Tiger’s Nest or “Taktsang” as known in Bhutanese, in Paro is probably the toughest trek I have ever undertaken in my life. I used to think I was physically quite fit. This trek showed me a rather harsh mirror.
Bhutan is symbolised on any postcard or image by this Monastery placed high on a mountain, seemingly hanging precariously on a rock. You actually start wondering for a few moments how did it actually get built there. And then, you hear the stories and mythology surrounding it and you sort of want to believe in all of it as an answer to your questions.
Tiger’s Nest or Taktsang is a monastery located in a mountain range in Paro, about 3000 feet above ground. It was said that this was where Guru Padmasambhavana flew in on a Tigress many eons ago and meditated before commencing the teachings of Buddhism in Bhutan.
We scheduled this trek for the last day of our trip and we realised that it was probably the best decision taken by us because post that day, we were practically in no state to travel or do anything else. We were in pathetic physical shape and then, you see the Bhutanese folks climbing the rocky terrain almost everyday, you simply want to go and hide in some corner.
The trek is about 10KM long and since the mountain is on an incline and with large steps to be taken in some parts, it can be counted as about walking almost 11KM to 12KM one way.
We reached the base of the mountain where we got walking sticks for ourselves. It was about 8 in the morning and according to our guide, we were already late for the trek. It would have been wiser starting off early and avoiding the heat and sun. Believe me, he had a very valid point (We suffered a bit about an hour into the trek)
We started our walk on the dusty terrain, tackling and jumping over tree roots that had sort of made natural step-walks for us to get support on and jump ahead. Nature has its ways to support man too. Pine cones lay scattered across and some found their way in our bags too as souvenirs.
At regular intervals, we came across view points where could watch the Monastery gleaming in the distance. There were benches where we halted and rested our tired muscles.
The walk is quite tough and so, don’t doubt your stamina if you have to stop every ten minutes. It is quite a steep run.
I should also mention here that every few minutes, you will also find a furry dog ready to lick you and offer a bit of respite and happiness during your journey. That, people, is one of the best parts of the trip. I have lost count of the ones we came across.
It isn’t a journey for the light hearted. For folks who want to see the monastery, but have walking reservations or issues, there are ponies that can be hired till almost halfway through the distance where you are deposited in a cafe. You can sit here and take in the views of the monastery. The cafe is the only one around and so, I would recommend resting here for a bit because, further ahead, there are no other resting stops till you reach the monastery.
On my break in the cafe, I met an interesting couple where the husband was an artist and intended sitting at the cafe and painting the monastery from the distance. They were on an Asia tour traveling across Bhutan, India and China. That’s the thing with travel. You meet new folks and learn about their lives and get inspired too.
A few minutes later, we were back on track climbing the mountains. Forty-five minutes later, we walked to a fleet of stone steps made that descended into the valley only to head back up again towards the Monastery. There were about 750 of them and this was the last leg of the trek.
Descending the steps, we saw the fir forests cover the entire valley and prayer flags, probably tied by masses of pilgrims waved in the air. Small stupas were found in the crevices of the rocks, possibly left by believers there as a homage to the souls of loved ones.
We came across a small cave nearing the monastery and were told that this was where the tigress first flew in with the Guru Padmasambhavna. A few minutes further, we reached the Monastery. As everywhere, cameras, phones etc. were forbidden in the places of worship and hence, there aren’t any pictures to show.
There were around three temples there. The first one was where it is believed that the Guru’s body has been kept. The inner doors to this cave are opened once a year on a special day where visitors are allowed inside. The second cave is similar. Walking a flight of stairs up, you land up in the final place of worship where a beautiful story exists.
This cave is quite bright and has statues of the gods there with butter lamps and intricate butter carved statues. Statue of Guru Padmasambhavana and Buddha sit aside.
The story goes that when the temple was being constructed, it was extremely difficult for the people to carry the statues of the gods all the way up. Halfway through, the villagers had given up hope. This is when the Guru appeared and flew the statue all the way up to the temple to relieve the people of the burden. I just got brief words on this story there from our guide but it would be wonderful to get a detailed insight into this. I sat there for a while and prayed and although I didn’t admit it at that time, it was an overwhelming feeling being there. The energy was extremely high and powerful.
We walk next into the room where butter lamps can be lit by visitors. You can donate some money and light a butter lamp for the gods as a mark of prayer.
Make your way then to the big bell located at the end of the temple and ring it for good luck. You can get a panoramic view of the valley lined with Fir and pine trees from here. On that day, a forest fire had taken place and since the trees were burning, the air was filled the aroma of wood and fir pine oil that would have been released from the trees when burning.
We started our way back and after about 3 hours, finally made it to the base area. Now was the time to explore the wares sold by the locals there. Small idols of gods, trinkets and similar were sold there. I bought a lovely statue of Goddess Tara too. I wasn’t intending to buy anything but I just briefly happened to glance at this idol and something stirred inside, which, was reason enough for me to but it and keep it with me.
Lunch had never happened on the trek and we had spent almost 8 hours there. So, a few minutes ride from the base area, we stopped at a small cafe and treated ourselves to some piping hot Maggi noodles, cooked mountain style. There is definitely a connection between mountains, treks and Maggi.