Bhutan has long been known as the tiny country nestled amongst the Himalayas, often overlooked in international talks, known best perhaps for is revolutionary concept of Gross National Happiness, a unique measurement system where the country focuses on the well-being and happiness levels of the country rather than its economic growth.
But seasoned travelers, passionate hikers and learned tourists know that the Dragon country has much more than just happy people – it is an unbound treasure trove of scenic beauty, rich history, immersive culture, and challenging and fulfilling adventures, such as hiking trails. It is thus no wonder that Bhutan is fast emerging as a must visit place in the travel books of many.
However, no matter how detailed your plans are and how long your stay is, you will definitely miss out on something incredible if you go to Bhutan, and do not visit the amazing Taktsang Monastery.
Known also as the Tiger’s Nest, the Taktsang is located in the Paro valley of the Himalayas, an important town with a long historical significance. According to popular legends, the Buddhist master Guru Padmasambhava mediated in a ‘tiger’s lair’ in the Paro valley for three years, three months and three days during the 8th century, having ridden there on a tigress and called to subdue to evil lurking in the caves. Since then, the site has been an important center of pilgrimage and meditation for the followers of Buddhism, and thousands of revered saints have made it a point to come and meditate here. This spiritual and religious connection to the location became material when a ruler named Tenzin Rabgye established a temple at the site in 1692. This gradually grew to become a full-flung monastery, and the Taktsang acquired the name of the ‘Tiger’s Nest Monastery’ due to both the legend and the so-called tiger’s caves around the complex. Despite its precarious location and extensive damage to the architecture and artwork by a fire in 1998, the Tiger’s Nest continues to be a crown jewel for Bhutan.
Situated at an altitude of almost 10,000 feet, the trek to the monastery is a gruelling four kilometer, with an elevation of almost 1700 feet during the entire move. Thus, a one-way trip to the top can take anywhere between 2-3 hours on foot, to say nothing of the time one would definitely take to stop and admire the views, take photographs, and enjoy the cafes and company that will be found onroute. Due to the altitude, some may prefer taking horses up until a certain point; dedicated local guides, who often have generational experience in ferrying tourists to the iconic location will be found abundantly. The downward descent can only be done by foot, however, since the inclination is too steep for horses to cover. To truly enjoy the experience to the fullest extent possible, it would thus be best that one keeps an entire day to enjoy the Taktsang monastery.
It may seem like a lot to visit a foreign country and dedicate an entire day to a single site, but the end result at the Tiger’s Nest monastery is completely worth it. Visitors will surely be spell bounded by the majesty of the view – the monastery is perched precariously of a hill, as if the hill was created with the monastery already on it. The entire route is not only full of picturesque scenic beauty, but also has prayer wheels and flags, and a cafe at the halfway point where you can take a break and find the famous angle of the monastery. Additionally, the monastery is not a single building, but a collection of four different spaces, each connected with stairs and bridges that give further views of the valley below.
Above all, what every visitor takes from this place is a sense of peace and serenity, one that can only come from a spiritual place nestled in the hills, far from human constructs and constraints. Though the entire monastery can be covered in about an hour, many choose to stay as long as they can, enjoying a lunch at the cafe, conversing with fellow travellers or the monks, or just enjoying the unparalleled view and greenery.
Bhutan’s weather is at its best, though a little cold, in the months of October through December, and a hike that is aimed at getting you at the midpoint of the trek around noon would be the best way to capture the most stunning photos of Monastery. Despite its length and altitude, the trek is only moderately challenging, and almost anybody healthy can complete the trek and enjoy it too. Taking along a guide or local person who is well-versed in the history and legends of the region will greatly enhance the experience, and do be sure to be respectful of the culture and nature by keeping noise and littering to a minimum.
For the input of just one day, and a little exercise, the Taktsang Monastery can offer you a once in a lifetime opportunity of sensory experience, spiritual revitalization, and cultural learning. No wonder then, that this jewel of Bhutan’s heritage is an absolute must visit for anybody who travels to the country.