Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tiger's Nest

Paro is the gateway for Bhutan and where we first arrived in January. That day we ate lunch in town and then swiftly travelled to Thimphu an hour away, and were left with only a fleeting glimpse of the city.
This time we chose to stay in Paro for two nights mainly so that we could tackle Bhutan’s most famous tourist destination – Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest, so named because Guru Rinpoche flew here on the back of a tigress to subdue a local demon. Afterwards he meditated for three months in a small cave in the rock face. It felt to me that a year in Bhutan would not have been complete without reaching the monastery perched high on a sheer mountain side in deep forest, but perhaps I didn’t clearly think through how we would get there with two little kids.

When we arrived at the base of the climb we looked up and were amazed at the sight of the monastery high above us, clouds blowing past.

We're going to climb up there?!?!?!

Luckily our friend Heather joined us and she had already done the walk twice this year, so it was like having a guide. Having said that, she steered us up a very steep path, away from the obvious route to the top, and for a while I was wondering if we were really going in the right direction. We could see nothing but thick forest and occasional paintings on rocks, no view above us to show us where we were headed.

Where are you taking us Heather???

The boys break into spontaneous 'Om Mani Padme Hums' when they see the prayer written on rocks!
Beautiful wildflowers were all along the way.


Eventually after a hard two-hour uphill walk, we reached the Tiger’s Nest Cafeteria which Heather told us was 2/3 of the way to the top.

Butterlamp near the cafeteria.

We pushed on, still not seeing the million-dollar view of Taktsang which was hidden behind clouds. Light rain added to the slushy mud trail, and Xavier got quite grumpy, but ultimately he managed to keep on walking all the way to the top. It was too far for Remy, even though we plied him with treats, so Bob found a way to carry him on his back inside his backpack so he was hands-free.


Lichen hanging eerily from trees.

Finally as we were drawing closer and closer to the Monastery, the clouds cleared momentarily and we could see how far we had climbed and how close we were to the monastery, but we didn’t realise that the last part of the walk is arguably the hardest.

Family snap as we catch our first glimpse of Taktsang. Xavier was in a bad mood after the hard climb and wouldn't smile!

Seven hundred steps descend the rocky mountainside, and fortunately metal railings keep walkers safe as long as you stay on the path. We heard of a sad story of a tourist falling to her death this year from somewhere on this hike and with this in mind we were extra careful, but it seems that if you stay on the path and have favourable weather conditions you would be fine, even with children.

Steep stairs and a beautiful view far down to Paro.

Just before you reach the monastery there is a dramatic waterfall flowing down the vertical mountain and spraying water vapour all around as you cross a little bridge and then walk up to the monastery complex.

Lucky for us, it was a special occasion and the monks had just finished a puja (ceremony) where an enormous amount of tsog (offerings) had been blessed and were now being given out to visitors. The kids were encouraged to take handfuls of chocolates, chips, biscuits and lollies and of course they were more than willing – Xavier thought it was better than heaven!


We had only half an hour to see the various temples before they close up at 1pm for a lunch break. This was enough time though to see the temples, which were beautiful and inspiring. It was fascinating to walk from one to the other up steep concrete and stone stairs as clouds circled us. As the monks closed up for lunch we sat at the entrance to the monastery and broke open our picnic supplies, savouring for us at least, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be in this amazing place that few ever get the chance to see. Heather on the other hand has now visited three times and plans to come two more times with visitors later in the year.

Leaving the monastery means ascending those seven hundred steps before meeting the slushy mud path all the way back down the mountain. Remy was tired and it was my turn to carry him up – good exercise!


We had clear views of Taktsang all the way down and were amazed where we had just been.

With regular stops and lots of encouragement we made it down to the cafeteria where we waited out a rain shower inside with tea and biscuits. It took us about three hours of slow walking and plenty of rest stops to reach the top and the same to return. I didn’t feel like the walk was particularly hard, but we did take it at an easy pace. I would think that anyone with moderate fitness would be able to make the climb, and a child of 5 or more with lots of breaks and encouragement.

Nearly all the way down - Taktsang is high on the hill and you can see the Cafeteria in among the trees.

As we came to the clearing at the bottom of the climb where we began in the morning, we looked up and felt a real sense of achievement. We were so proud of Xavier for being able to walk up and down by himself – it shows how much he has grown up in the past six months. He felt strong and proud of himself too – an enormous achievement in his life, and an opportunity to learn that although there were moments when he’d had enough and wasn’t enjoying himself, the reward of completing the hike was worth it all.


What an achievement for a five year old kid!

We returned tired, but exhilarated, to our hotel Pegyel, which had a swimming pool. We had decided to stay there thinking how good it would be to have a swim after the trek. By the time we arrived, although it had been a warm afternoon, the sun had set and the water was too cool for me. Bob and Heather were both brave enough for a quick dip though with some hardy locals who don’t mind swimming in conditions that I consider wintery!

View from the car as we left Taktsang - if you look closely far up on the hill was where we were!


Beautiful view from our hotel room window.

The boys fell asleep on the drive home, so we tucked them in for an early night and while they slept in our room we enjoyed a simple room-service Indian meal with Heather and planned our trip back to Thimphu the next day.

While we were walking, Xavier had reminded us that Taktsang is in the book we have at home in Australia called ‘1000 Places To See Before You Die’, so at the end of this day we were feeling pretty happy to have crossed at least one off!


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