High on the mountainside, not far from the small village of Paro, Bhutan, sits the sacred ‘Tiger’s Nest” temple. This Himalayan Buddhist temple has become the cultural icon of Bhutan.
Tiger’s Nest is the popular name for the temple more properly known as Taktsang Palphug Monastery. Legend has it that in the 8th century, the Guru Rinpoche was flown from Tibet to the mountain on the back of a tigress. He meditated in a cave there for three years, three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours. The Guru is credited with bringing Buddhism to Bhutan.
The original temple was built in 1692, but was damaged in a fire in 1958, and rebuilt. Again in 1998, a large fired destroyed much of the temple. It was rebuilt again, completed in 2005. Many original paintings and relics were lost in these fires.
The temple is about 10km away from Paro village, and about 900 meters (3000 ft) above the Paro Valley. The structure itself is actually about 3120 meters above sea level. Getting to the temple requires a fair amount of walking and climbing. But believe me, it’s worth it.
At first, you’ll have a fairly energetic pace, knowing what’s ahead of you. As time passes, and as you walk the trails that zigzag their way upward, your pace will slow down. The trail is quite good, and if you take your time, it’s a comfortable journey. The air thins out as you climb higher, and it gets cooler. But you carry on, because of the reward ahead.
Half way up, there is a teahouse with a great view of the temple. It’s a great chance to sit for a while, rest and gather the energy to finish the climb. As you make your way further up the trail, the temple becomes more evident. It’s golden roofs and bright white walls beckon you to keep going.
When you approach the temple, it will be better than you can imagine. Seeing the holy site appear before you, hanging to the side of a cliff, is worth the effort. Hundreds of weathered prayer flags will crack against the wind, like applause for your achievement.
There is a final steep staircase to climb, bringing you into the temple itself. You can then stand at the edge of the temple walls, and look out over the valley hundreds of meters below. And you will marvel at how this temple was constructed where it is, by hand, hundreds of years ago.
If you want to enter the temple rooms themselves, you have to check your bags, cameras, phones and shoes. No photos can be taken inside the temple, unfortunately, and you will be padded down to ensure you aren’t hiding anything. Many of the visitors that enter the temple rooms come away with a spiritual awakening, so maybe it is ok to leave your camera behind, just this once.
As a photographer, there will be some experiences that will remain in your memory forever. Making the climb up to photograph the Tiger’s Nest is one of them. As you look at the photographs years later, you’ll remember the journey, the sights and sounds. And you’ll remember the feelings you had when you finally arrived and saw the temple in front of you, and smile.