Taktsang Palphug Monastery ~ The Tiger’s Nest, Paro Valley, Bhutan (archives)

Paro Taktsang, Tiger

Paro Taktsang
Perched about 900 metres (or 3,000 ft) above the Paro Valley, the Tiger’s Nest is a sacred Himalayan Buddhist temple complex.

A friend of mine is currently bicycling around Bhutan.

Bhutan! That magical, mysterious, land-locked country on the southern slopes of the eastern Himalayas where happiness is valued and elevations range from 200 m (660 ft) to more than 7,000 m (23,000 ft). Cycling! What a wonderful, life-embracing, inspirational woman she is.

In spite of watching her progress with total awe and some envy, I haven’t been moved to ride my own bicycle for more than a toddle around the block. I was motivated, however, to revisit my Bhutanese photo-set from this time four years ago.

September is festival season in Bhutan: a wonderful period of colourful costumes, dancing and celebration – and that’s what we were there to photograph. (Two of the banner photos ([1], [2]) on this website are from one of Bhutanese festivals I attended while there – more about that some other time.) Our first complete day on the ground, however, was spent hiking up to The Tiger’s Nest – that sacred collection of monastery and temple buildings perched some 3,120 metres (10,240 ft) above sea level.

Our itinerary said the climb would take about two hours, and we’d be back in Paro for lunch. This seems, in retrospect, rather optimistic. Every travel site I’ve looked at suggests allowing 2-4 hours for the uphill portion, and doing it after you have acclimatised to the altitude.

I suppose we could (possibly?) have walked it faster than we did, but who would want to? It is a truly beautiful hike – even if rather more strenuous than the guide book suggested. We started trudging up, up, and more up, just before eight o’clock. The dirt path sets off gently enough through tall blue pine and it wasn’t long before we spotted our first stream tumbling downhill to meet us. Across the stream, gaily painted white-washed buildings (chorten) house water-driven prayer wheels. Large stones nearby are painted with prayers and images of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava, “The Lotus Born”).

Decorated white Bhutanese chorten, Tiger

Prayer wheels, driven by water-wheels in the running stream, sit inside white chorten or stupas.

A spinning Bhutanese prayer wheels inside a colourfully painted window, Tiger

Spinning, Spinning
Prayer wheels spin inside their chorten – their speed determined by the stream waters.

Cliffs above the Paro Valley, Tiger

Distant Monastery
Clouds shroud the mountaintops above the cliff, where the monastery is barely visible.

Photographers in a field on the walk to Tiger

Photographers in a Field
We have climbed very little so far; it is still a long way up to the temple.

From a field off the trail, we were able to look up, way up, to where the Tiger’s Nest perches impossibly on a neighbouring mountain peak, 900 meters above the Paro Valley below. Wow! I got vertigo just looking at it.

Bhutanese bronze prayer bell on a red cloth.

Bronze Bell
Religious items, jewellery and some souvenirs are for sale along the route.

Portrait: Young Bhutanese woman in black.

Bhutanese Beauty

View: Chorten in the woods; Stream along the Tiger

Streams and Trails

Old Bhutanese woman in a red hat and sweater sits with jewellery and trinkets on a cloth.

Selling Jewellery
An old Bhutanese woman sits with her jewellery and trinkets.

Prayer flags and flowers border the dirt trail to Tiger

Flags and Flowers
Prayer flags blow in the breeze and flowers line our rocky, dusty path.

Small stone Cairns against pine forest, The Tiger

Memorials for the departed punctuate the trail.

As we continued the walk up hill, through birdlife and trees draped in Spanish Moss and prayer flags, we came to a sign: “Walk to Guru’s glory! … For here in this Kingdom rules an unparalleled benevolent King.” This is the realm of Guru Rinpoche who, in the form of Doriji Drakpo, one of his eight manifestations, flew to the top of this mountain on a flaming tigress, giving rise to the monastery name: “Taktshang” or “Tiger’s Nest”.

Up and up we tramped: past small stone cairns in memory of the dead; past trinket sellers with an abundance of yak bone and mountain-coral jewellery, and religious objects in silver and bronze; past wild flowers and prayer wheels; until we finally reached the half-way point – the cafeteria rest stop (2940) – by ten o’clock. I asked what time we were supposed to reach the top, and was told: “Fifteen minutes ago!” Hmm.

Already, one of our group of nine had resorted to riding one of the sturdy horses that service the lower half of the track. Now, it is true that none of us were particularly young and most of us had been living at sea level in Bangkok, and therefore were not used to the altitude, but seriously – two hours all the way up???

Bhutanese man in his gho walks around a large prayer wheel, The Tiger

Prayer Wheel
Our guide does the requisite three laps of the prayer wheel.

Bhutanese Wind Horse (Lung Ta) Prayer Flags

Wind Horse (Lung Ta) Flags
Prayer flags are strung everywhere.

Colourful umbrella on a cloth covered in Bhutanese religious items for sale, Tiger

Trinkets in the Sun

Indoor table full of prayer beads and religious goods for sale, Tiger

Phallic Symbols for Sale
Phallic symbols in Bhutan are vested with the power to ward off evil spirits.

View of Tiger

Taktsang Cafeteria
The cafeteria serves coffee and meals, and affords a great view of Tiger’s Nest.

Large bright square of cloth printed with Bhuddist symbols, The Tiger

Prayer Cloth
According to legend, the Shakyamuni Buddha’s prayers were written on battle flags.

View: golden pavilion surrounded by pine forest and prayer flags, The Tiger

Flags to the Wheelhouse
Horizontal lung ta and vertical darchor flags set off the golden pagoda.

Prayer flags strung across the dirt path, Tiger

Wind Horse Flags
Lung ta flags spread prayers on the wind with the speed of a horse, apparently.

View through trees to Paro Taktsang, Bhutan

View to the Tiger’s Nest
As the trail winds upward, there are regular glimpses of the temple.

Spanish Moss on the path to Tiger

Spanish Moss
The pine forest is draped with lacy moss.

Bhutanese meditation house

Meditation House
The deep, rumbling sounds of of a monk chanting came from this little house as we passed.

After drinking cups of tea or coffee and stripping off excess clothing, those of us who continued to the top took plenty of pictures, pausing regularly as we wended our way up, up, and more up. This was not only as an excuse to stop and breathe – it really was one of the nicest trails I have ever trekked.

It is true what they say: at the lookout, you feel you as if you could reach out and touch the monastery across the ravine. The bad news is that to actually get to it, you need to climb down and up again on the other side. It probably isn’t that far, but it is steep and I wasn’t the only one gasping for air!

View of The Tiger

The Tiger’s Lair
It looks so close you could reach out and touch it!

prayer flags and wooden bridge over a steep waterfall, Tiger

The path from the viewpoint to the temple drops down over a 60 meter fall.

Decorated roof of the entry to Tiger

Look Up… Way Up…
The entry to the temple is decorated in traditional Bhutanese manner.

Five Bhutanese Monks at the entry steps to Tiger

Monks at Tiger’s Nest

Stone stairs , Tiger

Stone Stairs

View of Taktsang, Bhutan

Looking back at Taktsang

Bhutanese prayer flags against the sky, Tiger

Prayers on the Wind

Yellow Wildflowers, Tiger

Yellow Wildflowers

Portrait: young Bhutanese woman in pink.

Another Beauty

Frayed red Bhutanese Prayer Flag in green vegetation

Fallen Prayer Flag

After visiting various altar rooms in the monastery (without our shoes, hats or cameras, as per requirements), we set off back down the hill to collect our missing group members at the coffee house.

One of the hallmarks of the Bhutanese has to be their flexibility; when it became clear we were going to be nowhere near Paro by lunch time, our guide arranged for our lunch to come to us! Once we had finally made our way back down the hill, our food was waiting, and mid-afternoon, seated on cushions in a field, we finally ate our well-deserved meal.

There is a real risk when going back to old photos: they were taken with an old camera and processed with an old version of Lightroom, so everything had to be re-edited. Then, looking at the framing or aperture or lack of clarity, there were all those “What was I thinking??” moments…

Text: Happy TravelsBut, I loved Bhutan when I was there, and I enjoyed revisiting some of my photos from this happiest of Himalayan Kingdoms.

And it was ever so much easier than cycling!

Happy Travels.

Pictures: 24September2009

  • gabe - September 19, 2013 - 9:58 pm

    Beautiful photos & and your usual beautiful writing. Enjoyed it.ReplyCancel

  • Kevin Dowie - September 23, 2013 - 8:12 am

    Nice article Ursula, Bhutan remains on my bucket list. One day!
    PS: Is that Gavin Gough’s umbrella in one shot? 🙂ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - September 23, 2013 - 9:36 am

      Hey, Kevin! That’s not Gavin’s umbrella (too colourful for a Brit!) but his back is in one shot. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • […] first full day in the country was spent hiking to Tiger’s Nest, high over the Paro Valley. Then it was time to hop in a minibus, and cross some of the rugged […]ReplyCancel

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