Paro Taktsang (also known as the Taktsang Palphug Monastery and the Tiger’s Nest) is a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and the temple complex is located in the cliffside of the upper Paro valley in Bhutan.
Why Tigers Nest..?
One of the main reasons for my travel to Bhutan was to trek the Tigernest monastery. It is the most iconic Buddhist temple in Bhutan. It is set on an almost vertical cliff about 900 meters above the Paro Valley with fabulous views.
Change of Plan..
Our initial plan was to visit the monastery first in early hours. I always believe the finest exploration always lies with the individual instincts. That’s why I spend considerable time with locals to understand the dynamics of the places planned and local cuisines. Through them got to know that Chelela pass was quite an amazing place and it is one of the must see places in Bhutan. Most importantly it is a 3 hour journey from Monastery. So we added it to our list just the day before we visited this place. When any last minute inclusions ends up to be the best part of our trip then nothing beats it.
Our First stop, the famous Paro museum. As the Museum gets closed at 11AM on Saturdays, we had to rush with a quick stop at the viewpoint post Museum tour where Paro airport is visible.
Got ready to head towards Tigers Nest…
It all started this way….
Exploration of Tigers nest started with a trek for about 7 KM’s at 12:30pm. With a hiking stick in hand and a backpack on my back we decided to trek anyway. In my backpack, I had water bottles, a hand towel, Medical kit, a camera with 18-55 lens, 50mm & 55-250lens, Iphone, and other accessories.
The “Trek of our Lifetime”
We hiked at our own pace. The hike is 14kms to and fro not including nearly 1400 steps which take you to this wonderful monastery. A big waterfall on the way, serene temples, Buddha statues and wonderful views are unforgettable.
As it got steeper breathing became more challenging. The thinness of the air was a challenge. This is the reason why you MUST DO THIS TRIP AT THE END OF YOUR HOLIDAY. Good that we went there after 3 days, we acclimatized during our journey around Bhutan and we managed this better as a result. What’s awesome is seeing the monastery getting larger and larger from being a distant icon to looming up and being within reach. From a distance it is meant to resemble the guru Padmasanghava AKA guru Rinpoche (who brought Buddhism to Bhutan in the 8th century) riding a tigress.
Waterfalls, Caves and Temples..
On our way we had to pass by the beautiful waterfalls, bridge and then reached the Monastery. There you have to lock up your belongings – no bags or cameras allowed in there. There’s a safe box system. Don’t even think of sneaking a camera in ;). Inside you are directed through this labrynthine building containing various caves and temples and a yak butter candlelight room. There is a tranquil and special atmosphere here.
This is most unique experience of our Bhutan trip, although I kept saying that to a lot other places in this lovely country. But the experience of walking up the fairly tough path up the mountain, while seeing a breathtaking view of the mountains, valleys, and the monastery peeping up from the fog is sheer magic.
My descend was quicker than expected; but had to be careful at the muddy slippery stretches, but equally dramatic. You feel calm and relaxed from inside after this spiritual journey.
Tips from my perspective:
- Timings: 8 AM to 1 PM and 2-5 PM daily, October – March Until 6 PM, April – September.
- Start your trek in the morning
- Carry enough water bottles, hiking sticks,medical kit etc.,
- There’s a cafeteria, One can have a quick bite.
After two days of wonderful cultural experience, we’ve left the Capital city of Thimphu and headed to the scenic Punakha Valley. On the way to Punakha, we passed by Dochu La Pass about forty-five minutes outside of Thimpu which is at 3000 meters above sea level is overlooking the mighty Himalayas.At one of the viewing points, 108 stupas (chortens) were constructed as a memorial built by the queen, Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuk, to honor the victory of the Bhutanese army in the 2003 war of Southern Bhutan.
From the high pass of Dochu La, the mountain road descended into the serene countryside of Punakha Valley which is beautifully landscaped with the dense forests. The highlight of our journey to Punakha is a visit to its majestic Dzong (means fortress and is the administrative and monastic center of this town). It is also called as ‘Punthang Dechen Phodrang’ (The Palace of Great Bliss), Punakha Dzong is beautifully situated between the convergence of Phochu and Mochu Rivers ( ‘male’ and ‘female’ rivers), It is said to be the most magnificent of all the fortresses in Bhutan.
Built by Ngawang Namgyal, 1st Zhabdrung Rinpoche, in 1637 and completed in one year. Punakha Dzong served as the capital and seat of government of Bhutan before it was moved to Thimphu in 1955. It was expanded in 1639 to celebrate victory over invading Tibetan army. Frequent fires, glacial burst and an earthquake damaged the dzong and it has since been repaired and restored. Today, it houses the administrative and judicial offices of Punakha District.
The dzong has three courtyards. The first courtyard is for administrative functions and houses a huge chorten with a Bodhi tree. The second courtyard houses the monastic quarters. The third courtyard has the main temple. Entering into this temple was like entering into another world. The door was opened for us, and as we stepped in, the grand interiors of the temple seemed mesmerizing with exquisite wall murals depicting the life of Sakyamuni Buddha. Sacred remains and relics are placed in a closed room inside the temple and only the two guardian Lamas, the King and the chief Abbot or Je Khenpo may enter the room it seems.
Unfortunately, photography in the interior of the temple is prohibited. This Dzong is a perfect example of the traditional Bhutanese architecture. Then we got out at 5pm by spinning the last prayer wheel at the Punakha monastery and left the place by wishing to visit again.
Info-tips from my perspective:
- A special permit is required for all the foreign nationals in order to visit Punakha or any place other than Thimphu & Paro.
- There are some road restrictions due to the new construction of roads they’ll only open the gates for every 2 hours and not more than 15mins. And is entry of Punakha is prohibited after 6pm until the construction is finished.
- The Royal wedding of the Druk Gyalpo, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, and his fiancée, Jetsun Pema, was held at the Punakha Dzong on 13 October 2011.
It all started from having an intense plan and huge back packing of 20-25 days which included a good part of North India , a long sojourn in the Northeast India but for all of us the most exciting part was to explore “Bhutan: The Land of thunder Dragons” as it is fondly called and the dice were rolled out. Highly planned and most exciting part of our journey started on the third week of March 2015.
We took a flight from Delhi to Bagdogra in West Bengal as it is the most preferred way to reach Bhutan for Indians. Our first stopover was at the queen of hill stations called Darjeeling which was roughly 80 KM and a 3 hour drive from Bagdogra Airport. Then After reaching Darjeeling(Click here to read my posts on Darjeeling & Street foods of Darjeeling) we visited some of the must see places there and the next morning we planned to leave for Jaigaon/ Phuentsholing ,which is the gateway town to enter Bhutan.
Day 02: Darjeeling to jaigaon is a 5 hour drive about 200KM going through NH31 and overlooking the beautiful Teesta River for a part of the drive. A permit is mandatory to enter into Bhutan for Indian/Chinese citizens for others it is the routine visa procedure and they have to pay some royalty fee to the government. We had to make sure that we reach Jaigaon before 10AM as the permit office in Phuentsholing closes at 11AM and the driver was just the right guy for the task taken straight out of a fast and furious movie. We reached the Jaigaon border town around 9:40 AM then we crossed the border by foot and entered into Bhutan(Phuentsholing) then at the customs office we applied for our Bhutan permits.
We got the permit in an hour, had breakfast in a local restaurant and exchanged our Indian rupee and got some Bhutanese currency NU (Indian Rupees also works in Bhutan) and a local Tashi cell SIM card as Indian networks will not be working here and we were set for the capital city Thimphu while one of my friend GK still struggling to find the difference between Bhutan and Taiwan.:P We reserved a 6 seater taxi for Thimphu from the local taxi stand for 3500INR.Thimphu is 174 KM from Phuentsholing, a 5 hour drive from a risky yet beautiful road carved out of Mountains. As we enter the serene environment of Bhutan we are greeted with a cold breeze and a peaceful noise of the surroundings. We felt like we are in for something soothing and also exhilarating.
The highway to heaven as it is called was a masterpiece by the creator and also by the Bhutanese government as the road is neatly carved out between mountains and makes for a decent yet risky ride, surrounding the nature. The weather was pleasant and the air was so soothing, That is one of the reasons why Bhutan is called as the most peaceful & Happiest country in South Asia. As we were having this discussion the driver proved it right by revealing that he has been happily married for almost 15 years with two wives, living with both of them under one roof for these many years which was something astonishing for all of us. It is more of a tradition in Bhutan and there are many such examples.
We entered Thimphu city after a 5 hour drive and what we saw was large houses with similar Bhutanese/Tibetan Architecture , clean roads, probably the cleanest we have seen.
The city had a very calm yet happening vibe. We had to complete a tough task of finding cheap and best hotels in the vicinity called as the clock tower. We found one called as tashi delek which was 950 INR per room. Please note that there are hardly any hotels offering rooms at ground/first floor and you will have to to shell out a lot more to get a room on lower floors.However we got one on the third floor and it was a never ending climb to the third floor after an almost 400 KMs long cross country drive.
Next Day of the plan was to explore the every nook and corner of Thimphu. Basically to know about the traditions and culture that represents this beautiful country. Thimphu, as I mentioned is the most populous city in Bhutan which also means that there were enough people to interact. The men were extremely welcoming, the women equally beautiful. Karthik already began to work his charm, while lalla was still finding ways to start a conversation 😛 We took two local taxi’s as all taxi’s in Thimphu city are only small 4 seaters and we were 5 and we first went to the national library of Bhutan.
We’ve no idea that it is closed on weekends. So we just clicked pictures from the outside and moved to Zorig chusum, a government backed institute in providing education in embroidery, sculpture, painting, weaving, carving, etc to aspiring students to provide them with skills to boost their employment opportunities in the future.The school had an annual orientation going on as it was good to see an assembly of school kids after we were last part of it a decade back. Wow!!A decade!! i just realized. Time flies.
Closer to the school was National folk heritage museum which was an exhibition of the heritage of Bhutan, Also depicting how ancient Bhutanese used to live. We were out after a short visit to the place, which was an education of Bhutanese history, culture and traditions and took a taxi to the most famous tourist place of Thimphu called National memorial chorten. Believed to be built in memory of the former Queen’s brother the place is right in the center of the city and is mostly visited by old monks for their prayers and to relax.
Little did we knew, that the next place we were going to was this spectacular. It was the giant buddha dordenma golden statue, which is not yet completed from the inside. Upon completion this will be one of the largest buddha statues in the world.
Geographically it is perfectly located. The statue will be visible from a very long distance as we can see the Buddha shining in gold and also overlooking the whole city of thimphu from the top of the cliff. The place is hugely spacious and also windy and we moved on to spend some quality time at the place.
If you go to a different country make sure you see its animal species.That is what we did next.The takin preserve was the place which houses the national animal of Bhutan, Takin. You can see a lot of them here and you can cover this place in quick time as it is only a conservatory for Takins.
Then we paid our visit to a small Buddhist monastery called Zilukha nunnery.The nunnery is located in Zilukha, Thimphu overlooking Tashichodzong and is a few minutes drive from Zoo.t was built in 1976 by the 16th emanation of Thangtong Gyalpo, Drubthob Rikey Jadrel. Currently, the nunnery is home to about 60 nuns.
After the whirlwind tour of these places without a break , we had to do the most important part of the day, FOOD!!!! And what better than some local Bhutanese food. We went to a restaurant called as “Ama” on the same street of our hotel as ordered Thupka, kewa datshi, Ema datshi, Thai rice, Chicken chilly, Veg crispy, Veg fried rice. (To know more about food click here..) All this for an astonishing N.U 900. That was the best part of Bhutan, It doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket when it comes to food. We spent the rest of the evening wandering on the streets of thimphu.
While GK and lalla were at their usual “loving” antics and a couple of us decided to hit a local hangout spot called vivacity and then back to the hotel as we had to be early for a long yet exciting, exhilarating, extravagant day of exploring waiting for us tomorrow.
Next day morning we had a walking tour of the city and had fun meeting new people there. Then I went to watch a competition on the archery field. Archery is Bhutan’s national sport and is played all year round. 2 painted targets 30cm large and 120cm high are placed at each end. The bows and arrows are made of special kind of bamboo, the target is 120 metre away. Team members encourage their archer on the other side of the field. They stand really close from the target. Each team usually consist of 11 members. The first team to reach 33 points wins the match. The method of scoring is complicated as if an arrow lands within an arrow’s length of the target even without hitting it, it also counts. Every time an archer hits the target his team members will perform a kind of victory dance on the field. It was very entertaining as all players were wearing the Gho, the national costume.
We almost killed the day just by exploring the city by walk and getting familiar with the buses, culture and meeting new people and also paid our visit to Postoffice at last we went to the weekend market. We were in Thimphu for 5 days and every day we used to discover new things about this lovely city.
TIPS from my perspective:
- Please make sure you carry your passport/original voter Id, driving license, two passport size photographs along with you to apply for a permit.
- I would suggest to take a hotel near Clock tower square.
- National Folk Heritage Museum is open from Mon to Friday 10:30am to 4:30 pm Saturday: 10:30am to 1pm and on Sunday 11:30am to 3:30pm. Entrance fee is 150N.u
- Don’t miss Buddha dordenma, Zoo & National Memorial Chorten.
- If you want to experience nightlife of Thimphu, I would suggest you to go Vivo city.
A journey into the shadows of ice caves and lights of the Aurora. The caves are a beautiful blue, awash in glacier-filtered sunlight and the Northern Lights set the sky on fire.
A film by Blue Eden & Music by Stephen Anderson..
Sikkim is a land of high passes, cold deserts, barren mountains, ancient monasteries, and stunning landscapes. It is a Land of Mystery and intrigue which never ceases to amaze travellers. Gangtok is a small and beautiful city & is the capital of Sikkim, is one place that will definitely take your breath away. Though our stay in Gangtok was only for a short time we really had a good time having momos & local cuisines drinking channg, talking to all the fellow travellers, while walking on the most cleanest street Mg Marg.
We booked a taxi from Thimphu to Phuentsholing, and from Phuentsholing we hired another vehicle to siliguri. We got down at the coronation bridge and thought of taking a sharing taxi to Gangtok. It was very difficult for us to Find a taxi to Gangtok. So we had to again break our journey into two parts, we got down at some point(forgot the name of the place) from there we hired an alto to Gangtok. Though we were tired after such a long and tiresome Journey from Thimphu we didn’t plan to rest because of our crunched itinerary. The very next day is the most awaited and the exciting North Sikkim trip. I was dreaming about Lachung, Lachen & Gurudongmar lake all day and night since the trip started. By the time we arrived at Gangtok it was around 6:30-7:00pm.
We went to MG marg which is the heart of the city and is the best place for travellers to find budget hotels. After renting a room in Rigwa international hotel, we had dinner at the same hotel and ended the day. Next morning we woke up with a call from Lahiri regarding our trip to Northsikkim, that due to the bad weather conditions the road to Gurudongmar Lake and Lachen has been closed. So, 3day and 2itinerary has come down to 2day and one night to Lachung. So we had a full day to explore Gangtok. We went to the taxi stand in MG marg and negotiated the price for a customised daytrip. Since we are four people we reserved a wagon-R car for us (there are also larger vehicles like Scorpio, Sumo which can take 7 persons) for local sightseeing tour. My first impression on this beautiful city is that it’s very clean& green, well organised city with lot of foot bridges and footpaths(almost all of the people were using it 😉 ), very organised cab system, hospitable people.
We thought of exploring Gangtok on a shoestring budget. A day trip to Gangtok was little bit hectic but we customized this itinerary, such that we are covering most of the must see places here. Our first stop was at Ropeway. This is a must see in the city and the ride is of 15 to 20 Minutes duration which provides spectacular bird view of Gangtok city and the surrounding vista.
Namgyal Institute of Tibetology & Museum:
This place has a great collection of artifices and paintings related to Tibet. It’s a great museum showcasing lot of things on Tibetan Buddhism. Informative Museum and is the right place for the history enthusiasts. There’s a souvenir store inside the complex. If you are not a history lover then you can have a second thought on this place whether to visit or not.
Hanuman Tok & Viewing area:
Hanuman Tok is a temple of Lord Hanuman. it has wonderful serene ambience and the viewing area offers spectacular view of Kanchenjunga range. According to the local legends, when Hanuman was flying with the “Sanjeevani” (mythological: life saving herb) mountain to save Rama’s brother Lakshmana he rested in the spot where his temple now lies for some time. The mandir is actually managed by The Indian Army.
Ganesh Tok & Viewing area: Beautiful and serene temple with a great view from the top.
Himalayan Zoological Park:
Himalayan Zoological Park is quite unique and the first Zoological park of Sikkim. The Park accomplishes the perception of modern zoo, where the animals are kept in replicated natural conditions. The entrance to the Zoo is located at the end of a short pathway opposite to Ganesh Tok. It’s about 6kms from Gangtok town.There lot of rare and endangered species of animals.Biggest attraction of this park is Red Pandas, Himalayan Black Bears, Snow Leopards, Clouded Leopard, Common Leopard, Leopard Cat, Tibetan Wolfs, Himalayan Palm Civets, Barking Deer, Yaks, etc. You can also see different types of birds here.
Tashi View Point:
It’s located in Tashi and about 8kms from the Gangtok town. It offers a sweeping view of Kanchenjunga snow peaks on a clear day. It seems that the view of sunrise from here is quite impressive, One can see the peaks dazzling with changing colors. Because of our crunched itinerary we didn’t even plan of going there for sunrise.Since it was foggy day we didn’t get a clear view of the snowclad mountains. It was bit foggy and rainy day so the visibility was close to zero on that day. Unfortunate for us, But I am sure it would be spectacular on a clear day. Definitely a must see place.
Enchey monastery was later rebuilt in the year 1908 by the 10th King of Sikkim – Sikyong Tulku. The monastery follows an unique architecture which is an artistic adaptation of Gyanak Riwo Tse-Nga or the sacred mountain with five peaks in China – which is the spiritual place of Jampalyang. He is known as the god of knowledge to the northern Buddhists. The monastery is therefore one of the most recognized ones in the whole of Sikkim. quiet, and peaceful temple..
Flower Exhibition Center:
By the time we returned back to MG marg it was around 6pm and it was so beautiful with the colorful lights, grand decorations, diverse people. We had some momos and tea. Then had a walking tour in the city. After that we spend few hours in a bar. Then back to the hotel.. End of the day..
Tips from my perspective:
- Ropeway is open between 8 Am to 4.30 Pm. There is no sitting arrangement inside the ropeway. Ticket price is 60/Head.
- There’s no entrance fee for Enchey monastery, Ganesh tok, Hanumantok & Tashi View point.
- Namgyal Institute of Tibetology entrance fee is Rs.10
- According to me the Best time to visit Gangtok is in March-May and September-October.
Chelela pass is at an elevation of 13000 ft above sea level, considered to be one of the highest motorable roads in Bhutan. It’s about an hour drive from Paro, it passes through lush valleys, pine and rhododendron forest.The drive to this pass was just amazing. This place was not in our initial plan. We added it to our list just the day before we visited this place. That’s the reason why I never prefer any travel agencies, I always believe the finest exploration always lies with the individual instincts.
It’s always exciting to remember the joy we carry, if any last minute call ends up with a fabulous surprise package. It has obviously considered being the best part of our trip. This pass provides stunning views of the sacred mountain Jomolhari and Jichu Drake.
Jomolhari is the second highest peak and is also known as “the bride of Kangchenjunga”, and it is the source of the Paro Chu (Paro river) which flows from the south side and the Amo Chu which flows from the north side. And the Jichu Drake is said to represent the protective deity of Paro it seems.
Chele La Pass is the main gateway to Haa Valley.It is also marked by hundreds of prayer flags fluttering in the wind. Prayer Flags blowing in the wind is just a feeling to be felt. According to Buddhism, The white flags are the prayers for the deceased and the colorful ones brings luck.
Tips from my perspective:
1. Try to carry some warm clothes with you.
2. Go there for Sunrise.
3. Don’t hurry!! Try to spend some good time.
4. Don’t expect any food courts or coffee places or toilets.