Tiger’s nest (Taktsang Monastery)
Up at the crack of dawn literally, we are in the car by 6.30am and at the base of the hiking trail by 7am. Walking boots on, layered up (although its pretty damn cold at night at around 3C its pretty hot during the day with blue skies and sunshine 18-20C in high altitude is pretty hot!
We start at about 2,100m which is about the level of Paro and will be heading up about 900m, apparently almost straight up, steep inclines and rough terrain! Destination Taktsang Monastery. It is believed that Guru Rinpoche, founding father of Bhutanese form of Mahayana Buddhism, arrived here on a back of a tigress and meditated at this monastery.
We get on our way after a quick restroom break as we won’t see one of those again for a while! We pass a waterfall and river at the start, and see horses (these can be taken part of the way up for those who can’t face the hiking), personally I prefer a walk up as I am looking forward to a bit of exercise to be honest.
The climb almost straight away is a reasonably steep incline, Nora is 70 and managing to almost keep up the pace for a while or at least the first 1/2 of the ascent. Hiking in altitude or at anytime is something you have to do at your own pace, but altitude especially. I can feel and hear my heart absolutely pounding as I am walking up, and taking deep breathes and lots of breaks not just to catch your breath and slow your heart rate but to take photos of the absolutely stunning scenery. The views are breathtaking and I can already see that this is going to be the highlight of the trip. We break at a cafe (I actually thought Tashi was joking when he said we were going to a cafeteria!) for a quick cup of tea, restroom break and a fantastic view of the destination to spur you on your way. So quickly I am off, Tashi is taking care of Nora is doing brilliantly and I head off ahead invigorated by the clean air and finally getting my heart rate up!! 900m, 120photo’s and 3 hours later I make it to the Monastery and wait for Nora and Tashi to arrive. They are about 20 minutes or so behind me and so I put back the layers that have been peeled off during the climb up and as the sun has become hotter and hotter!
We leave our bags, no camera’s not even sunglasses on your head as you enter this sacred place. Taktsang Monastery was damaged severely by fire in 1998 and the present restoration work is almost completed. But to be honest you would never know, it looks fabulous as we go from room to room exploring. We are also shown the hole in the side of the mountain where it is thought the tiger flew in and crashed into the mountain to then lead to this building being made by the fairies, well that is what I am told when I ask how they got the building on the side of the mountain!!
We leave the monastery and have a little walk into the sunshine (out of the sun it is ice cold, especially when you have been sweating your way up there in the first place). There we have our packed brunch, I have to say I totally forgot we hadn’t had any breakfast only a quick banana and juice on the way up and a cup of team. So, I made light work of the cheese and coleslaw sandwich, boiled egg and banana’s to fuel up to make my way down which I am sure will be much easier!
On the way down I meet a few other climbers and chat, I speak with a guide who overhears me talking about my trip and is impressed with me travelling alone, apparently in Bhutan that would be unheard of for a woman to travel alone anywhere. The descent is pretty quick, and we are down within 2 hrs with me charging ahead and then stopping at a few places to wait for Tashi and Nora to catch up just so we don’t lose each other, or I don’t accidentally go the wrong way.
After the walk we go for an amazing lunch (well food is always 10 times better when you’ve earned it like that! The restaurant is lovely, of course more potatoes an cheese, rice and veg and a new one on us with Bhutanese pasta which I absolutely love along with spinach another first. The food is the best, not just because of the hike, but it is actually wonderful sadly I have no idea what it is called as I was in somewhat of a daze when I arrived and left.
We decide rather than seize up at the hotel we would take a little shopping walk in Paro, and so we head into town to have a look round and buy some bits and bobs. Its a lovely little place but soon fatigue sets in so we head back and I bring forward my massage. The massage was fab, I was so sore though that at one point I thought the girls was walking on my back when she was just pushing down hard with her hands. It was the best thing I could have done after the walk, I won’t say it revived me but I think it will save me from seizing up overnight that is for sure.
We finish off the day with a home visit to a farmer and get a taste of Bhutanese hospitality. We are taken to the altar room to eat and sit around on the floor as we are served by the hosts. We start with butter tea, which is exactly that butter in tea… and tastes like that more butter than tea so sadly not really to my taste but our guide and drive are lapping it up. The food is lovely as always, with pumpkin soup and red rice, and other veggie dishes and finally a taste of chilli cheese. Of course now I realise just how hot it is, as everyone laughs as I guzzle down the water.
Finally I am asked if I want to try the local wine, of course although I am on the wagon at the moment I can’t miss a chance to try this. For some reason in my mind I am expecting a nice red or white, that’s until I see the glasses and then the clear liquid…. silly me, its rice wine isn’t it! Its not bad, but obviously I am taking tiny sips as they keep encouraging me to take more but no chance, I know what this stuff can do to you so I am keeping it to 5 small sips and done!
By the time we leave I am desperate for sleep, practically nodding off as the day has been exhausting but the best so far. We say our thank you’s to the hosts for the evening and head to the hotel. Another crack of dawn start with a 7.45am flight back to Nepal, I am not looking forward to leaving this amazing place and mountain air and heading back into the smog and hecticness of Kathmandu but sadly that is what I must do.