Taktsang literally translates to ‘Tiger’s Lair’, but which is mistakenly referred to as Tiger’s Nest. Whatever the translation, the name itself has a unique ring to it. And I always implore my friends that a visit to Bhutan and to Paro is incomplete without a hike to Taktsang.
I first hiked up to Taktsang Monastery in January 2008, when I undertook that trip with my friends from college. Since then I have had the opportunity to hike there a few more times, sometimes with Scouting groups, other times with guests of the office, the most recent one being with the Director of UNESCO New Delhi.
Lately when my wife confided in me that she hadn’t visited Taktsang, I had to plan a day trip for her. I chose Sunday, since Monday was a holiday so we could rest for an entire day.
Our preparation starts the previous day; shopping for fruits to take as offering to the Monastery, and also to eat along the way. Shamu-datshi and chilli-chop would accompany rice and tea. Also some chocolate bars and instant noodles, along with water and fruit juice for the trip.
We make phone calls to invite some of our friends and relatives but they already have their own plans for the day, so we are left on our own.
We start at 7 am from our home in Jungshina, Thimphu. It is drizzling a bit but we throw caution to the wind. We are prepared. And we are going to make our preparations count.
The drive to Paro is swift. Within an hour we reach Paro, and then onwards to Ramthangkha, the base of Taktsang.
Reaching the base, we are greeted with an assortment of noise and colors, as tourists, guides, drivers, peddlers, all congregate in this small space. The small craft-bazaar is just being set-up with most of the stalls still empty.
We start our hike.
A few metres uphill, we are hit with strong smell of horse-shit as riding ponies stand waiting for their riders. But the smell of the earth is fresh, fueled by previous night’s drizzle. We walk on, a couple among the many who are also starting their hike.
This morning, Taktsang is shrouded in mist, with no ‘jekha‘ at all.
But as we climb up higher, bypassing large groups of Indian visitors, the mist parts and we are offered a first glimpse of the monastery.
The higher we climb, the slower our steps become, but as we look back down the valley, the view is gorgeous. No wonder tourists pay top dollar to hike the Taktsang trail.
After and hour and half of slow hike, we reach the halfway point. The riding ponies are allowed only upto this point. We rest for a while and enjoyed the view. We also look around at the other climbers.
I hear a lot of languages being spoken along the way; I can make out Tibetan, Bengali, Hindi, French, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Nepali and of course English and Dzongkha. I even hear Tsangla and Chocha-Ngacha dialects of the east. There is also a dZalakha speaking group.
Slowly the sun also peeks from behind the clouds. It is going to be a hot day.
The walk upwards is tiring for Sonam and I have to constantly encourage her by reminding that we were nearly at the viewpoint.
Along the way, we take a detour and stop for tea, which we have packed. We even finish our chilli-chops, which even though cold is very nourishing.
After half an hour, we reach the view point from where we have to descent the last few hundred meters downhill.
After patiently waiting for others to take their photographs, it is our turn….I take lots of hers. It is after all her first time to Taktsang. The backdrop with Taktsang is the most photographed view on this entire trail.
Further downwards, there is another view of the Monastery which offers a closeup view. Again a photo op for the first timer, after waiting ‘patiently’ for space.
The Final Descent
The last few hundred metres is a descent down a precarious path with safety railings and steps carved along the cliff face, which will take us down to the bridge, and up towards the final entrance gate.
Photography is forbidden inside the temple premises, and we have to leave our bags, umbrella and phones inside the lockers. But if I am to describe the view from the windows of the temples, it is indeed breathtaking. How I wish to take photographs of the valley from the temple windows.
After the visit, we even climb upto Khandro Yeshey Tshogyal’s meditation cave, from where I capture the last few hundred steps towards Taktsang.
The return trip is slower since Sonam has some difficulty in walking downhill. But we make the best of it by stopping en route and admiring the view.
We have our lunch somewhere beside the road in a glade.
Be prepared. Taktsang is literally crowded with visitors starting from the road, the parking, to the trail and then the temple complex.
But a hike to Taktsang is a win-win for all. You get to hike in nature, and you also get to visit a sacred place. And above all, you get to admire the gorgeous view of the valley.
Photographs by KK Studio