Today, I am thinking of our hike to Tiger’s Nest Monastery in Bhutan. While pondering where to take Angel, our rescue dog for her walk, Jonathan and I started reminiscing about some of the walks that we have taken together – the Camino de Santiago, climbing Mount Batur in Bali to watch sunrise, the Tiger Leaping Gorge in China but one that stands out is the hike up to Tigers Nest Monastery in Bhutan.
The Tiger’s Nest Monastery (also known as Paro Taktsang) is one of Bhutan’s most recognised sites and a must-see and a must-do for everyone visiting this country. Also known as Paro Takstang, this sacred Buddhist site consists of four temples plus accommodation for its resident monks. Yes, it’s still an active monastery.
Located near Paro, it was built in 1692. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan was brought here from Tibet on the back of a tigress, to subdue a demon and then meditated here for three months or three years, depending on which version of the legend you read, hence the name ‘Tiger’s Nest.’
When we arrived at the site and saw the monastery perched 10,000 feet high up on the mountainside, peeking out through the mist, I was worried about being able to do the hike. Our guide Norbu laughed, ‘It’s not so hard, but you can always go up by a mule.’
The mules cost about $20 and take about two hours to go up the mountain but not all the way. You would still have to walk the final path to the temple. The thought of riding a mule seemed more scary than walking, so off we set by foot and you know what, it wasn’t as hard as it looked. Anyone with a reasonable amount of fitness could easily do the hike; some guidebooks say to allow 3-4 hours to do the climb. We made it easily in two.
The hike starts at the base of the mountain which is located at 7000 feet. Don’t worry, as almost every tourist visiting will be part of a tour, this hike takes place on one of the last days of your trip, so you will already be acclimatised.
As you walk up the wide mountain path, there is Tibetan Buddhist paraphernalia everywhere. Tibetan flags are flapping in the wind, and the shrines and stupas we pass are stunning. Despite being uphill the whole way, it’s not overly steep, and there are plenty of places to stop and just admire the view.
There is a cafe serving refreshments and a vegetarian lunch half way up the mountain, offering great views of the monastery and for many people, this is as far as they go. From here, the path narrows as it snakes its way around the mountain to the monastery. Even for someone like myself, who freaks out at heights and narrow paths, it wasn’t scary and to come this far and not visit the monastery, well that would be daft; although Jon does make me nervous as he always stands far too close to the edge for that perfect photo!
We spent an hour exploring the temples; our guide Norbu was very knowledgeable. Every room was very ornate and filled with Buddhist deities and offerings of fruit and money. Unfortunately, photography is not allowed inside the temple.
From here, it’s all downhill in a good way. On the way down, we took a welcome break at the cafe before heading back via the many trinket stalls to where our driver was waiting.
Top Tips for Hiking Tiger’s Nest Monastery
1) Wear comfy shoes
2) Anyone with an average level of fitness will be able to manage the hike
3) It’s not a race, take your time
4) Bring water and a snack
5) Don’t forget your camera
6) There are clean toilets/ restrooms at the cafe
7) If you want to take a mule up, it’s best to book in advance. Let your guide know.