Monday, 13 January 2014

Bhutan, Taktsang, the Tiger's Lair in the Paro Valley

Paro, Taktsang, the Tiger's Lair ©Solange Hando

Clinging to a rocky ledge, 900 metres above the valley floor, Taktsang is the most holy site in Bhutan and top attraction near Paro, the pretty little town which claims the only international airport.

According to legend, the Tiger's Lair is named after Guru Rinpoche who in the 8th century flew to this spot on the back of a tigress to bring Buddhism to the valley. Before setting off on his mission, he meditated in a cave and over time, the monastery and myriad temples and shrines were built around it.

Prayer Wheel on the Way to Taktsang ©Solange Hando

It's roughly a three hour trek to the monastery, though you can hire a pony to the half way point. The first section takes you through a forest of blue pines and rhododendrons where primroses and orchids bloom along the path. Only bird song and the occasional tinkling of  prayer wheels disturb the silence.

Taktsang from the Lodge ©Solange Hando

Draped in marigolds, a rustic lodge welcomes you half way up, looking out to the monastery, so close yet so far across the chasm and inaccessible, it seems.There's hot tea and soup but if you want lunch on the way down, it's best to order on the way up.

There's a scenic though vertiginous viewpoint on a rock around the corner, a must if this is as far as you want to go.

Waterfall on the Trail to Taktsang ©Solange Hando

After the lodge, the path climbs steeply above the tree line, fringed with holy rocks and caves while temples and shrines nestle on the slopes all around.

At last the monastery appears, almost within reach but first you have to tackle the 775 steps down to the waterfall and footbridge then climb back up to the gate on the other side. If you don't have a permit , this is as far as you can go.

Approaching Taktsang above Paro ©Solange Hando

Hand in your camera at the gate (photographs are not allowed on site) then you can peep into the holy cave and make your way along the dizzying ledge, marvelling at this extraordinary complex where monks can spend up to seven years in solitary meditation in the furthest building. Inside the temple,  incense rises around gilded statues and awesome paintings of gurus and deities and the deep chanting of monks echoes all around.

In 1998, Taktsang was partly destroyed by fire but donations of cash and labour restored to its former self, as dramatic and inspiring as it has ever been.

Rainbow over the Paro Valley ©Solange Hando

For many visitors to Bhutan, Taktsang is the highlight of the trip and whether you go right to the top or just half way, weather permitting, you can expect superb views of the Paro valley, its traditional houses sprinkled here and there, the wooded hills and the river meandering along golden paddies.

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