I can’t describe my Bhutan duo trip in a single word but it was a mixture of fun, thrill, adventure, sometimes scary and sometimes amazing experience. The culture, the environment, the people and their generousness taught me a real lesson in life. One thing that impressed me most is that everyone ‘s respect towards the principles of their country. I have visited many places and had so many experiences in Bhutan that I can’t express them in a single blog post. So want to write in installments about my time there.
This is specifically about hiking to the extraordinary place Takstang Lakhang better known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Paro. Hiking was our decided last part of the journey.
Tiger’s Nest Monastery is believed to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan, making it the most sacred monastery in the country. Precariously perched high up on a sheer cliff a dizzying 10,000 feet/3,048 meter above sea level, it certainly also has the most stunning and fascinating location.
I’ll start by confessing Hiking isn’t my cup of tea. My first real hike was to the top of Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan and it helped me overcome many of my fears. On average, it takes between four and five hours to do the round trip hike, plus one more hour to tour the monastery.
We were suggested to start hiking early but were tired from all the exhausting travel so got up little late but fresh. We had coffee, biscuits, roasted dry fruits and slice fruits. We carried some energy boosters like biscuits, roasted dry fruits, eggs, energy bars and energy drinks. Light and easy snacks are the key to success in our case. The cab dropped us to the base camp. At 11 AM we started our journey. Once we cleared the trees that surrounded the parking lot, we got our first glimpse of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
First glimpse of Tiger's Nest
There it is, you can zoom and see. Perched on the cliff, high off the valley floor and we smiled and thought in just a matter of hours, we will be up there. We were determined that we have to reach to the Tiger’s nest at any cost so we decided to go easy.
From the valley, the trail slowly and gently climb into a pine forest where we passed by several structures containing water-powered prayer wheels surrounded by prayer flags. We would like to believe that they were placed on that spot to bestow blessings of stamina to hikers passing by – because from there the trail went into a steep, arduous, steady climb up to the ridge.
This trail was just a beginning
trail went into a steep
The first hour, was absolutely fine but soon the huffing and puffing began. Thankfully the beautiful views were enough to keep us motivated. The monastery teased us with glimpses as we hiked the twists and turns of the trail. Some people preferred a horse ride up to the cafeteria which is referred as the half way, the rest stopped at the half way point and back. We were staying on the side of the mountain when we saw the horses on the path. They tend to veer on the edge. It looked scary for us. Just one misstep can cause them to fall over. It’s better to work on being fit before the trip and walk the trail. To catch our breaths, we stopped to look up at the monastery every time it came into view. Sometimes it appeared closer and then it would appear farther away again..
We met a person from US who said that he had heard that Indians are lazy and unfit. He suggested us to go midway, take beautiful pics and return back. But he actually didn’t know what he was talking about. because if someone says that they are determined to do anything, weather they are a liar or an Indian. We replied: he might have also heard that if an Indian is determined to do anything, you wont see them until the task is finished. and we were headed ahead again.
huffing and puffing began
Hiking stick helps in gripping the rocks which is necessary for trekking.
The US guy
Indonesian friends (People who inspired us)
After an hour of seemingly eternal climb, we reached the ridge marked by a chorten, prayer flags, series of prayer wheels and a breathtaking view of the monastery. The cafeteria was a short walk from here. When the sign read cafeteria, I knew I was halfway. we moved towards the cafeteria but avoided buffet lunch there because it would be too heavy for us to maintain our pace so we had light snacks that we carried. We continued on to the second half of our hike.
Chorten, prayer flags, series of prayer wheels
Happiness of half completion
View of the Paro Valley along the way was breathtaking. Finally we reached the viewpoint, it is the BEST place to take photos of Taktsang. We were hit by an instant jolt of happiness to see it right there.
Tiger's Nest glimpse from the view point
Happiness to see it right there.
700 steps to the Monastery
That happiness was short-lived because there were still 700 steps which still separated us. The monastery looked farther up again as we followed the descending step trail. Stair trail plunged into a bridge across a lovely waterfall that was cascading into a sacred pool. From here, the stair started to climb up to the monastery. After 100 steep steps we were finally at the monastery entrance. Here we required to leave our backpacks, cameras, and phones. There were lockers to leave things.
Here we required to leave our backpacks, cameras, and phones.
We stayed at the monastery for nearly an hour where a monk showed us around and explained the stories connected with the temple. We learned that there were several temples within the monastery. We visited three where statues of Guru Rinpoche in his various manifestations were on display behind glass walls. There were also statues of other Buddhist deities as well as beautiful religious paintings. Other than the cave where Guru Rinpoche meditated, the monastery also houses several medication caves of other holy people in Buddhist history, including Guru’s consort. The meditation cave of Guru Rinpoche is sealed off behind a gilded shutter in a small temple. It is only opened once a year. The atmosphere throughout the monastery was mystical. We were enveloped with a deep sense of calmness and peace. We received a blessing from a monk at one of the temples. We were filled with the sense that our journey in Bhutan was complete
After exploring the monastery it’s time to start heading back. We descended with a feeling of lightness. And yes, the hike downward was much easier. When we finally reached back we were overflew with the feeling of eternal happiness.
Best time of year to visit the Tiger’s Nest. October to December is the best time to visit Bhutan, when the weather is clear and cool. We were here in mid-October(last week)
Tips to Hike till the Top of Tiger’s Nest
*Don’t attempt the hike on your first day of trip.
*Take your time, it is not a race.
*Bring hiking poles to help out your knees on the descent. (We forgot to carry)
*Wear comfortable trail running shoes.
*Carry lots of water, chocolates, energy bites and energy drinks
*Don’t take a heavy backpack.
*Start early. You need to remember the monastery effectively shuts at 4.30pm so make sure to allow for enough time so you don’t miss visiting inside.
*Wear a hat and sunglasses.
*Maintain your own pace but don’t be too slow
*Stop to catch your breath whenever you are tired
*Try to go in a group. The best part was hiking with my travel pal, we encouraged each other whenever needed.