TAKTSANG MONASTREY – THE TIGER’S NEST

TAKTSANG MONASTREY – THE TIGER’S NEST

General Information:

The Senge Samdup cave in the Tiger’s Nest premises, perched high up in a rocky cliff, 900m above the Paro valley, is where the legend, Guru Rinpoche, the great Indian saint who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan, meditated in the 8th century.

Guru Rinpoche flew to the cave on the back of a tigress, hence its popular name – the Taktsang, which literally means “Tiger’s Nest”. The flying tigress is believed to be Yeshe Tsogyal. It was inside the same cave that he meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours.

Later the caves became important holy shrines and numerous learned Buddhist monks have visited and meditated in the caves since the 8th century. The ultimate desire of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal (early 17th century), the unifier of Bhutan as a nation-state, to build a monastery near the famous holy caves was fulfilled only at the end of the 17th century. Paro Taktsang Monastery was built around the holy caves in 1692 by Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye – Bhutan’s 4th Druk Desi. He founded the monastery by putting its first stone during a visit to the holy caves in 1692.

In 1998, a big fire almost completely burned down the Paro Taktsang, and was restored to its original splendor by 2005.

Elevation : 3120m (900m above the Paro Valley)

Trek Distance and Time : About 5+ km uphill and downhill from the base camp at the foot of the mountain. It can take 1 1/2 – 2hrs hour going up, down a bit shorter.

Tips to Hiking to.the Tiger’s Nest:

  1. Get a hang of the altitude/ get acclimatized on the first day at Paro.
  2. Eat a light and easy breakfast, it helps immensely.
  3. Carry chocolates, energy bites and drinks
  4. Carry a light backpack.
  5. Start as early as possible.
  6. Wear a hat and sunglasses, a walking stick is an added advantage.
  7. Maintain your own pre-meditated pace but don’t be too slow.
  8. Stop to catch your breath whenever you are tired
  9. Don’t ever sit down anywhere along the way, you won’t want to get back up again!
  10. Try to hike in a group and encourage and help each other whenever needed.

You can also opt to for a horse ride and after 45 min there’s the cafeteria where you can  rest and stop to enjoy tea. The toilets here are surprisingly nice and clean.  After  another 45 minutes, you arrive at a second stop where you have to bid the horse goodbye. You have no option but to hike the rest of the trail as horses aren’t allowed beyond it. The horseback ride is only 600 Bhutanese Ngultrums (10-11USD) and it’s well worth it if you aren’t much of a hiker. But you may have to inform your guide beforehand so that he can organize it in time.

As you continue to climb up the trail, you’ll pass by random shrines along the way in the forests. As you get closer to the monastery, there are 850 steps (both up and down) that you have to climb before you get to the entrance.. As you start to take on the steps, you’ll also notice  prayer flags all over the sides of the walkway.  Since the Tiger’s Nest is a pilgrimage site, people have strung prayer flags in the final end of the trail leading up to the monastery. You’ll see a waterfall to the left and a short wooden bridge to cross.  After the bridge it’s about 2-5 minutes of uphill steps and then you’re at the entrance of the Tiger’s Nest!

Some Interesting Facts:

  1. The Taktsang Monastery is made up of four temples and a collection of residential shelters that are uniquely designed to rest on the cliff. Wooden bridges and stairs carved into the cliff connect the buildings. Each building has a balcony with a beautiful view of the Paro Valley 900m below.
  2. There are several paths leading to the monastery. The most popular path takes you through a pine forest and past the colorful prayer banners that protect the temple from evil spirits. Another path is from the north passing through a plateau called “A Hundred Thousand Fairies.” There are also paths for mule and pony treks; however they do not go all the way to the top.
  3. The big prayer wheel in the courtyard of the main shrine is rotated every morning by the monks that marks the beginning of a new day.
  4. The Tiger’s Nest earns visits from royalty. In 2015, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William and Princess Kate Middleton made the trek to the monastery while visiting Bhutan.
  5. Many caves surround the monastery. Two of them worth visiting are Tholu Phuk and Pel Phuk. These were supposedly the first caves Guru Rinpoche visited and meditated in. Today monks meditate and live in those caves for years as part of their religious practice.
  6. Sometime during March end or early April, the 10th day of that Buddhist Lunar Calendar, the Paro Tsechu Festival is held at grounds of the magnificent Rinpung Dzong in the Paro Valley. This festival honors and remembers Guru Rinpoche as he had performed dances in the valley in the 7th century. The three-day festival consists of various Mask Dance performances to vanquish off evil spirits and praise spirits of life and health. Visiting the monastery during the festival is a big draw as you experience ancient preserved Buddhist traditions and cultural history blended together even today. However, the Paro valley is more likely to be busy and crowded around this time and flights and bookings have to be had months earlier as there’s always a dead rush with everyone wanting to travel to Bhutan at the same time to witness the Festival.

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