The Tiger’s Nest Monastery, or Taktshang Goemba, is the most popular and famous tourist site in Bhutan. It’s the must-visit site for every traveller.
It’s an astonishing structure built right into the rock cliff face. From the ground Tiger’s Nest looks like a tiny speck high up on a sheer cliff. At the top you can’t help but wonder how it was ever possible to build in such a remote, inaccessible location.
Reaching the monastery requires a tough trek on a rugged track. Bhutan is quite possibly the steepest country in the world and there are plenty of people who don’t actually make it to the top.
Tiger’s Nest is considered a sacred place by the Bhutanese. Legend has it that Guru Rinpoche, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, flew there on the back of a tigress (an incarnation of one of his consorts) to conquer the local demon, then meditated in a cave there for three months.
You can’t visit Bhutan without making the pilgrimage to the Tiger’s Nest monastery. Here are 10 tips for making the trek to the top.
Tip #1: Start early to beat the crowds.
We headed off just before 9am and it was pretty busy on the track heading up. By the time we emerged from the monastery to head back down about 11.45am, there were people everywhere! I recommend starting out about 7.30am.
Tip #2: This is not a walk in the park.
Climbing to visit Tiger’s Nest Monastery is a mini-trek, like a tough workout. The track is steep, rocky and very uneven and at the top, there are a lot of steep steps. It takes most people about 2 to 3 hours to reach the monastery. If you’re relatively fit, you can do it faster. We did it in 1.5 hours. Locals do it in about 45 minutes! Heading down is obviously easier but it’s tough on your knees and you have to be careful of sliding on the dusty track.
Tip #3: Go slow.
Remember the old saying, ‘slow and steady wins the race’? This is the key to trekking at altitude. Paro is at 2,200 metres altitude and the Tiger’s Nest monastery is just over 3,000 metres so you climb about 900 vertical metres.
Trekking at altitude is hard and makes you breathless very quickly. We put one step in front of the other and reached the top without a break, except for taking a couple of photos on the stairs at the top. We saw so many people start out quickly and take all the shortcuts, which are extremely steep, and have to stop often to recover. We overtook one group four times on the way up!
There’s a cafeteria halfway up where many people stop for a tea break and lunch on the way back.
Tip #4: Wear comfortable clothes.
Don’t wear jeans. It’s a dusty, rocky track and you’re going to get very dirty. Light trekking pants are good. You need to wear appropriate clothing into the monastery so shorts won’t do.
Tip #5: Wear layers as it gets hot climbing.
We visited in November, right before winter, and it was very hot. If you start early it will be chilly but you’ll warm up pretty quickly as you start the steep climb.
Tip #6: It’s freezing inside the monastery.
You’ll need the layers when you actually enter the monastery. It’s very cold inside. The stone and wooden floors are extremely cold so wear thick socks.
Tip #7: Wear trekking boots if you have them.
Plenty of people wore sneakers but the track is steep and rocky and it’s easy to slip if you don’t have the right grip on your shoes.
Tip #8: No backpack, cameras, phones are allowed inside the monastery.
You have to leave all your gear – backpack, cameras, phones – in a locker (that doesn’t actually lock) when you go into the monastery. Make sure you take a warm jacket inside with you. The Bhutanese are very protective of their most famous monastery and there are CCTV cameras throughout the building so every shrine (there are 8 of them) is monitored.
Tip #9: Take your own TP.
There’s a restroom there however only go if you absolutely have to. It’s pretty horrid.
Tip #10: Take plenty of water – it’s very thirsty work.
You’ll feel such a great sense of achievement when you’ve made it back down the bottom. It’s seriously hard work. You can buy a handicraft as a memento at the markets on the way out or do what we did and head back into Paro town for a relaxing cappuccino and some coconut cheesecake at the Champaca Cafe.