Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Bhutan: The Trek to Tiger’s Nest ‘Taktsang’ Monastery

‘Is the trek difficult?’ ‘What if we are not able to do it?’ Similar questions had come up every time the Tiger’s Nest trek was discussed and Captain Nero AKA Neeraj, our team leader, had proudly talked about this fellow tripper of his ‘He was 140 kilos and I had dragged him till the top. So there is no way you won’t complete the trek’.

The Taktsang Monastery trek in Paro was scheduled on the 5th day of our Bhutan trip. The itinerary had mentioned this as ‘the highlight of the trip’ and probably this was the only thing about Bhutan I had known prior to starting research about the country (thank you facebook). No doubt, it is the most popular cultural icon of the country and even British Prince William and wife Kate have done the trek.

Personally I was not much worried having been lost in the jungle during a trek just a week ago. The endurance factor remained; the breathlessness with uphill climb was to be tackled; but definitely there was no way I wouldn’t complete the trek. The iconic photo I had seen of so many people with the Tiger’s Nest monastery in background had to be taken after all.

The majestic view of Bhutan's most beautiful monastery as seen from the trail, Tiger's Nest, Bhutan, November 2016

Around 10.30 AM, we arrived at the base of the Tiger’s Nest trek, 6 kilometres from Nivanna, our resort (which was a further 6 km from Paro town). A beautiful flea market with local vendors greeted us and invited to shop. ‘We will come by while returning,’ we said and moved on.


Nero gathered us together and told us about the history of Tiger’s Nest and how it became significant. He told us the story of Guru Padmasambhava and how he had meditated in a cave here and flying to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress. This place was consecrated to tame the Tiger demon.

How the most sacred monument of the Bhutanese people had been built on the edge of a flat cliff 900 metres above the Paro Valley with no modern technological advancements back in 1692 remains a mystery to us all.

The trail is well laid out with hardly any scope of loosing it. With a steady walk, it should not take more than 2-2.5 hours one way to cover the 3.5 km distance while following the prayer flags. Nero did warn us that once some of his trippers had got lost when they decided to take a shortcut through the jungle.

All set for the trek to begin at the base of Tiger's Nest, Bhutan, November 2016

It's a different feeling having fresh mountain water. Tiger's Nest Trek, Bhutan, November 2016

Beautiful views enroute to Tiger's Nest, Bhutan, November 2016

Sandy paths, overgrown roots all through the Tiger's Nest Trek trail, Bhutan, November 2016

This being the winter months, the sandy path was dry and every movement of the mules got heavy sand flying in every direction. ‘Always walk on the mountain side when the mules cross. They will take the trench side,’ came the experienced trekker Vyshakh’s advice.

We slowly made our way up. The incline wasn’t very steep, although the sand and rock path did make it a little difficult to climb up. Breathlessness, as usual, was catching up with me.

‘Take deep breathes and sink your breathing with your steps,’ Neeraj told me.

I tried it for a while; not sure if it worked or not, but it sure was taking a lot of effort. I decided to simply follow my slow and steady climb up. Talking was also draining out a lot of energy.

‘It’s just the first few minutes, then you will get used to the climb and it will be easy,’ he had told us earlier.

By noon, we arrived at the Café located at mid-way through the trek; Deeksha, Jyoti and Nikita in the lead (or so I presumed), Lavanya, Sukhi and Vyshakh carrying the rear and the rest of us somewhere in between. A series of prayer flags and recycled bottles lined the area.

Mid-way through the trek, prayer wheels greet us. See the Tiger;s Nest far up? Bhutan, November 2016

A closer look revealed the recycled bottles. Tiger's Nest Trek, Bhutan, November 2016

After a quick tea and biscuit break, the final half of the climb began. This was a lot easier, although the initial bit did involve a lot of inclines. Now our bodies had gotten into the rhythm and we were all in the middle of fun conversations. Our ‘Ask a question’ game was on. ‘Which movie inspired you the most?’ ‘What would your tombstone read?’

We asked a group of foreign tourists on their way back, ‘How far is it now?’

‘Just about two hours at your speed,’ the guy responded, smiled and left.

‘40 minutes at most,’ guide Nero told us confidently.

We finally arrived at the point where the steps begin and Tiger’s Nest is below eye level. As usual, I started counting the steps. Soon enough we reached the vantage point where everyone takes their picture with the monastery. We did too. And a lot of pictures.

We had to click some photos here at the main vantage view point. Photographer: Neeraj.
Tiger's Nest, Bhutan, November 2016

After descending down 450 steps, we arrived at the 'waterfall just before Tiger’s Nest’. As expected, Neeraj and Ritesh were already up on the rocks climbing towards the water. I was soon to join and get some pictures clicked.

‘In the monsoons, the water flow is so high, you need to run across the bridge superfast to not get drenched completely,’ Neeraj later told us. Right now the flow wasn’t much but the noise of the water had been echoing in the valley ever since we had started the trek.

We could now see the entrance gate of the monastery. A set of stairs led us into the main entry. Close to 270 to be precise. It was past 2 PM and exactly about 40 minutes since we met the foreign guy. (The monastery remains closed from 1-2 PM everyday so the priests can have lunch)

The waterfall right before the entrance of Tiger's Nest. Photographer: Jyoti
Bhutan, November 2016

The entrance gates finally visible. Just another hundred steps to go.
Tiger's Nest, Bhutan, November 2016

No electronic equipments or bags are allowed inside the monastery and there is a locker where one can keep the stuff. Surprisingly, the lockers weren’t locked and a lock lying in Sukhi’s bag came in handy.

We didn’t have much time and we quickly went around the monastery’s many halls.  (There were Oreo biscuits, Ferrero Rochers, Choco Pie and Parle G packs amongst the offerings kept which, no doubt, amused me!)

‘Let’s play a game right here’, Nero told us and as we rounded up wondering if this was even the right place for a game, history and mythology came together with skill. It was the only possible place for the ‘game’ and tested all our tactical skills. This is probably what makes his trips so different and loved, I thought.

Nero nudged us to move fast to avoid having to trek through the jungle in the dark. It was close to 3.30 PM now. It would be dark by 5.

The 450 steps we had taken so easily downwards were to be the only obstacle right now. Slowly, 50 steps at a time, amidst conversations we climbed up. Vyshakh was sharing his trek stories, how he used to go up untraced trails from Dehradun and how he left his job and got into trekking high up in the Himalayas as a professional trek leader less than a year back. And how, on one of his treks he had seen a man with another group lose his life.

We were having packets of Parle-G, casually discussing if it was from the Vile Parle factory, and all I could do at that moment was to marvel at the genius company I was with, every person with an epic story to tell.

The downhill trek was easy- Slippery at times due to the sandy path, but not one testing endurance. Amidst Shraddha’s background singing a.k.a. on-demand radio, Pooja and Nero’s talks of ‘The Secret’ and the ‘Law of Attraction’ while probably she was singing ‘Cheap Thrills’ in her head all the time and Jyoti patiently listening to my sad visa story amidst all her vertigo, we all trekked down.

What these not-so-easy and not-for-everyone activities help in doing is bonding people. And right there, right then, stranger-turned-friends were trekking down from Tiger’s Nest Monastery, hand-in-hand helping each other at every slippery turn.

The sweet lady at the flea market. Tiger's Nest, Bhutan, November 2016

By the time we reached the base, the vendors at the flea market were packing for the day. I quickly made my way to one and bought a few stone fridge magnets as souvenir. The lady was sweet and gave me a good bargain. ‘Show some light into my purse,’ she said and I pointed the phone’s flashlight. She was struggling to locate some Ngultrums to return as change and eventually gave me Indian rupee. I smiled and accepted.


It was just 5.30 but completely dark by then. With our bones crunching and legs demanding a good night’s rest we sat in the bus and left from Tiger’s Nest with accomplishment at heart. All of us had reached the top and come back, at our own speeds, without giving up. The majestic view of the beautiful monastery captured perfectly in our sight, forever.

Someday again, perhaps, I will come back here, when Tigers Nest is snow covered and there is mist all around. How beautiful would that feeling be!

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8 comments :

  1. Detailed and informative. The place has always held a charm for me though I don't think I'll make the trek anymore.

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    Replies
    1. Why would you say that? It's a beautiful and relatively easy trek. Go for it if you can :)

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  2. Amazingly written Mr. Antarik!! I will definitely save this post and re read to relieve the cheriasable moments.
    N thnk for giving me this Radio title.

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  3. Haha.. well, that was the only song you dumbasses knew so i had to play it over and over again 😄😝😛

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    Replies
    1. It was more like this was the only song you knew and wanted to make sure everyone follows suit. You sang it like 10 times with the guitar during the bonfire night :P

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