Imagine visiting a beautiful monastery set high up on a cliff with vertical slopes, that needs you to trek for at least two hours , climbing steep slopes, walking though narrow paths to reach your destination !!! Yes, that’s Tiger’s Nest Monastery reminding you ‘there’s no gain without any pain’.
The first thing I did after deciding to visit Bhutan was to read a lot a wasbout Bhutan from various blogs and articles. Tiger’s Nest monastery at Paro was labelled a ‘’must visit” place by everyone. The more I read about Tiger’s nest, the more interested I became. It is one of the legendary monasteries of Bhutan and is also known as Takshang Lakhang. The monastery hangs on a precarious cliff (with almost vertical slopes). The pictures I saw made me wonder how someone could build such a beautiful monastery at the top of a cliff.
Not being a physically active person, I doubted my ability to trek till the top and reach the monastery. But as it was a solo trip, I took up the challenge reassuring myself that I had the alternative of turning back any time during the trek if I faced any difficulties.
I reached Paro on 24/05/19 and my plan was to visit Tiger’s Nest on the next day. I stayed at Dorji’s Farm House 4km from the trekking base. I started from my place around 6.30 Am. No share taxi was available to go to Takshang and hence I had to reserve a taxi (Rs 400/- for drop off and another Rs. 400 for pick up). I reached the base around 7 am. The place was deserted except for a few girls selling walking sticks.
The ticket counter that issues tickets for entering monastery functions from 7.30 Am – 1 Pm. I decided to wait until the counter opens. During my wait, I saw many non- Indians arriving by taxis and going for the trek (Non – Indians have to pay $250 per day as a tourist fee to the Govt. and hence they don’t have to take a separate entry ticket). The advantage of starting the trek early is that it is less physically exhausting and also, as very few people start early and you has all the freedom to take as many pictures as you wish. Once the viewpoint becomes crowded, you have to wait a long time for getting a shot taken without others in the background.
If you are not keen on entering the monastery or not sure if you will complete the trek, then you may save the entry fee by not taking the ticket. When you reach the monastery, if you change your mind and want to see the monastery, the security lets you enter monastery by paying Rs. 500 at the entrance (You are doing it at your own risk. If you go by the rule, you need to take the entrance ticket at the base). If you are not taking a ticket you may start the trek much earlier.
At 7.30 Am I was able to get the ticket. The ticket entitles you the service of a local guide while visiting the monastery. I rented two walking sticks ( Rs. 50/- for one). These sticks were very useful especially when you start your descent back. Initially, the trekking path runs through a pine forest. The tall pine trees obscures the view of mountains beyond.
After 200 m walk, you reach an open ground where horses are grazing. You can hire a horse for Rs. 700-900 to take up to the first viewpoint ( near the cafeteria). It is not advisable if you are healthy enough to trek as horses have to take you through steep slopes and the travel on horseback is quite risky.
From the open ground, you get the first view of the monastery. It is seen as a white speck high up on the brown mountains. Seeing the monastery so far away, I did not have hope of reaching it. I kept my fingers crossed and continued the trek.
The path through the pine forest was attractive to look at but hard to traverse. I had to be very cautious not to stumble on the thick tree roots along the path.
After a few minutes of walk, reached few structures on the way. It supposedly contains water driven prayer wheels. I didn’t explore much as I wanted to finish the trek at the earliest.
From this point, the climb became very steep and arduous. It was very hard on my lungs but I was high in spirits.
Narrow path winded around the mountains. On both sides there were thick green forests. Even though I stopped after every few steps to catch my breath, I made sure I never rested for more than two minutes at a place.
I stopped to watch people coming on horse backs. It was terrifying to watch the horses negotiate the steep and narrow mountain paths. I felt pity for the poor animals.
After nearly one and a half hours of huffing & puffing & sighing, I finally reached a ridge. A huge prayer wheel welcomed me under the clear blue sky and white clouds.
There was also a long row of small prayer wheels which were adorned with prayer flags. In the background, the monastery became clearer.
This is the first viewpoint of the trek. The first viewpoint is 3.5 km from the base and 1.5 km from the monastery. I felt happy because my destination appeared closer. The bright prayer flags also helped to lift my spirits.
A short distance from here the road forked into two. The right one takes you to the cafeteria. As I was moving in a very relaxed pace, I resumed my trek and hence chose the path on the left. The path from here was steep initially.
Beautiful prayer flags adorned the path on both sides. In some of the rock crevices along the trail little cone shaped things called ‘tsa-tsas’ were seen which contained ashes of dead. Later on, at many places, I was able to trek on level ground. From then onwards, it was easier on lungs, but my legs had cramps and so had to drag my legs along. Even though I was physically exhausted, the breathtaking view of the Paro valley at many places was highly rewarding.
A few meters before the second viewpoint, there is a small building.
I reached the second viewpoint after 1 hour. It is at this viewpoint that the iconic photo of the monastery is taken. Some monks were seen resting on a wooden bench.
It was bit cloudy and hence missed taking well lit snaps.
It was a big relief to reach the second viewpoint. I couldn’t believe I was standing 1 km above the trekking base.
I spend more than 15 minutes taking photos and enjoying the view. Here I met Luis from Brazil who offered to click a few snaps for me.
From here there were nearly 300 steps to climb down and 100 to climb up to reach the monastery. It was very steep and the steps were broken at many places. So I had to tread carefully so as not to slip and fall. Only consolation was the rails on the sides that would prevent from falling down the cliff.
Along the path, there were many beautiful photo-points. At the end of steps that go down, one reaches a bridge overlooking a small cascade of water. From here you start climbing upward.
Finally, to my great relief I reached the monastery. It took me half an hour from the second point to reach my destination. I reached at 10.20 Am.
The total time I took for the trek was little less than three hours in spite of taking ample rest throughout the journey. During the journey, I munched on protein bars to give me much needed energy to cover the 5 km stretch from the base. I had also carried a water bottle. Along the path, drinking water taps are available at convenient locations to refill bottles.
At the monastery, a safety vault is available free of cost. You have to deposit all your belongings (excluding valet) here. If you are an Indian you have to leave your passport with the security. Camera and photography are banned inside the monastery. The ornate interior decorations, idols, beautiful paintings, etc will leave lasting impressions in your mind.
The monastery complex consists of four temples. At each temple, you have to remove your shoes. Socks are permitted. A local guide accompanies you to each of the temples and explains the rituals and gives an elaborate description of the deity being worshipped. A quick tour of the monastery requires a minimum of half an hour. The monastery is open from 8 Am – 5 Pm. There is a 1 – hour lunch break from 1 Pm – 2 Pm during which the monastery will be closed.
It was during the tour inside the monastery I was able to understand why the Monastery was named Tiger’s nest. In the present Takshang, there was once an evil spirit. In the 8th century, Guru Rinpoche or Padmasambhava flew to this location on the back of a tigress (Yeshe Tshogyal, his spiritual partner had transformed herself into tigress). Hence the place came to be called Tiger’s nest. Guru assumed the terrifying form of Guru Dorje Drolo and cleansed the place of evil spirits to preserve the integrity of Buddhist teachings. Later, he performed meditation in a cave here for three years, three months, three days and three hours.
Tenzin Regbye (believed to be a reincarnation of Guru Rinpoche), built the temple in 1692 around the cave were Guru had meditated. In 1998 a fire destructed a major part of the monastery. It was then restored in 2005.The monastery complex has white buildings with golden roofs. There were four main temples and several dwellings all connected by staircases with the steps that were carved into the rocks.
There are eight caves in the Monastery. The cave where the holy man is believed to have entered first, on the back of the tiger, is known as “Tholu Phuk” cave, and the one where he meditated is known as the “Pel Phuk”. People of Bhutan especially visit the monastery when the cave, where guru meditated is open for public( this happens once a year, coinciding with Bhutanese lunar calendar). People of Bhutan consider this monastery as one of the most sacred places. It is believed that visiting and praying at the monastery can wash away 90% of your sins.
I started my trek back at 11.30 Am. Luckily, I had made friends with two enthusiastic young men from Pune – Sumodh and Shanthanu at the monastery and they gave me company during my trek back. We munched on the snacks that we had brought along and shared our Bhutan experiences.
On the way back I came across hundreds of tourists. The path was crowded and so had to stop at many places to let the crowd pass at places where the path was very narrow. There were people of various ages undertaking the trek. There were kids as small as 5 yr old and adults who were above 60 years of age.
Even though the trek is considered to be of considerable difficulty, the key to reaching the destination is to move in an even, slow pace without much rest. Trek back was very tiresome, especially climbing the 300 steps. Even after that, steep descent at several places made the pace of travel very slow. At two – three places, my foot slipped. I was saved because I was using the walking stick for support.
I reached back at the base camp by 1.30pm. The girl who sold me sticks came running to me and hugged me. She was happy that I completed the trek. Even she had doubts about my reaching the monastery when I started off in the morning all alone.
The base was crowded with vehicles. No reserved taxis were available. Sumodh and Shanthanu offered me a lift in their taxi which they had pre-booked. Thus I managed to reach my stay. Overall the trek was a great experience. There is no doubt that it is one of the best places worth visiting in Bhutan. The view of the monastery and the positive feel that you get after the visit to the monastery compensated for the difficult trek you had to undertake. More than anything, the fact that I was able to complete the trek boosted my confidence to convince myself that I can accomplish things if I strive hard.