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Our 12 days in Bhutan ended on a high note â€“ a hike to Tigerâ€™s Nest, the Taktsang monastery which precariously sits on the edge of a cliff near Paro. Destroyed by a fire, it was rebuilt in 2004 but still retains its old-world charm.
Before arriving in Bhutan, I knew only two people to have climbed their way up to Tigerâ€™s Nest. Knowing little about the hike or this piece of architecture, I asked few questions about their experience and neither offered what I would consider to be an over-exuberant account of their hike.
With little pre-conceived notion, other than it might be difficult because of the two-hour hike at elevation, I forged ahead with our group.
I was happy to bring up the rear. Iâ€™m in relatively good shape but I become cranky if I push myself when it comes to hiking. Uphill. At elevation. I was happy to accompany folks who were a bit slower than others. This pace suited me just fine.
About one hour into the hike, half way up the mountain, there is a restaurant. I shouldnâ€™t have been surprised that there were also vendors set up with blankets selling handicraft items, many imported from India and Thailand. After a short break to catch our breaths, we forged on.
The day was glorious, the warmest and sunniest we had in two weeks. Not so hot that we were uncomfortable, but just right. We were surrounded by green hills and deep valleys. For me, it was the Pacific Northwest on steroids. No hum of cars. No passing planes. And only a home or two here and there in view.
The most spectacular part of the hike is not arriving at Tigerâ€™s Nest itself. Itâ€™s the hillside that rests just across the way. This is where the most stunning views of the monastery are.
Walking along a cliff, you reach a point that juts out where the trees open up and Tigerâ€™s Nest is in full view. You must then descend down a series of slate steps and then back up the other side to get to the monastery. I had expected having to claw my way up along a slippery dirt path so the steps were a lovely surprise.
At the bottom of the steps, just prior to the final ascent, there is a waterfall. It pours down and through a little building that houses a prayer wheel. The prayer wheel then spins from the force of the water and a bell rings at each revolution. Prayer flags, strung between the two jutting hillsides, flap in the wind.
It was a powerful feeling for me. To be standing at the bottom of this mini-valley. Looking up at Tiger’s Nest on one side and a green forested hillside on the other. A tiny bell ringing at regular intervals from the prayer wheel and the prayer flags carrying thoughts and wishes into the sky, the valley and off to the gods.
I felt pure awe.
I have only ever felt this once before. It was last year when I saw the Taj Mahal for the first time. I had seen the Taj in a thousand photos but nothing prepared me for the moment when I turned a corner at the complex in Agra and saw the mausoleum for the first time.
Itâ€™s literally breathtaking.
And that was what I felt at Tigerâ€™s Nest.
What magnified my experience was that I knew so little about it. It is such an unknown and little-visited building, that you don’t see photos splashed across every travel magazine like you do with the Taj.
We all could have lingered for hours in order to soak up the vibes at Taktsang, but lunch was waiting. We beat a retreat and headed back down the mountain. It was the perfect last day of our trip!
I was so enamored by my experiences in Bhutan that I’ve decided to lead another tour there in April. While I thoroughly enjoyed having men along on the trip this past April, the April 2009 trip will only be for women and we’ll have a special itinerary for the gals; visiting a nunnery, donating books to a school and enjoying a massage! Please let me know if you’re interested in more information. Last year’s trip sold out within months and I expect this one to be equally as popular! Email me at beth at wanderlustandlipstick dot com.
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