Hike up Tiger’s Nest (Day 4)
The hike to the legendary Takshang Lakhang, better known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery was the highlight of the trip for sure and was one the central reasons to visit Bhutan. This World Heritage site is featured prominently in the National Geographic book “Sacred Places of a Lifetime,” a showcase of the world’s most powerful and spiritual places.Tiger’s Nest Monastery is believed to be the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan and thus making it the most sacred monastery in the country. Precariously perched high up on a sheer cliff at a dizzying 10,000 feet/3,048 meter above sea level, it certainly also has the most stunning and fascinating location.
Now why is it called the Tiger’s Nest? Legend has it that in 8th century Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava and one of the holiest figure in Mahayana Buddhism, flew to this exact spot from Tibet on a back of a tigress (which was a manifestation of his divine consort). He came to subdue a demon and then took residence in a cave where he meditated for 3 years, 3 months and 3 days. He then started the conversion of Bhutanese into Buddhism.The monastery was built in 1692 around the cave where Guru meditated.
We started off the day with a nice breakfast at Jigmeling Hotel ; bread, omlette and tea.
Time to find the taxi to Tiger’s Nest.
Reaching Tiger’ Nest Base
The Tiger’s Nest Base camp is located about 10kms from the center of the town. You can reach the location by taking a taxi from the town, it should cost you only 300/- INR. After reaching the base, we saw a lot of vehicles and thus expected the top to be quite crowded. The entrance is lined with shops selling Bhutanese handicraft items ; the items available here are sold at price slightly lower than the ones being sold at shops at the center of the city. Of course ensure that you buy them only on your way down and out.
From the Base to Monastery
The initial half hour or so, you spend going through a pine forest.
There is a location midway where you can get a beautiful snap of the glacial stream and several structures containing water-powered prayer wheels surrounded by prayer flags.As you gain altitude, the dense forest becomes sparse and climb becomes steeper.
On the sides, I found this beautiful species of flower.
You are exposed to the sun at many locations with minimal chance of finding shade. The view of the Paro valley keeps becoming better and better though. A simple yet effective strategy to manage the climb (i.e for regular folks) is to
(i) Maintain a steady but reasonable speed.
(ii) Focus on maintaining rhythmic breathing patterns with deep breaths.
Take breaths are regular intervals and replenish on fluids and light energy snacks (Parle-G biscuits are the best).
A few guides we spoke to along the mentioned that there is an even shorter but steeper route up the hill. DO NOT TAKE THAT !. It is generally used by monks who are used to the climb but for the rest of us, it will only make the trek longer and tiresome.After about an hour or so, we reached the half way point, the Tatsang Cafe. Just before the entrance to the Tatsang cafe, there is a large prayer wheel. The Monastery is visible from this point.
The food at Tatsang cafe is fairly expensive. Well, the tea and biscuits cost about 120/- INR and the Bhutanese lunch buffet is 380 INR/- (Well to be fair , they do have to haul the supplies up the hill). There are rest rooms here for public use; not too clean but still usable.
The view of the Monastery is almost direct from here.
The path becomes much steeper from here; so be prepared mentally to spend a good hour 1 Hour trekking up (at an average speed). Note that ponies are allowed up until this point only. So from here you got to trek, no matter what. Along the way, you will find many locations where prayer flags have been tied.
After an hour of climb, you reach the point from where you get the best shot of the Monastery in all its glory. Note that this point will most likely be quite crowded as well. The last picture on this page is from this point. Unfortunately your journey is not done yet. You need to climb down approximately 700 steps to the bridge which connects the two hills. There is small waterfall here; the water flows under the bridge. Climb another 700 stairs up to reach the Monastery.
Note that the monastery is closed from 1 p.m to 2 p.m. So you will have to wait if you reach between 1 p.m and 2 p.m. There is a security check point here and you will have to keep / handover all electronic items. Note that we could not locate any place where we could actually hand these over (Eg. a locker facility), so one of you will have to stay outside and keep watch over the items.
Inside the monastery , there are various rooms with multiple statues of the various Buddhist gurus. Pay your respects here.There are paintings on the walls depicting the sacred protective deities of Buddhism.(Wealth, Well being etc). Overall the atmosphere is very calm and you can just sit and mediate for a bit to take it all in. Overall the temple can covered in 15 min if in a hurry.
Next begins the journey downhill which relatively much easier. (Thank you gravity) and even at nominal speed should not take more than 1.5 hours. Ensure that you get phone number of the taxi driver who dropped you at the base camp in the first place before hand and give him a call once below. There are no direct modes of transportation from tiger’s nest and Paro town is very far away.
- Wear SPF 50 sunscreen
- Wear hiking shoes (preferable)
- Get a walking stick (We did not take one though and we were fine)
- Carry energy drinks and food; snack at regular intervals.
- Rhythmic breathing and Pace
- Monastery is closed between 12 p.m and 1 p.m.
We reached the town by 3.30 p.m or so and were very hungry (duh ! ) ; time to try another restaurant. “The peljorling hotel” was listed everywhere for being a very “budget hotel” ; it has an attached restaurant as well…. Only it was difficult for us to find. (Note that it is located at the very beginning of Paro town , near the amphitheater). If not the hotel, we could at least try the restaurant. Thupka and Chowmein it was ! . This was surely one of the most affordable restaurants we found anywhere in Bhutan and the food tasted decent as well ; so it is a sure shot recommend. The range of cuisine is quite diverse as well. (Indian, Bhutanese, Chinese, Continental).
We went back to the room after a quick nap after the tiring trek. An interesting IPL cricket match was on in the evening…how about a Pizza to go along with it? We were not that hungry to be honest but vacation n all, binge eating is a must :). A quick search in the internet revealed the closest pizza spot to be “Explorers Pizza”; approximately 15 mins away by walk. So out we went.
The restaurant was close to ending their business for the day at about 8.30 p.m; so we opted for ‘take-away” instead of dining in. We ordered the Large sized “Garden Fresh”. It was quite tasty and not that expensive either. (Better than “authentic Pizza” restaurent for sure). So when in Paro, be sure to give this place a try as well. Another fitting end to the night. Next day, the itinerary included only visiting the chelala pass.