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Bhutan is a Buddhist country so what does that mean? Temples or Dzongs and Goempas, of course. Architecturally they range in size and design, with many being made famous over the last few years through the media. The most iconic is TAKTSANG, better known as TIGERS NEST. Nestled into the side of a mountain not far from the town of Paro, it looms over the valley below, located 3300 metres high, almost touching the clouds. Voted the number one country to visit in 2020 and the most up and coming destination, Bhutan excites your senses from the moment you land after first gliding past Mount Everest as you skirt the Himalayas. 

The only way into Tigers Nest is on foot, so if trekking the 12 kilometre round trip makes you feel queasy, there is an option to ride to the halfway point on a devoted mountain pony. But just think of the photo opportunities you miss by not walking. You are not permitted to take phones or cameras into the monastery, so my advice is to take them on the last viewing platform before the descent into the waterfall, followed by the last climb back up to the monastery itself. Your guide will keep his eyes peeled for grey langurs secretly surveying you from the tree canopy. You will certainly need a hot stone bath on your return as you reflect on just how this magnificent monastery is and how it was constructed.

Bhutan Travel Agent Deanne, at Chelela Pass, Bhutan, At Chelela PassKnown as Druk Yul – Land of the Thunder Dragon – the mountain kingdom is also home to 369 species of orchid, of which 82 are unique to this small country. An astonishing array of plants grow here, including 300 species of medicinal plants. So why am I sharing these facts with you? Many people have not heard of Bhutan, let alone what to see and experience there. From a photographer's point of view, it is not just all mountains, temples and snow. Each April, Bhutan holds a Rhododendron Festival – a flower show like no other. Some of the mountainsides, including the one climbing to the Chelela Pass, are literally engulfed in bushes that burst into an absolute palette of colour once the snows have melted. The high altitude pass has an ideal growing environment. 

Punakha DzongPunakha Dzong, Bhutan HolidaysPunakha DzongOur next pit stop is the Punakha Dzong (fortress-monastery), now the administrative hub for the district. Built between 1637-1638 it is the second oldest and largest in Bhutan. Dzong is a form of architecture known to both Bhutan and Tibet and is both evocative and deceptive from the outside. Once you enter the inner sanctum you will be greeted by exquisite art and quite possibly glimpses of monks as they pass by on the daily rounds. Now you have taken around 2000 photos and you have visited only two of the remarkable buildings in the country. Punakha Dzong has had as many photos taken of it as Tigers Nest, maybe more as it is roadside – no hiking needed. From being draped in vibrant lavender of the Jacaranda tree to the yellow droplet blooms of the Golden Rain Tree or shrouded in snow during the winter season, it is one of the most remarkable buildings hugging the Mo Chu River. You may be lucky to catch the local ladies paying homage to the monastery, which also houses the local government offices. You must be aware of their privacy, as some will happily pose for a photo while some of the older women see this as an invasion of their being. As you climb the steep inner stairs to the main courtyard, you will be greeted by two large prayer wheels, often manned by a devotee who will spin the wheel for the bell to ring. Adorning the surrounding walls are colourful murals of Guru Rinpoche, the 8th-century Buddhist master who came from India. As you move further in, you will discover large gilded statues of Lord Buddha. The Bhutanese name for the Dzong loosely translates to the Palace of Great Happiness.

Dochula and the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan Travel SpecialistDochula and the Eastern Himalayas 

Getting to Punakha is via the famous Dochula Pass, and at 3118 metres, it affords some of the most scenic views across to the Eastern Himalayas. As the Pass is high, it is sometimes shrouded in low lying cloud but do not despair, you have a second shot at capturing the magnificence on the return journey in a few days time. Bhutan is known for incredible architecture, the countryside holds as much charm and intrigue. Our coffee stop is at the Dochula Pass point. Here you will walk the 108 chortens (shrine – stupa) built in memory of the soldiers that died in 2003 at the hands of insurgents from India. They now have an eternal view over the magnificent mountain range and lush valley below. 

Depending on the time of year you visit Bhutan, the mountains and valleys could be covered in deep snow. The Snow Leopard is found in the state of Lhuntse with two of my favourites, the Red Panda and the Clouded Leopard in the Far East in Trashigang. On one of the shorter treks, however, you will possibly spot the blue sheep and the national animal, the Takin. Bhutan ranks in the top 10 percent of countries for their butterfly population. With about 900 species, they have more than the whole of North America. It is attributed to the terrain - butterflies are indicators of environmental health. Some like the Bicolour Commodore decorated in burnt oranges and lumber browns fading to creams and lemon wing tips, or the Paris Peacock black-winged sprayed with minute white pin dots cascading to red flower petal shapes with more arched white sprays on the wing tip, are simply breathtaking. 

The Bhutanese people treasure their natural environment and look upon it as the source of all life. In doing so the country is the only carbon sink- absorbing more CO2 than it gives out. More than 70 percent of the country is covered by rich forests housing some of the most remarkable wildlife imaginable. Bordering India means that many species share both homes including the Bengal Tiger.

You are now about to embark on a spot of nature-loving photography in the valley town of Phobjikha. Here you will find Karma the injured black-necked crane who waits patiently each year for the flocks to return from the Tibetan Plateau in November to nest and rear their young. A festival is held as the first birds descend at the Gangtey Goempa. This modest-sized monastery perched on the edge of a mountain has one of the most picturesque views through the valley of mists. Start early and finish late to capture everything from frosts on the fence posts, the cows languidly stopping to check you out or the children heading off to school. The first thing you will notice is no one is in a hurry. If you visit during potato seeding season in September, the farms are engulfed in shades of pink as the mists sink low in the valley as if trying to wrap the ground in their soft tendrils.

Bhutan Holidays Travel Expert, Deanne ScanlanAs you take in the unfolding morning with coffee in hand, you soon become aware of the fresh and clean air that is nurturing you into a sense of well-being. As odd as this sounds, many people ask me what it feels like to be in Bhutan. My standard reply is it is a feeling that only you can experience. So it is not surprising that those that do, remark to me how they now know what I meant. 

Parting is such sweet sorrow but we will make our way back to Dochula Pass for more photo opportunities of the amazing view. You just need to remember to give the cows the right of way. 

The capital Thimphu is the best place to see the National animal of Bhutan, the Takin in captivity - if you can call it that. They resemble a cross between a goat and an antelope with a snub nose and stocky brown mid-length furred body. 

But don’t take my word for it, join us in the Land of Happiness with Enticing Bhutan Tours and Treks on either a photography tour or a general tour which will still give you plenty of time for photos. Bhutan does not allow you to travel there without a permit and a local guide. We arrange everything from your Visa to your flight into Paro and it is all-inclusive of all meals transport and accommodation.  Our company Enticing Bhutan is very much about the immersion, the blend of culture, art and finding your happiness in a destination renowned for satisfaction on all scores. 

Get in touch today, or view my Bhutan - Druk Yul album for more on Bhutan.

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