Built in 1692, Tiger’s Nest Monastery (Taktsang Palphug) is one of Bhutan’s most sacred sites. Perched at the top of a cliff, it stands about 3,000 metres (10,000ft) above sea level. According to legend, Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava and the bringer of Buddhism to Bhutan, flew to this exact spot from Tibet on the back of a tigress. He came to subdue a demon and then took residence in a cave where he meditated for 3 years, 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days and 3 hours. The monastery was built around the cave which is still there and open for viewing once a year.
No trip to Bhutan would be complete without a sight of the monastery and so we set off very early one morning. From the car park, the white buildings of the monastery were just about discernible through the mist. With no expectation of reaching anywhere near the top but, having been advised that reasonable views could be had at the halfway-ish point, the aim was to try to reach the cafeteria there.
We eschewed the ponies which were available to carry people two thirds of the way and set off on the steep and at times (too many times) precarious path.
With frequent stops for water, a nibble of an energy bar and to catch our breath (hiking at altitude certainly affects the lungs more than the legs), we managed to reach the target of the cafeteria and, despite the lingering mist (and I was so grateful not to have to walk in bright sunlight and overpowering heat), were rewarded with a much better view of the monastery.
Of course, the ever present dogs were hanging around the picnic tables, hopeful of a biscuit treat. And there were puppies!
I could have quite happily stayed to play with the pups but was encouraged to press on upwards, 'just to see how much further we can get'.
Eventually, we arrived at the start of the approach to the Tiger’s Nest - a rocky outcrop overlooking a vast chasm, with the monastery on the other side. There were stone steps (and no handrails) carved into the exposed cliff face heading down into the ravine. Descending via the steps, a waterfall, festooned with prayer flags, came into view with the path continuing directly across it. Once beyond the waterfall, gruellingly steep steps, over 800 in total, climbed towards the entrance to the monastery.
I'm not sure how it happened but, dear Reader, we made it to the top and in good time, too. Photography is not allowed inside the monastery where we received a blessing from one of the monks and took a peek inside the original cave, thinking ourselves lucky that we'd picked the day of the year that it's open for viewing.
The descent was much easier, for me, at least, and I ended up about twenty minutes ahead of the mister, in the company of three German tourists.
And, of course, a dog.