BHUTAN: PARO Tiger’s nest
If there is a defining image of Bhutan, it is of the iconic Taktshang monastery, clinging to the face of a sheer cliff that plunges 900 metres to valley floor in Paro district.
Also known as the Tiger’s Nest monastery, a trip to Bhutan would be incomplete without a visit to Taktshang, the holiest Buddhist pilgrimage site in the eastern Himalayas. That is why all Bhutan travel packages have Tiger’s nest on the itinerary.
Located to the north of Paro valley, at an altitude of 3,120 metres, the monastery, when viewed from the forested valley floor, looks impossible to access. But a two-three hour uphill hike through pine forests gets you to this amazing spiritual site founded in the eighth century. The Tiger nest hike is without doubt, always one of highlights of the Bhutan travel tour.
It was here that in 746 AD the great Indian tantric master, Guru Padmasambhava, arrived on the back of a flying tigress and meditated for three years, three months and three days. That’s why the monastery is known as Tiger’s nest or lair.
Legend has it that the flying tigress was one of Guru’s consorts, Yeshe Tshogyal, the wife of Tibetan King who became a disciple of Guru, when Guru was in Tibet.
Guru meditated high above in Paro valley to subdue a malevolent spirit and introduced tantric Buddhism in Bhutan. Today, Bhutanese take Guru’s visit as the starting point of its more recent history with the advent of Buddhism deeply influencing and shaping through the centuries the culture, traditions, values and belief systems.
Numerous Buddhist saints visited Taktshang to mediate where Guru did in the years to come. Some of Buddhists saints who mediated in Taktshang were Milarepa (1040 – 1123), Thangtong Gyalpo (1385 -1564) and the Tibetan Yogini Machig Labdron (1055-1145).
A monastery was built around the meditation cave much later. It was Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the founder of Bhutan, who wanted to build a monastery around the cave where Guru meditated. But it could only be in done during the rule of Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye, Bhutan’s fourth temporal ruler. He laid the first stone during a visit to the cave in 1692.
In 1998, large portions of the monastery were burnt down in a fire. The monastery was rebuilt to its former glory in 2005.
The monastery, which is built into the rock face, consists of four main temples and dwellings for the monks that reside there. The architectural style and design represent Buddhist and Bhutanese traditions of blending in with the natural landscape. Staircases carved into the rock face connect all the temples. All the white walled structures have a balcony offering panoramic views of the forested valley below. There are eight caves around which the monastery is built and the cave where Guru meditated in known as the “Pel Phug”. All the monasteries have histories of occupation as hermitages by monks through the centuries.
Until recently it was a precarious trail to the monastery. Nowadays a much wider path exists and a stone steps with railings lead right to the base of Bhutan’s heart and soul.