Tomorrow is the Most Auspicious Day of the Year at Paro Taksang.
Even before the gilded door to this holy site is open, pilgrims from all walks of life from all over the country flock to Paro to hike up and be a part of this most auspicious religious event. Some hardcore pilgrims hike up to Taksang at midnight.
Anchoring the eastern end of the Himalayas, Bhutan, the birthplace of Gross National Happiness (GNH) showcases the very best of mother nature; picture dense forests, deep valleys, cloud-piercing peaks and historical landmark. Amongst all the sacred religious sites and landmarks, ‘Paro Taksang’ the ancient monastery is considered a gem of Paro valley and the iconic landmark of the tiny Himalayan kingdom.
Taksang Monastery, also known as the Tiger’s Nest is the most visited landmark in Bhutan. Aspiring travellers around the world invariably makes it a point to visit this most iconic landmark as this timeless heritage is reflected as a 'must-visit destination' in every travel magazines and blogs found on Bhutan. The Monastery has recently been listed as one of the ten holiest places on Earth.
Tiger's Nest was built in the 8th century and it is one of the most revered and venerated Buddhist pilgrims sites. According to the scriptures, just by being in the vicinity of Taktsang Valley will liberate one's soul. The monastery is precariously perched on the side of a sheer cliff above the floor of the valley appearing ethereal and timeless.
The Tiger's Nest is a true delight for photographers and adventure lovers alike. If you ask any tourist about their best experience in Bhutan, don’t be surprised if 99% of the answer is the ‘Tiger's Nest’. Therefore, if you are a tourist and omit the Tiger’s Nest (Taktsang) from your travel itinerary, it’s almost like you have missed the most memorable part of your visit to Bhutan.
Taktsang Monastery is located approximately 10 kilometres north of Paro town, it takes 2-3 hours hike to reach the monastery. The remote location of the monastery makes it an amazingly beautiful and unique landmark in the world. The monastery is accessible either by foot or by taking a mule to the halfway point. In olden times the trail towards the monastery used to be rougher.
History; Home of Guru Padmasambhava
Legend tells us that Guru Padmasambhava (also known as Guru Rinpoche) arrived in the Paro valley of Bhutan atop a flying tiger and meditated in the cave for exactly three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours before quelling some troublesome demons in the valley below. The Penlop of Paro, Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye built the primary Lhakhang (temple) in 1692 around the Dhubkhang (also called Pelphu), the holy cave in which Guru Rinpoche meditated.
Besides Guru Rinpoche, the enigmatic Tibetan saint, Milarepa is said to have meditated here as well. Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal visited Tiger's Nest in 1646 and another saint, Thangtong Gyalpo also revealed a terma (treasure text) here in Tiger's Nest.
Most Auspicious Day of the year
Guru Padmasambhava is credited for introducing Buddhism to Bhutan, from where Paro Taksang is located. The sacred cave of Guru Rinpoche opens once a year on the 30th day of the 5th lunar month. Even before the gilded door to this holy site is open, pilgrims from all walks of life from all over the country flock to Paro to hike up and be a part of this most auspicious religious event. To avoid swelling crowds during the day, some start waking up during the wee hours of the morning under the moonlight to be amongst the first ones to enter the sacred cave. It is believed that if one can enter the cave, the pilgrim can accumulate merit and eventually liberate one's soul towards enlightenment. Therefore, pilgrims from all over Bhutan visit the site, especially on this auspicious day to seek refuge in Guru Rinpoche.
The Shrine of Self-Speaking Guru
The Taktsang monastery’s most sacred relic is the Guru Sungjonma statue or the statue that 'spoke'. The history of the brass statue is shrouded in myth and embellished story. As the story goes, the statue was carried from Punakha to Paro by a group of young men. When they reached Paro and came close to the gateway of Taktsang, they put the statue down to discuss ways to carry the statue through the narrow steep trail such disfiguring the parts of the statue, at that moment the statue is said to have spoken, “There’s no need for that, a strong man will come and carry me.” This strong man is believed to be Singye Samdu, the protecting deity of Taktsang.
Another anecdote of Guru Sungjonma statue is that it has survived two major fires. The fires of 1951 and 1998 razed many of the temples and destroyed most of the statues inside Taktsang, but rescuers were able to miraculously retrieve the Guru Sungjonma statue unscathed.
The temple complex of the magnificent monastery never fails to fascinate visitors as it is made up of four temple buildings and a series of eight caves. The buildings are connected by a network of narrow stone walkways and a few rickety bridges, with the caves accessible behind the temple buildings. The interior of Paro Taktsang features golden ceilings, golden idols and the Hall of a Thousand Buddhas.
Paro Taksang features stark white exterior walls and red shingled roofs as well as golden roofs. Temples in Bhutan are typically constructed of stone and rammed mud. In the courtyard, there is a large prayer wheel, which monks spin every morning to start the day. Tibetan Buddhists believe that spinning a prayer wheel is similar to reciting prayers orally.
At the base of Taksang called Ramthangkha, you will be greeted by local vendors selling a variety of products with a cheerful smile. Local vendors sell everything under the sun from their wares to fast food, beverages, garments and mostly handicraft products. Don't be surprised if you hear local vendors speaking numerous foreign languages.
On the trail, the hikers pass by biblical hordes of pilgrims both locals and tourists moving up and down the Taktsang trail almost akin to watching an anthill buzzing with activity with all the fascinating sights and sounds. Along the trail, you might bump into mountain bikers making their way through the dirt routes.
The trail shows the classic example of the age-old tradition of transportation and route march. Along with the hikers, there will be herds of ponies make their way up and down the hill. One can either ride on the pony or to hike up the monastery with the aid of a walking stick that you can rent at the base.
Some tourists, carry out Sketching, Yoga & Wellness activities around the vicinity because of the sanctity and sacredness of the environment. Nowadays the place is gaining popularity among the aesthetics enthusiasts, thus there are numerous retreat centres operating in Paro valley with the view facing the magnificent Taksang Monastery.
Paro Taksang is one of the best spots that offers a visual treat for the photographers and shutterbugs from all around the world. Most of the travellers aspire to visit Bhutan after seeing the photograph of Tiger's Nest precariously perched on the rock cliff. Some even wonders if the monastery is one of the seven wonders of the world.
The gateway to Tiger's Nest is also gaining momentum for many brides and grooms who choose to do their pre-wedding photoshoot in Bhutan. It is indeed a once in a lifetime experience to have pictures of you and your loved one captured against the magnificent backdrop of the Tiger's Nest.
Around the Tiger's Nest Monastery, there are also other sacred monasteries and landmarks from where the photographers can take the amazing shots. One just has to becareful not to fall off the cliffs while trying to capture those beautiful shots.
With such a significant history and majestic landscapes, it is no surprise that this sacred Takstang Monastery is visited by hundreds locals and tourists everyday.