On our second day in Bhutan, we hiked up to Taktsang Monastery (also known as “Tiger’s Nest Temple”).
It’s a monastery perched on the edge of a cliff – a sheer drop straight down. It seems impossible to reach, lending it a somewhat mystical quality. It’s believed that the temple was constructed by Guru Rinpoche riding to the cliff on the back of a flying tiger. Hence, “Tiger’s Nest.”
The hike was strenuous (I was struggling with both the altitude and one of my knees, which was not happy on more than 1600 steep stairs after a several-hour long hike), but our tour guide Tsewang was wonderful. He urged us all to take tiny steps, to drink water frequently, and he kept us well supplied with coconut cookies and a picnic lunch. On the stairs, seeing that I was having a difficult time, Tsewang gave me his hand to hold for support and we walked together up the stairs to Tiger’s Nest, and then back all the way down the mountain on our return.
But the difficulty meant that I had an excuse to take frequent breaks and admire the view, which was excellent the entire way. Mountains on all sides, a valley down below, and frequently we could see Tiger’s Nest above us, getting closer and closer. I can confidently say that these views were the most beautiful I’ve ever seen.
I had a notion to count all the prayer flags on our way up, but that proved immediately impossible when we entered a clearing with a water-powered spinning prayer wheel five minutes into our hike, and there were hundreds of flags. People layer them over each other and string them up in high places that seem impossible to reach. All of the bridges were carpeted with prayer flags, and they grew more numerous as we got closer to Taktsang.