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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.