Every time I opened my Facebook account I saw pictures of the Taktsang Lhakhang or Tiger’s Nest in my newsfeed either because of the pages I had liked or when someone hiked up to this paradise and posted a picture of themselves and each time my heart beamed with a strange longing to be able to stand at that same spot and watch the majestic monastery in the backdrop of mountains for myself. This place had that enigma, the kind which draws you very strongly towards itself and probably it was one such moment when I decided I had to be there, see this place and experience it with all my heart. The Universe did conspire to fulfill my wish and on 17th March 2016, I was standing on the cliff overlooking the entire mountain range and the marvel that Tiger’s Nest is.
You may say I wasn’t really in a good phase of life when this trip happened. I was recuperating from a surgery, but the treatment entailed that I remain on a follow-up every three months as a preventative exercise. The entire thing was as soul-draining as it could get. However, this phase of being unwell was, in fact, a blessing in disguise. This was God’s crooked way of pushing me towards what I love doing the most, traveling and writing. I have always taken to writing in difficult times, and what could be better than writing about the places I fell in love with.
I headed to Bhutan with two of my friends to meet another friend who lived in Thimphu. The entire itinerary had already been planned by our host, the lovely mother-daughter duo. Not even for a single moment did we feel that we were away from our homes. I was overwhelmed by the Bhutanese hospitality and the love and care that were showered upon us.
On the second day of our trip, we left for Paro, which is an hour drive from Thimphu. On reaching the base of the trek, I realized how high we actually had to climb to be able to admire the Tiger’s Nest. Taktsang Monastery is perched on top of the mountain, on a bed of really solid rocks. From down below it may look tiny, but it is only once you reach the top that you realize the magnificence of such a structure.
We started the ascent at around 10 am, brimming with energy and spirit inching slowly towards our destination with words of motivation for each other. After a while, we crossed a beautiful field filled with blooming wild primroses and their faint fragrance in the air. The trail is absolutely mesmerizing and every time I rested for a while I made sure to look back to see my progress and the view left me spellbound. The cold breeze, the fluttering prayer flags, the arduous trail, the trees with gliding branches all seemed to be embracing us with open arms.
We reached the Cafeteria, the place where many people give up the trek and sit back to enjoy the view of the Tiger’s Nest sipping on a hot cup of coffee. Most of the ponies that people hire to climb uphill come only till this point, from here people willing to complete the trek start walking. The climb gets steeper from here and more difficult for people with a poor fitness quotient like me. I openly admit that all the experience of living in the mountains of Sikkim for 17 years became null and void when I started climbing uphill, I was literally panting like a dog. Oh yes! With that I remember there was a dog that somehow started guiding us on our trek and especially wouldn’t leave my side whenever I felt tired and seriously considered giving up the trek. This fellow would sit by my side and stare at me with his kind eyes like he somehow wished to comfort me and encourage moving further. I started again and this time, I halted even more, but thanks to my ever-supportive and patient friends who waited (not that anyone of us was actually fit!).
Passing through mazes of pine and willow trees, every other traveler climbing uphill or downhill encouraged us saying things like “You can do it.” “Not very far now”, “You have almost reached” which was overwhelming. Suddenly strangers felt more like friends and fellow travelers on the same journey as us.
The sight of Spanish mosses swaying on the branches like some free flowing curtains in the strong cold breeze and the faint fragrance of wild flowers felt like a subtle welcome tradition of the mountains. I was lucky enough to have my host along who knew her land so well, she showed me the plant that bore Daphne flowers, paper made out of which are used to write Holy Scriptures and Thangkha paintings. We spotted varieties of rhododendrons on our way and also caught a glimpse of the elusive long-tailed magpie.
Finally after traversing through the woods, we were at the same spot I had seen in the pictures of Tiger’s Nest. It is believed that Guru Rimpoche or Padmasambhava meditated here in the caves after having flown from Tibet on the back of a tigress, and hence the name Tiger’s Nest. That moment was and will remain inexplicable because of the plethora of emotions experienced standing at such a height and looking at the marvel man had created merely out of rocks. All were a witness to what the human mind can achieve. Building such a structure out of rocks on such a difficult terrain will naturally force you to wonder how people must have achieved this. Standing there I realized that it was also my mind that propelled me to achieve this feat. I had dared to climb the cliff, and here I was after a successful surgery looking at the valley down below and immersing myself in its spellbinding beauty.
The climb down and then up to the main monastery was equally onerous. Cameras are not allowed inside the monastery and therefore I submerged myself in silent praying. A jovial conversation with the Chief Monk revealed that every monastery has been assigned a number and you can throw a pair of dice kept at the prayer hall to check if the sum of the numbers is lucky for you. I tried my luck too, and I was fairly lucky as per the result.
When we were done immersing ourselves in this divine experience, we started our retreat and on the way we noticed a beautiful 360-degree rainbow sparkle up in the sky. According to local belief the spotting of a rainbow after visiting the monastery is a lucky omen. The walk downhill was easier, but we had gotten pretty late by now. We were probably the last people to leave the place and by the time, we descended half way it started getting dark. With aching bones and cramped muscles, the climb downhill seemed a never ending affair. Also, we met our dog friend who seemed to be waiting for us near the cafeteria.
We left the base at around 6pm, and on the way back every fleeting moment was spent in contemplating life. I was yet to experience the rest of Bhutan but this experience was going to be etched in my heart forever. I am taking back a lot from here, compassion, positive thoughts and a will to make it through the toughest times in life. It is rightly said that Travel makes one modest because then you see what a tiny place you occupy in this world. Something similar happened to me too, standing atop the cliff, I realized my problems were nothing compared to the sufferings many people are fighting. I felt grateful for the life I had and all that I have witnessed so far. A miracle happened there above, my dream to visit Taktsang came true and left making me a little better and happier human being every day for the rest of my life.