By: Tanya Anand
Clinging to a cliff some 3 kilometres above sea level, Bhutan’s Tiger’s Nest Monastery is a rare combination of trek and pilgrimage.
The original name of the Monastery is Taktshang Goemba. It is here that Buddhism was brought to Bhutan by Guru Rinpoche. Legend has it that he reached this site, on a flying tigress (who was actually his consort). He came to ward off a demon and then took residence in a cave where he meditated for 3 years, 3 months and 3 days.
Last month I travelled to Bhutan, the Country of Happiness and achieved a personal goal of braving the climb. The weather was brilliant and there was no trace of the previous day’s thunder showers. Bright sunshine and a good night’s rest gave a perfect start to the journey ahead. Faith and determination kept me going, and I didn’t feel the exhaustion as much, despite the arduous trek. Spiritually satiated, I thought to share some tips for those who plan to go.
Reach the base point early (the monastery shuts at 12 pm for lunch, so it’s best you try and reach either before or after lunch time). Depending on where you are staying, there are three different routes till here. Your hotel/travel company can arrange for a drop. Once you reach, you have the option of going on ponies/mules till the mid-point. It costs about 750 rupees ($11/10 euros). There a few shops selling souvenirs, but let that not distract you. On your way out, you can stop to buy jewellery, Tibetan charms, wooden items and prayer wheels.
Image Source: Writer’s own
I opted to walk the entire distance. A test of physical endurance, it took me 3 hours to get till the top, and 2 and a half hours to return to base camp. Depending on your agility and fitness levels, the trek can take you anywhere from two and a half to four hours to reach the top. The descent is always supposed to be easier, however, it was not the case. The 800 steps and the steep path make it a bit challenging and you need to watch your step.
Wear comfortable shoes and carry your trekking poles. (Keep your rain gear, too.) These are a must. If you don’t possess them, you can buy wooden ones at the base point. There are plenty of options to choose from. Carry enough water to keep you hydrated. You can stop at mid-point to grab some refreshments at the cafeteria and use the restroom. Tea, coffee, and a buffet lunch is what you’ll be served. Horses are not allowed after this point, so be prepared to endure the journey ahead.
The scenery is dotted with Tibetan prayer flags strung on trees and stone structures with prayer wheels inside. As you make your way up, you will come across people from all walks of life. Families, monks, students, couples – everyone is on the same mission.
Keep an ID proof with you, or remember the name of your guide/tour company ; you’ll need it for registration once you reach the monastery. Don’t carry heavy equipment since you have to leave your bags and cameras at the entrance (photography is not allowed after this point). Visit the several temples inside the monastery compound. (They represent different manifestations of Guru Rinpoche). Yes, there are some more stairs to climb, but it is totally worth the effort.
Stop to admire the view, surrender to the natural beauty all around, and soak up some sunshine. It’s a walk you are going to remember, for a long time to come.