Since the day it was confirmed we were travelling to Bhutan, (We includes me and my husband) one thing that excited me to the power of infinity was The Tiger’s Nest monastery. I had heard a lot of stories from my friends about their hiking experiences, read tons of blogs, watched videos and what not. It was one of the most awaited journeys of my life. I was very positive, no matter what adversities or physical hurdles I shall make my way through all difficulties and reach the monastery. We kept the hiking on the Day 2 of our itinerary. The first day we explored all around Thimpu and has a gala time visiting the Dzongs, the handicraft market, museum. Since we had a very few days in our hand we rode off to Paro on the first night as our driver cum guide told us to reach the base camp as early as possible. Sun God favoured us and it was shining bright and gay. It was a beautiful day to start with.
A little history about The Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Paro
So the history behind the Tiger’s Nest Monastery dates back to the 8th century. Also known as Taktsang Monastery, where “Takt” means Tiger and “Sang” means nest, is a sacred place for the Buddhist. Hanging in the side of a steep cliff the monastery do gave me thrills at the first sight. It was majestic and so beautifully crafted amidst high mountains.
The monastery is devoted to Guru Padmasambhava also known as Guru Rinpoche, who was an 8th-century Buddhist leader. It is said that he brought Buddhism in Bhutan. He is also popularly called as second Buddha according to Tibetan Buddhism, a re-incarnation of Lord Buddha. There is a popular belief that he flew from Tibet on the back of a tigress who was his consort Yeshe Tsogyal and meditated there for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours. He established peace and harmony in the time when the man lost his faith and belief in humanity.
These caves were later used for meditation and a structure was constructed around it. The temple was constructed by Bhutanese ruler Gyalse Tenzin Rabgya in 1962. But some years later the main temple caught fire twice and was destructed, as such with the help of the Bhutan government they re-built the main temple. There is also a place where sacred water is available and this holy water according to Bhutanese belief can cure a person of serious and fatal diseases.
The hiking began with all enthusiasm
We had a heavy breakfast at our hotel which was complimentary. Food is the fuel which will keep us going. We reached the spot at around 9 am. Get your tickets from the ticket counter, Rs.500 per person for Indian tourists. We bought sticks to help us in hiking which cost Rs.50 per stick, expensive, isn’t it? We saw on the way many people had guides but since we already had a lot of information from our driver and also from our friends we preferred not to hire a guide.
My husband was a little bit worried whether I could complete the hike or fall sick as I had never done anything of this sort earlier. trust me I was full of enthusiasm and vigour more than him. I had to do this. He tried to convince me to get a mule, but being an animal lover I didn’t want to burden the poor animal. I started with full energy, taking some rest here and there, talking with co-hikers. My husband asked me to go slow and save energy as we had to go a long way but I was in my full form:-). From the base camp itself, the monastery started playing peek-a-boo with us. After hiking for an hour I felt, ” No! It is not at all an easy task”.
One way we met a very lovely lady of around 65 years old all the way from Israel, she was panting in the hot sun. That was one of the sweetest moments to meet such a lovely person from a different country in a different country. We also met few guys from Denmark who complimented us saying,” You two are the most relaxed hikers from India I came across”. That put us in cloud nine, and now what else could stop us from reaching our goal?
There were lots of tourists with guides, we heard the tales and stories they were telling ( Thus I said you don’t need to hire a guide, you get free information on the way) There were kids, aged couples, lots of Buddhist pilgrims.
We completed half-way through our journey
We did not stop at the second resting point as we already took some rest on way, we reached the Cafeteria at 11.30 am. We were told that we have made halfway through our journey. The cafeteria is quite expensive. A cup of tea or coffee along with four biscuits charged Rs.250. We shared the tea and biscuits, I also carried some biscuits with me as a backup. We bought water-bottle as the ones we brought we drank from it all. Used the washroom. freshen up and after resting for a while we were back on our track.
The more we hiked the more we could clearly see the monastery. The peek-a-boo through tall bushy trees gave us a push to reach when we were completely drained out of our stamina. My leg muscles started to pain, but I was happy as it was not raining. The weather was very pleasant, it was not raining, a chill wind blew and the fresh breeze accompanied.
The beautiful rhododendrons blooming all away but sad they were far away from my reach, the changing vegetation as we moved towards the higher altitude added to the beauty of the journey.
The last hurdles the staircases through many ups and downs
Well, climbing the staircases was quite a challenge. Finally, we reached the last point from where we could have a clearer view of the entire monastery. It was so close that at times we felt we had already reached our goal. But no! The toughest part of the journey remained and that was a long series of staircases. These were broken, dislocated at places and the steps went up, again it went down. While climbing the steps I felt “I had lost it, now I can’t progress anymore”. You will reach the waterfall and again from there, you need to ascend the stairs.
We finally won the battle and reached the main temple at 1:00 pm. You can’t carry camera inside and keep all your belongings inside the locker in the locker room. We went around the monastery for one hour, lighted butter-lamps, offered our prayers to the God. It was only due to God’s grace that we could reach that height. It was a different feeling, it gave me a sense of satisfaction and fulfilment, goosebumps actually. From high above you can get a glimpse of the miniature form of the Paro town.
The main shrine is dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. The main door is opened only once a year during the main festival of Paro and rest of the days it remains closed. You will get to see the cave structure behind the idols in one of the temples on the first floor. There are many chambers dedicated to deities, I couldn’t remember the names as I didn’t have my camera with me.
We were also very hungry by then, after the tour, we came out and had some biscuits. We met the guys from Denmark again, but unfortunately, the lady from Israel stopped at the cafeteria as her health did not permit. It is really beautiful how such expedition makes us meet tourists from all over the world, we can interact know about their journeys, experiences and share ours.
Journey way back to the base camp
On way back we stopped at the Cafeteria again, it was already 3.30pm. We had a buffet lunch, got to eat some Bhutanese red rice and leafy vegetables. I was craving for some food and the meal was indeed delightful, easy on my tummy. After half an hour of relaxing, we started our journey way back. Suddenly from nowhere a group of young pretty looking girls and boys crossed our path, I guess they were enjoying an outing. They showed us a shortcut through the forest, Bhutanese people are so helpful. But the shortcut was quite a risky one, there was absolutely no road we were walking through some rough high paths. One foot here and there, chances were to slip off. But for me “I liked it and so my husband”. Now that we have reached The Tiger’s Nest Monastery we feared nothing. I felt just as I conquered the whole world.
But the moment we started from the Cafeteria it started raining but no! there were no raindrops only hailstones. One after another it hit our heads with full force. We increased our pace but the lower we descended the lesser hailstones and then what it remained was only raindrops. So we had it all in one journey sunshine, hailstones, raindrops! What else do you need?
On the way back my knees started aching a lot but the feeling of triumphant was so overpowering that even though I felt the pain I cared a little. The journey way back was easier and less time-consuming. A milestone reached, a day to remember the rest of my life. Our driver cum guide was waiting eagerly for us at the base camp. The moment he saw us, he came running to ask about our experience. By the time we reached it was 5.30pm. So total duration that we spent was from 9.30 pm to 5.30pm, he was impressed. He said, “You were quite fast and energetic Sir, Madam, kuch logon ko to niche pahuchte raat ho jaata hain ( by the time some tourists reached the base camp it’s already night)”. well, flattered we were and happy indeed. On the way back, we shopped some handicraft items, accessories, pieces of jewellery from the stalls at the base camp as tokens.
That was all and stay tuned for the next post will be about some basic pieces of information and tips that will guide you to hike The Tiger’s Nest Monastery.