Bhutan, the last Shangri-la is as true to its name as melody is to a nightingale, or as fragrance is to a rose! The Power Of Faith Personified: Tiger’s Nest Bhutan. This cannibalistic Himalayan kingdom is sandwiched between the colossal land masses of the two most populous countries of the world. Flanked by the mighty Chinese territory to its north, Nepal to its west and Incredible India to its south, this Himalayan kingdom’s isolation and ancient spirituality inspires awe among st many and leaves every visitor spell bound and craving for more!
Nestled within the ravines and valleys of the mighty Himalayas, blessed with the patronage of the royal house of Wangchuk and sanctified with Tibetan Buddhism, this country will mystify you and make your jaw drop down with marvel all in one breath!
How to get there…..
Getting to Bhutan from India is fairly simple and inexpensive. I decided to take the air cum road route to immerse myself in this landlocked beauty. I flew to Bagdogra airport in West Bengal, from where I embarked on my road trip into Bhutan.
After a quick and hassle free immigration at the border town of Phuentsholing followed by some delicious chilly pork, I was one step closer to setting my sights on the venerated Taktsang Lakhang.
Next stop: Paro
Paro, a picturesque valley located in Western Bhutan is the district headquarters for Paro district and home to Bhutan’s only international airport. The valley is fed by the Paro chu river and has breathtaking views of the mighty Himalayas from every place.
Paro was to be my nesting spot from where I would set out on my climb up the sacred Tiger’s nest monastery.
About the monastery….
The Taktsang Lakhang, also knows as the Tiger’s nest monastery, in one of Bhutan’s most iconic religious sights. The temple was first built in 1692 at a cave where the revered Guru Rinpoche meditated in order to subdue the evil demons that were residing within it. The cave has been considered a sacred site ever since, attracting many saints from the world over to visit it.
What attracted me to this monastery was its magnificent architecture and precipitous location straddling a sheer cliff face 900m above the Paro valley! The aesthetic use of white and golden elements in the building really stood out amongst the rugged Himalayan landscape.
The day of the climb!
I woke up to a bright December morning and after I packed in my calories for the climb, I set out in my taxi to the base point from where I would begin my ascent. The drive to the base point was a scenic one. We drove past numerous Dzongs dotting the countryside, over steel bridges with prayer flags adorning their flanks and the Paro chu skipping merrily underneath us. The Power Of Faith Personified: Tiger’s Nest Bhutan.
The crisp December early morning air, bright sunlight, luxuriant greenery all around and the imposing Taktsang Lakhang monastery staring down at me from its precipitous spot, got my adrenaline rushing for this trek!
I paid my respects to the large prayer wheel, which was in a perpetual state of motion, before I set on my climb. My climb uphill was a scenic one, with a mountain stream flowing by me initially and a cute golden mutt to give me some company!
The incline was steep and it was made tougher at places due to the loose earth that can cause the twisted ankle if not treaded on carefully. I took my time with my climb and stopped every now and then to take in the gorgeous scenery that lay in front of me. The lush Paro valley lay below me, the deep blue skies with not a cloud in sight and the cold winter breeze in my face made the climb a lot more stunning.
My first pit stop was a scenic point adorned with a long column of prayer wheels. There was a solitary bench beside these wheels which overlooked the valley below and the monastery that lay up ahead of us.
I sat with my new found friend, Goldie the mutt, and we shared some sandwiches and I caught some breath before I went on to complete the remainder to my climb.
Goldie, after his fill of sandwiches decided that he had had enough my company and set off downhill in search of new friends and some more food! I started my second part of the climb energised and reinvigorated. The second half of the climb had a gentler incline and it was a mix of a downhill and an uphill ascent. I was passed by a group of Buddhist Monks, dressed in their traditional red robes, chanting the mesmerising “ om mani padme hum” as they went on their way up to the monastery. The umpteen number of mountain streams serve as quick refresh spots, where I would stop and drink some sweet mountain water or just splash my face with some of it to feel its icy sting on my face.
After about an hour of this gentle walk, I finally got my first majestic glimpse of the monastery! There it was, the revered and fabled Taktsang lakhang, lying in front of me, perched precipitously on the cliff’s edge!
I just stood there mesmerised in wonder at this monastery’s grandeur and beauty and admiring the brave souls that took the efforts to build this monastery at this precipice.
There is a lovely foot stone that serves as the perfect picture point and resting spot for all of us wandering souls. Once I had my fill of clicking my pictures and clicking others, it was time for the final climb to the monastery. The Power Of Faith Personified: Tiger’s Nest Bhutan.
The final climb proved to be the toughest leg of the ascent. The Tiger’s nest which looked so close by, was getting a lot tougher to get to with every step! After merrily running downhill on the steps that lay in front of me, I had a big surprise in store! There was a bridge across a sacred pool with a prayer wheel lying in front of it, beyond which lay a brutal flight of steep steps, which was to be my final ascent! The climb is a lot tougher as you are at an altitude of 10,000ft and the air is extremely rarified. Thousands of prayer flags bedeck your climb uphill and many mountain side crevices are adorned with small reliquaries called as ‘tsa-tsas’ containing ashes of the dead.
After this brutal final ascent, here I was, at the monastery! The view around you with the azure settings sure takes all the fatigue away. However, you will still be left breathless with awe! The Power Of Faith Personified: Tiger’s Nest Bhutan.
Entry is granted after you take off your shoes, leave your mobile phones and camera’s at the security desk outside. As I climbed up the stairs into the dark chambers of the monastery, I was greeted with flickering butter lamps that lit up the ancient paintings on the rock edifices of this sacred space and gave the entire space an ethereal setting. I spent some time in the religious chambers adorned with statues of Guru Padmasambhav and other deities and listened to monks chanting from holy scriptures. A local guide was kind enough to narrate the history of this monastery and how it came to be.
Cross legged, sitting on the floor in front of the imposing golden veneer of Guru Padmasambhav, I meditated for a while and thanked the lord for granting me audience at his abode. A monk gave me some holy water which I drank and splashed over my back and head and then after paying my final obeisance, I left the monastery.
My descent downhill was a lot easier on the lungs but definitely a lot more challenging to the joints. I kept turning back to catch glimpses of the monastery that I had just visited. As the sun rises and casts it rays directly upon the golden rooftops of the monastery, the entire facade is set ablaze with an elysian golden light!
The Power Of Faith Personified: Tiger’s Nest Bhutan. Once I was down and I caught my final glimpse of this wonder that I had just visited, I marvelled at the great monks who set out on this onerous journey to build this world heritage site at this vertiginous location! It was at that moment that I realised the power of belief and faith.
“ faith does not make things easy, it makes things possible.”
Founder, Offbeat Tracks