Trek to Taktsang or Tiger's Nest

2016 has been quite a year for me with many firsts, some happy and some sad but one of my happiest memories from this year was a trek to Taktsang Monastery or Tiger's Nest in Paro, Bhutan. The trip is so special because all the odds were stacked against me. I was initially unsure whether the trip to Bhutan would happen or not. Later, I was unsure whether I would be able to visit Taktsang due to my poor health condition at the given time and last but not the least, the path to Taktsang was full of miracles for me. I was physically unfit due to lack of exercise and couldn't breathe properly due to an acute sinusitis infection, and, during the trek, had to re-think whether I can and should proceed ahead or not, I was stupid enough to not carry water along the way, yet I found water miraculously thrice during the trek and last but not the least I made it to the meditation chamber just when it was nearing closing time. I had planned for a trip to Bhutan in August and finally went for it in October. From the time of planning to making the actual trip, I was fascinated by Tiger's Nest. I thought, I will go for short treks on a weekly basis and prepare for it but it was not to be. I was suffering from an acute sinusitis infection and there were all sorts of tales that I heard that made me think that perhaps I wouldn't be able to make it to the Tiger's Nest but fortunately I did. Infact, I was the only one in my tour group who went for this trek, apart from our tour guide.

Taktsang or Tiger's Nest is one of the most sacred sites in Bhutan. Infact, someone told me that most Bhutanese people make an effort to visit it atleast once a year. Guru Rinponche or Padmasambhava brought Buddhism to Bhutan. Legend says that his consort turned into a tigress and he flew on her back to the site of the monastery to subdue a demon. Guru Rinpoche meditated in a cave for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days and 3 hours here. It is said that the best thing you can do after reaching the monastery is meditate. Another important point about Taktsang is that whatever you wish for, comes true. However, you need to visit the monastery again next year to thank the Guru for making your wishes come true.

If you are visiting Bhutan or are a trekking enthusiast, you must visit Tiger's Nest and here's what you can expect on your way:-

Rumours - Rumours abound around the trek to Tiger's Nest. My local travel guide told me that the trek was very tough and arduous and you can only walk half the way, rest of the way you have to use mountaineering equipment or clefts in the cliff to climb-up. When I reached Bhutan, our Bhutanese travel guide also had something similar to add. She said that half the way is easy, thereafter you have to grab the cliff and do actual mountaineering. She even recounted tales of how she has carried some of her tour group members at times on her back because they were just too unfit to climb down. I can trek but mountaineering is not something that I have any experience with, and I was apprehensive about the trek after hearing these stories. Thankfully, the path to Tiger's Nest is a trekking trail and does not require mountaineering. 

Taktsang from the beginning of the trek
Waterfall at the beginning of the trek

Path - The path to Tiger's Nest is quite steep and dangerous at times. The monastery is situated at a height of 10,000 feet and the trek starts at around 7,000 feet. The altitude makes breathing a little difficult at times and it's better to do this trek after you have been in Bhutan for 2-3 days, especially if you are visiting from a hot place. The trek passes through scenic pine forests and waterfalls and is divided into two parts essentially. During the first part, you have an option to hire a mule and ride on it till you reach the centre point or Capital Area. These rides typically cost around INR 1000. You can also choose to buy trekking sticks that are sold at the base. I did not hire a mule or purchase a trekking stick but I would recommend that you carry a trekking stick as the trek is too steep and it helps a lot especially during descent. The mid-point of the trek or capital area is a plateau area with some prayer wheels, few resting benches and a restaurant. 

Taktsang from Capital Area

Small prayer wheels at Capital Area

Prayer wheel at Capital Area

Part 2 of the Trek - After crossing the Capital Area, the trek seems a bit relaxed as the path tends to wind up and down so while you have the same steep hill to climb, you also come across descending points that provide you some sort of relief. The path can be a bit narrow at times and if it rains, then it gets slippery wherein a single misstep can lead to a life threatening fall. On the way, you will come across dense pine forests, wild flowers, ridges with Tsa Tsa (Tsa Tsas are small triangular shaped molds of clay containing some central deity. Making them pacifies obstacles, bad conditions, accidents, and diseases) and small waterfalls. 

Prayer flags on the way
For me personally, the most beautiful part of the trek was hearing the Buddhist chants from the monastery throughout the climb. There is so much quiet and stillness there that you can hear the monks chanting from the time you start the trek till you reach the monastery. The chants, combined with the pine forests and beautiful views fill you with an utter sense of peace and joy. The last bit to the monastery has steep stone steps, spectacular views of the Paro valley and a gushing waterfall just before you reach the monastery. Photography is not allowed in the monastery. The entrance has some lockers, wherein you need to deposit your mobiles and cameras before you head to the monastery. The monastery has several temples of different Gurus and it is open during the following timing:-
  • 8 AM to 1 PM
  • 2 PM to 5 PM/6 PM on weekends

Paro valley view

A video posted by Gunjan (@gunjansen) on

The waterfall right before Taktsang

The trek takes a considerable amount of time and you should set aside atleast half a day for it. I made it to Guru Rinpoche's temple just when it was due to close for lunch. Luckily I did get to meditate there if only for a few minutes. It was quite relaxing. I returned back faster but the way down was quite taxing for my toes, thus, I really recommend a trekking stick. At the base, there is a small market of sorts, where hawkers sells bracelets, earrings, prayer wheels, keychains and trinkets. I missed out on shopping there due to lack of time but if you are into those things do shop there as the scope to bargain there is a lot and I did not come across those jewellery items anywhere else in Bhutan either.

Kyichu Lhakhang - After finishing the trek to Taktsang, we visited Kyichu Lhakhang, one of the oldest buddhist temples in Bhutan. As per our driver, a journey to Taktsang is incomplete without a visit to Kyichu Lhakhang. I haven't really seen this being mentioned on the net anywhere but you must visit this temple because it is one of the most prettiest temples of Bhutan. I almost didn't make it here either due to an accident on the road. Infact, when we reached the temple, it was closed but lucky for us, some monks visited it at that time and the head priest re-opened the gates for them and allowed us inside as well.

Things to Carry - Do carry the following things for your trek:-

  • Comfortable clothes and shoes
  • Drinking water - lots of it, atleast 2 litres
  • Sunscreen and facial wipes
  • A trekking stick
  • A jacket or windcheater
  • An umbrella