No visit to Bhutan is complete without visiting the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Also known as Paro Taktsang, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is one of the world’s most iconic buildings, teetering high into the Bhutanese cliff-side around 3,000 feet above the Paro Valley. Getting to it is the difficult part, and the Tiger’s Nest hike is no walk in the park.
However, you don’t need to be an experienced mountaineer to complete the trek to Bhutan’s most famous landmark. A little preparation and fair dose of perseverance is all that’s required. Seeing the iconic view of the magnificent Tiger’s Nest Monastery with your own eyes makes the arduous hike worth every single ounce of effort.
For most people it’ll take around three hours to trek to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, including a break at the Taktsang Cafe at the halfway point. The total time it takes to complete the Tiger’s Nest hike will obviously depend on a number of factors, such as your own level of fitness and the conditions on the day.
The whole round trip to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery and back to the base level will take up the majority of a day. You can easily spend at least an hour looking around the monastery’s temples once you reach the summit. Naturally the descent is far easier, taking roughly around and hour and a half to two hours to return to the base.
The trek to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is definitely challenging but far from impossible. The climb is steep and also at high altitude, which adds an extra level of difficulty. An integral part of any trip to Bhutan, the key is to take the trek at your own pace – remember that there is no rush and that you can stop and catch your breathe whenever you need.
Though it’s a tough climb, if you pause for a rest whenever you need to and take your time you’ll eventually make it to the top and be rewarded with one of the most breathtaking views you’ll ever see.
The early stages of the hike to Bhutan’s Tiger’s Nest Monastery
You won’t need any specialist mountaineering gear to hike to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, though you will need some suitable footwear and clothing. The hiking trail is mostly a dry bare path and is sometimes rocky so a good pair of suitable footwear is required.
The hike will make you warm and sweaty, but it can be very cold at the Tiger’s Nest Monastery when the clouds gather. You may want to bring gloves for when the temperature drops and wear warm socks for walking around the temple’s cold stone floors.
Bring enough bottled water to keep you hydrated, and carry a few snacks and sweets for an energy boost. Your Bhutanese guides will probably bring these too.
Long walking sticks are available to hire from the base at the start of the trek for 50 Bhutanese Ngultrum (around 15 cents/10p); though not essential they do make the steep descent a little bit easier.
The starting point of the Tiger’s Nest hike is around a 20 minute drive from the centre of Paro. It’s best to start the trek as early in the morning as possible, when the lower temperature makes the hike a little more comfortable. Your Bhutanese guide will advise the best time to get there and will also accompany you on the climb (a climb that they will most likely have done hundreds of times before).
The Tiger’s Nest monastery can just about be made out from the pine forest at the starting point, a tiny white speck buried high amongst the distant trees. For those less able to hike there are also horses available to hire from here that carry passengers to the halfway point.
Pausing for breathe and to admire the view; tea and crackers at the halfway point; dozing dogs and prayer flags line the route to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
The hike is split into two sections, with a much needed cafe marking the end of the first section of the trek. The initial part of the climb offers beautiful views over the Paro Valley and the surrounding forests.
The first part of the hike is all uphill. The path is a wide and dusty track, big enough to share with the horses who make the trek back and forth throughout the day.
Colourful prayer flags fill the trees along the entire route to the Tiger’s Nest, as does the familiar sight of Bhutan’s docile stray dogs dozing in the sunshine. The Tiger’s Nest Monastery frequently peers through the gaps in the trees, never seeming to get any closer.
The halfway point of the hike to the Tiger’s Nest Mountain. The iconic monastery still seems a way off in the distance.
At the halfway mark is the welcome break of the Taktsang cafeteria. This is also as far as the horses will carry passengers from the base of the trek.
The cafe directly faces the Tiger’s Nest and as well as a restorative cup of tea and the chance of a toilet break, it also offers a wonderful incentive to continue the climb.
The second section of the hike continues uphill before it eventually evens out into a long and welcome stretch of flat path. At the end of this flat section is the spellbinding view of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. The iconic scene appears suddenly, with the famous monastery slightly hidden around a bend in the path.
Many people decide that the view is enough and don’t continue any further. This is understandable, as the final section of the hike to the entrance of the monastery is as arduous as any other part of the trek.
However, if you can carry on then you should, as the temples inside the monastery are just as spectacular as the view of it from the outside. It is said in Bhutan that the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is so sacred that visiting it is equivalent to visiting 1000 monasteries.
A long and narrow set of rocky steps connects the viewpoint to the monastery. The steps descend sharply before crossing over a short bridge covered in prayer flags.
The stairs that lead up to the monastery then rise rapidly, carved from the cliff face, and continue into the monastery itself, where a close cluster of temples cling to the mountain side.
Photography is not allowed inside the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, and bags, cameras and mobile phones are not allowed to be taken inside. Lockers are available at the entrance to store personal belongings and your guide will more than likely take care of this for you.
The descending steps and final uphill hike to reach the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, Bhutan’s most famous landmark.
The Tiger’s Nest monastery gets its name from the cave where, according to Bhutanese legend, a tigress landed after she flew Padmasambhava on her back to defeat a tiger demon who had brought suffering to the Paro Valley.
Inside the monastery are a number of small temples, each one decorated in the bright and beautiful colours typically found in Bhutan’s monasteries.
Worshippers pray in front of elaborate shrines to Buddha and Padmasmabhava, and family portraits of the Bhutanese King and Queen hang nearby in ornate golden frames. From the walkways that connect the temples are stunning views of the green forests and mountains of the Paro Valley far below.
According to the legend, Padmasmabhava meditated in the cave for a total of three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours, making this one of the most sacred sites in Bhutan. This is the reason that this famous monastery was built here in such a perilous location.
The descent from the Tiger’s Nest Monastery back to the starting point is a much easier hike. However, leaving the monastery means having to descend and then climb the hundreds of narrow stone steps one more time.
Once you reach the top of these stairs the rest of the trek is all downhill. It’s still around a two hour hike back to the base, but the euphoria at having made the summit and having seen one of the most spectacular buildings on the planet will almost carry you back down to earth.
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