Bhutan: Tears at Paro Taktsang (Tiger Nest’s Monastery)

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Day 3: 16th December 2015

No climb to a holy place should be easy. As one of the most sacred sites in Bhutan where your sins are forgiven after being touched by the beauty of Buddhism, the journey that one must make is no doubt difficult and at times a test of your patience and physicality.  I had to see her.

DSC00921So the legend goes like this- Guru Rinpoche flew to the site on a tigress’ back to fight a local demon then meditated for three months after the battle. Tiger’s Nest was blessed and sanctified as Bhutan’s most sacred religious sites. Dangling from a cliff and surrounded by forests of pine trees, the lookout where visitors can truly witness her beauty is something that one must experience in a lifetime. Again, along with the Taj Mahal and Great Wall, I thought that I’ll see the place with my husband. Anywhos, at least I have beautiful Victoria by my side (haha).

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10 km to the North of Paro, we took a short drive from our hotel resort and arrived at the carpark for our full day hike. Hanging on a cliff at 3120 metres where the slopes are almost vertical, we couldn’t wait to see the monastery. You can either walk all the way up or pay 600 Nu for a horse ride that takes you up to a small chorten (roughy half-way).

“I’m going to get on the horse,’ exclaimed Victoria, “This will be my very first time!” So off darling Victoria went with her horsey and I followed.

mmexport1450836427552Milou (my camera + tripod) is heavy. Every step that I took, I regulated my breathing in hope of lasting a bit longer however, it didn’t took long for me to feel some discomfort.

DSC00835My pulse was beating twice as fast and my heart was at my throat. I prefer to think that I’m falling in love rather than falling sick. Victoria reminded me to drink more water and our guide, Norbu eventually helped me with the bag and tripod. Along the way, there were colorful prayer flags guiding us closer and close to our final destination.

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Along the way, we small a nice couple ahead of us who climbed on top of a ladder and offers their prayers.You can tell the foreigners from the locals when hiking up to Tiger’s Nest. It is compulsory for locals to wear the gho and kira. It was also here that I meet a group of Chinese travellers- oh no…they are going to embarrass me and yes they did. Why? One of them was smoking! Excuse me, are you stupid? You shouldn’t smoke since this hike is holy and what a way to ruin the reputation for other well travelled Chinese! I told him politely to not smoke and he just stared at me. Sigh- why !!!!

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A sweet couple- I like how he carried the bag for her

Ok now…calm down! Don’t let one idiot ruin your hike! We arrived at the small shorten also the  first lookout to the monastery.  The place was adorned with prayer flags and since Victoria and I were on our ‘honeymoon’- it makes a great place for our first ‘wedding photo’.

I saw more locals in their gho and kira and we marvelled at how they manage to hike all the way to the sacred monastery (What a climb!). My heart was racing and my pulse was abnormally strong. I really did not react well to being 2950m above sea-level.

DSC00908Whilst walking up a slope, we stopped since we saw a girl crying on the side. A family consisting of regional tourists could no longer make it to Tiger’s Nest since their daughter twisted her ankle. It was all swollen. Victoria along with our guide and her family tried their best to help. She requires immediate medical attention and a x-ray. We gathered some sticks and then placed her swollen leg in place. The problem now is how to get her down the mountain since she was already half-way up. Luckily, two local Bhutanese men were making their way down to the carpark so they offered to carry her down. How generous!

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Since regional tourists requires no accompanying guide, if an accident happens then they are on their own. For foreign tourists travelling with a tour operator, everything will be taken care of if an accident ever occurs. If I had an injury then I’m sure the helicopter will take me away. Haha, I just laugh at the thought of that.

The view of Tiger Monasteryསྤ་གྲོ་སྟག་ཚང་ from the most iconic lookout ( where all the photo are taken from) is very much like the Petra in Jordan. You walk along a dusty path, make a left turn then look up and voila. The monastery quietly reveals itself.

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One brief yet precious moment

There she is and here we are.

I teared up just like when I first saw the Great Wall and the Taj Mahal.

I cried. Yes, how can I not cry though?

I looked over my shoulders and saw Victoria…quietly admiring the moment. The hike from this lookout is a downward slope then after crossing the bridge and walking past the waterfall, the monastery appears right in front of you. Security at the entrance took our camera and bags since no photography is allowed inside the monastery. We stepped inside the ancient and once hidden monastery. It was cold. We went to check out several halls and at the main one, we offered our respects in the colorful, calm and quiet room. The red-robed monk sat to our right and his chanting added much spirituality to the already sacred place.

Our guide told us: “The monastery was built in 1692 around the cave where Guru Padmasambhava meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in the 8th Century. If you meditate here for a minute, it is like meditating one hour, one day elsewhere. This is a sacred site so if you want, you can meditate.”

Victoria and I sat next to each other – in a colourful corner right between the chanting monk and the Buddha statues.  With our backs facing the windows, we closed our eyes and started to meditate. Time to throw away all the stressful baggage that modern world has placed upon us. What follows for the next 20 minutes or so was total peace. Caressed by the gentle wind, we were surrounded by tranquility and deep spirituality.

“Empty your mind. Empty. Let it go.”

Four months ago, I went into Kung Fu training and my Beijing Kung Fu zen master told me to throw everything out of my mind and only concentrate on thinking. “Empty…empty” he would say.

That was 4 months ago and although my mind was somewhat shattered as soon as I went back to chaotic Beijing, I’m positive that I can empty my mind and properly meditate here at the quiet monastery.

The room was in total silence.

A monk approached Victoria and I after our meditation session.  We bowed and paid our respects then he poured drubchus (Holy Water) into the palm of our hands. We first took a sip then poured some of them over the back of our heads before putting the last drops over our throats.

“You have been forgiven, all your sins have been forgiven.” Then, he handed us each a holy mandarin.

Victoria paused and with deep emotions she said: “So all my sins have been forgiven?” Little did she know that compared to her, I have far more shortcomings and sins!

Before leaving, we tried out best to see as much of the four main temples as possible but time was not on our side. There are also 8 caves as well as residential areas for the monks. We only ended up seeing 2. Nevertheless, it was a great trip and we’d rather spend time meditate than give that up and see every caves and temples. The lovely balcony outside the monastery offers a great view of Paro. Only there do you get a sense of how far up you are.

After lunch at the wooden restaurant and choking on a plate of hot chili  (I thought it was vegetables), we headed back to the car park. The day came to an end and I was exhausted. I was particularly upset when my Milou (camera) fell ill and I had this panic attack that I’v lost all of my photos from the visit. After some fiddling- I was able to recover 70% of the photos taken. Phew!

We headed into a local restaurant and were the only tourists there.I agree with Victoria that dining at a local restaurant is much more engaging than eating at a hotel. Why isolate yourself when you can make contacts with the locals and have that chance to observe them? The local dish was too hot for us to handle and when it comes to the suja (salty buttered milk), I gave it a sip. I was curious but salty milk!!! argh definitely not something that I would ever try again. Beurk! 
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As we chatted and ate away, a group of people entered the restaurant and they immediately caught our attention.

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There you have it- the PPPPs. Both Victoria and I are also the PPPPs!

Since it’ll be National Day tomorrow, Victoria suggested that we buy ourselves a kira and wear it for the big event. Great idea! Can’t wait.

Highlight of the Day – Meditating in the holy monastery

Disappointment of the Day – Two Chinese travellers who broke the rules and act like they own the world. One smoked whilst on the hike and one tried to take a camera in! Two fools!