11th February : Day 11 : Hike to Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang Monastry) :
The plan for the day was to hike to Paro Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest after Exploring Paro, Haa and Chele La Pass. Paro Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest is considered as one of the most sacred site in Bhutan. It’s believed that, Guru Padmasambhava who was the key person to introduce Buddhism in Bhutan, flew here on the back of tigress and meditated here for 3 Months, 3 Weeks, 3 Days and 3 Hours.
The Tiger’s Nest monastery is located on a cliff of 3000 feet (900 meters), about 10 kilometers to the north of Paro valley. According to the Druks (Bhutanese), your tour to Bhutan is not considered complete if you don’t visit this sacred monastery.
Though Raj already enlightened us yesterday, that it generally takes 6 hours to complete the hike to Tiger’s Nest, but we were sure that we’d need more than that. First of all, I and my cousin are a heavy smoker and thus we suffer from breathing problem given such situations. My wife never traveled to hill stations, let alone hiking. And my mom, dad and aunt never expected this to achieve.
Anyway, with all the expectation of achieving the hike, we started at around 8:15 AM from our hotel skipping our breakfast as we thought heavy breakfast would lead us to vomiting en-route. It took us around 30 minutes to reach the parking point, from where we’d start the trek to Tiger’s Nest. Raj told us that he’ll wait here whole day for us, and not to worry.
My mom declined at the very first stage after noticing the altitude. She told us that, it won’t be possible for us at this age to climb such an altitude and if she felt ill en-route, it’d be an issue for us. Raj asked her to stay with him. Raj already knew that my mom, dad and aunt won’t be able to hike and told me yesterday.
One guy came up to us and asked whether we’d like to have a pony. Pony’s are allowed till half point where there’s a cafeteria for refreshment of the tourists. But we denied. We remembered our last trek to Kedarnath with my mom and aunt. But that was around 10 years ago. Since then, they have gained more weight along with age and I developed the habit of smoking.
Wasting no more time we packed our bags with dry foods and a bottle of water that we bought from hotel and started the trekking through the blue pine forests. The trail is marked properly and clearly and one should not have any problem finding the route. After walking for less than 10 meter my wife stopped for taking rest. And this continued for around one KM. Suddenly we noticed Raj climbing like he was walking through plains. We asked him to join us and requested him to walk along with us. But we were taking rest after every 10 steps.
After some time, Raj got irritated and told us, he won’t be able to hike like this and he’d go back. My wife return with him, as she was not feeling well. We told her to not get disheartened as, like this, she might be able to complete the hike but won’t be able to return. She was literally taking rest after every 5 steps, which would made impossible for us to return by the dusk hits the town.
Raj agreed to take her back. In the mean time we noticed that I couldn’t see my father. My aunt said he might have already gone a long way. I felt ashamed, at this age he was hiking through the hills without any issues and we were facing problem due to our bad habit of smoking. I decided to quit smoking from now on and plan another hike once I return.
Anyway, so we 3 started proceeding further and decided that, we’ll walk together to keep up the strength among us. And another logical reason is, my cousin was carrying the bag of water bottle and dry foods, so if we stay together it’d help us at the time of need. We further decided that if at any point of time, someone feels that he/she won’t be able to walk further, others will leave him/her behind and he/she will try to go back after taking rest else will wait at that same point till we return.
I know hiking in a group is not a good idea, as in that case the person lefts behind feels heartbroken but in case of us, it proved to be building will power. Even my aunt didn’t gave up and was hiking with us at this age of her’s. As most people was passing by, we decided to take it lightly and not to take it as a challenge and planned to carry on the hike on our terms, with numerous rests. There were various shortcuts en-route, but we opted for normal ones. Though the shortcuts, cuts time but the route is tougher than the normal routes. At various points, I thought of giving up and return. But being in the group, they encouraged me to take a long rest and proceed further.
This way, we finally reached the half point till Taktsang Cafeteria at around 10:30 AM. We took a long rest and had some biscuits before proceeding further. At this point of time, my dad called me up and informed that he has already reached the point from where he’d have to climb up 700 stairs. Haha!! We are at half point and he has almost reached.
We’d have climbed a little bit faster than this, but we were taking it lightly due to our aunt. Finally at around 10:50 AM we started again. My dad called me up again, to inform me that the road gets more steeper after this point, so asked us to take it lightly and not to hurry.
At various points we came across small streams which helped us to refill our water bottle. I must say, the trek beyond this point gets very scenic with the sound of the waterfall. Along the route, we came across various prayer flags as we were proceeding through blue pines. This time, we noticed that we are taking much more rests, nearly about one rest after every 5 steps.
After around an hour my dad called me up again to know our whereabouts. He informed us that he has already completed the trek successfully. He also informed us that, the Tiger’s Nest monastery will get closed at 1 PM and will remain closed for 1 hour for lunch break. After hearing this, we started taking our trek more lightly, as we were sure that, we won’t be able to reach the monastery within that time. So there’s no point in hurrying up.
With baby steps, we reached the next view point at around 12:30. From this point one would have go down 500 stairs and climb up 200 stairs again to reach the Tiger’s Nest monastery. But, while returning, this get’s opposite, as one would have to climb down 200 stairs and climb up 500 stairs. So it becomes 700 stairs climbing up and down both way.
My dad was waiting up there. We decided to click few selfies to celebrate our achievement. He asked us to hurry up as it’d get closed within 30 minutes, but we decided to take it post lunch break, as it’d anyway take 15 – 20 minutes for my aunt to reach there so there’s no point in hurrying.
So we took a long rest till 12:45 PM and then started climbing down the stairs. In the midway we came across a giant waterfall. We reached the Tiger’s Nest monastery gate at around 1:10 PM. But it was already closed by then, as expected. So we waited until the monastery is opened again for visiting. In the meantime, we realized that, my cousin has left the bag with my father and it had the Entry Permits that we’ll required to enter Tiger’s Nest. Shit…how can we make such a silly mistake. To get the permits, one would have to cross the 700 stairs again. It was 1:30 already and by no way we’d be able to come back till 2 o’clock which means we’ll get more late.
Luckily, there were few guides who came up all the way to offer prayers. We explained the situation to them and as expected they asked us not to worry, they would help us entering the monastery. They further informed us that who comes up till this point, security never sends them back just for a piece of paper. At this point, we realized, it was absolutely true, otherwise how’d my father was allowed, as the bag was with us and when he visited the monastery, we were still in the half way.
Finally when the Tiger’s Nest monastery opened at 2 o’clock, they introduced us as tourists and he had to fill up the details at register. The security guards handed over a locker key where we needed to keep any cameras or mobiles that we were carrying. And after that, we were finally allowed to enter the Tiger’s Nest monastery.
The group of guides asked us to follow them and said they will explain the things to us. Not bad. We remembered in Bengali we have a phrase “age gele baghe khay, pore gele shona pay” which exactly defined our situation. He took us to various temples inside the monastery and explained the history of the same and essence of each idols we saw. He further explained various architectures and paintings we came across inside the Tiger’s Nest monastery.
While returning he asked us whether we’d like to offer a butter lamp. We agreed and offered a Butter Lamp. he informed us that, due to this butter lamp, many monasteries in Bhutan have been destroyed. Thus, Government has decided to keep all the butter lamps in separate place from monastery.
He didn’t ask for any remuneration for the services offered neither we offered him anything, as we thought he might feel offended. We had already came across such instances where ladies at hotel clearly denied when we tried to tip them and said, it’s their job and they gets paid for it anyway. You’ll hardly come across such people in other countries, but in Bhutan at every step, we noticed people goes out of their limit, to help you out in any way they can.
While returning, I forgot the count of how many rests I have taken climbing up the 500 stairs. In the middle, we came across a tea shop where we thought the charges would be very high as like Taktsang Cafeteria, but to our surprise it was completely free. They offers hot tea and puffed rice to all the tourists who come up till this point, for free. They believe by this they are serving the almighty Buddha and will attain nirvana. They said, “If you want to help, just light up a butter lamp”. We felt so graceful and thus lighten up a butter lamp.
The hot tea served like energetic drink to us. First of all, we all were hungry like hell, as we didn’t had anything else other than biscuits from the morning. After having few cups of tea and taking rest for around 15 minutes, we started climbing upstairs again. Finally we reached the view point and after taking some rest we started descending at 4 o’clock.
Descending was much easier but one would have to be careful, as the roads were steep. We passed cafeteria within 4:45 PM and finally at 5:40 PM we reached the parking area. When we reached the parking area, we were more than happy to have accomplished the hike. We were not in condition of standing, when we went to parking area.
We had a plan of taking hot stone bath, but due to Losar, it was closed. Raj drove us to hotel and we entered restaurant without even going to the room first. We were hungry like hell, so we ordered tea and egg maggi for all of us. After having our so called light tiffin we went to the room and took a bath in hot water so that we don’t develop cramps in our legs.
Then we asked Raj to join us for a drink to celebrate our success and last night in Bhutan. We were overjoyed to have achieved this. But at the same time, we became silent, as this was our last night in Bhutan and with this, our trip was coming to an end and we’d have to go back to old rat race life.
We ordered our dinner at the hotel itself as we had no energy to go out, and hotel restaurant was good enough. We went to bed fast, as we had to travel all way back to Hasimara tomorrow and due to the pain in our legs, we didn’t had much energy left within us.
UPDATE (April 2017) : Bhutan Govt. have introduced entry fee of Rs. 500/- per person which one now needs to get at the base point before starting the trek and are available from 7:30AM – 1PM BST.