The hike to the breathtaking Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan is a long way.
About 6km in each direction. Other than that, hiking to Tiger’s Nest is a steep ascent, letting you gain 900m in elevation, to reach 3100m above sea level within a short time. Did you also manage to read up about the endless steps at the stone staircase right before reaching the monastery? It’s like 800 steps which you go downwards first then upwards, and finally, you’ll reach the entrance. (There’re also further steps you need to climb when you’re inside Paro Taksang, btw.)
Getting to Paro Taktsang is the opposite of a leisurely walk in the park, but there’s another option you can take – on horseback.
With all the effort required to get to Tiger’s Nest, the question is,
Should you save time and energy by getting to Tiger’s Nest on horseback?
At the base of the valley, for a fee, there are horses available for rent. You can sit somewhat comfortably on horseback to reach the cafeteria about mid-way up the trail, then continue hiking from there. To descend the mountain though, you’ll have to do it on foot – horse rides are not available. As for that question in the header, I hope you can find some answers and insight through this article.
How’s the trail to Tiger’s Nest like?
The path to Tiger’s Nest is dried soil, sand, rocks and can be pretty steep and at times, narrow. To me, there’s a minimized level of danger, so don’t worry. If you have kids with you, I presume they’re sensible enough to stick to the safe path and not go to the edge.
I have read articles that mentioned, “riding the horses to the cafeteria is completely safe”. This, I’ll have to disagree. Other than reported accidents, the possibility of the animal slipping is valid. As they move in a group, I don’t need to mention about perhaps other horses falling and impacting your horse.
In wet weather or if the ground is muddy, it’ll be a stupid decision to ride the horses. A friend hiked to Tiger’s Nest in wet weather and saw some people slip and fall on the slippery ground and get hurt, even without the horses.
Where the horses are trained to walk
Firstly, the horses have been trained to walk close to the edge of the cliff, while hikers stay at the inner, safer side. I don’t know how this arrangement came about but really, you don’t want to be the one next to the cliff-edge, lol.
We would stop in our tracks whenever we see the animals coming, to give way to them, and also because they kick up a lot of dust inevitably.
While the horse struggles uphill, the rider would need to lean forward to keep the balance.
My photos are such weird angles because I was in fact rather afraid! At this section, there were many horses coming from both directions. When I was in Santorini, someone gave me a tip to not look at donkeys in the eye. Wasn’t too sure if it applies for these animals in Bhutan too, but I couldn’t risk it when this was a cliff we’re talking about (we did see a donkey kick a man on this trail hahaha, watch the #AnnoyedDonkey on my Bhutan Instagram Story!).
You might be sitting on your horse going uphill, while a bunch of horses are on their way downwards, resulting in an actual horse traffic jam.
The spiritual basis regarding horse-riding to the monastery
The hike to Tiger’s Nest is considered a pilgrimage. According to the Bhutanese, you’ll accumulate very good merit for yourself if you get to the monastery on foot. If you were to ride an animal to shorten the journey, in the spiritual sense, you’re splitting the merit with the animal for making the animal suffer for your convenience. I’m a believer in merit and karma and would thus agree with this.
On the flip side, the mindful part of me also accepts that this horse-riding option will always be available, even if to cater to people who really cannot walk much due to health issues yet still would like to get to the monastery. At least, the people who take care of these horses will get a source of income.
This location below is a wonderful viewing point before the cafeteria. From here, you can catch a glimpse of Tiger’s Nest in the distance. Some people would choose to stop here and not proceed on, or end at the cafeteria.
Without horses, how long will it take to hike to Tiger’s Nest?
We started at 9am and stopped at the cafeteria for a break of refreshments. Along the entire trail, we took very frequent breaks to catch our breath. Near the monastery, we took more time for photos, I gotta take many photos for my blog! My Mum was almost 70 when she did this with us; she was very determined to reach Paro Taktsang.
By 12.30pm, after clearing security and locking away bags and cameras, we were all inside Tiger’s Nest monastery. As such, if you’re of general or pretty good fitness level, each way will take you no more than 2-3.5 hours. No matter what, this hike is not a competition. Conserve your energy, watch your breathing, enjoy the hike and go at a comfortable pace.
Will you want to reach Tiger’s Nest on foot or use a horse?
Check out my Guide and Tips on Hiking to Tiger’s Nest!
Or, find the answers to All Your First-World Questions About Visiting Bhutan!
Hiked: December 2017
With special thanks to Druk Asia!
Full credits are at the end of my first Bhutan post.
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