After a challenging trek along steep mountain trails, you finally see it: Taktsang Monastery, the ‘Tiger’s Nest’. A gleaming pearl clinging to the mountainside above Bhutan's Paro Valley, this iconic landmark is guaranteed to leave you speechless. According to legend, the founder of Bhutanese Buddhism, Guru Rinpoche, arrived on the back of a flying tigress to meditate on the mountainside for three years, three months, three weeks and three days. Taktsang Monastery was built in the 1600s to mark this celebrated event, and has been a key pilgrimage destination ever since.
Leaving your luggage and technology at the gate, step inside this sacred space, with flickering butter lamps lighting your way, and listen to the monks’ soft chanting resonate around the stone walls…
Trekking to the monastery is no mountain climb, but a fairly arduous journey all the same. There are several routes to consider, and for those happy to camp the night before, a chance to escape the main footfall coming up from Paro.
Whichever route you take, the clearings through the trees will offer enticing glimpses of Taktsang - a bright beacon against the gnarled rock, enrobed in wisps of cloud - and over the valley below. Sections of the track are steep, and you may need to take a slower pace to acclimatise to the altitude. However, conveniently placed benches offer rest stops along the way. After an hour, you’ll reach the café, and take in the best views of Taktsang so far over a well deserved cuppa and light bite.
As you continue on, the steep trail narrows and billowing ribbons of prayer flags decorate the path. The last stage combines a steep descent, a small bridge over a sacred pool, and a final climb up a flight of around 400 shallow steps delivering you, finally, to the doorstep of this holy destination. Bags, cameras and phones are securely locked away before you’re allowed to enter the monastery itself.
Once inside, a different level of stillness takes over, and the world is left outside. A labyrinth of small rooms and meditation caves open out from cool stone corridors, and around every corner you’ll find new delights: embellished shrines, vibrant murals and golden Buddhas warmly lit by candles and butter lamps; the heady scent of incense filling the air.
As Taktsang is a working monastery, you’ll often see monks hurrying through the narrow halls, and may be blessed with holy water and invited to roll dice (a form of divination in Bhutan). Find a comfortable corner where you can sit peacefully, listening to the gentle sound of the monks’ chanting, and fully savour the atmosphere of this unique place.