On 28 May we hiked to Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery near Paro, western Bhutan. While the building itself is one of the most important sites in the country, the path getting there is equally as impressive. As we drove to the parking lot at the base of the climb, we were able to see the Monastery nestled nearly 1,000 meters high, on a cliff-side.
|Our hike begins!|
At the base of the climb, a number of peddlers cried out “shopping!” as we passed, hoping we'd spend what ngultrum we had left on their handicrafts. Others were offering horse rentals for the trek. While some of us had earlier considered the equestrian option, our guide recommended against it, citing safety concerns.
The very beginning of the path had us crossing an open field. While it was fairly level, it gave us a glimpse of the scale of our endeavor; towering high above us was the Tiger's Nest. Soon we entered the wooded hillside and the real climbing began. Even with frequent switchbacks, the path had a considerably steep grade. Most of us had to pause at regular intervals to catch our breath in the thinning air. After 45 minutes to an hour of hiking, we reached a cafeteria, where we paused for much needed water, glucose, and sodium.
|Taktsang from below|
The second portion of the path started out as steep as the first, but leveled out somewhat as it continued. Following a final set of switchbacks, we arrived at the main lookout for the Monastery. While some of us may have had second thoughts about the hike, the view we saw erased all our regrets. A waterfall cascaded down to the left, an open view of Bhutanese countryside to the right, and the Monastery itself dead ahead. After a set of 700 or so steps, we were at the door of the Nest itself.
After our tour had completed, we began our descent back to the parking lot. While no longer having to cope with thinning air, the long downhill path proved very taxing to what leg strength we had left. We stopped again at the halfway cafeteria, this time for a sumptuous lunch. At around 4:00 P.M. (we had started six hours earlier), we were all back in our bus, en route to the hotel for some much-needed rest and recuperation.
The hike to the Monastery and the view of the Monastery itself, as you near it, are truly iconic experiences. Cliffs, mountains, waterfalls, mist, cloud, alpine forest, and then the Monastery. We felt like we rode the mountains, touched the sky, and were embraced by the Monastery!