Our day started very early as we had set our alarm to catch the sunrise. Perhaps a little too late to hike up to the pass to see the magnificence of the reveal, ( It was -5C after all!) but we did get an awe inspiring look at the mountain tops at sunrise nonetheless!
Our night was pretty good all things considered. The temperatures drop very quickly in the mountains when the sun goes down around 5:30. When we left for our tent after dinner, the waiter brought us a couple of hot water bottles that we could put in our bed. That made a world of difference, those and the most comfortable mattress we had slept on in Bhutan plus a myriad of thick blankets made this a surprisingly comfortable night!
We had an early hot breakfast (6:30), and by the time we had finished up and got our gear in order we were ready to hit the trail back down the mountain by 7:30 am. A cold morning meant lots of layering as we began our descent, but we knew as we neared the valley we would be getting into the mid 20C range. The temperatures here have been surprisingly warmer than when I looked back home. (Our guide explained this by saying that all of their weather stations were at the top of the mountains and reported drastically colder temperatures than the reality of valley life!)
Today our descent would take us down about 1,250 M, including an up and down staircase at Tiger’s nest of around 1,000 steps in and out of this sacred place. I had been very worried that we would be going down very steep rock all the way as pictures of Tiger’s vest are nothing but sheer cliff. I was pleasantly surprised!
From this point, we only had about a half hour to go before we could see the Taksang, or Tiger’s Nest series of temples. This site is one of the most important sites in Bhutan because it is believed to be the site where the 2nd lord Buddha rode on a flying tiger ( one of his consorts transformed into a tigress) to flight and subdue a demon who had ruled the valley.
As we got closer, we came to a look out and the infamous steps!
When we arrived at the lookout, I could see the steps ahead of us. My biggest worry was that these were cliff clinging steps with no guard rail that went straight up. As it turned out, when the Temple complex was ravaged with fire in 1998, the country decided to rebuild the Temples and also redid the steps so that they were wider and had a secure railing both up and down. What a relief!
And soon we began to ascend up to the Temples.
The temples themselves were amazing. We saw 4 of the 7 temples on the site. The first was dedicated to the 2nd lord Buddha and contained a door to the cave where it is said he meditated after conquering the demon of the valley. The next one that we saw was dedicated to the manifestations of the 2nd lord Buddha; the third was dedicated to the spoken lord buddha. At this one we saw a statue that had supposedly come from Punakha and ha pointed towards the Paro valley and then spoke to a monk that it should be brought to this place. Interestingly, when the fire ravaged most of the temple sites in 1998, this statue was untouched. It was considered so precious that it should be removed and brought back to Punakha, but every time it was planned to be moved, the skies opened up, the weather turned very bad, and the move had to be delayed. It is said that this statue remains where it was placed because of these ill effects of trying to move it! The fourth Temple was one had a large natural hole in the floor where you could see the image of a large Kila or knife used to subdue demons. It is said that there is a complex of caves build below and behind this 8 century site.
Once through the complex, it was time to descend to the car. We expected about another 2 hours of descent before greeting Penjor, our driver!
So here’s a conundrum for all you Fitbit users. How come it was a 270+ staircase climb up the day before when we had 750M elevation climb, and only 48 staircase climb when we had a descent of 1,250M? The stairs up and down from the lookout to Tiger’s Nest account for the 48+ stair climb! Oh well, we did it regardless of tracking mechanism!
The way down was dusty and at times steep ( as one would expect!). We came across this rhododendron tree (ubiquitous in these forests) that was marked to be 108 years old!
When we got to the bottom of the hill we looked up to see the image of the wrathful lord buddha. An image that was imprinted in the side of the mountain, and looking like an exact replica of the three eyed wrathful image seem in the temples.
As we travelled down we saw a number of pilgrims trekking up to the Temple complex. I felt for them, particularly a couple of those with young children, who after climbing for 1.5 hours still had that much to go again before they faced the 1,000 steps! Some people clearly didn’t realize the true pilgrimage it was to get to this most sacred of complexes.
When we reached the car park we felt thrilled to have made this trek. If it wasn’t for our persistent guide taking us on progressively harder and more diverse hikes throughout our stay, I dare say we would not have made it!
But enough of that! Our guide Kenchu promised us a special meal tonight where we could all dine together. It was time for us to get back to the hotel, get showered and packed for our next day’s trip to Kathmandu, and then ready for supper!
Our guide had chosen a local homestay where they had received many good ratings from guests. It was a wonderful family affair, with all products served, cultivated and grown in their own farm. From a pumpkin soup with their own wild peppercorns (trust me, I wanted to take some of these home!) to a grand assortment of dishes for the main course, it was a feast to remember!
At last it was time to say goodnight to our hosts, and then sadly to our guide and driver. We would see them once again in the morning for the drive to the airport. All good things must end, but not before a great scenic shot as shown to us by our guide!