The Tiger’s Nest

What a great way to end our stay in Bhutan–by hiking to Taktshang Monastery, more popularly known as The Tiger’s Nest.

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The Tiger’s Nest

If you were following Kate’s and William’s recent visit or happened to catch Bill Weir’s CNN show about Bhutan on The Wonder List, this will be a familiar sight.

What  you HAVEN’T seen is THIS shot.

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We range in age from 64 to 80, and the 80 year old could walk circles around the rest of us!

Peter’s watch has a cool feature.  It records the altitude, so these were our starting and high points.

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Our version of base camp

 

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The high point

So what’s the back story?  Whenever Tashi, our guide, relates a local legend to us, he starts it off by saying “It is believed”, so I will too.

It is believed that in the eighth century, the king of Bhutan was possessed by a demon. Padmasambhava, the great Indian Guru, who was visiting the king of Tibet at that time, heard about the demon. He turned his consort into a flaming tigress, flew to the mountain on her back, and converted the demon to Buddhism. After his exorcism, the king converted all of his subjects to Buddhism.

His work done, Guru Rimpoche, (Padmasambhava’s more easily pronounced name) meditated in a cave for either three years, or three months, or three years, three months, three weeks, and three days, depending on who is telling the story. He prophesied that a magnificent temple would be built on the site of the cave.

It took until the 17th century for the prophesy to be fulfilled, but it was well worth the wait.  In 1998, the temple complex was destroyed by fire, and was subsequently rebuilt.

The Tiger’s nest is Bhutan’s version of Mecca.  Most Bhutanese try to make a pilgrimage to the Tiger’s nest at least once in a lifetime.  It is believed that you shed your sins along the way.  Let me tell you, you shed SOMETHING as you make that climb.

Although there is an alternate mode of transportation,

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You could ride one of these guys to the top–BUT they tend to favor the edge of the road.

we chose the path most taken. It starts out wide, and then gets progressively narrower.

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There is a cafe located part way up the mountain, a good resting spot, or the end of the journey for those that find the altitude or the climb too strenuous.

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The view of the cafe from the Top

Was it a spiritual experience?  You bet!

Prayer flags
Prayer flags
I have no idea what these are
I have no idea what these are
Peter crossing the bridge
Peter crossing the bridge
Our departing view
Our departing view

 

 

The Cast of Characters

The Cast of Characters
For those of you who expressed concern about my traveling alone, after Mike and Greg had to cancel, have no fear. I now have five new friends. Here we are at the National Memorial Chorten, which was built to honor Bhutan’s third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuk .

first row: Jim, Peter, Marilyn, Marie. Back row, Dick, me

Jim is a former hotel and restaurant owner from the greater San Diego area. His family used to own Marty’s restaurant and hotel, an establishment frequented by yestereyear’s stars, such as Lucy and Desi, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin.

Peter and Marie are from the greater Boston area. They retired from the financial industry, and have been traveling the world ever since. Prior to arriving in Delhi, they had taken another OAT tour through the Balkans, then spent a few days in Dubai. Jim, Peter and Marie will be heading home after Nepal.

Marilyn, a retired nurse from San Francisco, is like the little energizer bunny. She walks faster than I do!

Dick, from Seattle, retired from Boeing. He’s the most widely traveled of our group, having been on 27 OAT trips, plus tours with numerous other companies. Marilyn, Dick and I are the only members of the group that will be visiting all three countries. In Nepal, we will be joined by three new travelers.

Although not actually traveling with us, we see the royals EVERYWHERE.  Photos of them are on hotel and restaurant walls, on the sides of buildings, in museums and temples.   This official portrait is of the fourth King, known as the “Royal Fourth” with his four wives ( all sisters), the ten children they produced, (including the “Royal Fifth”) and the first grandchild. Since that photo was taken, the Royal Fifth has married.  He and his stunningly beautiful wife have produced an heir,  the Royal Sixth.

Tashi has identified which member of the royal family is in the motorcade when they go whizzing by.  So far, we have seen one of the four queens, and a royal uncle.

This photo of Tashi was taken at the Memorial Chorten.  He’s  instructing us on the proper way to circumambulate a prayer wheel.  Walking in a clockwise direction, you give each wheel a good spin as you pass by.  If we had been carrying rosaries, we would be using them to keep track of our prayers while we walked.

Tashi

As with all mountain roads, Bhutan’s have their fair share of hairpin turns.  What they don’t  have are guard rails.  This tour is NOT for the faint of heart or the queasy stomached.  We have come so close to passing vehicles, we could have flossed the other driver’s teeth.  What a relief to have an excellent driver like Gembo getting us to the top of the mountain and back down again.

Gembo, our very skillful driver

An unexpected delight was the owner of our hotel in Thimphu.  Her story deserves an entire post, but that will have to wait till I get home, or until YOU stay at the Thimphu Tower.

Jim and Tshering, the owner of Thimphu Tower

 

Druk Yul, Land of the Thunder Dragon

Bhutan’s airport looks like it was designed by Walt Disney.  The buildings are covered with carvings of dragons (Druk means dragon in Bhutanese) and the windows are highly decorative.  It is the country’s sole airport, because Paro is the only area flat enough to accommodate a runway.  It’s a very SHORT runway, but a runway nonetheless.


The mountains that surround the runway make landing quite exciting.  So exciting, that only 8 pilots are skilled enough to fly into and out of Paro.  Fortunately one of those 8 was flying our plane today.

The airport is on the left. Take a look at those mountains

Tashi, our guide, and Gembo, our driver were waiting for us outside the terminal, ready to get this party started. First stop, Paro’s dzong. Every city/community had its own dzong. Back in the day when the Tibetans’ favorite leisure activity was invading their neighbors, the dzongs were fortresses. Today they have been repurposed into administrative and religious buildings.  

the demon of the west
The dzong courtyard
Young monks

Anyone thinking about visiting Bhutan should take a close look at those stairs.  They are steep, uneven, and lacking handrails.  And they are everywhere!
 

good thing i spent time at the Y before this trip!

After touring the dzong and the national museum, we stopped for lunch at a typical farmhouse.   In a “typical farmhouse” the ground floor is where the cows sleep.  They are protected from predators, yes, but this arrangement is multipurpose.  They also act as the home’s furnace, generating heat (among other things) for the floors above.  The second floor is used for storage, mainly food.  The room we viewed was loaded with drying rice.  The top floor contains the bedrooms, the kitchen/gathering spot and the altar.  

check put the floor boards!

Our hostess served us a delicious meal, complete with butter tea, into which you tossed grains of toasted rice. Okay, so maybe that last part wasn’t so delicious–at least not to me–but the fresh spring asparagus was particularly wonderful.

Benches were provided for thise that didn’t want to sit on the floor
 

Our hotel, the Thimpu Tower, is smack dab in the center of town, right by the historic clock tower.  It was very easy to stroll through the capital city and check out  their version of a traffic light.  

Bhutanese traffic light
the rotary
 

By the way, that’s the ONLY “traffic light” in Thimphu.  Like Massachusetts and New Jersey, they DO have “rotaries”, but their traffic circles are a bit more decorative.  

My lovely room overlooks the “clock tower plaza” and from my window, you can see the largest Buddha (in that particular contemplation pose) in the world.  Tashi tells us its construction is being completely funded by Asian Buddhists from Singapore, Thailand, China and Indonesia.  A much more up close and personal view will follow.  


There is construction everywhere in Thimphu. I needed to watch my step at all times to avoid the uneven pavement and the frequent holes in the sidewalks.  (I sure was missing Mike, who normally does all the watching for me, making sure I don’t trip over my own feet or fall into one of those holes!)

i wouldnt want to depend on THAT scaffolding

The kids roam freely in the land of gross national happiness.  These two were moving so quickly, I couldn’t get a good shot, but you’ll get the idea.  What better toy than a box and paper bag?  They were having a blast!