Monday, 26 June 2017

A hike to Tiger's Nest Monastery, Bhutan Diaries - 5

This was the most anticipated day for me in this entire trip, not because that I was not excited about the other places, but because I was too worried whether I would be able to make the trek. I had read almost all blogs, articles that I could find on the internet to gauge the difficulty.What I understood was that the trek is not easy. I had already practiced some brisk walking for the last 2 weeks before we started our Bhutan trip because I had to pump up my stamina.

The day before, on our trip to Chele La we had already seen the Tiger's Nest Monastery from another hill and it looked so beautiful and made my urge even stronger to walk up to the monastery. We told Ugyen to drop us at the Tiger's Nest parking and again pick us up once we are done with the trek. We told him not to wait as he can go to his home and rest since we will take more than 6 hours to complete the trek.We reached the base from where the trek starts at 7:15 AM. There were very less tourists at that time. There is a pay and use toilet. This is the only toilet you will find in the entire trek unless you stop by the restaurant situated midway. Since it was not that cold in June, so we did not carry any warm clothes but we made sure that we carry enough water.

We got our tickets from the base. Each ticket is 500 Ngultrum(~ 8 USD). However one can also buy tickets once you reach the entry gate for the monastery after hiking 4.5 KM. Also we took walking sticks on rent from the base. Walking sticks are an absolute must and you must take them from the base, else you won't get it later. Also good walking shoes are required and we had our's from Decathlon. There is no permit required for going to Tiger's Nest.

So equipped with good shoes, walking sticks,entry tickets, sufficient water and a lot of enthusiasm we started our trek at 7:15 AM. The entire trek is 9 KM. There are horses that can take tourists till half of the way, but its not a good idea to take horses because on slippery slopes; if the horse accidentally skids then there are chances of injury.

All ready for the trek

All ready for the trek

We walked pretty slow. The trek is beautiful but may not be easy for elderly people. The path at this time of the year was really beautiful. It was green all around,we were greeted with rhododendrons, wild roses and many unknown flowers. The sky was too blue as if God had increased the color contrast a few notches. After trekking about an hour and half we reached the first stop that is the restaurant. This restaurant is mostly filled with Indians because after climbing till this much most Indians get exhausted. Visitors from West are much more sturdy and they can easily move ahead without this early break. From here we got a nice view of the monastery. There is a toilet at the restaurant. The food and beverage charges are excessively high. Just 3 cups of coffee costed us 360 Ngultrum (~ 6 USD). We got some apple juice packets in case we run out of energy.

Started the trek

A little after

Managing some smile for the pose

The restaurant on the way

View of Tiger's Nest  from the restaurant
Most expensive cup of ordinary coffee I ever had

Wild flowers greeted us on the way

Far there is our destination

Wild five petal rose on the way

baby pines

Some stretch of the road was red with rhododendrons

some unknown flower

 Refreshed and rejuvenated we again started. The road was slowly getting tougher but we were determined. We have crossed half way so now we will not return until we see the monastery. Also we have seen pictures of the monastery so many times ( just like Taj Mahal or Eiffel Tower ) even before we thought of coming to Bhutan that we were determined to make it. Slowly and steadily we made till the third point. There were a lot of Bhutanese people, mostly guides, who cheered us and encouraged us to keep walking. The third point is the place from where anyone can get the best views of the monastery. From here it looks so beautiful. It looks like highly ornamental structure sitting tightly on the edges of a mountain. This is also the point  from where the monastery is most photographed. Here on wards there are side railings upto the monastery.

The best views of the monastery is from the third point

All shots taken from 3rd point

All shots taken from 3rd point
Some more posing and photography

beautiful pic

great views!

From here onwards, there are only stairs to get to the monastery. A local travel guide told us that there are 700 stairs to reach the monastery gate. First we had to go down through the stairs till we reached a bridge. There is a waterfall also at this point. From here the way goes up till the monastery gate. Once we reached the monastery we had to submit our mobiles, wallets, cameras at the gate counter. No photography is allowed after this point. Also it is important to be dressed properly to be allowed inside. Both men and women must have legs covered. Women must wear full sleeved clothes and men must wear shirts or tees with collars. One guide told us that in-case someone has not worn the proper dress but wants to get inside then he/she can contact the entry office who might arrange dresses on rent( for no charges). We bought our entry tickets from where we started our trek, but one can also buy it from here. There is also a small area where you can fill up your bottles with water. It was written that it's holy water.

Approaching the monastery

Approaching the monastery

Almost there

some structure near the actual monastery

Finally there!

There is nothing special to mention about the monastery except its peace and calmness. The monastery is locally known as  Paro Taktsang, but it is also known as Tiger's Nest Monastery because, according to local legends, Guru Padmasambhava who is credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan reached this place on the back of a tiger and meditated here for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th century. The monastery caught fire in 1989 possibly from butter lamps but was restored to its former glory.

Taking rest on the way down

Finally down, close to the starting point

We were really happy that we reached the monastery. To us it was more of a personal achievement that we could trek till the picturesque Paro Taktsang. I had read so much about the 'difficultly' quotient of this trek that I was elated once we made it. Now it's time for descent. Thankfully there was no rain on this day else the roads get slippery. Also we had not carried any umbrella with us, but its advisable to carry water and umbrella. We came down pretty fast, faster than the climb. There was a small handicraft market area at the basement. When we started in the morning from this place the shops were not there. We returned our walking sticks. They were very useful in the entire trek.

Our driver cum guide was already there waiting for us. He was happy that we could make it up to the monastery. Our legs were paining very much but our hearts were filled with joy.

Finally my take on Tiger's Nest Monastery: If  anyone is moderately fit and have no breathing or heart problems then its good not to miss visiting the monastery. The views of the monastery from the third point is really worth the climb. Carry enough of water, an umbrella and walking sticks. Also a good walking shoe is highly recommended. There is no point in competing with any other person/teams, walk at your own pace, slow but steady. The secret of completing the trek is not to stop moving, but moving slowly at your comfortable pace.

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Sunday, 25 June 2017

Chele La and Paro Sightseeing, Bhutan Diaries - 4

Our plan for the day was to visit Chele La in the first half of the day and in the remaining half do some local sight seeing in Paro.

We  started at 7:30 AM. On the way we saw the quaint Paro airport. It's a very small airport nestled between the hills and also adjacent to the Paro river. We saw a few Druk Airways planes in the open hanger. Druk Airways, Air Bhutan and Buddha Air are the only three airliners allowed to operate in Bhutan. Also since landing and taking off from Paro airport is categorized as very difficult so there are only a handful of pilots in the entire world who have licence to fly planes in Paro.

View point

And this is the bird's eye view

On the way we stopped by a beautiful alpine meadow. This is where yak herders come down to stay during the harsh winters is what our driver Ugyen told us.There were horses all around and one horse came close to me as we got down from the car. Initially I was scared and tried to move away, but wherever I was going the horse was following. So finally I understood that he just wants my company...haha. He gave me some good photos to bring back home.

Me with the friendly horse

someone busy posing

That's a little one staring right at us!

Alpine meadows


We reached Chele La. It was windy and a little cold. 'La' means a mountain pass and Chele La at 13000ft is one of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan. We took a small walk till the stupa and came back. By that time a few make-shift shops had opened, one was selling tea,samosa,momos and maggi. Two more shops were there operating from a van who were selling souvenir. However there are no toilet facility.

At Chele La

At Chele La

At Chele La

At Chele La
only shop selling momo and tea at Chele La

Shops at  Chele La


At Chele La

Plenty of these we found at Chele La

On a clear day Mt Jomolhari, Tiger's Nest and Paro airport can be seen from Chele La pass. We waited for sometime for the dense cloud to move and we were lucky to see all three.

Mt Jomolhari

Tiger's Nest at seen from Chele La

We had already seen the Rinpung, also known as the Paro Dzong the day before so we went to Ta Dzong. Ta Dzong is situated just at the back of Paro Dzong. Long back it was built as a watch tower to protect Paro Dzong from enemies. Today it serves as the National Museum of Bhutan. Entry fee for tourists from SAARC countries is 25 BTM. The museum has a fascinating collection of art, masks,relics and paintings. A very clear and fascinating view of the Paro city can be seen from here.

Ta Dzong

At Ta Dzong

At Ta Dzong

Ta Dzong
view of Paro city from Ta Dzong

Ta Dzong

At Ta Dzong
At Ta Dzong

At Ta Dzong

Next we went to Kyichu Lhakhang. It is a Buddhist temple and considered to be one of the oldest. One cannot miss the orange trees in the temple complex and it is believed that the orange trees bear fruit throughout the year.

Kyichu Lhakhang

Kyichu Lhakhang

Kyichu Lhakhang

Kyichu Lhakhang

Kyichu Lhakhang
Kyichu Lhakhang

Kyichu Lhakhang

The orange trees in Kyichu Lhakhang bear fruit throughout the year

Our final destination for the day was Drukgyel Dzong. On the way to Drukgyel Dzong we saw the Tiger's Nest Monastery from far away on another hill. The Drukgyel Dzong was built as a monastery cum fortress and was destroyed in a fire in 1950 probably due to fire from butter lamps. A part of it is now rebuild and the remaining work is going on. A short steep walk upto Drukgyel Dzong will reward any visitor with commanding views of the village and surrounding mountains.

Drukgyel Dzong

Drukgyel Dzong

Next day is the much anticipated day of the entire trip because we will be going to Tiger's Nest Monastery.

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