Taktsang Monastery, Paro, Bhutan
Though the trek to Taktsang is known to be fairly moderate, for a person with complete disregard for all things healthy and detestable thing called exercise and sweating, it was a lesson learnt with aching muscles and a continued abhorrence for all that require physical exertion. For those of us who live at sea level and prefer ground zero, it can be quite an effort to end up taxing yourself at 10,000 feet. I decided to conserve my energy and choose my battle wisely, and hence you can see posing all so pretty on my best friend horsey!
Taktsang Palphug Monastery, infamously known as Paro Taktsang is a Buddhist temple complex which clings to a cliff, 3120 meters above the sea level. It is considered to be one of the holiest sites in Bhutan. The strategic location at the cliff-side with its steep climb, vouches for the path that one takes to reach the pinnacle of spirituality. Takstsang is the place where Guru Rinpoche aka Padmasambhava, materialised some 1300 years ago on the back of a flying tigress. Finding shelter in a series of caves, he meditated for some three years and then changed the religious course for the Bhutanese. For those who want to read up more on the lore of mysticism, here is a wealth of Information from the Bhutan Tourism board
The monastery was built 9 centuries later to commemorate this very auspicious beginning. The current structure is far different from the one that was originally built in the 1600s; the devastating licks of flames in 1998 may have destroyed the building, but the strength in ideas, philosophies and beliefs made way for the completion of the new building in 2005.
Traveling in the company a group of trekkers is definitely one of the experience that I can not declare any affection for (and this is in spite of the fact that we are such good friends :P). But due to their habit of trekking, we invariably ended up bright and early when your visibility is as far as what the mist permits you. Personal belongings. Check. Water bottles. Double Check. And then we started on the arduous 3 hours walk up the mountains. Okay fine. My friends went ahead, while I decided to go for the cheat sheet. In my defense, all this chilly mountain fresh air decided to make sick while doing the revival trick for the others. With a hacking racket of my cough, I decided to take the horse. Mind you, the horse will only go with you till the halfway point. The rest of journey has to be made on your own merit and perils. The trail passes through a pine forest and decorated with bright, prayer bannerettes symbolizing protection from evil forces, positive energy, vitality and good luck.
The final approach to the monastery after a climb of around two hours, takes you over a bridge across a waterfall that drops 200 feet into a sacred pool. The entire area is wrapped in prayer flags, while crevices in the rock are crammed with tsa-tsas, small reliquaries containing ashes of the dead.
The entire complex comprises of white buildings with golden roofs. All the buildings are interconnected by staircases with steps carved into the rock. The main shrine of the monastery – the prayer wheel, is located in the courtyard of the temple. While the exterior holds you spell-bound with fine architectural precision, the interior beholds a luxurious beauty in the form of gold-plated domes and flickering candle lights bringing out the sheen of the golden idols.
Since I was eavesdropping on one of the fellow traveller’s explanation to their companions, I learnt that there are eight caves in the monastery; four of them are comparatively easy to access. The cave where Padmasmabhava is believed to have entered first, on the back of the tiger, is known as “Tholu Phuk” cave and the one where he meditated is known as the “Pel Phuk”. Monks of the monastery are supposed to live and meditate in these caves for 3 years.
The teachings brought to Taktsang by Padmasambhava 1,300 years ago includes a belief in the power and value of nature. Maybe it is this very faith that makes this country known as the country of Happy People.
Pro Tip – Do’s and Dont’s:
- All tourists are recommended to wear full clothes. And when I say full clothes, I mean full length track pants or trousers. The guys in our group had to share pants, literally, because only one of them decided to bring a multi-purpose convertible pants 😀
- Even though there is a notice saying that all tourists need to be accompanied with a licensed tour guide, it is not a compulsion.
- Photography is strictly prohibited inside the monastery. At the entrance, you will be checked (very respectfully) for phones, cameras, or any kind of weapons or explosives. Lockers are provided for the tourists to keep their personal belongings.
- Visitors are not permitted to enter any altar rooms inside the monastery in the absence of the caretaker.
- Try to start your trek at the earliest. Not only will you avoid the hoard of tourists, but also you will finish the visit before the designated lunch break.
- There is a small market that can be seen once you return from your trek. Personally, I found the souvenir collection much better than the one seen in the shops of Paro.
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