Tiger’s Nest Monastery is a must-see destination during your visit to Bhutan. Also known as Paro Taktsang (Dzongkha: སྤ་གྲོ་སྟག་ཚང་, and Taktsang Palphug Monastery The Tiger’s Nest is a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site located in the cliffside of the upper Paro valley in Bhutan. At 10,232ft and despite its popularity by intrepid tourists Paro Taktsang still operates as a monastery today.
In a land full of spectacular monasteries, Tiger’s Nest stands apart as one of the most fascinating and unique locations in Bhutan, and arguably the world.
Why Tiger’s Nest?
Paro Takstang is an elegant structure of small buildings perched precariously on a cliff, 900 metres off the ground. The original monastery was built in 1692 around the Taktsang Senge Samdup cave where Guru Padmasambhava, who is credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan, is reputed to have meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th Century.
Legend holds that Guru Rinpoche flew here from Tibet on the back of a tigress to tame the demons that were terrorising the local farmers and their families – hence the name Tiger’s Nest. During our tour of the Monastery itself, our guide showed us an old photograph taken of the Monastery, which looked remarkably like the image of a tiger’s face.
This sacred Buddhist site is located about 10 miles north of Paro, about 20 mins by car. The trek will take most people around four or five hours, plus an hour to tour the monastery and time for drinks and lunch at the cafeteria. The monastery is located 10 kilometres (6.2 mi) to the north of Paro and hangs on a precarious cliff at 3,120 metres (10,240 ft), about 900 metres (3,000 ft) above the Paro valley, on the right side of the Paro Chu (‘chu’ Bhutanese means ”river or water”. The rock slopes are very steep (almost vertical) and the monastery buildings are built into the rock face.
Our hike started from the car park at the bottom of the mountain, reached by a single track road. Here you will find souvenir stalls and hiking poles for hire (our guide brought his own for us which were invaluable, especially coming down). It is also the place to hire a horse if necessary.
We left our hotel at 07.30am and the first part of the trek, to the cafeteria, took us around 2hrs. The weather was warm and Millie struggled with her back, so we had lots of short breaks along the way, taking our time to enjoy the increasingly stunning views of the valley below us.
Our guide had done the journey many times before and we elected to take her advice and attempt the much steeper but shorter route, which was challenging in places. We were joined for some of the time by other trekkers and it was lovely to give and receive encouragement along the way.
Horses are available for the first part of the trip, as riders ourselves we were pleased to see they were in good condition, although small in stature. The unusual saddles did not look incredibly comfortable for the rider though.
Once we were clear of the trees we got our first glimpse of the Tiger’s Nest, from here it looks practically impossible to reach!
At one stop we were joined by a group from the Indian Army, who very politely requested us to join them in their photographs! Another stretch we were joined by a couple, and although his wife was struggling he took time out to help us too.
At the halfway point the path does level out, we took time to spin the prayer wheels and have a drink at the Takstand Cafeteria. This was our first real view of the Monastery and the place where many people choose to finish their trek.
After a short, steep, climb the path levels out and the next stage to the viewpoint is relatively easy. Here we found Urgyan Tsemo and were lucky enough to meet a Monk about to enter this small Monastery for a period of meditation, lasting three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours. He will have no contact during this time, basic food and water will be left for him by the door.
From here it is a short walk down the stone steps to the waterfall and across the bridge over the ravine, which is often covered in prayer flags. After a steep climb up the other side we had to leave our backpacks and cameras with the security team at the entrance. I was enthralled by our tour of the Monastery, my family a little less so!
Tea and biscuits at the viewpoint were so welcome! We met some other hikers and shared our treats with them before returning to the cafeteria for lunch. There are souvenir shops which are probably more expensive than Paro, but I found a great t-shirt which wasn’t available in the Paro shops, and a £1 extra to carry it up the mountain seemed very reasonable.
Best Time of the Year to Visit We were here in August, and the weather was very kind to us as ordinarily June to September is monsoon season. Our guide may have been expecting rain though as he kindly carried five umbrellas all the way up and back! I have read that the best time to visit is from October to December, when the weather is clear and cool, or Spring.
Our Guide For most people travel in Bhutan is only possible through organised tours. We booked our trip to Bhutan as an “add-on” to our stay in Nepal, through our great friends https://www.facebook.com/nepalrealhimalaya/ Our tour was hosted by Tshering Zam who owns and operates Pemaling Bhutan Tours & Treks. Tshering and Karma made everything possible and it was like travelling with friends from the very start. Check them out or contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information https://www.facebook.com/pemalingbhutan/