Visiting the Tigers Nest Bhutan; aka ‘Paro Taktsang’ Monastery in Bhutan
UPDATE NOVEMBER 2020: The Tigers Nest Monastery in Bhutan may just be the most amazing building on the entire planet. Seriously. In all my travels, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more impressive sight than the Tigers Nest Monastery in Bhutan. Think of an ancient, Buddhist building, literally clinging to the side of a sharp, harsh cliff, where monks stay for months on end, with views through the Himalayas stretching literally as far as you can see.
Imagine the monks chanting, the prayer flags flapping in the chilly Himalayan wind, you overtake local elders hitching rides on the back of tired donkeys as you hike to the get a better view. Devout Buddhists, making their pilgrimages to their most holy site, delighted to see a foreign face, and they look at you in awe almost as much as you gawp at the Tigers Nest. It’s not short of majestic. This is as good as travel gets. It’s not easy to get to the Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan. But it’s worth every penny and every ounce of sweat on the trek to the monastery.
What is the Tigers Nest in Bhutan?
It is a Himalayan Buddhist site in the Paro Valley, in a small country called Bhutan. Then, on the sacred site, a monastery was built in 1692 around a cave where Guru Padmasambhava (known as the ‘second Buddha’, and the person who brought Buddhism to Bhutan) meditated in the 8th century. It is said too that Padmasambhava flew on the back of a Tigress to reach this point. Hence the building and monastery in Bhutan now being known as the Tiger’s Nest.
In 1998 there was a huge fire which burnt a huge portion of the Tiger’s Nest, but it was rebuilt in 2005.
Where is the Tigers Nest Monastery?
Bhutan is a tiny Himalayan country next to Nepal, the Capital of which is Thimphu. The Tiger’s Nest has become the icon of the country. The second-largest city is Paro, and the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is found 19km north of it.
It requires a 2 to 4-hour hike. From the bottom of Paro Valley to the Tigers Nest Monastery itself. It’s steep, but the reward is spectacular!
Is it Called the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, or Paro Taktsang?
Both. Kind of. Officially it’s called Paro Taktsang, but it’s the ‘Tigers Nest’ or ‘Tiger’s Nest Monastery’ that caught the imagination of the travel world, so that caught on. The Tiger’s Nest name, as mentioned above, stems from religious beliefs too, so it’s not disrespectful in any way. No need to worry there.
How to Visit the Tiger’s Nest Bhutan
There are 2 answers to that. First, you need to know how to visit Bhutan, and second, you need to know how to visit the Tiger’s Nest IN Bhutan.
- How to visit Bhutan? Unless you’re from India, there is NO way to independently travel in Bhutan. You MUST use a Bhutanese tour company, and that costs $290 per day solo, or $250 per day as part of a group. Do as much research as you like, but this is an unavoidable reality. The $290/$250, however, does include everything – hotel, food, transports, guides. So it’s not so bad.
- How to visit the Tiger’s Nest Monastery? You fly into Thimphu, Bhutan’s capital, then drive 2 hours west to Paro. From there, you hike! Hike up, visit the monastery, and hike back down. The Tiger’s Nest Monastery is the biggest draw in all of Bhutan, so normally you allocate a whole day for a visit to this amazing Monastery in Bhutan
Hiking to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan; My Experience
During my magical stay in Bhutan, I intentionally left the main event to the very last day, the Tigers Nest Monastery trek, as it reduces the chance for altitude sickness. I honestly couldn’t sleep the night before, this had been a bucket list event for almost a decade, perhaps even number 1 on that list, and finally, it was here.
The hike begins at the foot of the mountain, already at 7000 feet. You’re aiming to reach the Tigers Nest in 3 or 4 hours or so one way, it’s perched on the cliff face at 10, 000 feet, so it’s quite an effort to get there. We set off early in the morning around 10 am. If you’re unfit for the hike though, you can take a mule up to it for about $20 (not fair for the mule though). It takes about 2 hours one-way for the mule to make it up there (although they stop shortly before the top). But you’ll have to walk down.
The path is quite well laid out, but it’s steep, there’s no denying that. You’ll be sharing the path with locals making their regular pilgrimage, and their warm smiles will keep you going. Your guide is of course with you every step of the way too. There is an incentive to do as quickly as possible though, the average time is around 3 hours. However, if you can put in a little extra effort and try to get there in 1-1.5 hours, you’ll have the entire place to yourself for a good 30 minutes! Believe me, it’s worth the extra sweat and tears!
As you climb up the mountain face, there is Tibetan Buddhist paraphernalia adorning every corner. Prayer flags, stupas, shrines. Heavy mist is also really common. So the whole thing is such a mystical experience. Climbing through trees, with Tibetan flags flapping in the wind. then you break through the mist to catch a slim glimpse of the Tigers Nest. Then you’re off again, losing sight of it for another 15 minutes or so.
Half way up the trek there is a beautiful tea house, a great place to recharge, refuel and to take a second to appreciate where you are. Suddenly you turn a corner and you get a proper view. The crop fields stretching out into the Himalayan landscape, and the most beautiful building I’ve ever seen starting right back at you. Amazing, but you’re not there yet. Suddenly you’re making your way back down the mountain, steep, with no handrails.
The trek can be pretty scary, but with locals hop, skipping and jumping (often with babies tied to their back), you push on regardless. Of course, being Bhutan, and being the Tigers Nest Monastery, as you reach the apex of the descent into the gorge you’re greeted with a huge waterfall, flowing through the Tibetan Prayer Flags. This should give you the last piece of energy you need to climb out of the canyon and enter the Monastery, finally.
Take off your shoes, soak it all up. Monks meditating, nooks and crannies everywhere you look. Eye contact, genuine smiles, and a peek through each level to the most breathtaking views, no photos here though, and that’s just fine. Soak it up, you made it.
Tips for Your Tigers Nest Trek
- Do a little training before you go, it’s a solid 2-hour hike even if you’re speedy, and it’s steep! Even if you have to take the donkey, it’s still hard work
- Tigers Nest trek distance: 4.5km one-way. 9km total
- Head out early. You don’t need to check our Instagram, you don’t need to stalk your ex on Facebook, be the first person at the Monastery, it’s worth it!
- Don’t leave the climb until the last day, 2nd or 3rd last day is perfect. Enough time to acclimatise to the altitude, but also enough spare days to make sure the weather is ok for a perfect view.
- The Tigers Nest Trek altitude reaches 10,000 feet, about 3000m
- Bring some local money for the tea house, it’s such a cool spot to stop
- The best time to visit Bhutan is during the spring months of March to May
Final thoughts on the Tigers Nest in Bhutan?
Yes, visiting Bhutan is a little expensive. And it’s impossible to do on a ‘budget’. I travel independently 99% of the time, but sometimes you have no choice. Bhutan is one of the places, so make sure you choose a great company. I went with the guys from Bhutan Life Exposure, on a private tour, and it was nothing short of amazing, they even took me into their home for dinner, and maybe shared a few local beers in the pool halls of Paro! Thank you guys! I’d recommend their company for sure.
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