In the 8th century, Guru Rimpoche flew on a tiger’s back to Tiger’s Nest.
Today, Tiger’s Nest is a monastery perched on a cliff, 3000 feet above the valley floor. We left our farmhouse at 6:30 in the morning for the short drive, up 1000 feet to the start of the trail that we followed up the cliff.
The hike has four stages: first is a thousand foot, steep climb from about 8000 feet up to 9300 feet. The goal of the first stage is the tea house where you can take a break. It was cloudy and drizzley when we set out. You can take a horse up to the tea house, and two of our party lazied out and did this. The rest of us climbed the steep rocky trail, slippery in places, with horse shit an additional obstacle. The path was very uneven, lots of tree roots, lots of ankle-twisting opportunities. Horses would pass us, as would faster climbers. The air was noticebly thin, I could feel the altitude. We made it to the tea house in an hour and a half or so, and sat down for a well-deserved cup of tea and a break. From the tea house, the monastery was obscured by clouds. We caught occasional glimpses in the mist, which lifted, then fell again, hiding our goal.
Maria was planning to stay at the tea house while I continued on. But after the break, she felt good and decided to go to the lookout point at the end of the second stage.
We set out on the second stage, no horses here. This was quite a bit easier, another thousand feet in elevation, but a longer walk, so not so steep. The trail was more sandy and wider. Still lots of obstacles in the path, but no horse shit, and we could usually find the easiest way around each barrier. We caught better views of the monastery as we climbed. It was still quite early, so not too many people yet. At the end of the second stage is a great viewpoint of the monastery. We were level with it, it looked quite close, and we could see down into the valley. The cliff face is at least a thousand feet tall, we felt a bit of vertigo. Maria took the attached photo, it’s gotta be one of the best ever of this iconic view.
Maria was feeling good, so she committed to finishing the climb.
The third stage is a stairway down maybe two hundred feet to a little gorge with a beautiful thin waterfall running down the rock face. Beside the waterfall is a cave where the guru’s consort lived. A little meditation hut was built and now nuns meditate there for three years, three months and three days. The stairway down was steep and quite difficult in places. Most of the stairs were human-made from stone, uneven, but some were just natural rocks that needed to be negotiated. The route switched back and forth, so even though the gorge was disorienting, there were handrails and, except for the lowermost flight, there were stairs only 20 feet or so below. You can’t see these when you are coming down, however, so it looks like you are walking the edge of the precipice. But fairly quickly, we reached the waterfall, and from there it was a relatively easy climb of maybe 250 wide, even steps up to the monastery. 700 steps in all.
The monastery burned down in 1999 and has been completely rebuilt. It reopened in 2006. Lots of stairs inside, but nothing left that has any historical importance. We did go inside to one of the rooms, but mostly just walked around, glad that we had made it. We were at 10,300 feet above sea level.
On the way down, we encountered the late-rising mobs that were still on their way up. I’ve commented on the Indians in Bhutan before. They are like US tourists in Mexico. Some are nice and respectful, but most are assholes. A group of 20 Indian kids were shouting in the gorge listening to the echos. Indians in their 20s were playing Bollywood music on their phone speakers as they climbed. It seems like every other Indian adult male was jabbering the whole way up. We really like the Indians in India, and the Indians we worked with in the US. But rich Indians on tour suck. They were not prepared, we saw people in flipflops and one girl in heels. We encouraged some who looked like they were earnestly struggling, and laughed at others who we knew weren’t going to make it and were only there because their gigantic tour group had this as one of their stops.
Everyone in our group, except 77 year old Marianne made it to the top. Marianne made it to the tea house, which was the toughest stage, so we’re all proud of her.
Once we had all made it back to the bottom, we went back to the hotel for a hot shower and a little rest. In the late afternoon, we went to another farmhouse for a Bhutanese hot stone bath. You sit in a wooden tub and they drop in stones that have been in a wood fire all day. The water had lots of echinacea leaves in it, said to be healing for knees and legs. If you want it hotter, they pick a stone out of the fire, dunk it in cold water to remove the ashes and drop it in a compartment in the tub by your feet. The water next to the stone boils and you can feel the heat right away. The perfect followup to a 2000 foot climb over rough terrain.
Then the woman who ran the baths had us into her house for a home-cooked Bhutanese dinner with salted buttered tea, homemade ara moonshine, rice, beef, asparagus from her farm, potatos, it was all very good.
9:00 lights out. We slept very soundly.