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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
Once a year, go someplace you have never been before
Need any more reasons to visit Bhutan? check our post on 5 reasons to visit Bhutan – The Kingdom of Happiness