I have had a long standing love affair with Bhutan long before I even visited this beautiful Buddhist Kingdom. It was love at first sight and the sight I fell in love with was of the ‘Tiger’s Nest Monastery’. Paro Taktsang, popularly known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery is an iconic monument and the ultimate tourist destination in Bhutan. In fact, this monastery that’s built 10,300 feet above sea level is the poster picture for Bhutanese tourism and is unsurprisingly one of the most visited sights in the country. A trip to Bhutan is incomplete without a visit so here I come… Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
Adventure is something I live for and the adrenaline fix I got from river rafting in Bhutan the previous day left me pleasantly tired, happy and eager for my next adventure, a trek to Tiger’s Nest. We drove from Phunakha to Paro and as enticing as the scenery was, it couldn’t keep me awake and I slept for most of the way. We reached Paro at 5 in the evening, and by the time we entered Paro city I was wide awake and soaking up the vibrant Paro atmosphere.
I’d booked a room in Yanki Resort Paro, a hotel located on the outskirts of the city. I was pretty excited about my next hotel as they promised a resort experience. But to my utter dismay, it turned out to be a simple hotel just named as a resort. They did at least provide good vegetarian food. Pema, my guide, informed me that we should leave the hotel by seven in the morning, an early start for the long hike ahead.
I woke up bright and ready for the 10-mile hike ahead of me. I had a light breakfast and was ready to leave by 7. The cold air hit me as soon as I stepped foot outside, Himalayan winds are biting cold even when the sun is shining. By the time we reached the foothills of the monastery I was hopping with excitement. It’s approximately a 12 mile hike to and from, and according to Pema it can easily done in 5 hours. I was carrying a light backpack with essential things like a water bottle, chocolates and nuts for snacks, gloves and my cap.
There is a beautiful market selling jewelry and other souvenirs at the base of the hike and I decided to buy a few things once I get back down. I did buy a walking stick partly because I thought it would be fun and partly because Pema said it would help if it rains and the trek becomes slippery. Horses are available for one fourth of the trek but I decided not to opt for them as I wanted to enjoy every meter of the climb.
While 12 miles sounds easy and doable, the first look at the monastery from the hike base, which appears to be the size of a match box, gave me a reality check. I stared the climb at 8.45 am and while I was perplexed about the climb and its difficulty, Pema was extremely relaxed. He said he doesn’t even remember how many times he has climbed the trek with different tourists’ groups.
The first part of the trek is fairly simple and the trail is easy with picturesque backdrops throughout. All the fluttering colourful flags, tiny white stupas and the lush green forest shade gives the route a nice tranquil vibe. Bhutanese people are very religious and firm believers of positivity and good vibes. They place tiny white stupas all over the place to purify the atmosphere and improve the well-being of all living creatures. While we may feel that all of this is just a belief and lacks logic, the trek to Tiger’s Nest monastery had a notable calming effect. It may be because of the clear blue skies, crisp sunshine and cool clean air or a result of the caring people of the kingdom.
While soaking in the atmosphere, taking pictures and chatting with fellow trekkers the half way mark came by really fast. There is a café here which serves snacks, soft drinks and coffee with an amazing view of the now slightly bigger Tiger’s Nest Monastery. If you are using a horse, you will have to dismount here to begin your journey on foot. I was slightly breathless by the time I reached the café and decided to go for a cold drink to quench my thirst and to enjoy the atmosphere.
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I must say I had the most scenic bottle of coke in my life on my way to the Monastery. While they call the café the half way mark, it is actually the one third mark, but as the trail ahead is pretty narrow and steep it doesn’t have enough space to house any more cafes from this point on.
The trail ahead was beautiful and challenging at the same time. I am not much into photography but the beauty of my surroundings forced me several times to stop and immortalize those moments of time. While I was clicking pictures I met this amazing Israeli lady. She was almost my grandparents age and was so fit that I came to envy her. We started talking and she was really interested about India as she was flying to India from Bhutan. We got along well, she was a travel enthusiast and had travelled to more than 70 countries so far. While she wasn’t a solo traveller, I wish to be as well maintained and active at her age so that I can achieve my travel goals. We parted ways and I continued my upward climb. By this time, I had reached the place exactly opposite the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, that’s perfect for taking photos.
As I continued onwards and upwards I got a surprise. The trail is such that you start from one hill and then walk to the opposite hill, where the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is built. I had assumed that we could simply walk to cross the hill. Apparently this is not the case, to reach the Tiger’s Nest Monastery we have to climb down 400 steps, cross a small bridge and then climb 400 odd steps up again to reach the monastery. Well played Pema. I can’t say I liked my surprise but what needs to be done needs to be done. The climb down is really steep in some places and you have to be extremely careful as all the steps are of different height. Once you get down, you get to see a water fall between the two hills and the view is breath-taking.
I started the upward climb after absorbing the view and I must say that the upward climb is a lot more difficult. After some huffing and puffing, rest break and some chocolate later, I have reached the TIGER’S NEST MONASTERY. Finally, I am ticking one of my most coveted destinations from my bucket list, my arrival here overwhelmed me.
In a fraction of a minute the weather changed. While it was lightly clouded, suddenly it started to thunder and within minutes it was raining. I was at the top of the monastery, the temperature had dropped drastically and the next I know, we were witnessing a hail storm. It lasted only for about 20 minutes, but it was an amazing experience. I was able to take shelter inside the monastery complex, but the chill after the storm was on another level cold.
To enter the monastery you must remove your footwear and walk bare foot or in your socks. The chill from the rocks below made my feet go completely numb. To add to my cold misery, as soon as I stepped out of one temple complex to enter another my socks were wet thanks to the rain. It felt like I was walking on ice and not smooth grey boulders.Tiger’s Nest Monastery is a cluster of multiple temples dedicated to various gods and goddesses. The Monastery complex has a cave; this cave is where tigress meditated and the Monastery is named after this cave. The legend goes that Guru Padmasambhava flew on the back of Tigress from Tibet and meditated here for three years, three months, three weeks and three days to become a Buddhist Monk. Guru Padmasambhava is the one who introduced Bhutan to Buddhism. The Tigress also meditated with him and the cave in which the Tigress meditated is part of the temple complex.
Tiger’s lair is a very cramped structure; with such a small entrance you have to almost crawl to enter. Inside it feels like you are between two mountains, with the space not wider than 3 feet. Once you enter this cave you have to climb down a wooden step ladder for about 7 feet. Once you touch the floor you can walk down 5 to 6 feet in a very narrow passage to see a burning lamp as a form of worship. On the opposite side of the lamp and a bit beyond the ladder is a small opening and if you look out of the opening you will see a 3000 feet fall in a very dense forest cover. While this may be an easy way to reach the base, it for sure would not be advisable.
While the view of the valley and the surrounding mountain ranges is beautiful from the opening, going inside the cave gave me a feeling of the mountains closing over me. If you are claustrophobic you should not go here. With Pema’s help I got out of the cave and inhaled the fresh air in huge gulps.
I had seen every nook, cranny and cave of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, and by the time I am done with exploring the monastery, clicking pictures from the Monastery patio (clicking pictures inside the complex is prohibited), I was impatient to get to my shoes. My feet were beyond numb, but the bright side is my socks are dry again. By the time I was ready to leave I realized two things, I had spent more than expected time at the Monastery and I was hungry.
Pema warned me that the trek to the base would take more time as it would have been become slippery because of the rains. Good job I bought my trekking stick. I decided to munch on my sandwich as I climbed the stairs down. While the climb down was easy, climbing the wet, slippery stairs up towards the trail almost killed me. It felt like I was climbing on the edge of the world; one slip and I would be lost in oblivion. In hindsight it wasn’t that risky, it was just me being dramatic.
A few hours later and a few pounds lighter I reached the base. Dusk had fallen, the sun had sunk below the surrounding mountains and the foothills market had already packed up for the day. My shopping dreams were crushed, but I was really happy that I had conquered the Tiger’s Nest Trek.
Without much ado I asked Pema to take me back to my hotel. I was happily tired and wanted a good foot soak to relax and warm my feet. While I knew the trek would be difficult for a city girl like me, I had underestimated the altitude effect. The think air and cold winds made the trek all the more tiring for me. None-the-less I am so incredibly happy about seeing the Tiger’s Nest Monastery that I am writing my longest blog post so far for it. I hope you enjoyed reading about my epic Tiger’s Nest hike… why not add it to your own bucket list?!
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