Ascend 3,000 feet to Bhutan’s sacred Himalayan Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
The Tiger’s Nest monastery is a sacred site and Buddhist temple which juts from the Cliffside of the upper Paro valley in Bhutan. It is raised 900 meters (3,000) feet above the Paro Valley, and nearly 3,000 meters (10,000 ft.) in altitude. It is composed of four main temples and residential shelters built into granite face of the rock, the caves and other terrain. This mountainous Paro valley is the heart of Bhutan. There are multiple directions from which to access the monastery, through a forest, or across a rocky plateau called the ‘Hundred Thousand Fairies’ plateau.
A mule track will lead you to pass through a pine forest brightly displaying moss and prayer flags. Near the beginning of the trail is a water-powered prayer wheel. It is set in motion by a flowing stream, and it is said that the water which touches the wheel becomes blessed, carrying its purifying power into all life forms in the oceans and lakes it feeds into. On this path a large water fall, which drops by 60 meters (200 ft.) into a sacred pool, is traversed over by a bridge.
There are many beautiful legends surrounding this breathtaking site. According to one of them, the Tibetan description for this place translate literally to ‘Tiger’s Lair’. It is believed that Padmasambhaya flew to this location from Tibet on the back of a tigress from Khenpajong, and the place was consecrated to tame the Tiger demon. Another legend depicts a story of a former wife of an emperor, Yeshe Tsogyal, who became a willing disciple of Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhaya) in Tibet. She later transformed herself into a tigress and carried the Guru on her back from Tibet to its location today. In one of the caves, the Guru performed meditation and emerged in eight incarnated forms and this place then became holy. It was then known as the ‘Tiger’s Nest’.
The monastery was built around the cave where the Guru is said to have meditated back in the 8th century. Since the 11th century, Tibetan saints and important figures have flocked to Taktsang to meditate here. The first sanctuary built in the area dates back to the 14th century, and the first monastery on this Taktsang site was built in 1692. In 1998 a terrible fire broke out, killing a monk, and destroying many valuable paintings and artifacts. Every day at 4am, the prayer wheel – the main shrine of the monastery – is rotated by the monks, marking the beginning of a new day. The monks of the monastery are supposed to live and meditate in the eight caves in the monastery for three years. The cave where Guro Rinpoche meditated can be seen but is opened to the public for viewing only once per year. Upon entering the monastery visitors remove their shoes, leave all electronic equipment at the gate, and ascend several levels, viewing the three temples and admiring the emerald valley below and the stunning mountain views across the valley.
Though the hike is long, arduous and nerve-wracking for those afraid of heights, the resplendent views and deep spiritual experience make up for any and all difficulties getting to the top. The hike down is much easier and takes less time, allowing for the incredible views of the valley and the many birds who migrate to this beautiful valley.