Friday, November 7, 2008

Trek to Taksang Monastery (Bhutan)

One place really worth visiting in the Paro valley is the Taktsang Monastery. Reaching the monastery involves a three hours trek from the roadside. One has to travel by car or bus from Paro town on the road to Drugyel Dzong and 8 kilometres away drop down to begin the trek to the Monastery. From here far away and high up on the cliff top, the Taktsang Monastery can be seen. For a moment you think that you cannot make it to the top but something draws you and you start walking. A few minutes walk from the roadside and you cross the pedestrian bridge across the Paro Chu. A walk of half an hour on a well defined foot-path takes you to a village with a monastery within which a huge prayer wheel rotates by the water gushing down a stream below it. The rotating wheel rythmically clangs a bell the sound of which echoes in the dense forests around. After a refreshing drink from the stream, you brace yourself for the steep climb. As you gradually climb up, the view of the Paro valley below starts getting more and more panoramic. The paddy fields start looking like the squares on the chessboard and the houses like chess pieces. Here and there on the track, you catch glimpses of the Taktsang Monastery. You keep wondering when you will reach it. Finally the cafeteria below the monastery is reached from where the view of the monastery is aweinspiring. The monastery is a gravity defying structure built on a ledge on a cliff that plummets down almost 1000 metres into the valley. After a refreshing drink of coke that costs three times of the normal price you are ready to go. After a climb of about twenty minutes, you are slightly above the level of the monastery on a outcrop. A steep downhill walk of about 5 minutes takes you to the bridge over a stream and below a waterfall that cascades down showering you with sprinkles of water. The monastery is just an arm’s length away but still seems to be unapproachable. A final burst of energy and within a few minutes you are at the staircase of the monastery.
It is said that Guru Padmasambha who propagated Buddhism in this area came here flying on a tigress and that is how the monastery derives its name Taktsang which means "Tiger’s Nest". Appropriately there is a huge statue
of Guru Padmasambha on a tiger back in one of the three temples in the monastery. Perched highup on a hill top opposite the Taktsang Monastery can be seen the Sangtogperi Monastery which is used by monks in meditation. You may visit it if you like but it involves another steep climb of about 15 minutes on a footpath that bifurcates before reaching the Taktsang Monastery.
On the way back at the cafeteria, I wonder aloud as to how man could have ever made this impossible structure. The canteen boy who overhears me, mysteriously comments,"It is God who himself built this monastery; human beings could have never possibly made it".
In 1998 a major fire broke out in the monastery and most of it was destroyed; it has now been rebuilt.