30 October 2019
After an early breakfast, we drive 30 minutes from the hotel to hike to the legendary Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest), a magnificent monastery, clinging on a rock cliff 900 meters above the valley floor. The legend, dating back to 747AD, says that the Great Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhawa) flew here from northeast Bhutan on the back of a tigress to subdue the demons of Paro Valley. The guru then meditated in the holy cave that is the site of the Pelphug Lhakhang today. According to Tantric Buddhist mythology, the vanquished local deities became the protectors of the dharma and one of them, Singey Samdrup, is recognised today as the guardian deity of Taktsang. Guru Rinpoche is also believed to have concealed among the rocks of Taktsang various forms of Dharma treasures known as Ters, which were destined to be discovered later by Tertons (treasure discoverers) for the propagation of Dharma.
Taktsang was severely damaged by fire in 1998 but the King commanded its immediate restoration. The royal command dictated that the original aura, authenticity and architectural splendour must be preserved at all costs. This project has been widely seen as an act of devotion involving all sections of Bhutanese society and as homage to the nation’s cultural heritage. It also proved to be an opportunity for Bhutan’s traditional artists and craftsmen to hone the skills inherited from their forefathers down the ages.
We hire walking poles for our hike up through pine forest beneath thousands of brightly coloured prayer flags up into the mountains for a closer view of the temple. The track initially is very dusty and we have to move against the hillside as donkeys carrying people come up the track. Later we have large numbers of donkeys bringing up supplies. All of us are struggling with climbing at this altitude so we take it easy and stop to take lots of photos.
It takes us about an hour’s climb to reach a small teahouse with a wonderful view of the temple. We stop to enjoy a cuppa and the ubiquitous biscuits with supposedly the hardest climb behind us. Then we set off for approximately another hour where we climb on one side of the valley to about the same height as the Tiger’s Nest on the other side, drop down to a waterfall at the head of the valley and then climb back up the other side (Chenga tells us there are 700 steps).
My coughing starts again and I am really struggling. Jamba takes my bag for me and Doreen and Andrew give me some Ventolin to see if that will help – it does a bit but I just have to keep stopping to regain my breath.
When we reach the base of the Tiger’s Nest we have to check in all our bags (and put on warm clothes) before visiting the holy cave and other temples. As we pass through the gate we are horrified to see seemingly endless steps heading up ahead of us, and then yet more steps around the corner. But it is an absolutely amazing place that is definitely worth the journey to get there.
It is certainly easier going down (once we have climbed back up the other side of the valley again) but it still seems like a long walk to get back to the teahouse. We start with a cuppa and then there is a buffet meal inside for us. Feeling revitalised we set off downhill again for the final trek to the bus. It is incredibly dusty (not helped by the donkeys passing by) and very hot in the sun. There are many people just starting their climb up and we don’t envy them at all.
Jamba has picked a big bunch of leafy branches that we use to get rid of the worst of the dust before getting on the bus (and grabbing more water). On the way back to Paro we pick up a lone hiker and his guide who appear to be intending to walk back to Paro (but are very grateful to not do that). When Chenga asks what we want to do, everyone one wants to go back to the shop that served us ice cream on the way through last time. Ice cream is just what we need – but end up sitting in the dark to eat it as the power goes off.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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