Bhutan

Paro Taktsang: The Tiger's Nest Monastery

This small monastery on a cliff in Bhutan where the 'Second Buddha' is said to have meditated

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It is a small monastery hung far up on a cliff overlooking a spectacular valley.

It is also one of thirteen small monasteries or "tiger's lairs" where the Guru Rinpoche or "Precious Master" also known as the "Second Buddha" of Bhutan is said to have meditated.

Padmasambava was a Brahmin royal who spread Tantric Buddhism through Bhutan and Tibet in the 700s, and is seen in those areas as nearly as holy as the Buddha himself.

As legend has it, Padmasambava landed at Paro Taktsang to meditate when he brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the seventh century. He is said to have arrived on a flying tiger which had recently been his Tibetan concubine. He then meditated in a cave high on the mountain for four months after which he subdued the local 'demons' and began the conversion of the Bhutanese to Buddhism.

For those without flying tiger concubines, getting to the Tiger's Nest is significantly more difficult. There is a two hour climb from the valley floor, which is already quite high at 7000 feet, to the Tiger’s Nest 3000 feet above, 10,000 feet above sea level. As one climbs the well-maintained but very steep trail over ever more vertical switchbacks, the monastery seems to appear and disappear in and out of the trees and the mists. After two hours of a long slow climb -- going slow is recommended to help manage the pace of the altitude -- one arrives at the only beginning of the entrance to the Tiger’s Nest, a rock outcropping overlooking a vast chasm, with the monastery on the other side.

Beneath the promontory of rock, and across the chasm from the monastery, the cliff drops a couple of thousand feet to the gorge below. Carved into the exposed cliff face are stone steps with absolutely no handrails. This is the way to the Tiger's Nest monastery.

Despite the reservations of visitors to navigate the terrifying looking steps, Bhutanese mothers with small babies can be seen floating up the steps with the greatest of ease. The steps lead down into the gorge, which provides the separation and isolation the Tiger’s Nest has enjoyed for all these centuries.

As one climbs into the canyon, a one hundred meter high water fall at the deep end of the canyon appears immediately in front, with the path traversing directly across its base. Once down and across the front of the water fall the steps start back up toward the Tiger’s Nest once again, over 700 steps in all.

After removing one’s shoes one can enter the Tiger’s Nest and climb the several levels within, visiting three temples and gasping at the unreal view. High and deep inside is the cold cave where Padmasambabva is said to have meditated and one can feel the chill breath coming from the cave.

The return journey is much faster, but equally dramatic.

In conjunction with the Long Now Foundation. Modified from original text by Peter Schwartz at the Long Now Blog.

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    Paro Valley, Bhutan
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