Discovering the Tiger’s Nest

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Everybody has their own imagination for a Shangri La. Most imagine it as an ideal hideout among the mountains where one would want to get lost into. But what would you say if I told you that such a place really exists and is not just the stuff of stories? Well the answer for that is the Tiger’s Nest monastery of Bhutan.

A view of the Tiger's Nest monastery during the last leg of the trek.

Photo of Tiger's Nest, Paro, Bhutan by Joydeep Hazarika

The Tiger’s Nest monastery, or Taktshang Dzong, is located at Paro and is perhaps the most iconic spot of Bhutan and is a place that adventurers have romanticised a lot over the years. Nestled among the hills, the monastery is a magnet for adventurers and tourists who seek a little adventure during their usual sightseeing affairs. During my recent trip to the Dragon Kingdom, I got a chance to live my fantasy of visiting a real Shangri La when I made my trip to the Taktshang Dzong.

Legend has it that the Buddhist Guru Padmasambhava came to the cave at the hillside where the present monastery is located, while riding on a flying tiger. The Guru meditated here for years and later emerged in eight different forms, which is why this place is such a sacred and important spot for the Bhutanese people. A monastery was first built at the spot in 1692, but its fame as a meditation spot goes back to the eight century.

Mules returning after dropping women or elderly trekkers at the canteen halfway.

Photo of Tiger's Nest, Paro, Bhutan by Joydeep Hazarika

There are many ways to reach Taktshang Dzong. You can either take a direct flight to Paro or can enter Bhutan via the many border points that it shares with Assam and West Bengal. The spot of the monastery is roughly about ten kilometres from Paro town and it hangs on a cliff side at about 10,241 feet above the ground level of the Paro valley.

Once you reach the base camp at the foothills, you can find refreshments that the locals provide. Batons or sticks are also rented out to tourists that come in handy while making your way up the difficult terrain while trekking to the monastery. It is advisable to make your way to the monastery early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowd that gathers as the day passes by. People from all over India and also the rest of the world come to trek their way to the monastery, but among them you will find the most from Bengal, Bangladesh and Assam. Since the path to the top is extremely rough and difficult at certain points, most people who arrive there with their families never make it to the monastery. A large percentage of these don’t even make it halfway up the path where located is a cafeteria. People who are fat or are out of shape for some time would find it difficult to make their way up the path. Hence it is advisable to carry light things with you, preferably a small bag where you can put your camera and a bottle of water, which is an utmost necessity in my opinion. The trek can be a lot easier if you make it in your training shoes and not in boots that make your feet heavy.

People seated at the canteen halfway through the journey.

Photo of Discovering the Tiger’s Nest by Joydeep Hazarika

Different types of people take different span of time to complete the trek to the monastery. There are some who have taken about three to four hours, while there are others who have covered the trip in about an hour only. From my personal experience, I can take tell you that the average time taken to cover the distance is around two hours. But that depends on the breaks you take in between during the journey. The road to the monastery is quite steep at most places and is rocky and rough to be described best. Hence this trip is not advisable for people with issues such as blood pressure, asthma or heart problems. The view that you see below while traversing the path is nothing short of absolute beauty and it is advisable to take as many photos along the way as possible that serve as lifelong memories.

Buddhist prayer flags on the way to the monastery.

Photo of Tiger's Nest, Paro, Bhutan by Joydeep Hazarika

Photography is strictly prohibited inside the monastery and you have to deposit your belongings outside the gate before entering. Hence it is advisable to take photos of the monastery at certain viewpoints that you pass by along the way to serve as memories for later. The Buddhist prayer flags that dot several points along the way make for some colourful visuals that are soothing to the eyes.

The monastery, built on a hillside cliff, is a true marvel of human feat as it looks like the building is precariously hanging by the cliff side. The monastery is built around the eight caves in which Padmasambhava meditated. There are narrow passages and stairways that lead to the different chambers of the monastery and the main chamber is dotted with numerous images of deities that shine in the light provided by the many butter lamps burning inside. Visitors can also climb over to the upper reaches of the monastery through a series of stairways that give a magnificent view of the valley down below. Sadly, you have neither your smartphones nor your cameras to take photos of those moments.

Trekking to the Tiger’s Nest monastery is sort of a personal feat that every adventure lover should strive to accomplish. I had a tiring but exhilarating time making the climb and living my dream of visiting a real Shangri La. And who knows? I may return soon again to relive the experience better prepared.

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