Hiking to Tiger's Nest Monastery in Bhutan
A while back, I watched a show on the National Geographic channel about Bhutan. I knew immediately I had to visit. What caught my eye, in particular, was the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, a stunning looking temple high up in the mountains.
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery (aka Paro Taktsang) is probably one of the most recognised sites in Bhutan and a must-see for every visitor to this country. And it doesn’t disappoint.
Where is the Tiger's Nest Monastery?
This sacred Buddhist site, built back in 1692, is located near Paro in Bhutan. It is still an active monastery today and comprises four temples with accommodation for its resident monks.
Our guide explained to us the story of Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan. He told us how Guru Rinpoche had arrived at this spot from Tibet on the back of a tigress to subdue a demon. He then remained at this place and meditated for three months or three years, depending on which version of the legend you hear, hence the name ‘Tiger’s Nest.’
What to expect when you hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery?
When we arrived at the site and saw the monastery perched more than 3000 metres (10,000 feet) high up in the mountains, peeking out through the mist, I admit I was extremely nervous about being able to do the hike. It looked so far away, and that last stretch of path to the temple seemed extremely narrow from where I was standing.
Our local guide, Norbu who had done this hike a thousand times laughed at the look of concern on my face. ‘It’s not that difficult, but you can go up on a mule most of the way if you prefer.’ The thought of being on the back of a mule on steep, narrow paths terrified me even more.
We begin to walk. My stomach was full of butterflies; I had been waiting to do this hike for so long. I was excited and nervous at the same time.
In most guide books, the hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery is rated as moderate to difficult. My partner Jonathan and I considered ourselves as reasonably fit, but certainly not athletes. To be honest, we found the hike, especially the first half, more manageable than expected. Although you’re constantly walking uphill, it’s a gentle climb, and you’ll be surprised how quickly you gain height.
The hike up to Tiger’s Nest Monastery starts from the car park at the bottom of the mountain, around 2100 metres (7000 feet). It’s just over six kilometres round trip with an elevation of 518 metres and will take three to five hours to complete, depending on how often you stop to admire the view. Don’t worry about acclimatisation, as almost every visitor doing this hike will be on a guided tour, and this hike takes place during the last days of your trip.
As you trek up the initially wide mountain path, you will see and hear the prayer flags flapping in the wind and pass by incredible shrines and stupas with fabulous vistas.
About halfway up the mountain, where the mule transport stops, a small cafe serves light refreshments and a vegetarian lunch. As is the way in Bhutan, the restaurant blends beautifully into the environment and is not an eyesore. There is a fabulous view from the terrace overlooking Tigers Nest Monastery. For many visitors, this is as far as they go, but not for us intrepid explorers.
From here onwards, the path narrows as it weaves its way around the mountain to the monastery. There are warning stops along the way not to step off the trail; it’s a very long drop. I just focussed straight ahead, keeping an eye on the temple. Finally, we arrived.
We spent more than an hour wandering around the temples; our guide was very knowledgeable, and it was so good to have someone to point out the highlights to us. Each room in the temples was so fabulously ornate and jam-packed with Buddhist deities and offerings of money and fruit. Unfortunately, photography is not permitted inside the temple, so you will have to do the trek and see for yourselves.
It’s so hard to put into words, but this walk will remain in my memories forever. It should be on everyone’s bucket list. It totally exceeded my expectations.
Tips for visiting the Tigers Nest Monastery
Unless you come from India, Bangladesh or the Maldives, you can only visit Bhutan as part of a guided tour. All tours do include a visit to Tiger’s Nest Monastery. But this doesn’t necessarily mean joining a large tour group unless, of course, you want to. Our tour group consisted of just me, my partner, the guide and the driver. I am still in touch with our Bhutanese guide and driver today.
It’s not a strenuous hike nor as intimidating as it first appears, but you do need to be comfortable trekking uphill and on uneven surfaces. Take your time, wear comfortable walking shoes, enjoy the magical views. The Tiger’s Nest Monastery is certainly worth adding to your Asia Bucket List. You’ll be so glad you went.
About the Author
Originally from the UK, Sarah lives in sunny Malta with her rescue Thai street dog, Angel. Devastated after losing her partner Jonathan who founded LifePart2 earlier this year, she intends to continue the website in his memory, under the new name of LifePart2 and Beyond. The blog focuses on retirement travel adventure and solo travel for the more mature female traveller.
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