 13,000 feet and is different from any other valley in Bhutan. It is a haven for trekkers and hikers, outdoor enthusiasts, and landscape photographers. 

We then visit Tamshing Lhakhang (“Temple of the Good Message”), the most important Nyingmapa temple in Bhutan. Established by the Bhutanese saint, Pema Ling Pa, the temple and monastery are remarkable for their original wall paintings. Then on to Kenchosum Lhakhang built during the Tresong Dengtseng time and considered to be the oldest Lhakhang. Later we visit Membartsho (“Fire Lake”), where Terton Pema Ling Pa discovered a hidden treasure. The surrounding area here is covered with prayer flags and small clay offerings called “Tsa Tsa” left behind by the local worshippers. 

We stop for lunch, then off to Jampa Lhakhang, built in the 7th century, by Tibetan King Songtsen Gampo, and 1 of the 108 temples built by him throughout Tibet and the Himalayas. According to legend, the temple was built to overcome a demon giantess and to subdue evil spirits of the Himalayas. We then visit the Kurjey Lhakhang Monastery, one of the most important and sacred sites in Bhutan. This complex of temples consists of monks' quarters, three chortens which mark the cremation sites of the first three kings of Bhutan, and three temples. During the 8th century, a king from Bumthang, known as Sendhu Raja, invited Guru Rimpoche (Precious Master), to cure him from a disease imposed by the “White Lion”, a local deity which was draining his life force. Guru Rimpoche, who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan and is considered the second Buddha, meditated at Kurjey for three months and left his bodily imprint on a rock where he was seated in meditation before defeating the “White Lion”. Legend states that when Guru Rimpoche defeated the “White Lion”, the deity agreed to protect Buddhism and restore the country to peace. Guru Rimpoche then drove his walking stick into the ground and from that grew a large Cypress tree which now overlooks the Monastery. Here we will receive an initiation and empowerment from HH10th Tuskey Rimpoche, and make our offerings of Tsho (offerings for accumulation of merits), butterlamps and prayers.  We will also meet with local Buddhist teachers and monks at Kurjey Monatery for teachings and wisdom.  
(Overnight at Yozerling Lodge, Bumthang)

Hillside in Bhutan

After an early breakfast, we enjoy reviewing our photos from the previous day, and observe how the group’s skill set is improving. We then leave for Punakha and retrace our route. We stop for a picnic lunch at Chendebji, a quaint local hamlet home to a charming covered footbridge, a notable landmark in Bhutan. Even though we will be journeying along the same road, you will be surprised to find the return drive just as interesting for we will discover new scenes and sites. 
(Overnight at Meri Phuensum Resort, Punakha)


Yaks in Bhutan

After breakfast we meet to explore and review how our new techniques are helping to create new and interesting images. After a review and slide show presentation, we drive north of Punakha for a short excursion to the Khamsum Yuelley Namgyel Chorten, a three-storey monument housing beautiful and complex paintings built by the Queen of Bhutan and strategically perched on a ridge to dominate the Punakha Valley. Built to ward off negative forces, promote peace, stability and harmony with its sacred religious edifices, it is the only one of its kind in the world. This fine architectural and traditional manifestation of constructional design drawn from scripture, is also an esoteric embodiment of positive forces prevailing over all negative influences in the three forms of existence. We are fortunate to be able to practice architectural photography here in this unique locale. 

Later we visit Punakha Dzong (“Palace of Great Happiness”), one of the most famous and most attractive Dzongs in the country. The Dzong lies between 2 rivers known as Pochu and Mochu, symbolising the masculine and emale energies, which flow in different colours and unite at this site. Built during the 17th century, it has been rebuilt many times due to several floods, earthquakes and fires. The reconstruction and restoration of the Punakha Dzong is widely acclaimed as a historical accomplishment in the preservation of Bhutan’s rich heritage and an important spiritual legacy for all Buddhists. After evening tea, we make our way to Paro for the night.
(Overnight at Janka Resort, Paro)

Khamsum Yuelley in Bhutan

This morning enjoy an exciting summary of our architectural images from the day before and discuss the various ways to share our travel stories through online galleries, blogs and portfolios. We also discuss how to pitch an editor, and learn tips on how to make a living as a photographer.

We then visit the National Museum, once the watchtower for the Rinpung Dzong, located high on a promontory and overlooking the Paro Valley. The museum houses some of the finest specimens of Bhutanese art, including masterpieces of bronze statues and paintings, and is the best way to quickly learn about the culture and natural history of Bhutan. Although photography is not allowed within the museum, there are numerous photo opportunities of the exterior and the beautiful valley below. We then walk or drive down to the town of Paro for lunch at a local restaurant, and later stroll along the Paro Chu to take pictures of Paro Dzong, Bhutan’s strongest and most strategic fortress, and the watchtower. Here we will be able to photograph the covered footbridge, the huge wooden gate leading to the bridge, and the interior of the Dzong. Built in 1645, this massive building now houses the District Administration Office and the Monk Body. A beautiful flagstone path leads to the Dzong, rising gradually from the bridge that is bordered by two guard houses. The central tower, called the “Utse” of the Dzong, is adorned in superb woodwork and is considered to be the nation’s most beautiful tower. The wooden footbridge is one of only a handful of traditional cantilevered bridges left in the Himalayas. 
Later in the day we return to our hotel conference hall for an enlightening discussion on the relationship of cause and effect.  Here we will have time to deepen our understanding of Buddhist philosophy and ask any questions abut what we have learned thus far.
(Overnight at Janka Resort, Paro)

Red Panda in Bhutan

Today we begin the process of completing our travel story by reviewing our entire image library from the trip, selecting the strongest images, and sequencing them to create a powerful, dynamic story. You will be surprised and proud of your results! 

We then make our way to the foot of the Taktshang Cliff to begin our 2 hour uphill trek by either foot or hired pony to the Taktshang Monastery (“Tiger’s Nest Monastery”), the most famous monastery in Bhutan which hangs precariously on a cliff at 10,200 feet. A beautiful cascading waterfall seems to magically appear here creating a dreamlike appearance. It is said that Guru Rimpoche flew here on the back of a tigress and then meditated in a cave, contained within the present structure, for three months. As a result, it is a prime destination for Buddhist pilgrims from all around the world. Upon our return from the Monastery we will enjoy a picnic lunch and share our wonderful photos. Enjoy the afternoon at your leisure to wander the town of Paro once more. Jaime will be available to answer any final questions and help select the strongest images from the day. Later, meet back at the hotel for a final recap and discussion on Karma with a local Buddhist monk.  In the early evening, we gather for our final dinner celebration and share our travel story with our new-found friends.
(Overnight at Janka Resort, Paro)

Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan

Bid farewell to beautiful Bhutan and your new-found friends and begin your journey back. 

traditional building in Bhutan

Land of the Thunder Dragon with Jaime Kowal and Pema Tashi

November 10 - 20, 2008

Tour Includes:

  • Accommodation at 3 star resorts and lodges
  • Daily Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
  • Transportation by Private bus
  • Entrance fees to all sites
  • Bhutan Tourist Visa (this will be arranged by our Bhutan operator. The cost is quoted separately below and is not included in the $3340 tour cost)
  • Airfare Bangkok-Paro-Bangkok (this will be arranged by our Bhutan operator. The cost is quoted separately below and is not included in the $3340 tour cost)
  • Professional Photographer Jaime Kowal as your Tour Teader throughout the Journey
  • Pema Tashi as your local Tour Guide throughout the Journey

Added Features:

  • Lectures, Instruction, Technical Guidance and Presentations with Jaime Kowal and her assistant
  • Photo Shoot at the Zorig Chuksum, the School for Thirteen Arts & Crafts
  • Thimphu Weekend Market
  • Jambay Lhakhang Full Moon Festival
  • Traditional Sacred Ceremonies
  • Discussion with Buddhist Teachers
  • Trek to Taktshang Monastery

Tour Does Not Include:

  • International Airfare to Bangkok
  • Cancellation & Medical Insurance (ask us for a quote if you are Canadian)
  • Cost to obtain valid passport
  • Any items of a personal nature such as laundry, drinks and telephone calls. Any item that is not specifically detailed on our website or in the final trip itinerary.

Tour Price:

    • Double Room: USD $3,340 per person
    • Single Supplement: USD $650
Book this Journey
or call us on
1-877-874-7922 to help you make your reservation

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