Bhutan: Exploring a Himalayan Buddhist Kingdom — WAIT LISTED

Led by Karil Kucera, Professor of Art History and Asian Studies
June 2-15, 2017


Remote and long isolated from the outside world, Bhutan, an independent kingdom in the Himalayas, has captured the attention of avid travelers. Sharing a Buddhist heritage with its northern neighbor, Tibet, it has been called “the Last Shangri-La.”

On this Study Travel program in Bhutan, we will seek out the nuances of a place that’s been open to visitors for only about forty years. Is it successfully protecting its culture and religion from globalization? Does its often touted measurement of “Gross National Happiness” reflect a land that is truly happy? And we will reflect on Bhutan’s Buddhist culture, its long history, its role in the 21st century world, and the extraordinary Himalayan beauty.

Program Leader

Karil Kucera is Associate Professor of Art History and Asian Studies, and is currently the chair of Asian Studies. Her research centers on sacred sites, with her most recently completed work on the cliff sculptures found at the Buddhist cave site of Baodingshan in Sichuan province. This interest has produced a course entitled “Buddhism through Text and Image”, which focuses on the interplay of scripture on artistic representation. Karil has also developed special interests in 20th century Chinese visual culture, with students addressing the context of all matters of Chinese material culture, including film.

Karil has also spent a considerable amount of time pursuing issues related to the art of teaching. She has been actively involved in working with digital imaging issues, and has lectured on appropriate as well as effective usage of imagery in the classroom. She is a co-creator of a multimedia /multi-cultural Asian Studies multi-institutional database, the IDEAS project. IDEAS, an Image Database to Enhance Asian Studies, is available at or In addition to her database work, Karil has also been actively working with students to put on exhibitions using materials from the St Olaf Flaten Art Museum collection. For virtual forms of these exhibitions visit her personal website at

Karil completed her Ph.D. in Chinese art history at the University of Kansas, her Masters degree at the University of Oregon, and her BA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prior to coming to St Olaf College, Karil held a post-doctorate position at the University of Washington in Seattle, and had previously taught as a visiting professor at Dartmouth and Lewis and Clark College in Portland. She has lived and traveled extensively throughout Asia, and is currently serving as chair of St Olaf’s Asian Studies Department.

What to Expect

Hotels will be tourist class (typically three or four star) with private baths and air conditioning. We generally seek out smaller hotels with local charm, rather than chain brands that may have extra amenities like a spa and bar. Hotel rooms are likely to be smaller than those you’re used to in the U.S.

Average temperatures for our cities in June are:

  • Thimphu, high 75º F, low 60 (elevation 7,600 feet)
  • Punakha, high 88, low 67 (elevation 4,300 feet)
  • Paro, high 77, low 57 (elevation 7,500 feet)

It will be rainy in June, so come prepared with a breathable rain jacket and collapsible umbrella.

To fully participate in this program, you should be in good physical condition. This program involves motor coach and walking tours with more than a moderate amount of walking on possibly unpaved streets, stairs, and uneven ground. The daily tours can include moderate to strenuous walking, primarily over natural and uneven surfaces. There are numerous steps and inclines to negotiate and many sites do not have elevators. You should be capable of dealing with high altitudes, of keeping pace with an active group of travelers on long days of sightseeing, of dealing with the emotional highs and lows that can occur when experiencing different cultures, and of traveling with a group for several hours each day.

Please plan on seeing your family physician or a travel doctor at least four to six weeks prior to departure, preferably earlier, to talk about routine vaccinations. For more information on travel health, visit or

Program Fee

The program fee is $6,050 per person. Based on double occupancy, it includes discussions led by Karil Kucera, English-speaking guides, accommodations, ground transportation, airfare Bangkok-Paro-Bangkok, all meals, admissions and fees for activities listed on the itinerary, daily bottle of water on the motor coach and at lunch, and some limited medical coverage while overseas. For single occupancy, add $1,412.

Airfare to and from Bangkok is not included. Participants are solely responsible for all expenses not specifically included in the program fee. Examples of excluded expenses are: International airfare • Airport transfers in Bangkok • Visa fee of approximately $40 • Any passport fees • Any recommended immunizations or vaccinations • Trip cancellation insurance above $2,000 lifetime coverage • Beverages at group meals other than those listed above • Laundry • Dry cleaning • Phone charges • Room service or other items of a personal nature • Expenses incurred during free time or non-group activities.

Making Your Travel Plans

You should plan to arrive in Bangkok anytime on Sunday, June 4, 2017. Plan to depart from Bangkok in the afternoon or evening of Thursday, June 15, 2017. More information about recommended flights will be given to registrants closer to departure.