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Paro Taktsang (Tiger's nest monastery) – A complete travel guide - The Bhutan Odyssey

Taktsang Monastery or Paro Taktsang, popularly known as Tiger’s Nest Monastery is located in the outskirts of Paro district in Western Bhutan. Paro Taktsang is basically a cluster of temples clinging to the edge of an impossibly steep and rocky cliff, seeming to hang in space some 800 metres above the valley. The monastery is located at an altitude of 3120 metres above sea level. Paro Taktsang is the most sacred Buddhist site in Bhutan. For a traveller, if there is one place you ought to visit in Bhutan, it is Taktsang Monastery. In this blog, we will highlight everything that you need to know about the monastery from its history to the hike to the points to remember before visit. So, read on.

Taktsang Monastery also popularly known as Tigers Nest Monastery - A must visit in Bhutan
Taktsang Monastery also popularly known as Tigers Nest Monastery - A must visit in Bhutan
 

If you missed out on our previous blogs of the series - 'The Bhutan Odyssey', read them by clicking on the links or the photos below:

6. Paro Taktsang (Tiger's nest monastery) – A complete travel guide (This article)

 

How to reach Paro Taktsang (Tiger's nest monastery):

The base of Paro Taktsang, from where the hike starts, is located approximately 12 kilometres away from Paro town. You can hire a taxi to reach Paro Taktsang base. It will take you around 30-40 minutes in a car/ taxi to reach the starting point of trail to Taktsang from lower Paro town. You should ideally reach Paro the day before and start your hike in the morning around at 8 AM.


Best time to visit Paro Taktsang (Tiger's nest monastery):

The best time to visit Paro Taktsang is between the months of March to May and again from September to mid-November. You will get clear skies and the weather remains at its best during these months. From March to May, you will also be able to see the trail leading to Paro Taktsang come alive with most beautiful blossoms especially Rhododendrons. Though we visited Taktsang in early May, a cyclone in bay of bengal resulted in a cloudy and rainy weather. This made the hike slippery and slushy but it also resulted in some mystical landscapes as you would notice.

Our hike to Taktsang monastery was amazing as we saw a sea of clouds below us
Our hike to Taktsang monastery was amazing as we saw a sea of clouds below us

History related to Paro Taktsang (Tiger's nest monastery):

It is said that a female disciple of Guru Padmasambhava transformed herself into a tigress and carried him on her back from Eastern Bhutan to the site of Paro Taktsang in the 8th century; hence the name Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Guru Padmasambhava assumed a wrathful form, Guru Dorji Drolo, and subdued the evil spirits in the temple’s locality. The tigress also resided in a cave at the temple site and owing to its fearful form helped to ward off evil spirits. At Tiger’s Nest, Guru Padmasambhava unveiled certain treasures for the benefit of sentient beings. He meditated at the Paro Taktsang for 3 years, 3 months, 3 days and 3 hours and emerged in the eight incarnated forms. You can still see the cave where Guru Padmasambhava meditated in 747 AD. Hence, the monastery is also sometimes referred to as ‘Temple of Guru with Eight Names’.


In the 16th century, a small temple was built at Paro Taktsang site by a Buddhist master. In the 17th century, the temple site was offered to ‘The Beard Man’, who is credited as the founder of Bhutanese nation (Read our 1st article in the series - Introduction to Bhutan to get better perspective). The Beard Man instructed Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye, the civil ruler of Bhutan, to build a big temple of 8 manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava. Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye was successful in completing the construction of Paro Taktsang or Taktsang monastery by 1694.

Taktsang perched on the edge of a hill seen through forest trees
Taktsang perched on the edge of a hill seen through forest trees

In 1998, Paro Taktsang was destroyed in a fire, the cause of which remains a mystery. All the precious religious images and relics were charred to cinders, and centuries of art, history and tradition were consumed swiftly by the flames. It was then painstakingly rebuilt over 7 years, exactly as it was, with almost every Bhutanese citizen contributing to its reconstruction, in cash or in kind. The charred remains of the precious old images were interred in new images that were made. It was a very special day when the new Paro Taktsang was consecrated on 24 Mar 2005, a symbol of Bhutanese resilience and faith. Surprisingly, the ceremony was conducted by a little boy who is believed to be the young reincarnation of the Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye – the one who had originally built the monastery three centuries earlier.

The beautifully resurrected Taktsang or Tiger's Nest monastery
The beautifully resurrected Taktsang or Tiger's Nest monastery

Hike to Paro Taktsang (Tiger's nest monastery):

It will take you about 2-3 hours of a strenuous hike on the rocky and muddy terrain to reach the Paro Taktsang if you are fit enough. Rains or crowd might slow you down to 4 hours. The trail starts with a walk through a small open flea market where locals sell imitation jewellery, showpieces and Bhutanese artefacts. You can rent a trekking stick from here. The path that leads to the Paro Taktsang is steep and narrow and the hike is mostly along the cliffside. The total distance that you will cover in the hike is about 3 kilometres one way with a gain of 700 metres in elevation. You can opt to hire a pony from the base if you are unable to climb such distance or if you have dodgy knees or ankles. However note that a pony will take you up only till a point.


We started the hike early in the morning with our guide Dorji from The Nature Tourism – Bhutan after buying tickets to enter the Paro Taktsang from the base/ parking lot.

Starting the hike to Taktsang monastery (Tigers Nest) in Paro, Bhutan
Starting the hike to Taktsang monastery (Tigers Nest) in Paro, Bhutan

The entire hike to Paro Taktsang is dotted by colourful prayer flags, bright red coloured rhododendron trees and pine trees clinging aside the cliffs. Some of these trees even had boards calling out their age. We were surprised to know some trees were more than a century old. Every twist and turn in the trail offers you a view of different landscape which is as beautiful as the other. Seating benches are installed at a few picturesque points on the path that comes as a welcome break if at all you need it! The entire trail up the Paro Taktsang is also littered with shortcuts, which you should only opt if you are an experienced trekker. While we huffed and puffed and took frequent breaks while ascending, the Bhutanese locals seemed to float up the slope with great ease.

Rhododendrons were in full bloom when we hiked in May to Taktsang monastery (Tigers Nest) in Paro, Bhutan
Rhododendrons were in full bloom when we hiked in May to Taktsang monastery (Tigers Nest) in Paro, Bhutan
Beautiful views on our hike to Taktsang monastery (Tigers Nest) in Paro, Bhutan
Beautiful views on our hike to Taktsang monastery (Tigers Nest) in Paro, Bhutan

Till midway, you will hike on an unpaved muddy and rocky uphill path till a flat area. The ponies will take you only till this flat area point and you will have to hike yourself after this. A huge prayer wheel is installed in this area. Smaller prayer wheels are lined up on one side that rotates continuously with the strong wind. Various colourful Buddhist flags that are tied everywhere haphazardly flutter with the wind.

The mid way point on Taktsang trail where ponies would leave you
The mid way point on Taktsang trail where ponies would leave you