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.
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.
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.
Our “Through Your Eyes” series shares tales of travel from the perspective of Friendly Planet Travelers. We know how beautiful the big, wide world is and how exploring new places and experiencing new things can change our lives forever.