bhutan tigers nest monastery trek

Tiger’s Nest trek, Bhutan – places to visit before you die

I never really had a bucket list. So, I have no places to visit before I die. But once I visited Tiger’s Nest I surely put it on a list called- The Best things I did when I lived.

 

Don’t forget to live before you die

 


Paro’s Taktsang Lakhang is literally the posterboy for Bhutan tourism. This icon singlehandedly represents the entire country. If you read about Bhutan, chances are, this is the very first visual you saw.

And it deserves every bit of that star status. To bask in the glory of its presence, trek up the picturesque mountain and feel the pure contentment this offers. For me, it truly felt like a blessing.

There is something about climbing mountains that are religious places. Reaching the summit becomes a spiritual experience. I felt it at our Kalsubai trek too. You can read about it here: Kalsubai Trek: The Highest Peak in Maharashtra


Base for Paro Taktsang trek – the parking lot

We reached Paro the night before.  So, next morning we were well rested and ready for an early start for the trek. With our packed breakfast and water, we reached the parking lot for Taktsang Lakhang pretty quick.

This is the only place in Bhutan where I saw locals pursuing us to buy some handicrafts, souvenirs, rent a horse for the climb or suggest we rent trekking poles. When we traveled elsewhere in this country, they patiently waited with a watchful eye for us to approach them. So yes, things get touristy here.

yellow periscope bhutan tigers nest trek base
As soon as we landed at the parking lot, we got a first glimpse of the monastery far out in the mountains. Once we started the trek it stayed in view most of the time, its radiance and spell getting stronger and stronger with every step.

Trek for Paro Taktsang Lhakhang a.k.a. Tiger’s Nest Monastery begins

From the parking lot, Tiger’s Nest is almost a tiny palm-sized structure, dramatically perched on the steep edge of a huge mountain. Our Bhutanese guide, Chimi Dorji, points to it and says, ‘that’s where we are going!’ Although a lot of people approached us, we decided not to ride on horses – they were only allowed halfway up and they did look tired. We did bargain and rent trekking poles, that turned out to be a blessing during our return journey.

yellow periscope tigers nest bhutan base parking lot
The parking lot base at Paro is at about 7,000 feet above sea level. Tiger’s Nest is around 10,000 feet above sea level. So you are scaling 3,000 feet approximately during the climb to the monastery.

 

The initial trail is like a dirt track; dusty with a gradual incline. Though it took me a while to get used to the altitude, within an hour I could feel by body acclimatizing. From then on, we kept moving at a comfortable pace. Seeing others, much older than me, walk past us was another motivation to get going! During all of this Chimi, our guide, was walking as if he was taking a stroll in a garden.


Tiger’s Nest trek phase 1 – from base to cafeteria

After the initial dirt track and acclimatization, the trail took us into a pine forest, where we saw a small stream flowing through a row of majestic structures.

bhutan tigers nest trek hiking chorten mani chukor prayer wheel
When hiking in the mountains of Bhutan, whenever you cross a stream, chances are you will find a type of chorten called ‘mani chukor’. Built over the stream with a prayer wheel inside it, the water is redirected through the structure to turn a wooden turbine that eventually turns the prayer wheel continuously. With each revolution of the wheel there is a little bell that rings.

 

Being in that pine forest with the stream flowing and prayer wheels turning, I suddenly felt, this is going to be different day. Something to cherish forever.

 

As we moved higher, we saw beautiful views of the Paro valley below. The prayer flags were everywhere. Their bright colors visible through trees and their blessings flowing through the forest, always reinforcing that this isn’t just a trek; it’s also a religious and spiritual experience.

bhutan tigers nest trek halfway point prayer flags
We reached a small clearing with prayer flags that marks the halfway point of the trek. This is also where the horses end their journey as they are not allowed beyond this point. From here the journey can only be done by foot as the pathways become narrow.

 

bhutan tigers nest trek cafeteria halfway point tea break
The cafeteria where we took a much-deserved tea break along with our packed breakfast. It has a great view of the monastery. It became the perfect place for us to savor the journey so far over a cup of tea and see what lies ahead.

 


Tigers Nest trek phase 2 – to the spectacular viewpoint

After the ‘monastery-view-tea’ break, we were on our way with renewed energy. From here on, the views become thrilling. The path turns upwards and then downwards as we made our way around the mountain. At some places, it got alarmingly narrow, but the constant sight of the monastery kept us going. We continued through this path until we reached a vantage point that made us stop dead in our tracks. I felt a tingling sensation, the kind that overwhelms and leaves you speechless.

 

bhutan tigers nest monastery trek view
The view point overlooks the entire Tiger’s Nest monastery structure. It finally presents the visual that we saw on all those posters! It offers the spectacle that drew us all the way to this kingdom of happiness and then up a very spectacular mountain. That is when you know it’s time to stop and click all your pictures.

 


Inside the Paro Taktsang monastery

Continuing further from the viewpoint, we arrived at the final steps to the monastery. We saw a trickling waterfall and a structure playing hide and seek with the rocks.

yellow periscope bhutan tigers nest trek monastery entrance

Once we reach the entrance, we leave our bags and poles behind in a locker provided to us. No cameras or phones are allowed inside so unfortunately we could not click any pictures to show you how divine the place is. The monastery has four temples that are used for prayer and meditation. The main shrine of the monastery, the prayer wheel, is located in the courtyard of the temple. Every morning at 4, it is rotated by monks to mark the beginning of a new day. Tibetan Buddhists believe turning a prayer wheel is similar to reciting prayers.

bhutan paro taktsang tigers nest monastery trek view
Despite the throngs of tourists, Paro Taktsang still functions as a monastery and has chambers where the monks live and receive spiritual training.

We move from one prayer hall to another, sometimes just observing, sometimes praying and even meditating. Chimi tells us the importance and significance of each.

Finally, we climb down into a dark cave which is the original Tiger’s Nest where Guru Padmasambhava is believed to have meditated. We had to descend into it through a steep and narrow rickety ladder but doing it was like mission accomplished. How could we go back without doing this?

 


The Paro Taktsang monastery – history

The foundation for building the Paro Taktsang monastery was laid in 1692. Sadly, an accidental fire burnt down this original structure in 1998. It was nearly impossible for emergency assistance to reach there, because of the inaccessible location. Later, the monastery was reconstructed in order to guard the nation’s iconic Buddhist symbol.

bhutan tigers nest monastery paro taktsang trek view
The Tiger’s Nest seen today is the result of a 135 million ngultrum (about 2 million USD) restoration and rebuilding project that was completed in 2004. Despite being built in the 21st century, the monastery’s architecture and design resemble that of its ancient design.

 


Bhutan’s Tiger’s Nest – architecture

The Tiger’s Nest temple complex is made up of four buildings, a series of eight caves and residential chambers for the monks that are designed to face the mountain side. The buildings are connected by stone stairs carved into the mountain and with wooden bridges. Each building has a balcony from where you can see beautiful views of the Paro valley below.

bhutan tigers nest monastery paro taktsang trek view
Once in full view, you realise what feat of engineering and architecture was achieved in building this structure at the edge of a mountain more than 300 years ago. Its beyond comprehension and fascinating to think each of the monasteries and dzongs in Bhutan were traditionally designed by a higher lama who is spiritually guided by higher spirits to plan its architecture.

In Bhutanese architecture monasteries and temples are similar in structure and design to the dzongs, only on a smaller scale.  Like the dzongs, they have distinctive white washed walls with the dark red band (kemar) around the top, the elaborately carved and colorfully painted rabsel window assembly and the golden Jabzhi roofs. Paro Taktsang also has the trademark stark white exterior walls constructed of stone and rammed mud and red shingled roofs as well as golden roofs.

The interior walls of the temple are decorated with detailed colorful paintings depicting Buddhist teachings, called thankas.  Guru Padmasambhava is depicted sitting on a lotus stalk, emitting divine energy, around which heavenly creatures protect him from demons. The altars are elaborate. In front of them is a table to make your offerings of money or food amongst butter lamps and burning incense. Colorful woven fabrics hang down from the ceiling.

 


Paro Taktsang – religious significance and mythology

Paro Taktsang was first built in 1692 at a cave where Guru Rimpoche meditated in the 7th century A.D. Legend states that Guru Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rimpoche flew to this place from Tibet atop the back of a tigress. He visited several caves and cliff sides in order to meditate and subdue local demons. He meditated for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days and 3 hours in a cave on the mountainside above Paro Valley, sanctifying the place that would later become one of Bhutan’s holiest monasteries—Paro Taktsang. The name Taktsang translates to “The Tiger’s Nest”. The cave has been considered a sacred site ever since and many famous saints have traveled to meditate in it.

Guru Padmasambhava, is also referred to as the second Buddha in Bhutan and is credited with introducing Buddhism in Bhutan. Taktsang is the birthplace of Bhutanese Buddhism.

 

Buddhism is one long prayer.

-Mahatma Gandhi

 


Tiger’s Nest trek – the descent

After spending around 2 hours in the monastery, it was time for us to start our journey back so that we reach the base before it gets dark. It started drizzling and this created a fog and the weather became chilly. We were carrying warm clothes so that helped us until we reached the cafeteria for another hot cup of tea and some food to eat. We were back to the parking lot before sunset with enough of the evening left for a well deserved rest.

yellow periscope bhutan tigers nest trek paro valley view

bhutan tigers nest trek paro taktsang trail descent
The trekking poles were a boon for me when climbing downhill, as they provided extra stability and helped me balance my step. This reduced the pressure on my knees. I also felt extra gratitude towards my trekking shoes because as it drizzled, the path got slippery but I was able to maintain a good grip due to my shoes.

 

tigers nest bhutan hike trekkers fellow traveller
The best part about trekking is sharing a common journey with strangers. We met Marco and his lovely wife Dalva from Brazil, who wished us more energy for our climb

Once a year, go someplace you have never been before

-Dalai Lama


Need any more reasons to visit Bhutan? check our post on 5 reasons to visit Bhutan – The Kingdom of Happiness

 

6 Comments

  1. The write up on your Bhuntan trip feel like a real experience. The description with the picturesque pictures depicts the magnificent and breathtaking natural beauty of the location and architecture of the entire Tiger’s Nest monastery structure. Well written! Keep writing!!

    1. Thank you Sharmishtha for your comments! Feedback like this keeps us going. I am really happy you enjoyed reading this post. Hope you visit Tiger’s Nest soon.

  2. Hi Sapna!

    This was a great read. I felt like I was there 🙂 I am super scared of heights and am not sure if I will ever do this trek but this has gotten me really excited about it. Some day maybe…

    1. Hi Chaitra,
      Sorry for the delayed response. I am so happy to know this has got you excited about going to Tiger’s Nest. I think once you go to a trek where many people are on the same journey, it somehow eases your nerves! I hope you definitely go and experience Paro Taktsang’s spell first-hand!

  3. Reading your blog made me feel like I was going thru the trek. All the details. And truly the chai seems to have its rightful place. Keep travelling. Keeps one moving if nothing else does :-))

    1. Hi Asha,
      Happy to know you read my blog. Thank you for your wishes! I shall keep traveling. So true about the chai- sipping it on that bench facing the mountains and the monastery in full view, is just perfect!

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