Being the most famous spot in the whole country,the Tiger's Nest is probably on the bucket list of most nature enthusiasts & travelers around the world. When I first saw this image in Facebook,it got stuck on my mind.And since then I was looking for an opportunity to visit the place.Last month I got to fulfill my longing wish to visit the famous Taktsang Monastery aka the Tiger's Nest.
According to the legend, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) flew to this location on the back of a tigress from Tibet,in order to defeat the evil lurking over the country.The Guru dominated over evil,and afterwards went to a cave inside the mountain where he meditated for three years three months and three days.Whereas the tigress went into another cave.After meditation,Guru Rinpoche emerged from the cave in eight incarnated forms & thus the place became holy.
In 1692,Tenzing Rabgye built a temple in this place to commemorate Guru Rinpoche.Thereafter the Taktsang Monastery was built.Taktsang , spelled as ' Stag Tshang' in tibetan,literally means "Tiger's Lair".
But in 1998,a fire broke-out in the monastery from the butter lamps kept inside the temples,damaging a large portion of the place.The government & the reigning King overlooked the restoration of the monastery which was completed by 2005.
"Sometimes its the journey that teaches you a lot about your destination."
The monastery is located 10 kms from the center of Paro,and hangs on a sheer inclined cliff at 10,240 ft high.These are just some figures which are available everywhere & honestly it doesn't matter much.But starting from the base of the hike,the view itself can be pretty overwhelming & encouraging at the same time.
The tiny speck of white structure perched high above near the mountain-top is the destination.Quite intimidating as well !
At the base,where the car drops you,there is the ticket office.The ticket costs Rs 500 per person.A quick tip (which I haven't found written elsewhere),there is a student discount of 50% on showing a valid student Id.
One can also find horses on rent, up to half way of the hike,at Rs 500 each.Trust me,the road is pretty difficult,more so for the horses due to their size & four limbs.So,don't ride them just for joy,as its very exhausting for them.
This is the road condition uphill,which was pretty sheer at some points.So make sure to rent a stick from the base (you have to have it on return journey,more so if it rains).
This point onward,you have to continue by foot only.Horse-rides also end here.You can take a small break here & soak in the pure beauty of what lies in front.
After another few min walk,there is a nice but overpriced cafe,named Taktsang Cafe;with seats providing full view of the mountain & monastery.Its better not to buy anything there,unless you wanna splurge.
Still going up,you reach the view point,from where proper stone steps come in to play.Though there are about 1000 steps,but that feels like the toughest stretch of the hike.But during this part,the monastery does not leave your sight (that provides the encouragement to carry on).
From the view-point you have to go down,cross a small bridge over a waterfall,and again go up to the monastery.The tranquility, ambience & feel of the whole area just fills up your soul.
There is a locker near the entry point to keep your bags,mobiles & cameras (as these are not allowed inside).
At the front gate you are welcomed by a group of young monks,serving hot tea & prasad from the morning offerings to the temples.The prasad (which means the blessed offerings from the deities) is also quite interesting;ranging from biscuits,snacks,chocolates,marshmallows to what not.
Upon entry to the monastery,keep in mind to leave your shoes behind before entering the temples.Also spend some time with the monks to learn about the details of the legend & history of the monastery. Then only you can understand the importance of this place.You can also watch monks during their prayer session,which fills up the air around with spiritual richness,making you forget about the outside world for that time.
The return journey,as always,seems more tiring & difficult.Occasional showers may increase the difficulty & make progress very much slower.But be careful & remember to take your time while coming down.Accidents always come unannounced.
P.S. - While your inside the monastery,ask the monks or your guide about the cave where the Tigress went after dropping off the Guru.Its located inside a dark narrow crevice in the mountain,with 3 makeshift ladders to go down.If not claustrophobic,do try to reach the bottom & visit the shrine of the tigress.
In the end,the Taktsang Monastery is definitely worth a visit.To understand its legend,to soak in the beauty,to feel the spiritual richness & also to understand the tremendous difficulty that was overcome to build something of such magnificence on such a sheer cliff.It demands your presence & respect.
THINGS TO NOTE BEFORE YOU VISIT
1. CLOTHING - Wear in layers.During the hike,you may feel very hot,but the weather changes fast creating the need for light jackets.Cannot emphasize enough to carry a raincoat.Also be modestly dressed,after all its a monastery,so maintain cover up to elbows & knees,at least
2. SNACKS - Carry some light snacks with you.It helps during the hike.More importantly,carry adequate water to stay hydrated.This also saves money as food items are quite overpriced at the cafe.
3. SECURITY - Carry a day-pack with you,which you can keep in the locker near the entrance.Do bring a small lock & key,as most lockers don't have one.
4. PATIENCE - Like any other hikes,do take your time & be careful on the road.More so if it rains.Because the initial half part of the hike is mostly of clay & mud,which creates very much difficulty.So be patient.
5. TICKETS - Remember to get the tickets near the base.If possible,carry a student Id to avail the 50% discount (saving some money doesn't hurt,right).
6. TIME - Start early in the morning.Depending upon your fitness,the journey can take about 5-6 hours.But its better to keep some extra time in hand.Also,never rush.
7. SOUVENIRS - If you want to buy some souvenirs (I prefer small ones;easier to carry),I would advise to buy from the small local vendors near the base.I got fridge magnets at half the price compared with markets at Thimphu or Paro.