Thursday, November 15, 2012

2012 Asian Adventure - Tiger's Nest Trek

Day Twenty-Four

We woke up early today.  Today was going to be the highlight of our Bhutan trip and I ranked it up there with the Great Wall and the Terracotta Soldiers.  We were going to see the Tiger's Nest.

We ate breakfast at the hotel and then met our guide and driver.  Before we left the hotel be picked up walking sticks that were propped up next to the door.  They would come in handy later on during out trek.  The drive from the hotel to the beginning of the trail was much shorter than I'd expected.  I didn't realize it was so close to Paro.  Then again, Bhutan is a small country and not much is very far away there.

We got out of the car and it was drizzling.  After nearly three weeks of relatively good weather, the one day that we were going to be outside the most was when the monsoons decided to reassert themselves.  You could just make out the temple through the low lying clouds.  My new rain jacket and my old trusty Tiley hat kept most of the rain off me during the hike up.

The trail  left the parking area and started to ascend almost immediately.  The Wife and I had struck an agreement - I could walk ahead but I had to keep her in sight.  I followed this agreement ... almost.

The trail was easy to follow.  It was halfway between a single path hiking trail and a dirt road.  Everything I'd read before coming to Bhutan had describe how narrow the trail was and how hard it was.  Frankly, I have no idea what trail they were on as it was not harrowing at all.  Steep ... yes ... and with the rain it was a bit slippery as the dirt became mud.  I would walk ahead stopping periodically to take pictures.  The low clouds didn't bode well for pictures of the actual temple and views of the surrounding valley were hazy at best.

Small shrine with water powered prayer wheels on the way up to the Tiger's Nest temple.
The trail passed a small shrine with large, water powered prayer wheels.  The water outlet was, of course, phallic shaped.   After the shrine the trail switchback up the side of the valley.  At the turn of each switchback I would stop and wait for the Wife and guide to come into sight (the Wife in her yellow jacket and the guide with her umbrella are visible in the center of this picture).  Once I saw them, and they saw me, I would continue up the trail.

Near the halfway point there is a cafeteria/restaurant.  As I waited here for the Wife and guide I hoped we could stop here for a rest.  Turns out we were on a schedule.  The guide said that the monks close the temple over the lunch hour and she wanted us up there before it closed.   We only had a brief stop to rest and drink a soda before we got back on the trail.

Prayer flags along the trail to the Tiger's Nest temple.
The trail was very interesting.  It went through forest draped in, what I would call, spanish moss which gave everything an ethereal feel.  In caves and crevasses along the way small mini-stupas were left.  Strings of prayer flags were everywhere.  I ran into a cow on the trail who was munching on the prayer flags.

Moss hung trees along the muddy trail.
We  were not alone on the trail.  Several other groups passed us including Europeans and Japanese.  One pair from Japanese were in spotless white clothes.  This was amazing considering the rain and mud on the trail.  We would see them later and they would still be impeccable.  Not sure how they did it as I had mud on my pant legs and my shoes were caked by the time I arrived at the temple.

The prize at the end of the trek: The Tiger's Nest temple.
I reached the top and, to my pleasant surprise, the clouds had lifted and gave me a clear view of the Tiger's Nest.  From the top of the trail you could see the temple across a canyon/valley/gorge.  To get to it we would go down 400 steps before crossing a stream and climbing 400 steps back up the other side of the valley to the temple.  It is this portion of the trek that most resembled the "harrowing" descriptions I'd read about.  The guide explained that the railing along the stairs had been added recently.  Before the railing was in place I could see why you would have called it a scary climb.  With the railing it was a much safer trek without a bit of harrow.

We rested up at the top to catch our breaths before we started down the stairs.  As we rested you could hear the banging of drums, the blowing of horns, and the chanting of monks wafting over the valley.  We'd been hearing it for a while as we'd gotten closer to the temple but now we could see them.  The sound added to the otherworldly feeling of the place.

The waterfall on at the bottom of the stairs and a small water-powered shrine.
At the bottom of the 400 steps the path crosses a stream next to a waterfall where the water turned a prayer wheel.  From the bridge it was up 400 steps to the temple proper.  Photography was not allowed and I had to leave my camera at the security office before entering.

Just before entering we noticed there were a lot of butterflies and moths everywhere.  One landed on me and rode my shoulder all the way through the temples.  The Tiger's Nest, also known as Paro Taktsang, is built around a cave where a guru, Padmasambhava, meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours.  Guru Padmasambhava introduced Buddhism to area and he is held in high regard in Bhutan.  The name, Tiger's Nest, comes from the legend that the Guru had come to the cave on the back of his Mistress whom he'd transformed into a flying tiger.

A flower and a temple.
After the tour of the temple we made our way back down which was not an easy feat.  Slippery mud is worse on the way down.  The Wife, unfortunately, did not make it down without slipping on the way.  (I laughed while the guide helped her up - not one of my finer moments. Sorry Honey!)  We stopped at the half way point cafeteria and stopped for a vegetarian lunch.  We were supposed to visit a Bhutanese family for dinner this night but, while we ate the Wife and I looked at each other and both agreed that we really weren't up to that.  We politely asked the guide if it would be rude to cancel the dinner.  I don't think our guide saw just how much this hike was taking out of the Wife and I but she said it would be no problem to cancel.

After lunch we slowly made our way carefully down the muddy trail back to the car.  We still needed some mementos of Bhutan so we drove back into Paro and our guide took us to a store run my one of her friends.  We found a few interesting pieces to take home with us, including magnets naturally.

After that it was back to the Hotel.  We showered and napped.  We settled for dinner in the hotel restaurant.    While I doubt it was as good as a home cooked Bhutanese meal, I doubt we would have enjoyed it as we were quite tired after the trek.

The hike up to the Tiger's nest was about six miles (9.7 km).  I don't have an exact distance because the GPS in my camera had a hard time keeping a satellite lock on the winding trails under the trees and valley walls.  The elevation climb was approximately 1,870 ft (570 m).  We were also at an altitude of 10,240 ft (3,120 m).  The combination of altitude, elevation climb, rain, and mud made this trek harder than it should have been and has convinced the Wife that she does not like hiking/trekking.  Part way up she said she seriously felt like clubbing someone with her walking stick (this isn't the first time she's thought violent thoughts while hiking - the first time I am aware off being during our Grand Canyon death march in 1998).  I, on the other hand, did so well, much better than I'd expected I would, that it has just reinforced my enjoyment of trekking/hiking.  I hope to return to Bhutan someday to do some real trekking ... and, unless she changes her mind, most likely without the Wife.

Pictures from day twenty-four (07/15/2012) can be found in my 2012-07 Bhutan Google Photos album.  I took a lot of pictures of the Tiger's Nest but have limited to three or four of the best.

Our 2012 Asian Adventure continues ...

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