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Bhutan Diary-5 -Takstang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest)


When one thinks of Bhutan, the Tiger’s nest Monastery perched  high up on a mountain cliff is the lasting image that one carries around. That we had to go there was a given. How difficult was it going to be, was a guess that we didn’t seek to answer, when we started out.

From our hotel in Paro, we set out quite early, between 5:45 and 6:00A.M to reach the flat rocky base from where we would start the ascent , by around 9:00AM. My grandson and I hitched ourselves to horse-backs . We were told  that they would take us more than half way up the climb. Wangchuk , our companion, driver and guide , gave us his card to call him up in case of any need. That was a reassuring start . Daughter was going to trek up the whole way. But old mother Hubbard had not set any challenges for herself and so that assurance was just what I needed for myself and the kiddo who was short of a few days to turn six.

 

The path up the incline is a mud track, with boulders along the way. At this time of the year, it wasn’t as difficult to progress as it would have been during the rainy season, when the trail would become all slippery. It wasn’t a very broad trail and our horses had to give way to the ones coming down and it was scary when it would choose to edge along where the land just dropped below . They were sure footed, of course and used to the climbs. But accidents do happen. But then, there’s a lot to say for optimism.

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There were side tracks along which those on foot could choose to proceed. They would make the distance shorter but the incline was steeper. The weather was clear and hence warmer than we expected.IMG_9080

 

Somewhere at half-point, we were left to go forwards on foot. There was a cafeteria there. Daughter had caught up with us there, all read in the cheeks and perspiring. I bought myself a stick which would help me in negotiating the climb. Grandson and I took turns in depending upon it to get a hold on the tricky terrain.

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We stopped often , both for myself and the kid. My knees were okay but at that altitude, the oxygen levels had reduces and that would make me short of breath quite often. Paro is around 7000 feet above sea level and the height up to the monastery from the base was another 3000 ft or so.

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The track wound itself around the mountain through pine trees and the view of the surrounding mountains and the valley below was breath-taking. The little one was tired by the time we reached the point from where we could see the monastery perched straight across on top of another slope, to reach which we had to descend around 600 steps, not at once , but in different levels and then climb up another 180 steps or so.

 

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The Takstang Monastery or the Tiger’s nest gets it name from the legend which says that Guru Padmasambhava , who introduced Buddhism in Bhutan, had flown to the cave there  from Tiber , on the back of a tiger. The story further goes on to say that he had meditated there for three years, three months, three weeks, three days  and three hours.

The monastery was built around that cave in 1692. It was razed by a fire and rebuilt in 1998. While the first time, Taking up the building material to that height must have completely been done manually, in1998 they had used cable cars to transport the material.

 

Traditional building styles in Bhutan had never followed any drawn up plans and was just a skill that was passed down. Even at present , there are perhaps no architectural courses offered in the Bhutan Universities and most of the architects now in the country,whose numbers are still few, have qualified abroad. One of the first projects that the head of the Bhutanese Institute of Architects, Ms Dorji was involved with after returning from Australia as a junior architect, was the reconstruction of the Takstang Monastery after it was burnt down.

“She explained to me how they set up a camp at the base of the cliff with a temporary office, sleeping huts, material storage and construction area.  No measured drawings or similar documentation of the structure had been recorded so for the reconstruction efforts they had to go off old photos and diaries.  Apparently a call went out worldwide to people who had visited Taktshang appealing for photographs.  From these, a detailed scale model was built at the base camp rather than plans (as the Bhutanese craftsmen couldn’t read plans).  The materials were then winched up the cliff on a pulley system, and the full sized version constructed over the course of 5 years.”

The above excepts are from a blog which will tell you more about architectural traditions of Bhutan. Here is the link: https://jeninbhutan.wordpress.com/2014/09/03/14-architecture-and-construction-bhutan-style/

 

We visited only parts of the monastery as it was already past noon and we were concerned about our journey down . We wanted to take it slow and reach base before it became dark.

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It was easier going down , of course, but it was still a 3-4 km trek back.  I had always wanted to be fit enough to accompany my grandson on a trek somewhere. I hadn’t been sure the opportunity would come as he was still little and I was past sixty two. But then the universe conspired and the little legs co-operated albeit reluctantly at many stretches. For him, this will be a tale he will probably boast about once he grows up or feel humbled by. We hope it is the latter.

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A visit to Bhutan is incomplete without going to Tiger’s Nest. It is do-able if you are in fairly good health and your knees are still in good shape and your Bp levels are not high. I do have borderline BP, but did not find it beyond my limits.

You just have to choose your own pace.

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Posted by on December 5, 2018 in Travel

 

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Bhutan Diary-Part 1


A  country where developmental goals and achievements are measured in terms of Gross National Happiness, where utmost concern is directed towards environmental sustainability, where the philosophy of dharma is invoked in governance, where loyalty and love and faith in the monarch is invested to a degree that is only next to Buddha and the Rimpoches , where the air is fresh and largely unpolluted, where mountains and valleys and rivers make up most of the undulating terrain, where people live unhurried , honest lives……Bhutan had to be an inviting destination.

 

The trip had been planned months ago as a fairly decent package deal. We were to  be picked up at Bagdogra airport and the whole itinerary thereafter would be taken care of, only minus lunch and dinner.

The drive from Bagdogra to the Bhutan border at Phuentsholing,  was tedious, with interminable traffic moving without any lane sense  causing jams at several places. Long lines of trucks went past , carrying cement and boulders . Phuentsholing was the industrial area of Bhutan and construction material constituted a major chunk of exports to India and Bangladesh. At stretches where the roads were clear, our vehicle was zipping past . Seated in front, I noticed the needle touching  120 several times.

 

We checked in to the hotel assigned  in the free zone area of Phuentsholing, tired after after the long day and full of anticipation for what was ahead.

 

Wangchuk greeted us at the reception  the next morning ,wearing the  traditional knee-length robe, “gho” and a very pleasant countenance. He would be our driver and escort for the rest of the trip. He facilitated the necessary clearances from the Immigration office and then we were off to Thimphu.

The new road, which wound lower down the mountain slopes , had been inaugurated  less than a year ago. It would have taken us longer to reach our destination had we gone along the older route which was in the higher reaches.  The day was clear and the sun bright and very warm.  All along the way, flags of many hues fluttered in the wind. They were considered auspicious  and an ubiquitous feature throughout the land.  Structures that looked like bus shelters, dotted the roadside at regular intervals and women sat selling vegetables and long clusters of something white that looked like erasers. It was  dried yak  cheese , rubbery and tasteless, we found, when we tried it out on the return trip. Chewing on it was “time-pass”, Wangchuk told us .

Here and there , the colours of Autumn were still hanging on the trees, giving visual relief to the bare mountains and rocky ledges that hung over the road. We were slightly disappointed that the route was not as verdant as we expected. But then, many of the distant mountains seemed to have ample tree cover.

Wangchuk drove the vehicle at a slow pace, the needle on the speedometer rarely going beyoind 40.  We stopped for lunch on the way. Food was very basic , rice, chappattis , dal and vegetables and this was to be so throughout our stay .  We were told to avoid the non-vegetarian dishes on the menu , as animal slaughter was more or less banned in Bhutan and what was available was the stuff that came from India , with the likelihood of having been stored in the freezers for a considerable amount of time.

 

Smoking in Bhutan is banned too and smuggling cigarettes treated as a serious offence. There was no ban on alchohol though, the logic being that the former was not just injurious to the person who consumed it, but also to the others around . I guess the same logic applies to  a similar custom among the followers of the Sikh religion.

 

All farming in Bhutan stays free of chemicals . Wangchuk deplored the fact that everything that was grown and sent to the markets in India was completely organic , but when during the lean season they had to buy stuff from the markets in India for use in Bhutan, they got vegetables and fruits that was steeped in pesticides.

 

After checking in at the hotel in Thimphu by evening, we took a slow stroll in the neighbourhood. The architectural style of all the buildings, we noticed, was predominantly similar. It had to be so, as per the guidelines of the government . Residential houses in the rural areas rarely went beyond two storeys and in the cities the prescribed limit was six storeys. There were no high rises at all.

 

Even being the capital city, the place was not crowded. The total population of Bhutan is just about 8 lakhs and so the lack of hustle and bustle was not surprising. Moreover , the government was doing everything they could to discourage migration from the rural areas to the cities. There were schools and hospitals everywhere in the rural areas. Education and medical facilities were completely free. There was a land ceiling act in place which allowed individual ownership up to 25 acres only. Of course families owning more land generally assigned ownership to individual members  to retain the whole of the property between themselves. Those without any land to their name were allotted up to four acres by the Government. Those orphaned and elderly and without any means of sustenance were given free rations and also housing .

 

The livelihood of more than  60% of the Bhutanese population depends on agriculture. Irrigation where necessary, is provided at very subsidised rates . Holdings are marginal, by and large and so mechanised farming is slow to take hold, although the Government does provide use of tractors free of cost, Wangchuk told us. Rice and maize and potatoes are the major crops grown for domestic consumption , apples, oranges and cardamom being the cash crops.

 

By five thirty , it had started to become dark and we walked back to the hotel as the temperatures suddenly started dropping . Dinner washed down with lemon tea later, we snuggled inside the warmth of our quilts , winding up our first day in Thimphu.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2018 in Travel

 

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