Hiking the Tiger’s Nest

by Amy on April 19, 2010 · 10 comments

It is our first full day in Bhutan and the mountain looms ominously in the clear blue sky.  The air is cool, crisp and thin as my whitewashed challenger awaits my arrival 900 meters above.  I haven’t come all this way just to stand in the shadow of the Tiger’s Nest, so I will get there. It’s just a matter of time.

The trail starts gently enough, winding through a wooded area of blue pines and past a water-powered prayer wheel slowly spinning in a clockwise direction as a stream trickles underneath.  The sound of the water and the creaking prayer wheel lures me into an easy pace. Then the trail begins to climb with a much steeper slope, switchbacks twisting among the blooming red rhododendrons and groves of white prayer flags fluttering in the breeze.  Ethereal wisps of pale green moss hang from the tree limbs creating a fairytale canopy over the path. Hiking stick in hand, I tackle the incline one step at a time.

A few tourists pass as I brush the sweat out of my eyes and look longingly at the ponies they are riding up the hill.  The rewards will be all the greater for getting up the hard way, I tell myself repeatedly, a mantra to soothe my burning calf muscles.  We continue to climb.

Over an hour later, we arrive at a wooden teahouse perched along a ridge and get our first hazy views of the monastery.  Often visitors just hike to the teahouse, our guide informs me, hinting that there’d be no shame in putting my legs out of their misery.  But there is no way I am stopping now.  I can just make out the gold medallions and red rooflines across the gorge, taunting me to get a closer look.  After a cup of tea and a quick rest I am ready to conquer the next, steeper leg of the hike.

Up and up we climb, until finally the trail begins to flatten out.  We traverse the deep chasm between the teahouse and the monastery along a rocky plateau, arriving at the top of a long set of stone steps, seeming carved right out of the side of the mountain.

Rainbows of red, green, yellow and blue prayer flags fill the bright sky above us as we descend across a waterfall and footbridge.  Only a few hundred steps back up the stone staircase separate me from my goal.  We begin to ascend once again.

The red and gold details of the monastery buildings become sharper with each step up.  It is silent except for the sound of the wind and the rapid heartbeat in my chest.  I am breathing hard, dizzy and exhilarated from the altitude and the nearness of these incredible buildings clinging to the cliff before me. A few more steps.  A few more steps.  I am here, breathless and awestruck, 900 meters above the valley floor, standing in the gateway to the Taktsang Dzong monastery.

You can check out more of our photos from Bhutan here.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Robyn April 19, 2010 at 10:40 AM

Awesome! Great for you for pushing yourself!

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Andy April 19, 2010 at 12:50 PM

Is that the monastery they used for filming in Batman Begins? Looks similar, just wondering if they completely CGI’d it or shot some real exterior footage.

Very cool!

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Keith Sutter April 19, 2010 at 8:37 PM

Andy – apparently they used Vatnajokull glacier in Iceland instead of Bhutan. Not sure if Bhutan’s access (lack of flights, tourist visas, etc) was an issue or more likely it was just easier to fly to Iceland from the States than to Bhutan.

Dad April 20, 2010 at 2:00 PM

Talking to you a few days ago about your hike, amazing, I have gone back to the pictures half a dozen times. Your trip and pictures have been top notch, BUT one of my favorite would be the Tiger Nest.

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Travel Package Deals April 20, 2010 at 4:30 PM

I’m glad you didn’t take a pony and went up the hard way… the reward is indeed greater. I’m a hiker myself and although I’ve never done this, it seems like an incredible hike! Thanks for sharing and great pictures!!

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donna July 20, 2010 at 11:50 AM

Can you let me know some of the details of your trip? Who organized it? Would you recommend your guide again? Would it be suitable for a solo traveler? Would September be a good time to take this hike? Any help would be gladly appreciated. I look forward to hearing back.
Thanks

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Keith July 21, 2010 at 4:04 PM

Donna – we used Experience Bhutan (http://www.experiencebhutan.com) and we would recommend them again for travel to Bhutan. Khetnath was great about setting up a trip that allowed us to get to all of the sights and locations we wanted to in 11 days. In nine months on the road Bhutan was one of my top three places and number one for scenery and people.

Priyank February 15, 2011 at 8:15 PM

Hi Keith! This one was my favorite trek in Bhutan too! After all that climb, when the monastery suddenly appears in front of you, its a fantastic feeling!

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Arnab January 14, 2012 at 5:26 PM

Loved reading your story about the Taktsang.It is indeed a breathtaking beauty and you are lucky to have been there done that :)
I have written about my experience on visiting the place, do check it and let me know your review comments:
http://www.arnabmaity.com/2012/01/thimphu-to-paro-and-hiking-tigers-nest.html

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Arvind September 13, 2012 at 6:39 AM

Was really interesting reading your story!
We are planning to go as well.. Do you think last week of december/ First week of january is a good time to go?
thank you very much

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