A Complete Guide to the Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang) Paro, Bhutan
What is it?
For starters, it is a spectacular Buddhist monastery hugging a cliffside at a height of 10,000 feet!
Padmasambhava (a.k.a Guru Rimpoche) was an 8th century Buddhist spiritual master from India. He is credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan and is the guardian deity of the country. He also introduced Buddhism in many neighbouring countries including Nepal and Tibet. Around this time, it is believed that he meditated for 4 months in a cave located in the same location where the temple complex is now built in his honor.
Theories behind its existence?
There are different theories as to why its called the “Tiger’s” Nest. The first two of the below three theories are believed to be the ways the Guru was transported to the location for his 4 months of meditation.
- It is believed that Padmasambhava flew from Singye Dzong (located in North-East Bhutan) to Taktsang which is in West Bhutan on the back of a tigress. The monastery was consecrated to tame the tigress and hence was called “Tiger’s Nest”.
- An alternative theory states that a former wife of an emperor, known as Yeshe Tsogyal, willingly became a disciple of Padmasambhava in Tibet. She transformed herself into a tigress and carried the Guru on her back from Tibet to the present location of the Taktsang in Bhutan. In one of the caves here, the Guru then performed meditation and emerged in eight incarnated forms and thus the place became holy. Subsequently, the place came to be known as the “Tiger’s Nest”.
- Another popular belief is that the builder of the monastery Tenzin Rabgye was, in fact, a reincarnation of Padmasambhava. This was claimed since people around him are believed to have seen certain magical and unexpected things in his presence like the showering of flowers from the sky, him appearing in two places at once and various animal forms and religious symbols appearing in the sky.
In our daily lives, we enter sacred places quite easily. Get into a car, park it, and zoom in through the doors of the temple. Well, Tiger’s Nest says “That’s too boring and easy” - you can’t meet me that easily.
To reach the Taktsang, you need to make a rigorous trek of 2-3 hours depending on your pace, one way. Though the complete distance is about 6.5 km (4 miles) round trip, the dirt trail from the bottom to the top is really steep and almost vertical and also slippery at some points. Also, you are at the edge of the mountains throughout and have to be VERY VERY careful. Missing a step may be fatal. It is frankly quite challenging if you do not work out regularly, but nonetheless doable by most, with adequate breaks as needed.
The trek starts right from the parking area. You make your way through a sprawling array of tall trees - this is the start of your trek. Guides are available here who could be hired to help you with the trail to the top and enrich your experience with interesting stories related to Paro, Tiger’s Nest and Bhutan in general. You also have the option to take a horseback ride for the first half of the trek (till the cafeteria) for 850 BTN (₹ 850). It is interesting to see how these smart handsome horses trek their way through steep trails with you on their back - Quite an experience! You could also rent wooden hiking poles here for 50 BTN (₹ 50). These have to be returned on your way back.
The first half of the trek is the most difficult due to the steepness of the path, which is almost vertical. Taking those huge steps drains out all the energy. When you’re almost done with about 1.5 km, you get your first glimpse of the Tiger’s Nest. Standing high up there staring at you, its such a morale-booster! You soon forget the pain your body is going through and are filled with excitement all over again!
Along the trek route, lush pine trees, colorful prayer flags and lots of fellow trekkers greet you with a smile. Every now and then, we were surprised to come across trekkers above 60 years of age, kids below 10 years and superhero parents with their precious little ones tied to their backs. They made the journey seem so effortless, seeing which our competitive spirit would kick right back in.
As you get half-way through the trek, the steepness reduces and the path flattens. Taktsang Cafeteria is located here and is a good resting point. The cafe offers a vegetarian buffet filled with local dishes for 500 BTN (₹ 500), coffee for 130 BTN (I’m sure you understood that the value of Indian rupees is equal to Bhutanese ngultrum, so I’ll stop with my smart conversions 🤓), tea and snack options. There is also a series of huge prayer wheels here making it a fantastic photo op!
The trek from here is moderately difficult and you are constantly blessed with jaw-dropping views of the Tiger’s Nest from various angles. This is the stretch where everybody gets those envious Instagram photos from. There is a lovely waterfall that you would come across on the way - The sound from these falls is heard from a distance and adds a different charm as you complete this stretch.
At the end of the hike, there is a series of narrow irregular staircases cut from the mountains - 750 stairs downwards and 250 stairs upward that lead to the entrance of the monastery. Earlier, these did not have railings and some tourists are believed to have fallen off the cliff from these staircases. The king then had a protective wall built across the complete staircase for the tourists safety. All hail the King!!
Once you reach the location, there are 8 caves and the temple complex to visit. The monastery buildings consist of four main temples and residential shelters for the monks designed by adapting to the rocky terrain. The shrines have idols of Padmasambhava and other spiritual masters and are decorated with paintings and religious artefacts. All the buildings are interconnected through steps and stairways made out of rocks. There are a few rickety wooden bridges and stairways along the path to cross over. The temple at the highest level has a frieze of Buddha. Each building has a balcony, which provides lovely views of the scenic Paro valley down below.
Out of the eight caves, four are comparatively easy to access. The cave where Padmasambhava first entered, riding the Tiger, is known as ‘Tholu Phuk’ and the original cave where he resided and meditated is known as the ‘Pel Phuk’.
The ticket counters at the beginning of the trek are open from 7:30 am - 1:30 pm. Entry to the monastery closes by 4 pm. Highly recommend starting your journey early morning. The earlier you start, lesser the crowd. Post 11 pm, the afternoon sun is out as well, draining out more of your energy.
You need to buy a ticket of 500 BTN at the ticket counter at the beginning of the trek to visit the monastery. Students get 50% off, so be sure to carry your student ID proof’s if you want to avail this. Tickets are not available anywhere else throughout the trek or at the temple complex. If you do not plan to visit the monastery and just want to take the hike to sink in the view, then no ticket is required.
📌 Guided day trip to Tiger’s Nest (includes private transportation, English speaking Bhutanese guide, Lunch, Coffee/Tea, bottled water, hiking pole)
📌 Meditation with a monk in Paro
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- Tourists have to deposit their bags and cameras at the entrance of the monastery. Lockers are available. Photography is prohibited inside.
- Pack light
- Make sure to wear a good grip shoe. Weather is unpredictable and in case it rains, the path becomes very slippery.
- Carry snacks, water bottle, cap and sunscreen. Cafeteria is available mid-way but is fairly expensive