The Paro Taktsang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest Monastery) was established on the site of a cave set into the cliff in the late 16th century, perched nearly 3,000 meters above the Paro valley. Although we refer to it as the “Tiger’s Nest” in English, Taktsang really means “tigress’ lair” and is named after the narrative surrounding its establishment.
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Guru Rinpoche, a 7th-century Indian Buddhist leader, was said to have been carried up the mountain on the back of a devotee who had changed herself into a tigress, according to mythology in order to subdue evil demons residing within it. Guru Rinpoche meditated in the cave for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days, and 3 hours after they arrived. Since then, the cave has been revered as a sacred spot, and many great saints have visited there to contemplate. Hence the name Paro Taktsang as it is a sacred site.
When to go and what to expect
We got up early and left Paro about 7 a.m. to reach the foot of the mountain around 8 a.m., when the site opens to the public, to allow us the most time possible to complete the Tiger’s Nest walk. There is a modest collection of stalls, set up at the entrance to sell souvenirs and crafts. Visit these stalls while you return. Also, you get wooden hiking sticks for rent which can be helpful as you will have to hike uphill.
The hike to Tiger’s Nest begins here
The stroll begins slowly once you’ve passed the booths. We traveled a few fields up to the cliff’s base after passing through the gate. Locals keep mules and horses here, which you may hire to help you ascend the trail. We entered the woodland region that runs along the cliff’s edge. The trail begins to zig-zag through the trees as the slope becomes steeper, making the ascent easier.
The trek to Tiger’s Nest is difficult; it takes around five hours to complete a circular journey. The route ends with a flight of extremely steep stairs. About halfway up, there’s a café, which is a nice area for a refreshing drink and some amazing photos. The cafe appears more like a huge treehouse from the inside and the food price is on the higher side. Restrooms and an indoor seating space are available, as well as snacks, lunch, and drinks. It’s a nice spot to take a break. The monastery has its lunchtime between 12 and 1 p.m., and visitors will have to wait outside during lunchtime.
Bridge and the waterfall
We reached a viewing platform as we rounded a bend on an unusually flat route, and there it was, the Tiger’s nest, sitting magnificently across from us. Surprisingly, we were just a few feet higher than the Tiger’s Nest. The view of the pine woods and valley below was really stunning. A rope bridge traverses the gap near to a waterfall, surrounded with prayer flags, farther down the route.
You must trek a bit farther up the mountain to reach the Tiger’s Nest Monastery using this path. Then you descend several hundred stairs back into the mountain, only to have to climb many more steps on the opposite side of the rope bridge to reach the top. The area surrounding the bridge is especially calm and pleasant. Prayer flags swing in the breeze, as water from the waterfall sprays into the air. It was a terrific way to re-energize and be ready for the last leg of our adventure.
What to expect inside Tiger’s Nest
You cannot take cameras and phones and it is safe to hand over them to our local guide once you arrive at the Tiger’s Nest’s main gate and have left your shoes at the entry. We entered the Tiger’s Nest Monastery after a final gaze over the valley. Once inside, you will find a small Buddhist monastery with its gold-plated domes, white walls, and wooden balconies. As you go further, you will see monks chanting everywhere and a room full of oil lamps, and at the end is a narrow (Tiger’s) cave, hard to enter. The Bhutanese believe that simply crossing the monastery’s threshold will bring you benefits, therefore many people enter with their hands in prayer.
Prayer flags all around Tiger’s Nest
In the Himalayas, prayer flags are ubiquitous, especially along the path to Tiger’s Nest. You will find prayer flags outside of residences, along mountain paths, and across bridges to represent happiness, long life, good fortune, and karmic merit. The spiritual vibrations formed by the colored cloth are claimed to be released into the air when the wind blows through them, making everybody who is touched by the breeze happy and enriched. Local gods and spirits are also appeased using prayer flags.
Packing essentials to go to Tiger’s Nest
You may visit this place throughout the year. The trail can become extremely slick in the rain, therefore it is a good practice to wear sturdy, comfortable shoes (ideally hiking boots) with strong traction and thick socks. Rain gear will also be useful, as the weather along the path may be fickle. Bring a bottle of water and some snacks to keep you hydrated on your journey.
A visit to this incredible cultural monument is a must-do on any trip to Bhutan and is just a few minutes’ drive from Paro. Watch the video below to get a feel of how the trail is. Also, support my work by subscribing to my channel, and consider joining my Friendzone.