Subduing the Tiger

This weekend, we visited the Taktshang Monastery (Tiger’s Nest) near Paro, perhaps the most famous mountain monastery in Bhutan. The name Taktshang is very similar to the Farsi “Takht-e-sang” meaning “Rock bed” which is actually appropriate as the monastery seems to miraculously grow out of a rocky mountain.

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Along with my awesome adventure buddies, Sonam and Susmita, our team included Dr. Cigay and Mr. Karma, two kind and knowledgable Bhutanese gentlemen who had arranged the day trip and shared many interesting stories and information about the site and surrounding area. A family of four guests from India were also hiking with us. I was impressed with the stamina of the two kids who were with us as the climb was at times steep.

Tiger’s Nest is built on the site of Guru Rinpoche’s landing in Bhutan. Guru Rinpoche was a sage who brought Buddhism to Tibet and Bhutan in the 8th century. He is considered as the Second Buddha and is believed to have flown onto this spot on the back of a tigress that was a manifestation of his consort, Yeshe Tsogyal. The tiger can be a symbol of desire and wild energy that is tamed by the mind and incorporated (not gotten ride of!) within the fabric of life.

The walk up to Tiger’s Nest from Paro valley is not long but very steep. The monastery lies about 900m up from the Paro valley. Upon arrival at the beginning of the trail, our friends rented a horse for the little boy who was with us. These gentle animals are in high demand at the peak of the tourist season but there were some available when we went there.

I had been warned about this site being touristy but like anywhere else in Bhutan there were few tourists which reminded me that after this trip it will be difficult to travel almost anywhere else! Bhutan has spoilt me by being so serene and untouched! If such a site existed anywhere else, there would be swarms of noisy picture snatching tourists and shops and sellers everywhere. As it was, the mind blowing site stood majestic and mystical on the mountain side and greeted us with spiritual energy.

There were prayer flags everywhere and I learned that these have to be setup in a place where they can flutter in the wind, thus their prayers being blown up to the skies. Also, ideally, they should have an open view of water. I remembered my bedroom in Toronto that is adorned with prayer flags I brought from India but not much breeze! I was also told how to distinguish between cotton flags (good), and synthetic flags (not so good). After some location hunting, we setup our flags, hoping for blessings.

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Halfway through the climb, we had refreshing milk tea with traditional pastries. It’s amazing how tasty everything is after a walk!

The views of the monastery are simply stunning and photographs can’t really capture its beauty. There is a flowing waterfall next to the monastery and to reach the monastery, there is a narrow path (with railings, thank God!) that should be passed.

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Upon arrival, we entered the monastery and started going to the several temples that are located there. But first, there was a big rock that had a small circular cavity on it. It is believed that if you walk to the rock and touch your finger to the circular spot with closed eyes, your debt to your parents will be removed. I was unable to touch the spot (although I think I wasn’t too far!).

Next, we went to the main temple, where to show respect we prostrated three times to the lama’s chair and three times to the alter, after which we received holy water. The first temple hosted the entrance to the cave in which Guru Rinpoche had meditated for three months.

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Moving on we went to a second temple that housed a beautiful statue of Guru Rinpoche. The statue was very large and it is believed to have been brought here by a mysterious strong man that appeared out of nowhere and took it from the team of men who were trying to bring it here through the narrow path. It is indeed hard to imagine how any of the building material was carried to this spot, let alone a large heavy statue!

Each temple and stone had an interesting story associated with it: one temple housed a wish fulfilling spring, while a large stone was said to have a treasure hidden inside. There was a large cave which is believed to have been the guru’s tiger’s nest during their stay. It was a steep slippery spot and I decided not to go too deep. This spot reminded me of another story about a nearby cave that will not allow you to pass through if you are a sinner.

After contemplating this magical spot for some time, we started heading down and had a tasty Bhutanese packed lunch in a scenic spot. From the monastery, we drove past the beautiful surrounding area that is covered with irrigated rice fields and surrounded by green hills. There was a gushing river beside us. I remembered seeing it when I was coming from Paro to Thimphu on the first day I came to Bhutan and being impressed by how clean and clear the water was.

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Before going back to Thimphu, we visited the Kyichu Lhakhang temple, which is one of the oldest (built in the 7th century and restored later) temples in Bhutan and is believed to have pinned down the left foot of a giant ogress who was thwarting the spread of Buddhism. Here, we saw specimens of an extinct gem, the Cat’s Eye.

Beside the temple is the memorial home of a celebrated spiritual teacher Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. This master was born in Tibet but came to Bhutan and passed here in the early 90’s. The memorial house was closed when we arrived but the caretaker kindly allowed us in and we saw Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche’s personal effects (including candy holders and clothing items, he was a large man both in spirit and physically!) and his pictures that are the images of kindness and compassion.

On the drive back, we collected holy water from a stream and I couldn’t help but think about how much I am going to miss Bhutan when I leave!

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