Highlights of Bhutan: Tiger's Nest Monastery

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Tiger’s Nest Monastery 

The Tiger’s Nest monastery, known locally as Paro Taktsang, has earned a reputation as one of the most remarkable tourist spots in central Asia. It has become the most iconic cultural landmark in Bhutan, and a trip to the country is incomplete without a visit.

Paro Taktsang is a Buddhist monastery perched above the Paro Valley. The monastery was built at the end of the 17th century, in the traditional architectural style of the time. The white walls of Paro Taktsang stand out brilliantly against the background of harsh rock and dark jungle surrounding it. Wide-brimmed roofs, coloured in regal reds and gold, overhang the walls below. In all, the complex totals four main temples, with numerous smaller buildings for living and eating.

 

Where Can You Find It?

Though the building is architecturally impressive, the tiger’s nest monastery is made remarkable by its location. The monastery complex is situated at the top of a mountainous outcrop, its structures seemingly sprouting out from the angular rock face beneath it. The white walls cling on to the edge of a cliff face, the other side of which lies a steep drop of almost a kilometre to the Paro Valley floor below. In all, Paro Taktsang sits at more than three kilometres above sea level. Between each temple, stone steps have been laboriously carved into the very rock, adding in to the sensation that the monastery has grown from the very mountain itself.

 

Path Towards The Tigers Nest Bhutan
Two walkers on their way to the Tigers Nest, Bhutan

How on Earth Do I Get Up There?

What makes the Tiger’s nest monastery so beautiful – its steep isolation and windswept views – also makes it hard to access. No cars or coaches are able to reach anywhere near the valley, and so hiking is the number one way to get to the top and soak in the views. In total, the round trip will take between four and five hours. Before you make it to the routes up the cliff, travellers must start with a trek through the thick forests to reach the base of the cliff. Three, winding mountainous paths then take you up to the monastery. At the start of these paths, from the very base of the cliff, it seems as though the monastery is completely inaccessible, guarded by an impregnable ring of cliff faces and granite slabs. H

However, paths seem to continue out of nowhere, guiding visitors in winding loops, past steep ravines and through the base of a cascading waterfall, up to the final complex. The paths are all uphill, but not overly steep. At this level of altitude, it is recommended that you take the path slowly, which is no real burden, given the stunning views that you are afforded across the canyon and gorge. There is a stop to eat and drink halfway up the route, and the paths are decorated with prayer wheels, religious decorations and bright symbols. There is one alternative, however, for those less able to walk. For a fixed price, you can ride most of the path on a horse, and will only have to walk short distances.

 

view of tiger nest from the forest
View of Tiger’s Nest from the forest walk

Why is the Tiger’s Nest so Culturally Important?

To Bhutanese people and Buddhists, the temple holds a far greater importance than simply its natural beauty and isolation. Tiger’s Nest Monastery is of the upmost cultural and religious importance within Bhutanese culture. Guru Rinpoche, the “Second Buddha” of Bhutan, is believed to have meditated for four months in a nearby cave, having flow from Tibet on the back of a tigress. “The Second Buddha” of Bhutan, then banished the local demons, and began to convert the people of Bhutan to Buddhism. Guru Rinpoche is therefore seen as the figure that brought Buddhism into central Asia in the 7th century, which is why this spot is so revered, and people have gone to such lengths to construct this remarkable place of worship.

Despite its remote location, Tiger’s nest monastery is decorated with luxurious symbols of Buddhism and Bhutanese culture. Perhaps the most impressive is the statue of a tiger in the hall of the Thousand Buddhas, itself carved out of the surrounding rock. The tiger is a reference to the ancient past of Paro Takstang. The name ‘Takstang’ translates as ‘tigress lair’, so called because it is believed that Guru Rinpoche flew to this mountainous outcrop on the back of a tigress from Tibet.

The monastery is active today, and many monks will make the journey to meditate in the cave networks. If you get the chance, it is always worth having a conversation with one. Monks bring the human side to a spiritual and physical story, and are always worth your time!

Bhutan
Bhutan

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