My phone alarm awoke me. It was 5:30 AM.
Google weather predicted rains today. I was worried. The rains could make it difficult and dangerous. What if we had to cancel?
Today, I was to embark upon my most awaited trek and would want nothing to dampen my spirit and enthusiasm.
Taktsang Monastery or Tiger’s Nest as it is popularly known, is the iconic face of Bhutan. Every visitor to this happy kingdom, makes an effort to trek upto Taktsang.
Our guide Yeshi was waiting promptly at 7am to take us to base camp. Driving there, we looked up at the steep and stony mountains and could see the sacred monastery. How in the heavens was I gonna go up there?
The crowds were yet to arrive. It was a great suggestion by Yeshi to start before the crowds came in. We would also avoid the sun if it decided to make an appearance.
We paid an entrance fee of Nu 500 (INR 500) and rented walking sticks for Nu 50 (INR 50).
At the beginning of the trail is a water powered prayer wheel which is holy for Buddhists. Trekkers make a quick stop here and then proceed.
The climb up is a gradual incline. The trail is dirt and mud surrounded by pine trees. Prayer flags are found fluttering happily throughout the trail.
Valley views surround us as we climb higher. The pine forest is dense with hues of green, and the rice fields below glisten like emeralds and topaz. People stop at turning points to take selfies and pictures.
It usually takes 3 hours to finish the trek, and the local Bhutanese can do it even faster. We met several locals on their pilgrimage who walked along smiling at us. Catching my breath I took small steps and as I tried to match my pace with the rest of the trekkers.
As I walked up, it felt wonderful to meet people from different nationalities encouraging each other. The air was filled with “We can do it”, “We’re almost there”, “Lets get going”
Around 11 AM we reached halfway to our ascent, the cafeteria.
Trekkers usually take a break here. Panoramic views of the monastery from here are insta worthy and we spent a few minutes with our cameras.
In the interest of time, Yeshi suggested, to skip the coffee break and do it later on our way down.
People who cannot do the trek, have an option to take a horse ride from base camp till the cafeteria. After this they need to trek up on their own or view the monastery from here and descend down with their horse.
We ploughed on towards our destination. The trail got flatter as we neared Taktsang.
Steps of stone carved into the mountains, were visible as we neared the monastery. They fall and make a gradual rise towards the monastery, like a person bowing down and rising up in prayer and worship.
These last few moments of the trek are the most trying and will test your endurance. Keeping my focus towards the monastery, I trudged along towards the last mile.
Stunning views of the black, stony mountain walls and the white monastery perched delicately into its bosom greet me as I keep walking. A gushing waterfall marks the end of the trek.
I was overjoyed and humbled. She stood gracefully like an empress, whose crown is golden, and her dress is white with red and gold detailing.
Volunteers greeted us with steaming cups of chai for which I was grateful. We had to deposit our cameras and bags in the lockers, before entering the monastery.
Legend says that an emperor’s wife transformed herself into a tigress and carried Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambahva) from Tibet to the present location. The guru mediated in a cave and tamed the evil demons. This cave came to be known as Tiger’s Nest or Liar, translated from the word Taktsang. The present day monastery is built around this cave.
Inside the monastery complex, Yeshi first takes us to a huge rock which has a deep indent. You have to close your eyes, walk towards the rock and try and place your thumb in this indent. If successful then all the karmas of your ancestors will be forgiven and you will be free. After 3 tries, I knew the karmas will stay J
Yeshi walked us through the inner sanctuaries and chambers explaining the history and legends behind them.
The walls are covered with ornate murals of Buddha, and numerous Buddhist iconography. Money, colorful cakes and heaps of fruit and food are placed as offerings at the altar. Copper cups are filled with water as offerings. Monks offer us saffron water from an intricately carved jugs which we received in our right palms and drank. A room is filled with glowing butter lamps.
We enter a holy room which has the statue of Guru Padmasambahva and the cave where he meditated. An elaborately decorated closed door is the entrance to the cave. It is opened only once a year during the monastery festival held in Mar or Apr.
Another chamber contains a miraculous statue of the ‘Self Speaking Guru’. The story goes that when the statue was bought to the base, the people were unable to carry it up. The statue spoke and told the people not to worry. It transported itself to the monastery.
The statue glowed luminously and looked serenely upon us. Yeshi mentioned that we could make a wish and it will surely come true. We spent a few minutes soaking in the tranquil aura.
Many who have visited Taktsang claim to have experienced a spiritual encounter.
We had finished our tour of the monastery and I was waiting outside for Yeshi and my cousin. Standing alone looking at the pilgrims and trekkers who were just arriving, something spoke to me very clearly…to think about my current situation and decide my future path. This momentarily insight seemed very clear to me and made me realize how special this place was.
I guess I was called to visit Taktsang, it was not my choice 🙂
Raindrops fell gently as we descended 🙂
We stopped at the cafeteria for lunch and indulged in some simple but delicious food.
On our way out, I looked up to see the empress, she was covered in a soft blanket of clouds. Hanging over the cliff she emanated a sensation of peace.
Know before you go:
- The trek takes around 3 to 4 hours for a person who is fit.
- Arrive early, to beat the crowds. 7am is perfect.
- Rains can make the trail slushy and slippery, wear good grip trekking shoes. Carry a stick if needed.
- Carry water and a snack. Pack light as the trail is steep and the day pack weight can tire you.
- The timings are 8 AM to 1 PM and 2 to 5 PM daily, October to March. Until 6 PM, April to September.
- Camera and photography is not allowed inside the monastery.
- Contact details for an outstanding and patient guide, Yeshi – +975 17 93 17 26