All You Want To Know About Tiger’s Nest or Taktsang Monastery Trek; Bhutan is encapsulated in this last but not the least stage of this sublime journey of Bhutan. The city of Paro is home to the only International airport in the country and home to The Tiger’s Nest or Taksang Monastery Trek. Compared to the overwhelming memory of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery or Taktsang Monastery, the rest pale in comparison.
We checked in to the Takshin Norgay Hotel bang opposite the Paro International Airport. Everything about the hotel was a 10/10; the astounding view of the Himalayas, the river flowing by, the food, the hospitality!
We went shopping in Paro which has a huge market of handicrafts and there were brisk bargaining and good deals. One thing I couldn’t help noticing was that the women were working everywhere be it the hotels or at the stores and they had their babies along with them. An old lady almost grabbed me when I got off the van and asked to take a picture with me. The restaurants and stores had the pictures of all the kings displayed proudly and one had clocks with the time of different countries. The one with India had stopped working, and I wished it stopped time for us and this surreal Bhutan trip would never end. Between the stores, I found this lost and found key hook board which had lost the car and house keys. Where do we find such sincere and honest people? We have seen cars being stolen and houses being broken into but here the keys were hung for you to find if you lost them. My salute to all the people of this amazing country!
But the best part of the day was when all 19 of us were dressed in the distinctive and traditional Bhutanese dress for ladies; the Kira. And if I must say so myself we all looked resplendent. Don’t we??
We landed in Paro but we drove down straight to Thimpu, Punakha and back to Paro and I wondered why. But I learnt that it is done with the express intention of acclimatizing us with the altitude and thin mountain air before we made the difficult trek up to The Tiger’s nest situated at above 10000 ft and 10kms from the city. I had seen pictures of Tiger’s nest and wondered how people got up to the monastery perched on the edge of a cliff and never thought that I would be making my way up one day.
The Legend of The Tiger’s Nest or Takshang Monastery Trek; Bhutan
Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, appeared here 1,300 years ago from Khenpajong, Tibet on the back of a flying tigress, thus the name. His disciple, Langchen Pelkyi Singye, came to Taktshang to meditate in 853 and named the cave as Pelkyi’s Cave. He is believed to have returned to Nepal where he died. His body amazingly returned to Taktshang Monastery under the grace of deity Dorje Legpa and is now sealed inside the Chorten in a room at the top of the entrance way.
The monastery perched on a crag looks so precarious so as to fall any minute. I have a bad back and had two surgeries but I didn’t want to forego this ultimate experience and I opted to go up to the cafeteria on horseback. I could not miss looking at the monastery from a distance and click a few pictures.
We trooped into the van at 9 in the morning and headed towards the bottom of the monastery. We could see horses tethered to the trees and lots of walking sticks you could hire to make your trek easier. There were few stalls selling incredible Bhutanese crafts at quite reasonable prices and I did pick up a few.
Our guide Lachman saw to it that all of us were equipped with a stick, hats, horse and accompanied us all the way watching over us. My horseman led me to a white horse and I couldn’t hoist myself up! I lead him to one of the high boulders and climbed the horse from there. I was asked to lean forward when the horse was climbing up the slope. The horses walk on the edge of the rough path and if one hoof were to lose its footing a couple of inches we would fall somewhere deep in the ravine below! The horse even had a drink of water on the way and was attracted to the mare which my friend was riding! Imagine my shock when the horseman told me that he would just drop me off at the cafeteria and not take me down. It is risky to come back down on horseback as the horse could crumble on its knees climbing down the steep incline. I was sceptical of making it downhill which is very steep and rocky but luckily I had two walking sticks and I watched each step I took and came down slowly and in one piece!
When I alighted from the horse I was amazed at the row of colourful and small, bright prayer wheels) which were made with recycled plastic bottles. I could see some more in the cafeteria too. The cafeteria is halfway up to the monastery and it is where you can have a cup of tea with some crackers and take a breather before the rest of the trek ahead. Here you can take your first-view pictures of the monastery.
A few miles up take you to the vantage point where you can see the monastery clearly and it is THE place for photo-ops. On the mountains, you can see mini chortens containing ashes of the dead on ledges in the vicinity of tiger’s nest.Ahead are 750 rough, stone steps that you need to climb down to reach the monastery and climb again on the way back. Hold on to the railings for support.
Colourful prayer flags flutter in the breeze all over the steps. In Bhutan, you are allowed to hang prayer flags anywhere you like and Tiger’s Nest monastery would be an ideal place where you would climb once in a lifetime maybe and the flags flapping 10000 ft up in the mountains would surely carry your prayers. There is a waterfall when you get below and a short bridge you cross and then climb a few more steps to reach the entrance of the famed monastery.
At the entrance, you feel you are back in the real world when you are asked to hand over your cell phones cameras or anything else you might be carrying. So it is a no-photo zone basically like all the other monasteries we have been to.
My friends saw the cave where the Guru Padmasambhava meditated for three long years, three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours back in the 8th century. He conquered the Eight Categories of Evil Spirits He introduced Buddhism in Bhutanese and he is held in high esteem at all the monasteries. In the 17th century, Tiger’s Nest was built around this cave. If you are going to enter the monastery then you have to pay INR700 at the base and buy a ticket. Each of the other rooms is elaborate and ornamented with images of Buddhist deities and there are fresh offerings of food and money. The aroma of incense hangs in the air and it is no wonder The Tigers Nest or Tigers Lair Or Takshang Monastery is a world heritage site and is featured prominently in the national geographic book “Sacred Places of a Lifetime,” which is a showcase of the world’s most powerful and spiritual places.
We headed back down all at our own pace as we were on foot and the horses are gone. Some of the girls stopped at the cafeteria for lunch. The trek downhill is dangerous and steep and you have to watch your step or you would slide down and hurt yourself. The sceptics may wonder if the trip was worth it but I would say that the sense of achievement, the chance to view such a precarious architectural wonder and the spiritual ambience makes it really worthwhile.
I would advise you to build up your stamina and take it as a challenge. If you are going to Bhutan, just do the trek!
The complete experience of the Taktsang Monastery Tiger’s Nest is a gratifying and challenging and pleasing too with the beautiful, picturesque view along the way. Totally paisa aur samay vasool (worth the time and money)!Bhutan is a magical country that is incomparable and a feeling that is hard to put in mere words and needs to be experienced and I realize that these blogs on Bhutan are more like a prayer than just a blog and I wish they inspire a few to go through it as well.
We were a serene, sober group who left Bhutan not with a heavy heart but a contented and calm inner self. I think we all have invisible halos especially made for those who have had a Bhutan Darshan.
Suggestions for the Trek
- It is a 5 to7 hour trek roundabout.
- Start early in the morning around 6 or 7am.
- Hire a horse till the cafeteria. You can conserve your energy for the rest of the climb and the steps.
- INR500 to 600 for the horse and INR50 for a cane that you had to return on the way down
- INR700 ticket to enter the monastery; but at the starting of the trek
- Wear a hat and lather some suntan lotion on your face and neck.
- Carry a bottle of water as you can feel thirsty.
- Refresh yourself at the cafeteria with a cup of tea and use the restroom.
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Pics after the cafeteria are contributed by my gutsy friends who made it to the monastery.Thank you!