This. Is. It. Monday, October 26th, 2015
Taksang Palphug Monastery -- Tiger's Nest!
Today is the day we've all been waiting for, at least most of us (one couple chose not to hike). This is the day Jimmy and I trained for in the Sierra Nevada mountains prior to embarking on this Road Scholar Best of the Mountain Kingdom trip. We wanted to do it, to hike to the top; we hoped we could make it. This is an intense hike to a Buddhist temple complex that clings to a cliff 10,236' above sea level on the Upper Paro Valley. Yes, up where the red arrow points ... that tiny white building is the monastery and that's where we're headed. Our beginning elevation is approx 8,000'.
When you're looking up at the Tiger's Nest from the Paro Valley or from the bottom of the cliff, it seems almost impossible to reach, crazy to even try! Many aspirants make it to the Teahouse (cafeteria), where the view of the monastery is marvelous, they take a picture or two, and then turn around, and that's okay. Three of our group of 11 made it all the way to the Tiger's Nest: Jimmy, me, and Sheila, an avid hiker from Bend, Oregon. From the parking lot to the top is 2.5 miles. Sheila had over 20,000 steps on her fitbit for the day. (My fitbit didn't work!)
Starting out: Me, Sheila, and Jimmy at the water-powered prayer wheel.
Sheila (in red shirt) is catching her breath as she waits for us to reach her. Though the morning was cool, the climb was steep, and it didn't take us long to shuck our jackets!
Ponies are available to ride up to the cafeteria, but you have to walk down. The ponies make two trips up per day, leaving lots of horse apples behind, if you get my drift.
Me, Jimmy and Sonam (our guide) at the Pavilion -- a nice rest stop along the dusty path. The main peculiarity of this amazingly beautiful monastery is its isolated location, only accessible to us by this mountainous path. That obviously makes it very unique!
Sheila and me at the entrance to the Taksang Cafeteria. We were very happy to pause here for a cup of refreshing tea, plus biscuits (cracker/cookies), free to everyone. There may be a cafeteria, but we didn't see one -- just the tea and biscuits. Tables and chairs are provided and the Tiger's Nest view was wonderful. We didn't linger; we still had a long haul ahead of us.
Several Yellow-billed Blue Magpies were scouting around at the cafeteria, along with a couple of dogs and one cat (that we saw). The Magpies are striking. One of the dogs stole a biscuit off my plate as I was taking this bird's picture!
Hugging the rocky side of a cliff, 3,000' above the valley, the Tiger's Nest monastery is one of the most sacred sites in Bhutan. Built in the 1600's, Taksang is the birthplace of Bhutan's Buddhism. Legend says that in the 8th century, Guru Rinpoche flew here from Tibet on the back of a tigress to subdue a demon. He meditated for three months in a cave at Taksang. Over the centuries, numerous Buddhist Masters have meditated here as well .... This view is from the cafeteria.
The trail to the monastery climbs through a beautiful Blue Pine forest ... we saw trees festooned with Spanish Moss and Resurrection Ferns, almost like you'd see in the US Southeast.
We walked past groves of fluttering prayer flags. They symbolize protection from evil forces, positive energy, vitality and good luck ...
... and finally arrived at the stairs ... Jimmy starts down. It is said that we gain merit with every step we take.
Strenuous, yes, but rewarding ... to see the spectacular and famous monastery first-hand. We've dreamed of this. Jimmy is looking up at the camera (lower right corner), still clambering down the stairs toward the waterfall, before starting back up (see the path at left snaking up to the monastery?). Eyeing the precipitous drop from the stairs ain't for the faint-hearted. Thank goodness for railings! The steps are uneven, too, and we were glad we both had a hiking pole (which had been recommended).
MANY steps lead DOWN to this waterfall at the foot of the monastery. The waterfall plunges 197 feet into a sacred pool. Inside the white building next to Jimmy, a bell sounds, activated by the water.
Once at the waterfall, MANY steps lead UP to the monastery, tough slogging here.
What an amazing adventure.
We have arrived at this sacred Buddhist site: The Tiger's Nest monastery! We've passed several caves and it's quite chilly at this elevation, so we donned our jackets. We gave our camera, walking sticks, hats and sun glasses and shoes to our guide who left everything with security. Climbing flights of stone steps in sock feet, we toured three colorful temples, each with its own Buddha, and each with its own character. At one temple our guide poured saffron-scented water into our cupped hands, to sip a bit and splash the remainder on our foreheads, as a blessing. Our guide explained the meaning of each temple as we went along. If you enlarge this picture, you'll see a monkey or two in the tree!
A family of Tarai Gray Langurs were eating berries in the tree.
When the berries were ripe, they came down from an even higher elevation to eat.
I wanted to share this adventure with my late brother, Bill, who passed away in 2009 from mesothelioma, and my sister, Nannie, a breast cancer survivor, so I wore a Warriors-in-Pink scarf she'd given me and carried a photo of Bill. They would've loved to join us on this hike. And then, I picked up two pebbles (in my hand) to represent my other two brothers, Rus and Rob, just because.
But it's the beauty of the place and its sublime setting, plus an element of magic here at Taksang. The colors in the temples, the mystique, the wonder of this monastery perched like an eagle's nest on a cliff, the effort to get here that makes our journey so worthwhile.
Sonam collected our gear and said we needed to get going, back to the bus as the others were touring a tiny village nearby and would soon be waiting for us. The hike up took us over two hours, now we'd have to scurry down. We wouldn't stop at the cafeteria on the way down, tho another cup of tea would've given us a little more energy. Sheila (above) has already begun the trek down to the bridge over the waterfall.
To keep the sun off, I guess!
Down, down, down. Already the Tiger's Nest is a mere dot on the cliffside.
I thought this Oriental Turtle Dove was pretty, so I included it in the photo gallery!
Lunch was waiting for us a short drive away when we finally made it down to the bus. Jimmy was too thirsty to eat, but I gobbled everything in sight, and it was mighty delicious. At 2:30, our bus dropped us off at our cottage door, which we really appreciated -- otherwise, we'd a had to climb, climb, climb more stairs to get to our room, and we were done climbing this day!
A nice shower revived us, and the bus took us back into town, to shop till we dropped, or just look around. Tiger's Nest was the talk at dinner! The group was proud of us. Sheila, Jimmy and I were tired! I should be embarrassed to tell you we were in bed asleep at 8pm, but I'm not. We slept like the dead.
The next morning we were ready to roll. Our time in Bhutan is finished -- a most hospitable and kind and beautiful country -- and we enjoyed it all. We transferred to the airport, where we said goodbye to our Bhutanese guide, Sonam, thanking him for this kind service. Our Drukair flight to Bangkok left at 11:30, and we were on our way again. Our sixth flight this trip!