Hiking the Tiger’s Nest

Tiger’s Nest, Bhutan ©PROGöran Höglund (Kartläsarn)/Flickr

Last year we received this wonderful letter from one of our travelers, John Monahan. His beautiful story about a trek to The Tiger’s Nest Monastery—a famous Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and temple perched high on a cliff in Bhutan—reminds all of us here at Friendly Planet why we do what we do! This experience will stay with John the rest of his life, and we’re humbled to be a part of it.


Dear Friendly Planet,

I am sending you this because I want to share an experience that I had hiking to Tiger’s Nest monastery high in the Himalayas, the Mecca for Buddhism in this part of the world. I had many good experiences in Bhutan, but this one in particular was really special. You see, I was supposed to spend the last two days in Paro, the town below the monastery, before leaving Bhutan for Bangkok. But my flight in Bumthang was cancelled because of rain and the only road was not passable because of rock slides. Luckily, I was able to get on a late afternoon charter the following day, but that also meant I only had one night in Paro. Turns out, this was not enough time to visit the Tiger’s Nest, because my guide, Karma (I hope that I am spelling his name correctly), said that we would need at least five hours to complete the hike; the flight to Bangkok was at 1PM. So I asked if I could do the hike at 5AM. He agreed, even though he didn’t think that we would make it to the top in time.

We left the hotel at five in the morning and arrived at the base at 5:30 before dawn in the early morning mist. The birds hadn’t begun chirping yet. From our vantage point below we could see the lights of the monastery shrouded in clouds high above. Along the trail, there are prayer flags strung across the trees. The white ones are for deceased loved ones and the other colors are for special intentions, such as bringing positive energy to a traveler. Some dogs came to accompany us. A small black dog stayed with me throughout the whole journey. On the way we saw a monkey perched on the side of the mountain posing for a few pictures. Karma said that when a pilgrim sees this monkey, that person will receive a blessing. We made it to the monastery by 7:10. Karma was astonished. He said that it normally takes about three hours, and that he could hardly keep up.

Prayer wheels en route to Tiger's Nest (Left) | Friendly Planet Traveler John (Right) ©Juliette/Flickr

The monastery does not open until nine, but when we arrived the gates were unlocked. I wanted to go inside but Karma said it was forbidden without permission. There was a small police shack outside the gate with two officers sleeping inside. Karma was hesitant to knock because of his license. He could get into trouble. So I did, and woke them up and asked if we could enter the monastery. Karma knew one of the guards and explained my circumstance that this was my dream and I had to catch a flight in the afternoon. Because it was just us, the guard let us in but warned us not to linger.

Prayer flags on the hike to Tiger's Nest (Left) | Bhutan Monks (Right) ©Avinash Singh/Flickr | ©Güldem Üstün/Flickr

When we went inside the doors to the main chapel were open, and the chief abbot was inside reciting his morning prayers. Again, we were told that the monastery does not open until 9. Karma again explained my circumstances. The abbot not only invited us inside, but he poured holy water in our cupped hands and gave us a blessing. Karma told me that because this is the main monastery, this blessing was worth a hundred blessings. He was moved with emotion and thanked me for the journey. He never had a blessing from the chief abbot and had never been the first person of the day to visit, let alone at this hour. As we left, the view exposed from the top of the clouds was breathtaking. We made our way down in time for me to go to the hotel, take a quick shower, checkout and leave for the airport at eleven. It is truly a moment in time that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

John Monahan

Were you inspired by this story? Make your own lifetime memories in Beautiful Bhutan

3 Comments

  1. Martha S

    Awesome story. I missed out on this opportunity, although I did try. I soon realized that my hiking was impossible because I had lost the sight in my right eye at 18,000 in Tibet. We had treated several children in Kathmandu to meals and they shared their ailments with me. I coughed so hard while photographing Everest that I had a complete retinal detachment. Ultimately, experienced some permanent vision loss because I would not skip Bhutan to come home. Sooooo…..lucky you, what a wonderful adventure you enjoyed. Martha

    Link
  2. Vivien

    Thank you, Friendly Planet and John- what a beautiful story! What a radiant picture and how wonder-full that this experience was gifted to you by your having the courage to ask!
    I have been dreaming of visiting Tibet and Mount Kailash and Lake Mansarovar…
    Does Friendly Planet also organize tours to Tibet, or if not can you recommend a Tibetan tour company ?
    I would be interested to join a small group tour, visiting monasteries and doing a trek around the mountain…

    Sincerely,

    Vivien

    Link
  3. Amanda Klein

    Hello Vivien! Our 16 day Best of China & Yangtze River Cruise has an optional extension to Tibet that includes Lhasa, Potala Palace, Mentsekhang (traditional hospital in Tibet), Jokhang Temple Monastery, Norbulingka Palace gardens, Tibet’s very first monastery (Samye), Yumbu Lhakang Palace and Traduk Monastery, and more! This extension is limited to only 6 people and includes hiking, breathtaking views, and unforgettable history. You can learn more at friendlyplanet.com/tibet. Please also feel free to call in and our wonderful Reservations Agents can provide more information!

    Link

Leave a Comment

(required)

(required, not published)