Why a flying tigress? Well, because during the 7th century, Guru Rinpoche – Bhutan’s “Precious Master” (the one who brought Buddhism into Bhutan) – flew to a cave here on the back of a flying tigress. That tigress was a transformation of his Tibetan concubine: Yeshe Tsogyal. Guru Rinpoche then meditated at a holy cave here for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days and 3 hours, to subdue the demons there.
At around 1692, Paro Taktsang Monastery (popularly known as “Tiger’s Nest“) was built around the holy caves here. Unfortunately, a fire in 1998 completely burned the monastery down. In 2005, Bhutan’s Fourth King of Bhutan commissioned the rebuild of this monastery at a cost of more than USD$2m.
What an amazing story!
Paro Taktsang is a sacred site, a heritage symbol. It would be odd to leave Bhutan without paying a visit to its most iconic landmark.
Perfectly planned to be the climax of our Bhutan trip, on our 6th day, the day before we leave, we finally got our chance to hike to this legendary monastery – Paro Taktsang.
After breakfast at the hotel, reaching the valley base at about 9am, our guide, Namgay, from Druk Asia, insisted on carrying my backpack (perks of my petite size I guess! =P) for me, then proceeded to stuff in 5 bottles of mineral water and adjusted the straps to fit his build. My Mum & I each acquired a walking stick from a stall, and off we embarked on the journey.
How to get to Tiger’s Nest
(without the help of a tigress)
Method 1. Ride a horse to shorten the journey
For a small fee, you can ride a horse/donkey/pony/mule halfway up. The animal will take you from the valley base to the cafeteria or somewhere higher up (sorry I’m not too sure where’s the exact drop-off point), then you continue hiking uphill. The animals are not allowed to carry people downhill though, so you’ll need to walk down regardless.
People will tell you it’s completely safe, but I was there and noted the animals had been trained to walk at the edge of the cliff. If that isn’t dangerous, I don’t know what is.
Other than the danger, there’s also a deeper, spiritual reason why the riding method is not a recommendation. It’s said that if you ride an animal up, you split any good merit from the journey – with the animal. In the higher spectrum of matters, it’s never good to make an animal suffer for your convenience.
To the locals, the hike to Tiger’s Nest is considered a pilgrimage and you’ll accumulate very good merit to hike on foot all the way to the monastery.
If you’re in good health generally and have good feet, I say skip the animals!
Method 2 (recommended): Hike on foot!
From the valley base, you’ll gain 900m in altitude and finally reach Tiger’s Nest at a height of 3,120m. Isn’t that exciting to hear?!? I’ve been waiting for this hike!
The trail in dry weather is dried soil, sand, rocks and gravel – dirt path. At times, the views get spectacular. It was super tempting to stop and take photos, also to catch our breath.
1.5 hours later, we got to the cafeteria
.. where I had a big cup of coffee and much welcomed sugar crackers to replenish energy! Sitting outdoors, we admired Tiger’s Nest from here. Best cafe view ever, won’t you think so?
After recharging our energy, we continued on our way!
11.40am: Seeing Tiger’s Nest monastery nearer now
The Bhutanese relates the story of Paro Taktsang as factual, not as myth or legend. Regardless whether the modern-day you believe or not, when Tiger’s Nest appear before you after hours of hiking, you cannot help but be fascinated by everything about this monastery.
Finally, we reached this section with great views of Tiger’s Nest. We’re so near now! Our guide sat nearby while we waited for our turns to snap photos at the ledge. Luckily, it wasn’t too filled with people this season (winter in December).
You can’t tell, but I was actually standing on a rock because the railing made me look really short 😂 The railings were like, my shoulder height -.-”
Arriving at Tiger’s Nest Monastery
At the very last part of the trail leading to the monastery, there’s a series of some 800 stone steps you need to conquer. You’ll walk down the majority of the steps first, cross a small bridge past a 200-foot-tall waterfall which drops into a sacred pool, continue more steps upwards, and finally arrive at the entrance. For many people, these stone steps can be a struggle. But, it’s not a competition. You can and should take your time.
At the entrance, Namgay gathered our cameras and handphones into my backpack, to be kept away together in a locker. After he cleared security with some documents, we entered. My Mum was demoralized to see further steps to climb. A stranger cheerfully said it’s just these steps here, there’ll be no more afterwards. He was lying, but it was a white lie 😉 You’ve already gotten this far!
Namgay then led us through the temples (think of them as shrines – little individual religious rooms) at Tiger’s Nest. With no gadgets to distract, no Instagram to take IG Story videos, no photographs to shoot from cameras, we listened in full attention to his relating of stories of Guru Rinpoche and the monastery. Some of the temples contain huge stupas and statues; it’s amazing how the people brought them to this monastery! Namgay depicted a story of one big statue being carried by humans halfway up the trail – definitely a struggle. The statue actually told the people to leave it there. The next day, the statue appeared at the monastery itself.
I did do further reading afterwards, but I guess some magic is best left untouched.
Trek Difficulty Level of Tiger’s Nest
Our hike started at 9am. By 12.30pm, we were inside the monastery, including the frequent breaks taken, tea-break at the cafe, and also mini photo-sessions along the way. Remember, my elderly Mum hiked with us! If you’re in pretty okay or good shape, each direction should take you between 2 to 3.5 hours. How you get there would be how you return. Each way is about
4km (sorry, it’s 4 miles) 6km.
In terms of the terrain, it’s much of a ‘walking hike‘ all the way – might get pretty steep sometimes but not crazy like how Mt Batur in Bali was to me. Neither do you have to get on hands or knees or hold onto trees for balance unlike hiking Preikestolen in Norway. It’s important to wear shoes with sufficient friction, sole and ankle support (more about my shoes below at Tips section).
The biggest challenge for hiking Tiger’s Nest is probably the quick elevation, letting you gain 900m in height soon to reach the monastery at 3,120m. Take your time to get there and listen to your body, especially breathing ease/difficulty.
For the hike down, it can get a little slippery. Watch your steps. We’re very grateful to our guide for always keeping a lookout for my Mum, and of course the weather for holding up! My friend went in wet weather and some of them fell and got hurt =(
Should you persevere to reach Tiger’s Nest Monastery?
During the days before in Bhutan, the small hikes were posing a challenge for my Dad (73 years old, not too fit) already, so he opted out of this hike to Tiger’s Nest totally, choosing to rest at the hotel (our guide arranged lunch for him with the hotel). The rest of us, including my elderly Mum (almost 70 years old), made it to the monastery with no hiccups.
Some people chose to stop at the viewpoint with the row of prayer wheels, while others prefer to call it a day at the cafeteria and turn back. Whether you should hike all the way to Tiger’s Nest or not really depends on your fitness level, but I’ll say don’t push it if your health is not too good and especially if you’re an elderly person.
What to know before you hike Tiger’s Nest!
- The weather and your luck will determine your hiking outcome. Sometimes, clouds will cover the monastery. At times, it rains and judging the steepness of the slopes, you’ll do good to wear hiking shoes with good friction.
- Cars can only stop at the carpark at the valley base. The only ways up from the carpark is by foot or by a horse.
- You’ll need to have your bags, cameras, mobile phones, stored in lockers right before you enter the monastery.
- You’ll need to remove shoes before entering the temples within the monastery.
- If you’re feeling too tired, you can rest at the cafeteria. From the cafeteria, it’s still a significant distance and ascent to Tiger’s Nest.
- The cafeteria also has lunch available (vegetarian food, not too tasty, TBH, but imagine the staff having to hike up everyday to cook and clean – gotta give them credits!).
- Resources say the monastery closes from 1pm – 2pm for lunch, but when we were there, I checked with our guide and he was sure that it won’t close. We were inside Tiger’s Nest Monastery from 12.30pm to 1.30pm.
What to wear for hiking to Tiger’s Nest
When we got off the vehicle at the carpark, the 9am temperature in winter was definitely chilly enough to make me hop around from being cold. My guide and driver advised us to leave our very thick winter jackets in the car, because we’ll get hot very fast while hiking. They were right.
Paro Taktsang is a monastery with temples within, plus many religious statues, and monks around. You should be in respectable clothing. No shorts, T-shirts, sleeveless tops, sheer clothing, or merely sports bras revealing the mid-riff. Your jacket should be zipped up, caps and sunglasses removed, before entering.
I’ll recommend layers that you can add/remove and still carry along without much burden. When you’re hiking, you’ll get warm very fast. At the monastery itself, it can be a little bit cold, especially the floor. I wore 2 layers at the top in total and didn’t add or remove any layer.
Wear shoes, not slippers. We hiked on a sunny day and the ground was dry. If it’s wet weather, the ground will turn muddy and slippery. Make sure your footwear is appropriate for the weather you’re going. Falling and twisting an ankle will be no fun for everyone.
What I wore:
• Inner layer: Uniqlo Airism cotton tank top
• Outer layer: Sweater
• Yoga pants (Shop on Evolve & get 10% off with code YIELDKIT)
• Thin socks (I regretted)
• Skechers trainers for shoes
All other tips you need to know before making the trek to Tiger’s Nest!
- Don’t hike Tiger’s Nest on your first few days in Bhutan. First, for altitude reasons. Secondly, your legs will ache not the next day, but the day after! I came across another tour company’s itinerary with this as the second day’s activity – zZzz. (I used Druk Asia and couldn’t be more satisfied with my choice!)
RentBuy a walking stick before you start. For nu50 each, you can rentbuy 1 or 2 sticks as you wish at the valley base, where all the horses and local stalls are at. There’ll be no more stalls after this section. The walking sticks will give you much better balance, especially for the hike downwards. I chose one thin but sturdy one so it’ll not be too heavy (and so I have the other free hand for using my camera). Not sure if the price is for buying or renting, as my guide asked that we didn’t want the sticks when we handed them to him at the end, so I believe it’s actually buying!
- Sunscreen and sunglasses are a good idea.
- Go slow & take frequent, short stops. You’ll gain elevation very fast, which means you’ll also feel short of breath very quickly.
- Bring water with you to rehydrate.
- Have some snacks or energy bars with you. At the cafe, you can get tea/coffee and sugar crackers to replenish some energy before continuing to the monastery. At the monastery, I heard people saying they’re really hungry, and still have a long way to hike down to the cafe. My Mum ate my emergency packet of biscuits to replenish her low energy. By the time we reached the cafeteria for lunch, it was almost 3pm.
- When hiking up, keep to your right, if you see or hear horses coming from the front or back. For safety reasons, we always stopped to let them pass (and they kick up a lot of dust). They’re trained to keep close to the edge of the cliff. We saw a donkey kick a man because he was blocking their path, no kidding! Your guide should always be with you and take care of you.
- Don’t ride the horses when it’s wet weather. Actually, don’t ride the horses.
- Bring a scarf with you to cover your nose. The horses and other hikers will kick up dust from the ground when they’re ahead of you, regardless uphill or downhill. I found my scarf extremely useful as a filter!
- Wear thicker, darker socks. You’ll have to remove shoes before entering the inner temples – which are about 6 or 8 of them. The floor is very cold, hence thicker socks will be good. Also, skip the white socks or you’ll have to discard them afterwards.
- Wear proper shoes for the safety of your feet. I saw some elderly ladies wearing slippers, struggling along the stairs towards the monastery. In sunny weather, the ground is dry terrain though it can still get slippery cos of the sand. I wore Skechers trainers (light and very comfortable) and they were sufficient. If it rains, the ground turns into mud and you really don’t want to slip and fall. Btw, your shoes will be coated with dirt and dust after this hike.
- The toilets at the cafeteria are clean and have taps. (I read that the monastery’s toilets are in quite appalling conditions.. )
- Check with your guide ahead if you should bring anything else in case of rain.
- There’s very limited data connectivity throughout the trail, which is great because it makes you stay in the present moment!
- If you have a tour guide, he’ll lead you all the way to the monastery, then explain the stories of the temples.
- Keep some small notes with you if you’ll like to make offerings inside the monastery.
- Watch your steps, there’s a lot of horse poop on the ground.
- For others’ consideration, if you really need to listen to your pop music, use earphones, not blare the music. Other people are meditatively doing this hike and would appreciate a quieter time =)
Have you hiked to Tiger Nest’s before? Or thought of going?
Here’s a digitally-manipulated photo I created shared on my Instagram!
⛅🌤☁ As close to heaven as one can get 😊🙌🏼 Up till now, all the photos you see on my travel account are actual photos, but on other days, I enjoy creating imaginary scenes like this for my other account @madewanderful 😊 In other news too, you can read the newly published blogpost about the way to reach THIS otherworldly monastery – the Tiger’s Nest, in Bhutan! 👉🏼🌎ThePetiteWanderess.com #PetiteWanderessInBhutan ✩—————————————✩ 🌎Travel blog → ThePetiteWanderess.com 🐥Tweet me! @ PetiteWanderess 💃🏼FB: @ ThePetiteWanderess ✩—————————————✩ #parotaktsang #tigersnest #bhutan_ig #bhutan🇧🇹 #amazingbhutan #instagoodmyphotos #bhutantravel #bhutan #artofvisuals #conceptualart #igcreative_editz #gramlayers #creativitychasers #drukasia
Hiked: Mid-December 2017
With special thanks to Druk Asia and our tour guide Namgay Tenzin. Full credits are at the end of my first Bhutan post.
Information resources: Paro Taktsang | Bhutan Tourism Board
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