Thursday, June 10, 2010

Meditate on high. Taktsang Goemba.


Known commonly in the Western world as the "Tiger's Nest Monastery", Taktshang Goemba is the iconic symbol of Bhutan and a must see for anyone who visits the country.

I can't remember when it was that I first saw images of Tiger's Nest but I do remember marveling at the sight of a monastery clinging precipitously to the ledge of a cliff.  The monastery is located 10 km north of the town of Paro and sits about 900 meters above the Paro valley.


My reaction whenever I see a picture of the monastery, is to wonder how the people managed to get the materials up the mountainside to build this magnificent structure.  That's the logical side of me. The emotional side is inspired by the religious devotion of the people to build such a place in reverence of Guru Rinpoche who by all accounts is considered to be the second Buddha because he brought Buddhism to Bhutan.

The Tiger's Nest Monastery dates back to the 8th century when according to legend, one of Guru Rinpoche's consorts, Yeshe Tsogyal, transformed herself into a flying tigress (dakini) and carried him from Tibet to Bhutan on her back.  They landed on the cliff in Paro, where after pacifying a local demon, the Guru meditated in a cave for three months.  After three months, the Guru emerged in eight incarnated forms (manifestations) and the cave became a holy spot on which the monastery was built.  Thus is the origin of its name. 

Legend also has it that back in the 8th century, celestial beings known as "dakinis" transported the building materials up the cliff on their backs.   That explains how they did it :-)

The Tiger's Nest Monastery was built in its present form in 1692. It suffered a devastating fire of unknown origin during the night of April 19, 1998 and was closed for repair and only reopened recently.

The monastery sits on the cliff at 3,120 metres (10,240 ft) and although it looks formidable, it is accessible via foot.  Though most of the references I've read say that the hike up takes about 2 hours, a lighthearted write up by Kerry Saunders, an NBC News correspondent, clocked the hike up and back at 9 hours!!  There are ponies that will take you up part way and I think I will take up one hiker's advice to borrow a walking stick as there are supposedly sections of the path up that are sufficiently steep that using a walking stick for support is a good idea.

The climb to Tiger's Nest starts somewhere above 8,000 ft.  A climb at that altitude will be a challenge for me but I've done it before at higher altitudes so I know I can do it.  I just have to do it at my own pace.

This time, I will bring along an inhaler to make sure I don't run of breath as I do want to make it to the top.  As always, I will take breathers along the way to soak in the spectacular views of this most unique monastery.   I'm looking forward to a truly amazing experience!!