by Bibhash Dhar
Perched in the Himalayas, Bhutan attracts trekkers of all abilities. And most visitors landing in Bhutan make it a point to attempt the spectacular climb to the Taktsang (Tiger's Nest) Monastery. I was one of them who successfully completed the one-way 7kms long trek that took three hours to go up and two hours to go down. The circuitous trek had fabulous views along the way and was highly rewarding. In fact, this trek is listed among the 'World’s Top 100 Trek''. The place is also listed in the '1000 Places to See before You Die', a bestselling travel book by Patricia Schultz.
A fire raged through part of the monastery in 1998, damaging valuable paintings, artefacts and statues. The restoration work was undertaken at an estimated cost of Rs 135 million. The Government and the then King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, oversaw the completion of the restoration of the damaged monastery and its contents by 2005.
There, a rustic lodge named Taktsang Jakhang (cafetaria), framed in marigolds, provides refreshments and a magnificent view of the Taktsang Monastery. From here, the monastery appears so close yet so far across the precipice. The path continues to climb above the tree line, skirting holy rocks and caves. 775 steps lead down to the small bridge crossing a large waterfall, which drops by 200ft into a sacred pool, and up to the gate where cameras need to be kept for safekeeping as they are not allowed inside the monastery.
It is also said that the monks who practise Vajrayana Buddhism, the formal state religion of Bhutan, at this cave monastery live here for three years and seldom go down to the Paro Valley. The temples are covered in wall paintings and there are gilded statues, offerings and incense drifting from the altars. The deep chanting of monks echoes now and then while out on the precarious ledge, visitors and pilgrims gaze at the spectacular Paro Valley with its sprinkling of traditional houses far below, the meandering river and golden paddy fields framed by the hills in all shades of green. All the buildings are interconnected through steps and stairways made in rock. There are a few rickety wooden bridges along the paths and stairways to cross over. Each building has a balcony, which provides lovely views of the scenic Paro Valley down below.