Adventure Travel

Spirituality on a Cliff

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Paro Taktsang

Image: Richard Hopkins

The minute I got out of my car I wondered if I should’ve stayed back at the hotel. I like travelling and discovering new places but I also like sleeping till ten in the morning. I wondered if my sister and mother had the same thought. At that moment, a two hour trek uphill, on an empty stomach in a cold morning, did not seem very fascinating. But without any other option, we started walking towards our destination – Tiger’s nest monastery.

Built in 1692, this magnificent monastery is located in the upper valley of Paro, Bhutan. It is surrounded by steep rocks and the monastery itself hangs on a cliff top. From a distance, the trek seems almost impossible. Or at least that’s what I thought.

It did not seem too bad once we started walking. Sure, we got breathless once in a while, but the beautiful location and friendly people motivated us. The month of January is probably not the best time to go to Bhutan. The green cover is far less than it is after the monsoon and it is also very cold. However, the day was bright and sunny which made it pleasant. The trek is fairly easy. It has a well defined track with frequent clean drinking water stops. Not to mention, it’s very scenic. We saw several colourful prayer flags throughout the trek. Many of them were faded hinting that they must have been tied a long time back.

Halfway through the monastery, there’s a nice little canteen that serves tea and biscuits on the way up and a buffet lunch on the way back. The tea wasn’t really the best, but I’m not complaining. At that high altitude, it’s commendable that they actually have a running kitchen. However, the lunch was delicious consisting of typical Bhutanese cuisine like ema datshi (chillies in yak cheese), kewa datshi (potatoes in yak cheese) red rice.

The trek seemed pretty effortless after we had a few biscuits. After a point, the trek consists of several flights of stairs. If I remember correctly then I guess someone mentioned that there were around 700 steps before we could reach the monastery. But thankfully they were not steep or uni-directional. On the way to the monastery, we came across a place where people tie prayer flags. We were almost blinded by the bright colours.

Even though Indians don’t need a passport for Bhutan, they need different permits for different places. Unfortunately we did not have a permit for Tiger’s nest. But fortunately, Bhutenese people are kind and helpful. We just gave them a passport for verification and they did the rest. While filling out the details, the gregarious guard even talked about a few Bollywood movies that he was a fan of. Next thing I know, we’re inside the monastery. It was a place of peace, calm and serenity.

We weren’t allowed to take anything inside. No camera, no phones and no backpacks. But none of that mattered at that moment. The view from the monastery was spectacular. There are several prayer rooms inside that are usually full of pious devotees. Many people got Yak butter for the butter lamps. After spending some time there, going from one room to the other, taking blessings from the monks and drinking the camphor water they gave us as an offering, we headed back.

The way back was easier and faster for some reason. We finished our wonderful yet exhausting trek by buying overpriced souvenirs from the vendors at the car parking area. But I guess it was a small price to pay for such a wonderful visit.

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Jeremiah can change your oil, fix your computer and quote every line from the Star Wars films, like the Renaissance Man that he is. He's the proud parent of two Great Danes and one daughter.