Clinging to a rocky cliff-face, high in the mountains above Paro, sits Bhutan’s famous Tiger’s Nest (Paro Taktsang). The small Buddhist monastery – with its gold-plated domes, white walls and wooden balconies – is only accessible by foot (or horse) via a series of winding mountain paths and rocky steps through dense pine forest. Every Bhutanese person is expected to make the pilgrimage at least once, for guaranteed luck and prosperity.
Bhutanese person is expected to make the pilgrimage at least once, for guaranteed luck and prosperity.
Paro Taktsang is part of 13 ‘tigers lair’ caves; Guru Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche), who is credited with introducing Buddhism to Bhutan, is said to have landed at the cave after flying from Tibet on the back of a soaring tigress. Upon arrival, he meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours.
A monastery was built on the site in 1692, and has been rebuilt and reconstructed several times in the years since. In 1998, the main building in the complex was completely destroyed by fire, however the Bhutanese believe that buildings are temporary and are meant to be renewed; the ideas and philosophies they represent can never be destroyed.
When to go
Bhutan’s peak season is March to May and September to November; rhododendrons along the trail are in bloom between March and April and the weather is pleasant. Shoulder season (December to February) is a quieter time, but temperatures are still mild.
Sturdy, comfortable shoes (preferably hiking boots) with good grip and thick socks are essential; the path can get quite slippery in the wet. Rain gear will also come in handy, as weather along the trail can be temperamental. Bring a bottle of water and some snacks to nibble on along the way. No cameras, bags or phones are allowed inside the monastery.
The hike to Tiger’s Nest is strenuous; a round trip takes around five hours. The final section of trail is via a series of very steep stairs. There’s a cafeteria about halfway up, which is a great spot for a refreshing drink and some wonderful photo opportunities. Walk at your own pace, and make sure you don’t arrive between 12 and 1pm – the monastery is closed.
Prayer flags on the trail
Prayer flags are a common sight in the Himalayas, particularly along the trail to Tiger’s Nest. Flags are hoisted outside homes, along mountain trails and across bridges, and symbolise happiness, long life, good luck and karmic merit. It is said that the spiritual vibrations created by the coloured fabric are released into the air when the wind hits them, and anyone touched by the breeze will be happier and enriched. Prayer flags are also used to appease local gods and spirits.
Gross National Happiness Index
Bhutan’s fourth Dragon King, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, created the GNH Index in the 1970s, as a way to celebrate spiritual values, rather than economic gains.