Pora-tat-sanga Monastery was burnt down back in March of 1998.
It was rebuilt in the same lofty location and expanded, and it is now called Tak-Sang which means Tiger’s Nest or Lair.
I have seen many photos of the amazing Taksang temple, built into a cliff rock set high in the clouds on the background of the tall Himalayas mountains above Paro in Bhutan.
But when you see a photo, you tend to think that it was taken with a strong telephoto lens, and you do not give much thought, as to HOW do you get there……. and whether it would be a strenuous trek or not….
We met our guide Sonam for breakfast at our hotel in Paro.
He looked a little sweaty and said that overnight, he had developed a bit of a fever, and so he wished to change our plan for the day and do the hike up to the Tiger’s Nest Temple earlier in the day, before the heat of the day.
He suggested that later in the day we will drive over to Chelela Pass, where from an elevation of 4000 meters (16,000 feet) we can see the two valleys laying below, the Paro valley and the Haa valley.
We tried to convince Sonam to stay behind and to recover his strength, while Jules and I hike alone, but Sonam insisted that he was fine and able to trek up to Tsaksang (Tiger’s Nest) Temple.
We drove to the edge of Paro and started the steep hike up to the temple.
A lot of mysticism and spiritual tales are linked with this place.
It was first established by Guru Rinpoche who came here in the 8th century to teach and spread Tibetan Buddhism in Bhutan.
There are stories and tales about how he came to meditate in this high cave in the cliffs.
Some say he flew on the back of a tiger.
Some say that the tiger was a female tigress, which was actually a manifestation of one of his lovers.
Some say he landed on a tiger while flying in his Light body….
No matter what the exact tale is, this high temple complex is a major achievement for the human Spirit.
It may have been built by human hands, and all the material had to be carried there on foot and with the use of horses, but it is still a miraculous physical manifestation of a magnificent idea….
To come and to meditate in remote high places….
To achieve enlightenment….
To liberate the Spirit from the belief that it is held within the human flesh….
Guru Rinpoche (also known as Guru Padmasambhava, the tantric mystic) was known as an enlightened yogi and a spiritual leader who was among the first Buddhist teachers to come to Bhutan.
He converted the whole Paro valley to Buddhism.
It is possible to ride a horse up to the viewpoint point of the temple, but from there you still have to climb up and down a thousand steps.
Those horses are short and stocky and look more like strong and muscly mules.
We chose to walk up.
The trail climbed up and up through a beautiful pine forest.
At a higher part of the forest, many of the trees were draped with Spanish moss and climbing ferns, which gave the forest a dramatic and a fairyland feeling.
Thousands of prayer flags fluttered in the wind, and the views were BREATHTAKING, both figuratively AND literally….
The climb ascended relentlessly up and we had to make our way over rocks and mud, since it rained in the last few days.
It was a beautiful day when we made the climb, and the sun was shining bright on my sunburnt face.
Under a large cave we saw some small mud cakes in the shape of small stupas.
Some do them were painted in gold, some in yellow and some were white.
Bhutanese people place these stupa shaped mud cakes in holy places, to bless the spirit of a departed loved one, to help his spirit find a new and a wonderful reincarnation.
We stopped to catch our breath very frequently along the trail.
At the Taktsang Jakhang cafeteria, we were happy to rest our legs an dot have some tea and biscuits.
It was a good viewpoint to see the Temple complex which seemed so close…….maybe only another thirty minutes of steep climb………
Yet at the same time it seemed so far away and perched over the opposite cliffs, which seemed impossible that we will be able to get there…..
The Taktsang temple complex that we saw, was built at the same location where Guru Rinpoche meditated in his caves.
It was built in the 1600s and was renovated twice afterwards, since a devastating fire destroyed the place twice in the past.
It was heartbreaking to think of all this treasure trove of art, soul and craftsmanship going up in flames……. Twice….
This incredible monastery clings to the edge of a sheer rock cliff that plunges 900 meters into the valley below.
After four hours of trekking in the sun, we made it through a section of a thousand steps, over a beautiful waterfall and up to the gate of the temple.
At the gate, we had to leave our bags, cameras, walking sticks and even though we were overheated, we had to wear a long sleeve shirt as a sign of respect.
Bhutanese guides had to wear the traditional clothing, which finally explained why Sonam and all the other guides were hiking up in their traditional robes and long socks.
There is another very long set of steep steps that lead to the inner temple, where we visited a few rooms and meditation halls.
The halls were decorated with amazing wall murals, colorful fabrics and ornate copper carving on the columns.
It was breathtaking and pleasantly cool inside.
The smell of juniper incense filled the air.
In a small and beautifully decorated cave on the foot of a golden Buddha, we sat on the floor and meditated for awhile.
A monk wearing a saffron rob, sat there fingering his prayer beads and reciting prayers.
In a short white we gathered a small group of other people who joined us in a wonderful meditation.
We kept on walking around this amazing temple complex, saw the hall of Infinite Living, drunk some holy and blessed water poured into the palm of our hands from an ornate silver teapot.
We rolled many prayer wheels and said our prayers, and we took our turns trying to place our thumb in a hole in the rock with our eyes closed. which you had to do from a distance.
We were told that if you were able to place your thumb in the indentation in the rock, your wish will get fulfilled.
It was a magical place with awe inspiring paintings and statues.
On the alters I saw colorful yak butter sculptures and yak butter lamps.
The rooms had wide wooden floors and columns lined with carved copper, depicting mythical animals, birds, flowers and protecting deities.
By the time we hiked down, it was time for lunch at the same mountain top cafeteria.
A large buffet was in the center of a large rooms with windows, and we sat and ate good veg food among other hungry Trekkers and guides.
On the bottom of the trek, our driver waited for us with the sweetest smile.
My legs were wobbly and like jelly, and my knees felt stiff….
I was a bit worried….
Tomorrow we start the legendary Druk Path trek, and we will be hiking up high mountain passes, sleeping in tents in high altitude… Are my legs ready for this?….
That night I turned on the heater in our comfortable hotel in Paro.
I run a hot bath and scrubbed all the sweat and dust of the day from my body and hair.
I shivered as I realized that tomorrow night, there will be no shower nor a warm heater to take comfort with…..