Paro’s biggest attraction is the sacred Buddhist monastery called Tigers Nest. It is situated at 10,000 feet up on a vertical rock face overlooking the valley. A trip to Tiger’s Nest should be part of an overall itinerary that includes all of Bhutan (see our post on Bhutan).
The monastery complex was built in 1692, around the cave where, according to the myth, Guru Rinpoche (Padmasambhava) flew from Tibet on a tiger’s back and fought five demons that were creating an obstacle to the path of Buddhism. The 8th century guru is said to have meditated here, and to have introduced Buddhism to Bhutan. (Read our post about Bhutan here).
Planning: Treks start in early morning, in order to be off the mountain before afternoon heat, and to still catch lunch before restaurants in Paro close. Stay nearby (we stayed at the Zhiwa Ling Lodge) and leave the hotel by 7:00 am (trekkers start leaving the hotels by 6:00 am). Use real shoes (not sandals) and layer your clothing for temperature swings. There’s a cafeteria midway if you can’t carry your own hydration.
Difficulty: This trek involves mostly a dirt trail with some hilly sections, as seen above. It is not difficult unless you have bad knees or other mobility issues. The first half of the hike is not problematic unless the weather is especially cold or hot or rainy. At the midpoint you will find a rest area and a cafeteria that you won’t want to eat at. For the second half of the climb breathing is affected (a bit) as the altitude increases, but there are some flat sections of the trail where you can amble along, to catch your breath. The last stretch of the hike consists of 750 steps, as you have to climb down one mountain and up another where the monastery is actually located.
Our guide explained the best ways to ensure a successful trek. He has guided trekkers of all abilities hundreds of times. He told us some people didn’t make it, either because of dehydration, or knee injury or heart failure, and obviously age and fitness level matter, but his oldest client was an 87 year old Japanese women who did it in 8 hours. Here are his suggestions:
- Save your knees (and time) by doing the first half of the trek on horseback;
- Bring a walking stick, or rent one at the base;
- Pace yourself, stop to rest often, and hydrate;
- The stairs are easier to navigate than the path, but there are 750 of them.
- Don’t try to jog up the stairs.
TIP for Photograhers: Don’t waste time at the halfway point taking pictures, because the sun isn’t hitting the rock face of the monastery until mid morning. There are a couple of good viewpoints near the top of the stairs, before you start descending into the gorge.
TIP if you ride horseback for the first half of ascent, you’ll avoid walking in the horse manure on the way up. Plus you’ll arrive at the midpoint cafeteria with knees and ankles intact. After a quick pit stop, you’ll start uphill with fresh legs while the 100+ trekkers who started out at 6:00 am are still wheezing and resting. Reserve horse in advance. Riding skills are not required because the horse can be led by a guide. Some of the horses look a bit mangy but are surefooted.
MONDISTI’s Tiger’s Nest TRIP TIPS
- The hike is approximatley 5.3 miles and takes approximately 2 to 4 hours each way;
- Round trip is about 5.5 hours round trip;
- Take the horseback option, to save your knees and lots of time;
- No cameras or bags or shoes are permitted inside the monastery itself;
- The trek is well worth the effort.