Trek to the Taktsang Palphug Monastery – The Tiger’s Nest

Perched on a precarious mountain cliff, the religious icon of Bhutan – the famous monastery of Taktsang Palphug, popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest is not just a popular hill destination in Paro but is an adventurous trek that involves perseverance and faith. Here I share the story of our struggle to reach the Tiger’s Nest and the ultimate realisation of the need for fitness.

The monastery perched on the cliff ... the view from the cafeteria
The monastery perched on the cliff … the view from the cafeteria

With my parents accompanying me on this trip and the persistent knee problem of my mother made us drop the plan to visit the Tiger’s Nest. It was Lakey, our guide who insisted us to take on the trek as he would play an archery tournament the same day.

The stupa with the prayer wheel rotated constantly by the running water of the spring
The stupa with the prayer wheel rotated constantly by the running water of the spring

Sighting my parents’ conditions he said we may take much longer than others so we must start early. As instructed we started early. He drove us to towards the north to the upper Paro valley and dropped us at the base camp of the trek.

Tiger's Nest from a different angle
Tiger’s Nest from a different angle

With our Bumthang trip being cancelled we had ample of days left for Paro, from where we were supposed to return back to our country. (Read my previous post to know about my journey in Bhutan.) So we could spare a full day on this trek.

Our furry friend who accompanied us after I fed them with biscuits
Our furry friend who accompanied us after I fed them with biscuits

The base camp is cleared plane area within the forested mountains. It is also the place for car parking and a small handicrafts market. There were not many vehicles and the market had not yet started. Seeing my parents and especially my mother, the horsemen were asking if we needed a ride to the top.

A common belief - Making stone towers for a safe journey
A common belief – Making stone towers for a safe journey

Although age and some age-related physical weakness and pains have lessened their enthusiasm a little still they are adventurous enough to take on such treks. The other thing worth mentioning is my mother took the trek clad in saree, in which she is always comfortable like no other dress. I initially had a concern about it but she managed it well.

Approaching the big prayer wheel near the cafeteria
Approaching the big prayer wheel near the cafeteria

A little away from the base camp, the Tiger’s Nest resembles tiny spot on the side of a huge mountain cliff. The sight was intimidating enough to think twice before we continued to scale the mountains. But once we started we just could not look back and we entered the forest trail. Near the parking, we again spotted the Yellow-billed Blue Magpie, which I took as a sign of good luck for bird watching while we trekked to the monastery.

Through the forest trail
Through the forest trail

There was a cave known as Taktsang Senge Samdup where Guru Rinpoche had meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century. Much later in the year 1692, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye (who was believed to be the reincarnation of the Guru) built this unique monastery around this holy cave dedicated to the Guru.

As per the legend, Guru Rinpoche reached this precarious place from Tibet riding on the back of a Tigress and thus the name the Tiger’s Nest. While the other legend says Taktsang means ‘tiger’s lair’, where the Guru tamed the Tiger demon. Along with these, there are many other legends associated with the construction of this temple. Keeping aside the legend this place is a much-revered destination among the locals.

Approaching the big prayer wheel near the cafeteria
Approaching the big prayer wheel near the cafeteria

With such holy thoughts in mind, we kept on moving through the ascending forest trail. This forested hill too is regarded as a sacred heritage forest and felling of trees or any other activities disturbing the natural surrounding is not permitted. Presumably, this is the reason behind the absence of proper road to reach the monastery. The other reason may be that the administration wants to keep it this way so that visitors can undertake a trekking adventure as well as go through some hardship to reach such a divine destination.

The heritage forest board
The heritage forest board

Whatever may be the reason behind no proper roads, this place is very popular among the locals and the tourists. I was sceptical whether my mother could make at least to the cafeteria which is halfway to the monastery and is exactly opposite to the cliff with the monastery. There were a handful of people as we started the trek through the ascending, uneven dirt trail.

Trekking through the dirt track
Trekking through the dirt track

Slow as the snail we slithered on as the fellow travellers were passing by. With time the numbers increased and all were seen delighted to see my mother climbing. As they passed by they gave emotional support by saying encouraging words to her and this motivated her and kept her going. I could sense her pain but she managed to endure it till we reached the cafeteria.

The larger, medium and the smaller prayer wheels
The larger, medium and the smaller prayer wheels

It took us 3-4 hours to reach the cafeteria but the general estimated time is around 1-2 hours. We have no complaints about taking more time to reach halfway. We were happy as my mother made it till here. The fellow trekkers who crossed us on the way were surprised and equally happy to see her. Many advised her to rest in the cafeteria watching the monastery on the other side.

The plastic bottle prayer wheels which rotate on the mildest of wind
The plastic bottle prayer wheels which rotate on the mildest of wind

She too was left with no more energy to make the rest of it. The cafeteria built on a small plane area in between the trail facing the monastery at a distance with a deep gorge separating both. Even I was tired and giving a second thought to continue on my journey to the monastery. After having an energising coffee and some rest we started for the rest of the journey keeping my mother seated in the cafeteria in the company of the others who could not climb further.

The cafeteria
The cafeteria

This time we were climbing faster and panting harder. The climb was steeper and seemed unending. I felt the need for agility in my body. I realised how regular physical exercise is required to keep the body fit. While huffing and puffing through the steep dirt tracks I made it a point to exercise regularly once I get back home.

A closer view of the prayer wheels
A closer view of the prayer wheels

Thus we reached the second viewpoint (first is the cafeteria). This is the place which offers the best view of the beautiful monastery perched on the side of the mountain cliff. From here there are stone stairs climbing down crossing a bridge and again up to the monastery. Altogether of 300 stairs up and down, so in total 600 stairs to and from the monastery to the second viewpoint.

The stairs leading to the Tiger's Nest
The stairs leading to the Tiger’s Nest

I finished the final leg of the climb just like Poo climbing the stairs of the Jade Palace in the movie Kung Fu Panda. Reaching here seemed a herculean task and what I realised was the serious need for regular exercise. We were at a height of 3120 mt above sea level and about 900 mt above Paro valley. And now it was the time to climb down which seemed even more challenging as we had to watch our steps so as not to slip and roll down the slopes. My mother was finding it more arduous to climb down with her sore knee. She somehow managed to support herself on the walking stick and me on the other hand. She became the ultimate hero of our trek and the trek became an ultimate achievement and a memorable incident.

A close view from the cafeteria
A close view from the cafeteria

8 thoughts on “Trek to the Taktsang Palphug Monastery – The Tiger’s Nest

  1. Lovely write-up. one of my uncles undertook this trek last year which inspired me to visit this place in near future. Fitness is something we take it for granted because in the city life we are insulated from physical labor. 🙂

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      1. Frankly, I really don’t know if that’s going to happen or not. My travel list is too long….
        Health is one of the things we just can’t buy! 😃

        Like

  2. I have been dreaming about this magical land for years …

    Hope I will be able to explore and experience it next year 🙂

    I will keep coming back to this series during my travel planning phase, for sure 🙂

    Thank you so much for your beautiful and mouthwatering post 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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