A trek to the Tiger’s Nest or Paro Taktsang monastery, a place of great cultural significance is an overwhelming experience.
The trek to the Tiger's Nest, or Paro Taktsang, is not for the faint-hearted or short-of-breath. But the experience at the end will overwhelm the toughest heart and take the strongest breath away. You start early, on a cold winter morning, and carry as little as you can. Take just a bottle, pack light, wear comfortable shoes that grip well, dress appropriately and carry money, and don't forget your pole.
We went up to the monastery at the Tiger's Nest in the biting cold of the end of November. The monastery is of great significance to the Kingdom of Bhutan. History narrates the story of Guru Rimpoche, a descendent of Lord Buddha, who travelled all the way to Paro Taktsang on the back of a tigress (hence the name, the Tiger's Nest). There he meditated for three years, and his tigress settled in a cave that can be seen there, establishing the monastery and sowing the seeds of what became the primary religion of Bhutan.The trek starts with the purchase of a ticket at a counter that is open only till 1 pm as you have to be back down by 5 pm. But we started at 7 am, braving the cold, for a relaxed and enjoyable trek.
What starts from a plain with a pine forest, evolves gradually as you ascend the summit. The climb isn't too difficult, save for the occasional slippery rock, but one must be patient as it is customary to give way to other travellers, especially the horses, smugly walking up, carrying those who cannot walk up, and swaying from side to side. It's scarier to opt for a horseback ride. They walk so close to the edge and don't seem sure-footed at all! But to each their own.
Don't bother carrying too much water. There are benches along the way, and fresh water streams with clean water, and quenching your thirst at these streams adds to the experience. You can sit at the benches to catch your breath or relax a bit, but it's best not to as you tend to tire quickly that way.
And then comes the midway stop - a café where you can get nothing but coffee and biscuits. Because a heavy meal before the second half of the climb can spoil it all! The café is spacious and relaxed, and a great opportunity to get some good pictures.
Now for the second half - the terrain begins to climb up more drastically and the foliage changes much quicker. The altitude can pose serious danger to those with asthma or breathing problems, so it's best to get a physician's clearance before attempting the trek.
Now, the Tiger's Nest begins to loom in front of you. The first full sight of the monastery in the distance was so overwhelming and my eyes welled up with tears. It suddenly reminds you of the might of this monument and the sheer smallness of our existence.
In 1998, a great fire damaged a large part of the monastery, and to this date the government and the king are trying to repair and restore the loss of structure and legacy. The monastery tour is done by a free guide, who takes you from room to room, with enough time given for you to soak in the resounding vibe of the place. And make sure you do that, because the monastery does not permit photography.
The climb down is an experience in itself. The now shorter and quicker path gets even more challenging to descend. But now you are filled with an infectious enthusiasm stemming from the achievement. The same café that offered you a poor fare, for the benefit of your climb, now greets you with a traditional Bhutanese, lavish lunch - the quality of which is well worth it's above average price. The Tiger's Nest tries seasoned travellers, but also rewards one greatly. If happiness is a place called Bhutan, then Paro Taktsang is truly the summit of that happiness.
The writer is a travel enthusiast with a strong passion for inspiring others to travel. She is the founder of ART-ery and ART- swathe- brands of jewellery, accessories and sarees for women