Bhutan, the “Land of the Thunder Dragon” is unquestionably a Himalayan paradise, where religion and mysticism is the way of life. Nestled amidst this mystifying environment is the Tiger’s Nest monastery in the town of Paro, the bejeweled crown of Bhutan. This monastery is certainly the most acclaimed landmark of this Himalayan kingdom, and the most memorable experience during my visit to this nation
The Tiger’s Nest is a sacred Buddhist site located near Paro, Bhutan. It was constructed in 1692, around the cave where Rinpoche (Guru Padmasambhava) first meditated, the event that introduced Buddhism into Bhutan. There is a legend that Guru Rinpoche was carried from Tibet to this location on the back of a tigress, thus giving it the name “Tiger’s Nest”. Now, this monastery consists of four temples with residential accommodations for the monks. Despite the significant daily footfall, Paro Takstang still functions as a monastery today.
Getting to the Monastery
Due to its location, the only way to get to the monastery is by hiking. I’m kind of feeling glad to say that there are no vehicles that make the drive up to the monastery… !! As it gives you the pure, unadulterated experience of a hike. However, for those who cannot hike the entire way, you can hire a horse to carry you half of the way there.
Details about the Hike
- Distance: 4 miles round trip
- Elevation Gain: 1,700 feet
- Highest Elevation: 10,232 feet
- Time: Allow 5 to 7 hours for the entire visit. So, i would say ideal to start early in the morning.
The hike starts at the bottom of the mountain, right at the car park. There will be people selling souvenirs and hiking poles and this is the place to hire a horse if necessary. Keep in mind that the horse will only take you one-way, and it only takes you a bit less than half of the way up. After that the path gets too narrow, and there are also lots of stairs involved (around 750, if you’re into precise numbers !!). The hike is uphill the entire way but not overly steep. It’s very doable for most people, just be prepared to take your time. So, barring any health / fitness hold-up, you can ditch the horse ride easily.
Along the hike up to the monastery, you will see plenty of prayer flags which will be refreshing. So, make sure to take the occasional break and enjoy the views over the valley as you get higher. The scenery just keeps getting better and better along the way.
After a while, the huffing and puffing might begin… !! Thankfully the beautiful views would be more than enough to keep you motivated. The monastery will tease you with glimpses as the hike goes on with the twists and turns of the trail.
There is a cafe located enroute the monastery. A perfect place to take a break and recharge here with some refreshments before plunging henceforth. While enjoying those refreshments, you can view the beholding contour of the Tiger’s nest parched on the cliff. Human imagination stays bewildered with the thought how this monastery could have been built at such an altitude of 10,200 feet above sea level.
After another round of hike and finally, we came to the much renowned view point. The internet may have thousands of pictures but when you see it in real life, it is a different feeling altogether. The monastery is so precariously perched that it is said: “it clings to the side of the mountain like a gecko”.
I got an instant jolt of calm yet happiness to see it right there… On the edge of the cliff, it really does look like a nest !!
Alas, we were still left with a ‘mini-trail’ of 750 steps to the destination… which is fairly manageable given your enthusiasm post the view point. Although speaking from personal experience, the return leg of these steps would take some toll to complete !!
After finally arriving at the monastery doorstep, all the tourists are required to leave everything inside a locker. No camera, phone, or any other gadget is allowed. The monastery has several rooms with various kinds of prayers, chanting and mediation sessions going on at most of the times. Guru Rinpoche’s cave where he meditated is also opened for public viewing in the monastery only for one month a year.
Do try a little game near the exit where the challenge is to make a wish and stand at some distance from a stone and walk up to it to touch a carved eye on that stone, although with your eyes closed…
I came pretty close, while my friend actually hit the ‘bull’s eye’ after a considerable number of failed attempts !! Only to realize that he didn’t make any wish during that attempt… sigh !!
The entire trek is a classic case of the saying that sometimes it’s the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination. A sacred place nestled in the calm of the Himalayas, perfectly portraying the serene Buddhist teachings. So, concluding this one with a bunch of people whole-heartedly believes in the above statement… 🙂 🙂