Up, up and Away: Taktsang Goemba
Taktsang Gompa aka Tiger’s Nest monastery was built in the 17th century at the spot where Guru Rinpoche (aka Guru Padmasambhava who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan) is believed to have flown on the back of a tigress to subdue a local demon, and meditated for three months in the 8th century. Unfortunately for lesser mortals, the only way up to the monastery is to hike or ride a mule. The latter didn’t sound very appealing to me especially considering that you are at the whims of an animal at very steep inclines. Pas de mule for me, thank you! I’d rather walk two hours on a continuous steep slope, and nearly faint from exhaustion, and hunger. We planned extremely poorly, and thought we’d have breakfast en route at the cafeteria midway through the hike (the cafeteria however does not even serve breakfast – only tea and biscuits). Add to that, we forgot our water bottles in the car. Talk about rookie mistakes!
You also need a permit from Department of Culture to go inside the gompa. We didn’t have any, but the friendly guard at the entrance took down some details from my passport, joked about my name being that of a character in some Bollywood movie I hadn’t seen, and let us go in. On our return, he also volunteered to take our picture on the steps in front of the monastery. I fail to imagine of such a friendly response if it was a guard at some Indian monument or religious place. Tourists in India routinely get hassled despite all the necessary papers in order. But since this post is not about India, I’ll stop here. Needless to say, we were just floored by the graciousness of the Bhutanese people.
The monastery itself if beautiful, perched precariously on the rocks. Prayer flags abound in Bhutan, and more so on the way to Taktsang. We too tied one for good luck for the year ahead.
The return was much easier, especially after a hearty lunch at the cafeteria that served a fixed Bhutanese lunch – we had red rice, ema datshi (chilli with cheese), kewa datshi (potatoes with cheese), and dal. There were a couple of “Chinese” dishes like chow mien and some other faux Chinese vegetarian dish – all very delicious, or maybe we were just famished!
We also saw an old woman stooped with age, leaning on a cane climbing her way to the monastery and marveled at her will. They say faith moves mountains, or in this case, faith climbs mountains.