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Bhutan: Tiger Nest Monastery

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Tiger Nest Monastery | Bhutan | Asia

[Visited: October 2009]

After we had crossed the bridge over the river Paro Chhu, the guide pointed to somewhere high above us. I had to duck to see what he was trying to show as I was sitting on the back seat. There it was: high above us, amazingly stuck to the face of the vertical cliff, I could see white buildings - Tiger Nest, or Taktsang Goempa, as it is often called. Soon thereafter, we arrived at the parking lot where we would leave our driver with the car. The guide and I took some water, and prepared for another fast uphill hike. Soon after we left, we felt the strength of the autumn sun in our neck. On one of the early steeper parts, we came across a guide we had seen several times before, on his way down. We stopped to chat, and he advised us taking the shortcut, which we could actually start right where we were. We did not have to think about the idea, and soon were sweating even more than before, as the shortcut almost by definition was a lot steeper than the main path. As I was leading the climb, at one point I thought to see steps leading even steeper uphill, and as we were trying to conquer Tiger Nest fast, I did not hesitate and worked my way up. After a few minutes, I found myself struggling through bushes and trees, holding on to roots sticking out of the dry soil.

Picture of Tiger Nest Monastery (Bhutan): View of Tiger Nest Monastery from one of the many panoramic points

At a certain moment, I heard my guide grumble below: was I sure this was the right way up? I said I thought I did - the full truth was that only seeing traces of trash convinced me that there had been people before me on this off-the-beaten-track. Sweat was dripping on my legs as I pulled myself up on all fours: going down was not really an option anymore. Then, suddenly, we actually reached the main trail. We surprisingly found ourselves almost at the cafeteria, famous for its view of Tiger Nest monastery, or Taktsang. Actually, we had almost reached the altitude of the monastery in just over 25 minutes: around 700 metros ascent. From here, even the shortcut proved easy, and we swiftly moved up the edge of the mountain. Every now and then, as there was an opening in the woods around us, we stopped for yet another view of Tiger Nest. We met several people going down, among them an 82 year old Sri Lankan priest who looked very fit - I can only hope to be able to do what he did at his age! At one point, we reached a small rocky outcrop from where the view of the monastery was outright spectacular. Even though Tiger Nest was still on the other side of cliff, and there was several hundred metres of abyss between it and us, it seemed like we could almost touch it. The warm light of the afternoon sun helped to make it look even better, and the anticipation of entering this cradle of Bhutanese Buddhism grew with every step. Before reaching the entrance, however, a surprise presented itself: a waterfall coming down from the face of the cliffs. And we were lucky: the sunlight was shining through the curtain of water, creating a bright rainbow. From here, a short climb over rocky stairs took us to the entrance, where I had to leave my camera behind before we could enter Tiger Nest. After spending ten days in Bhutan it did not even strike me as odd that I would just leave my precious camera and other valuables with an unknown person, without receipt or anything, out in the open air. When a monkey started to throw things at us, we decided it was time to move.

Picture of Tiger Nest Monastery (Bhutan): Taktsang or Tiger Nest Monastery seen from below

In the mid-8th century, Guru Rinpoche came to Bhutan from Tibet, and he introduced the country to Buddhism. According to the legendary story, he rode a tigress, one of his consorts, to the very place we were now standing, to meditate here for three months. The tigress is supposed to have meditated as well, in a separate cave. From here, the Second Buddha as he is called in Bhutan visited many places in the country, subdued demons, and gave many prophecies. He would eventually lay solid foundations on which Bhutanese Buddhism is now based. Actually, the area around Tiger Nest monastery is full of holy places for Buddhists - Tiger Nest only holds a few of them. Tiger Nest is built around the Taktsang Senge Samdrup, the cave where Guru Rinpoche, or Padmasambhava, is said to have meditated. We visited some of the most sacred places in Bhutanese Buddhism, saw the cave where the tigress is said to have meditated, saw the entrance to the cave where the Guru meditated, colourful statues of the eight appearances of the Guru, while a monk poured holy water into our open hand. Apart from the flow of pilgrims making it up here, Taktsang has seen prominent visitors like Milarepa and 17th century Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, who unified Bhutan. My guide was convinced that this improbable place for building a monastery implied that only holy figures could have constructed it. Taktsang also had bad times: it has been destroyed by fire several times, last time in 1998, but has been restored. Furthermore, we marveled at the scenery from the monastery, the steep cliffs below us, the waterfall behind us, running down the face of the rock. Yes, again, I felt the peacefulness of this country. The walk down was a breeze, and from the cafetaria where we had some refreshing ginger tea, we were accompanied by two friendly souvenir sellers.

Picture of Tiger Nest Monastery (Bhutan): Large prayer wheel on the way to Taktsang, the Tiger Nest Monastery
Picture of Tiger Nest Monastery (Bhutan): The monastery at Taktsang clings to the steep cliffs
Picture of Tiger Nest Monastery (Bhutan): Sunlight in the waterfall near Tiger Nest Monastery: rainbow
Picture of Tiger Nest Monastery (Bhutan): Colourful prayer wheels on the trail to Taktsang, Tiger Nest Monastery
Picture of Tiger Nest Monastery (Bhutan): Water keeps the prayer wheels spinning on the way to Taktsang
Picture of Tiger Nest Monastery (Bhutan): Tiger Nest Monastery built against the cliffs
Picture of Tiger Nest Monastery (Bhutan): Prayer flags and Tiger Nest Monastery
Picture of Tiger Nest Monastery (Bhutan): At the foot of Tiger Nest Monastery, some 700 metres higher
Picture of Tiger Nest Monastery (Bhutan): Tiger Nest Monastery, Taktsang, amazingly built on the cliffs

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