Trekking Up The Tiger’s Nest In Bhutan
No journey to Bhutan is complete without paying homage to Taktsang Lhakhang, the Tiger’s Nest. It is revered as the country’s most sacred site and iconic landmark and is the climax of the journeys of most visitors to Bhutan.
Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche flew to the mountains on the back of a celestial tigress in the 7th century at a time when the area was abound with demons to harm people. He meditated in the cave for three years, three months and three days to subdue the evil spirits living in the caves.
The temple complex was first built in 1692 to consecrate the sacred site and ever since it has been a place of pilgrimage for Buddhist saints, monks and devotees and a major tourist attraction. It attracts thousands of visitors every year regardless of creed, race or age.
In The Abode Of The Gods
The mountain is over 3,120 metres high and the temple is 900 metres from the car park. The path varies in steepness along the way, hugging the mountain ledge overlooking a stunning valley of blue pine and rhododendrons. We took our time climbing up to savour the experience, not to mention to catch our breath back, and admire the gorgeous landscape.
It was a rush hour when we were there with many climbers young and old, all seemed to be in a hurry to get to the top. Others who found the climb daunting travelled on horsebacks with their mountain guides. Horses can only be used for the ascent, as it is deem too dangerous to travel on horses on the way down the steep mountain.
After much huffing and puffing in the high altitude, we reached the cafeteria for a rest and refreshment. Here most people have their lunch before climbing to the summit. From the cafeteria, Tiger’s Nest manifests itself in all its glory in terraced temples clinging precariously to the vertiginous cliff with a steep drop into the pine-clad forest. A veil of mist swirled round the temples transcending it to the realms of the gods.
Another stretch of steep climb reaches the View Point where a long flight of steps leads down to an iron bridge by a waterfall and then another tortuous flight of steps take you up to the temple complex. The path is festooned with colourful prayer flags fluttering in the wind.
As in all Dzongs and temples, shoes have to be removed before entering places of worship and photography is strictly forbidden. Cameras and phones have to be surrendered at the security checkpoint at the entrance of the temples. We noticed a rock outcrop by the temple dedicated to the Tigress has a natural rock formation of a tiger emerging from the rock face. Is this a divine manifestation of that celestial tigress or just a freak of nature?
There are four main temples and several meditation halls wedged precipitously against the cliff and are interconnected by steps. They have balconies to enjoy the spectacular view. Most of the buildings are open to visitors but be mindful to be respectful when prayers or meditation are in progress.
A Word Of Advice
The best time to climb up to Tiger’s Nest is early morning before the crowd arrives or late afternoon after the crowd has left, depending on the weather condition. Bear in mind that the temples are closed between 1pm and 2pm for the monk to rest. The guides will arrange the permit and fees for the trek. You don’t have to be super fit or a mountaineer but you need stamina and determination to scale to the top.
Arm yourself with trekking poles to ease the climb, carry some water to hydrate and wear the right clothing depending on the time of the year. Walking sticks are available for sale at US$1 each at the car park if you don’t have trekking poles. It is not necessary to wear hiking boots but useful if you have a pair as they have ankle protection. I was perfectly fine with my Nike trainers.
Take your time to enjoy the magnificent scenery on the way and when you get to the top. It is absolutely awe-inspiring to cast your eyes on the vista of emerald-green valleys and gorgeous mountainscape against the background of the temples swathed in ethereal veil of clouds. Most of all respect the mountain and the temples as befit the spiritual veneration of the great saint Guru Rinpoche and you will be blessed with a treasured experience of a lifetime.
I found descending the mountain more challenging than ascending it as the paths are steep and uneven and it is more taxing on my aging knees. But the journey to this most venerated Tiger’s Nest was not only enlightening and enriching but it proved that I needed to step up my fitness and I was proud to conquer my fear of heights.