In the past, whenever I have typed ‘Bhutan’ during my travel researchers, one picture always dominated the search and the picture was a traveller pointing at a monastery nested on a steep cliff. The monastery is called Taktsang Monastery, and it is also famous as Tiger’s Nest for pretty obvious reasons. Tiger’s Nest is not only one of the most beautiful monasteries, but it’s also one of the most sacred places in Bhutan.
It’s believed that the Guru Rinpoche, the 8th century Buddha master from India, landed here on his tigress and meditated for 4 months before leaving for Nepal. It is believed that he brought Buddhism to Bhutan and was responsible for spreading Buddhism in not only Bhutan but also Nepal and nearby regions. The original cave where he meditated is still there in the monastery, and the gates are only open once in a year on his birth Anniversary. In the 16th century, the people of Bhutan were enlightened to make a temple here and the original temple was built. However, the original temple was destroyed by fire in the late 19th century and the current temple was built in 1958. The picture of the first temple can be found in the monastery.
Destiny strikes when you least expect it; something similar happened to me. I landed in Bhutan on Saturday and was planning to go to Bumthang right away to attend a local festival. But because it was a weekend, I couldn’t get the permit for Bumthang and that made me change my plans for the first few days. Taking advantage of the situation, I decided to use this opportunity to complete the famous tiger’s nest trek because it didn’t require any separate permit. To my extreme luck, the day I decided to do the trek, 3rd July, it was the birth anniversary of Guru Rinpoche. Not only was I warned that the trek will have a lot of locals, but also told that it’s the day the door of the ancient cave will be open. It just made the day perfect to do the trek.
Taktsang Lhakhang is located approximately 10 km north of the Paro town at an altitude of 3,120 meters. As I reached to the base of the trek, I had to buy the ticket that cost 500 Nu; tickets are only available until 1 p.m. because the trek usually takes 2–4 hours depending on your fitness and temple closes at 5 p.m.
As expected, a lot of locals dressed traditionally were also starting the trek. It is recommended to start the trek early in the morning to avoid the daytime heat, but I was already late by a few hours and started about 10 a.m. It wasn’t a touristy trek at all; every inch I moved was ascending without any plain ground in between, it made the trek so hard that I had to stop almost every 30 meters to catch my breath. Due to the monsoon season, the path was full of mud pools, wet and slippery rocks and narrow steep cliffs. I was told that it takes about 2 hours to reach to the top if you are fit enough. But within first 30 minutes, I started doubting whether I will be able to do it in less than 3 to 4 hours. I decided to divert my mind from the trek by talking to the fellow trekkers; some of them were locals and others were travellers.
The path was full of colourful prayer flags and small pyramids made by people for good luck and blessings. There were stop points where I was able to get a clear view of the magnificent tiger’s nest and also catch my breath. The path was filled with streams of clear water. These little things made a lot of difference, as the trek was getting really steep after some time. Every time I turned around, the paranoiac view of the valley and filled with dense forest and mist just made me feel rejuvenated. The beauty of the surrounding, the sound of the prayers and the silence of the moment was just too overwhelming.
After two and half hours, I was finally at a point where I took one last left turn and found myself in front of that majestic building hanging on the cliff that is virtually impossible to climb. It took me a moment to realise what I was looking at! It was just too good to believe that I was really looking at the tiger’s nest. All these years, I had been looking at pictures of this place and I was finally standing at that point.
Cameras were not allowed in the monastery, so I had to leave my bag outside before going in. There are eight temples in the monastery considered to be the eight reincarnated forms of Guru Rinpoche. Guides were optional, but if you take one (recommended), tip them something in the end.
This trek was something more of an introspection. The positivity in the environment could be felt at any time. Looking at 6 or 7-year-olds and 60-year-olds hiking the same trek, I felt there has to be some hidden energy that drives them to this extent. Maybe that’s what I was looking for when I decided to visit Bhutan out of any other country I could have chosen.