Friday, 3 October 2014

Destination Paro Taktsang - The Tiger's Nest

I had not heard of Tiger's nest till about a year ago though I spend a good time browsing about travel. My cousin mentioned the mysterious monastery up in the sky and I was totally blown away. At that instance Bhutan dropped into my bucket.

My fitness level has always been questionable . So my treks and hikes have been limited and easy. Tiger's nest would be my first high altitude hike on the mighty Himalayas. The monastery is considered an important pilgrimage for Buddhist and many a times listed under top ten places to visit for the avid traveler.

The monastery is perched on a vertical cliff at about 3150m/10250 ft above sea level. Considering that I have already traveled to Leh which is at 11,500 ft and Khardungla pass at 17,500 ft, Tiger's nest didn't seem very close to the heaven. But the fact that we were were going to hike the moderately difficult trail from an altitude of 7400 ft to 10250 ft made it different.

As suggested by every travel book and travelers we came across, we started the hike early at 7.00 am . Considering it had been raining a day earlier, we were wondering if we will be greeted by the rain god again. Instead of rain drops, we were accompanied by the thick blanket of fog.Joining us were groups of pilgrims and travelers from Japan,Italy ,USA and other parts of the world. every one had a choice betwen a horse /mule ride upto the first pit stop or hike all the way up. Tintin had mentioned that a horse back ride is considered very inauspicious and does not wash away our sins but will pile on more. We wanted to conquer the nest on foot auspicious or not, Tintin or not!!

Tintin pointed us towards the general direction of the monastery . As the cliff was covered in thick clouds, we had no clue how far up we would have to climb up. I guess that was a good thing. The visual distance and height did not get a chance to defeat us before we started.

The hike comprises of three stretches and I would consider the first one to be the most difficult one. All we did was look straight at the trial as the fog had covered the views and  concentrate on the climb . We passed fellow hikers and pilgrims of all fitness level. Some huffing and puffing , some passing us like they were on a leisure walk, some holding on tightly to their horses, some like the gusty Italian elderly lady  attempting the hike on  2.5" block heals.

 After about an hour of hiking, we reach the first pit stop. The clouds were slowly clearing and  the Tiger's nest finally peeked at us or did we peek at the nest. After a tough hike , to see your destination ahead of you motivates you to reach it more than ever.

The first glimpse of Tiger's nest- The white spec surrounded by clouds!

 A close up of the nest

 The start of the second stretch of the hike

After about 15 minutes to catch our breath, we started the second stretch. This is a gentler hike. The trail is not very steep and the view was finally giving us company. Horses are not allowed on this stretch. The monastery kept playing hide and seek between the clouds and the tall blue pine, juniper , ferns among other plants and trees. The high altitude and low oxygen and the possible onset of high altitude sickness could be a damper in this stretch. But the cliff top building beckons you at intervals till you step onto the second pit stop and suddenly the expansive view opens up.

The cliff

 The mysterious monastery

The sight from the second pit stop is unbelievable and the excitement you feel after 45minutes of hike is unmatched. The second stop is a favorite destination to take portraits with the tiger's nest at eye level  in the background. So we waited for our turn and relaxed our tired selves. 

Tiger's nest Finally!!!

 The view of the valley

Bird's nest or is it Tiger's nest on the granite ledge

With the nest giving us constant company we started the third and final stretch. This stretch comprises of man made steps lines craved out of the cliff. Though the monastery is at a short distance as crow flies from the second stop, the steep steps lead down and away from the nest. A lot of steps, some claim it to be 700 and some 850. Constant stopover for pictures and the climb down of about 450-500 steps and then climb up was not a cake walk but not difficult either as it took us about 30 minutes. We were awarded with a waterfall 200 ft high at the end of the climb.

 View at  the start of  third stretch

The climb down begins


 And down we go!

The 60m waterfall at the bottom

At the waterfall, we crossed the bridge and started the last stage to the destination. It cannot get more difficult. All we had to do was climb about 200-250 insanely steep steps up to the entrance. One has to push and pull themselves up these steps to reach the summit and collapse. Tintin asked us to hand over all our belongings and lead us into the entrance archway. Lo behold! what laid before us were more steps. The monastery has 4 main temples and residential shelters. Also around are caves, the most important being the one where Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche) meditated. The pious temples create an atmosphere of bliss that cannot be recreated any place else.

After recovering all our senses and with a feeling of triumph , we started our hike back. It was mid day by the time we left the monastery and the clouds had completely disappeared giving us unlimited views. Finally it was a chance to take in the surroundings and enjoy the hike back. The climb up of 500 steps didn't seem very difficult this time around. The first and second stretch back was done fairly easily and in shorter time.

 On climb back mid afternoon

 At the first pit stop on way back

 The hike down

  The views we missed climbing up

At the second pit stop, we had a late lunch at a cafe with a clear view of tiger's nest looming over us. Most traveler end their hike here and return. We were lucky to reach the monastery and enjoy the hike. I guess all the 8 auspicious symbols of Buddhism were with us.
The Parasol- Protected us from obstacles
The Treasure Vase- Helped us manifest our superficial desires
The Lotus -Got us to understand compassion
The Couch- Banished any natural disaster
The Knot of Eternity-Lead us to a meditative mind
The Dharma wheel - Helped us build discipline and concentration.
The Golden Fishes- Got us closer to state of happiness
The Victory Banner-Victorious enlightenment

May we have more such holiday!

 The veil of clouds had disappeared by afternoon

At the second pit stop or the first stop while climbing up

More hiking  before we reached the parking lot

The view from parking lot which we missed in the morning

Date : September 2014
Place : Paro Taktsang, Bhutan

Tip : Pace out the Hike, There are no victory medals to be won here.
First :High altitude hike
The travel connection :Because in the end, you wont remember the time spent in the office or mowing the lawn. Climb that mountain -Jack Kerouac

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