Climbing up to the Tiger’s Nest
The primary reason to visit Paro is for the mystically situated monastery called Takhtshang or Tiger’s Nest. A monastery built 400 years ago on a vertical cliff at a height of 3000 mtrs. Climbing Tiger’s Nest is as much of an adventure as its fun.
Paro is a popular tourist destination in Bhutan and just an hour from the capital Thimpu. It is also the place where you’d land if you fly into Bhutan, as Thimpu doesn’t have an airport due to it’s location in a deep valley between hills, which prevents a safe approach for airplanes. Paro is also situated in a valley, but provides enough landing space, the airport here is a long vertical strip of land between a road and a river. And climbing Tiger’s nest is on every tourist’s agenda when they come to Paro.
After completing the Buddha statue in Thimpu previous evening, we were in a hurry to reach Paro and took a taxi right away. Paro is a small unperturbed town, with an easy life. There is a small taxi stand next to a cluster of hotels and thats where we found one for our stay. While we didn’t see many tourists, surprisingly all hotels we inquired were full. Finally we found a room at the appropriately named Hotel Dragon. Since we had reached late evening, and we were wiser, we ordered for dinner right away, otherwise the restaurant would have closed as early as 9 pm. And we also went for a stroll and picked up beer cans. Ruchi shopped for some local wines to gift her friends. We also booked a taxi for the next morning to take us to Taktshang monastery (popularly known as Tiger’s nest).
The taxi is on schedule and we bundle ourselves in it. A brief 20 mins through the plains and after crossing the River Pachhu we get closer to the hills and can see the monastery high up in the air. And just watching it approach as we reach the base point, we know we are in for great adventure. The base point is a nice wooded area which has vendors selling souvenirs. They are willing to bargain, but not haggle which makes the process easy. Ponies are also available on rent for those who don’t want to walk.
Ruchi says this is more of a preparation for the real trek in Sikkim. And we get started, my first real ‘trek’. Climbing high is not easy. Just as we get started, there is a waterfalls on the way and I am keen to photograph it. The climb is fairly steep and the five kilometres seem to go on for ever. However, the lush green forests, gorgeous views and the excitement of reaching up there keeps us going. The trail opens up to enchanting views of the valley, mountains and the monastery at every curve leaving you mesmerised that each one is more gorgeous than the previous. Somewhere along the way there is a cafeteria, a cute peaceful structure to take a break and catch up on rest. After four and a half hours of climbing we are almost there. Colourful flags wrapped around a tall pole announce the monastery and a bevy of girls are busy taking selfies and group photos infront of it, with the monastery in the background.
About Taktshang Monastery (Tiger’s nest)
An information board at the base of the climb reads:
You are about to enter the premises of a time honoured historical monument as fascinating in its origin as its beauty. Precariously perched on a 3000 mtr high cliff, this is a structure that was initially built without any blueprints. It is not just a place of worship and interest, but a source of Bhutan’s cultural wealth and identity.
Taktshang is widely regarded as one of the most holy sites in Bhutan. The cave got its name after Guru Padmasambhava, the Indian saint who came to Bhutan in the 8th century AD, flew into the cave from eastern Bhutan, riding on a tigress. Back then, the area was frequented by malicious evil spirits which tormented the local residents. Legend has it that was at this cave that he assumed the wrathful form Guru Dorji Drolo, in order to subdue evil spirits in the vicinity.
Local lore has it that people who happened to be in the vicinity of Taktshang in those days had seen a real tigress residing in the cave. Hence its came to be regarded as the Tigress’ Lair or Tiger’s nest. The foundations for the monastery were laid in 1692.
After the treacherous climb to this point, when you are almost cursing why the monks had to build a Monastery so high up here, and glad at the same time that you have made it to the point, you realise that there is still one more final stretch to be done. The monastery is on another hill behind the flag point, and one has to climb down a flight of steep steps and then back up to the monastery. Its also extremely windy and fairly cold considering that its high noon by now.
The monastery closes from 1 to 2 pm, and we are lucky to make it ahead of this closing time. Photography is not allowed after the final gate, and one cant carry any items in. Its impossible to describe the feelings on reaching here and seeing what a marvel has been constructed at a seemingly impossible location. Its a miracle that the structure hasn’t slide down the cliff over these years. Rajesh and I do a tour of the monastery which Ruchi takes care of our items. There are various prayer halls, and monks move around with their prayer beads from one place to another. The whole structure is made in stone and feels cold under our bare feet. Intricate paintings and decorations mark the inside of each hall. I spend some time infront of a Buddha statue with my hands folded and eyes closed, praying for strength and stamina to complete the trek, amongst other things.
On the way back, we meet lots of foreigners as well as local Bhutanese people doing their rounds to the Taktshang monastery, there are young kids, families and even elderly folks. On the way up we’d taken several short cuts, however, climbing down on a steep hill is even more difficult than going up. The pressure on the knees is tremendous, so we take the horse trail, which is wider and less steep. We are in a hurry to reach the town as we have one more agenda for the day, the Paro Dzong. At the base point, we spend some time checking out the souvenirs and Ruchi buys some items to carry back home.
The car which dropped us at the base in the morning is already gone and there is no vehicle to take back. Rajesh & Ruchi immediately start walking back, having inquired that a few kilometres away, across the river, is a taxi stand on the highway leading to Paro. After walking almost all day, I am ready to give up and scream at them, but I have no choice. However, the walk back to the highway is extremely scenic, through woods, winding tarmac roads and across the river we saw in the morning. We cross a few villages, one stream, a bridge and various houses and a few home stays. As we reach the main road, a line of taxis await us, and we quickly settle into one for a shared ride back to Paro. The Dzong awaits us.