Excuse me for taking creative liberty and addressing Paro Taktsang as a person. I do this because when you complete this hike, you’d be left feeling like you just had an experience like none other. It’s like the personality and aura of this majestic mountain is unveiling itself to you at different points through the hike. Yes, the sight at and from the monastery is spectacular but even the trails leading to the top is equally beautiful. You will see several shrines, prayer wheels and flags, stairways and many viewpoints from where you can get your first glimpses of the breathtaking monastery.
Understanding Bhutan’s sacred Tiger’s Nest
Paro Taktsang, also popularly known as Tiger’s Nest is a Himalayan Buddhist sacred site located in the upper Paro valley in Bhutan with a temple complex located precariously high up on a sheer cliff at a dizzying 10,000 feet above sea level. It is believed that this monastery is the birthplace of Buddhism in Bhutan, thus making it the most sacred monastery in the country and an iconic landmark.
Curious, why they call it Taktsang, a lair or Tiger’s Nest? Let me tell you what we heard from the locals. Apparently as legends goes, this one dates back to the 8th century when one of the holiest figure in Mahayana Buddhism Padmasambhava flew to this exact location from Tibet on the back of a tigress. Here, the Guru medicated and emerged in eight incarnated forms rendering this monastery very sacred.
Hiking up Tiger’s Nest
Before planning our travel, we tried to gather as much information as we possibly could about this hike up Paro Taktsang. Initially we were conflicted with whether we ought to plan this ourselves or use a tour operator who do this with different groups daily. But like it always happens, after speaking to people and reading about it; we decided we could and would do it ourselves.
So pretty much what you will need is to get a taxi to bring you to the base point from where you start your hike, it’s just about 20 minutes from the city. Once you’ve reached the base, you could either choose the easy method of riding a pony till the permitted point or take the challenge and hike all the way up. We, of course chose the latter and my knees weren’t as thrilled as I was at the end of this hike.
Preparing for Tiger’s Nest
Like most hike destinations, preparation towards Tiger’s Nest will require that you have a basic fitness level. I say this because while most undermine the importance of being ready for a hike, I believe that should you be in better health and comparatively fit, it helps you truly enjoy the hike itself. You not only can complete a well-paced hike all the way up and back down but also celebrate the experience.
Once you get past the dirt roads and fairly arduous pathways, for a moment you think you’re almost there and like us you may begin to feel jubilant but hold on, because you still have about 700 steps down the valley before you get up to the monastery. Once there, you will have to hand over your bags and your cameras at security before you’re let in to explore the monastery itself.
Make this a hike one to remember:
- Wear comfortable clothing and shoes. We hiked in winter and therefore needed to layer up with thermal, fleece and down (It was really cold). Good hiking shoes is a must, you want a pair with decent grip to help you tread through the dirt roads and steep paths without any issues.
- Not first and not last. It is ideal to plan this hike a couple of days after you’ve landed in Bhutan to help you assimilate. Also, it’s suggested that you do not leave it for the last day of your trip, you cannot anticipate the changes in the weather which may affect the climb.
- Start early. We commenced upon the hike at the first break of dawn and definitely suggest you do the same. Its cooler then, less crowded and you’ll be able to complete the hike in good time.
- Carry water and short eats. I carried chocolates and energy bars. You mostly won’t get hungry but a little sugar helps. There is only one cafeteria about mid-way up the hike. Here you can get yourself a steaming cup of beverage, a chilled beer or even something to eat (be prepared to pay a premium though).
- Stay trigger ready: Hiking Tiger’s Nest is absolutely gorgeous, this hike is like a journey in itself. At various points through the hike, you will find yourself wanting to stop and take in the beauty. Keep your camera batteries charged and be prepared to max the memory.
- Locks for your belonging: The security point at the top disallows you to carry belongings into the monastery premise. You will have to declare and hand over your stuff which are kept in lockers (with no locks). We carried our own set of lock and key and trust me it will be a wise thing to do.
Paro’s deep valley, Tiger’s Nest itself and the trail flanked by shrines, flags, small waterbodies, foliage, caves and misty skies contributed in making this hike perfect in every way. In about 4 hours we had completed our hike and were back down to the base; our hike wasn’t rushed but was timed correctly maintaining a steady pace while allowing ourselves ample rest and multiple stops to click photographs.
Adding Tiger’s Nest to your travel list
I must confess Tiger’s Nest was the key reason we picked Bhutan for our trip in December last year. We love our waters, there’s no doubt there but when we aren’t diving you’re likely to find us looking for a mountain to climb. It is the other interest that completely rocks our boat. Mountains are captivating and Tiger’s Nest is like a precious gem you add to your collection of memories.
So, if you are planning to travel to Bhutan; don’t give this a miss and if you haven’t planned a trip yet then do add it to your list. Bhutan is a lovely country and Tiger’s Nest is truly something. The vista of the monastery and Paro Valley is really beyond spectacular. It is absolutely worth the climb and many will tell you this is the most unique hiking experience; doubt there’s nothing like it anywhere else in the world.
For culture, tranquility, adventure and fun, do check out my previous blog When Bali Happened.