Ended had the days of strenuous riding. We could, at last, enjoy a good night’s sleep in the most inviolable silence. The four storey hotel we stayed at afforded us a brilliant view of Paro. We could hear the rustling of leaves when we slept and chirping birds in the morning. And what a view it was that greeted us when we awoke! The valley seemed to be under water! A thick blanket of fog covered the city and was moving slowly westward. But soon the sun was up and the magical lake evaporated in front of our eyes.
The lack of sound seemed to weigh down on my ears as we walked down to the dining hall. This refreshing start to the day was followed by a nourishing breakfast. Being the only guests at the hotel, we received the undivided attention of the staff at Hotel Silverpine.
Having spoken with the hotel folks, we were going to visit Tiger’s Nest and Drukgyel Dzong, in that order. Breakfast was elaborate compared to what we’d been eating the past week or so. We had tea, omelettes, bread, butter, jam and multiple helpings of each of these. I’d heard that Tiger’s Nest is an arduous climb so I stuffed myself with bread and butter hoping that it would power me later in the day. With minimal camera equipment and no luggage at all, we rode out on one of the ‘back-roads’ of Paro.
We saw a few locals playing a game in which the objective is to hit a small target with a ball while standing some five metres away. Played in teams, there was a lot of enthusiasm. We hovered around for a couple of minutes and then rode on. After around 15 minutes of riding we came to a spot where the road gave way to trails. This was not the sort of road we expected would lead to Tiger’s Nest. Looking around, we saw a sign which said ‘Drukgyel Dzong’. We had somehow missed the turning for Tiger’s Nest. Though it was second on our list, we decided to take a look at this Dzong before asking for directions to Tiger’s Nest.
A small history lesson before we move on. Drukgyel Dzong was built in the 17th century when Bhutan was victorious over a Tibetan invasion. It was destroyed in a fire in the 1950s but enough of the structure still stands to make it worth a visit. Renovation efforts are currently underway and it is listed as a tentative site for UNESCO inclusion.
We spent half an hour exploring the hilltop fort and then decided to find Tiger’s Nest. Apparently we had somehow missed not one but two sign-boards pointing the way. A narrow, steep and twisting section of road led us to a parking spot near the base of a hill. There were a few tourist buses and quite a few tired tourists sitting around the area. The climb didn’t look daunting but from what we’d read, it became very steep towards the end. So we began.
There was a small plain section where horses were grazing and beyond that lay hills and forest. Dirt was packed into steps and twigs were used to keep them from flowing away in the rains. The climb to the top wasn’t the most challenging but the steep stairs leading up to the monastery would rob us of energy. We huffed and puffed up to the half-way mark where a restaurant was selling lunch. We settled for refreshments; breakfast was still churning its way down our bodies. On the way we met this little bug..
The end of the trail leads you to a group of temple buildings which are built into the rocky mountain terrain so seamlessly that it looks like art. The place is inhabited by monks and a couple of security personnel. Photography is prohibited to preserve the sanctity of the place. The tranquility of Tiger’s Nest is beyond words. Water falling from a cliff, valley on the other side, these temples built into the rocky hide, prayer flags dotting the most unclimbable features and greenery as far as the eye can see. I sat and meditated and contemplated for a good half hour, oblivious, brooding over the present.
The Tiger’s Nest itself is a small hole in the mountain which sits under a monastery and a pile of rocks. You need to take a leap of faith to reach it because you have to descend 30 feet into near darkness using ladders and boards placed seemingly precariously. Walk hunch backed through a narrow opening and you find yourself heading toward a light at the end of the tunnel. The dampness and odours become more overpowering by the second. At the end of the tunnel is a single prayer candle lighting a small shrine. A rather trippy painting depicts the good and evil in this world. Sitting in semi-darkness, this single candle coupled with the alien mural in front of you will send you into a hazy trance state of mind. I lost track of time until another pilgrim joined me. You must experience this in person to understand the effect .
We made some friends along the way and were pretty much the last visitors when we began our descent. The descent was quick and it was dark by the time we reached the bottom. Dinner that night was delicious; our senses were magnified by the brush against some spiritual entity. The company of fellow travellers was priceless. Travelling truly changes the way we view and think about people. It was supposed to be a rest day but by the time we reached the hotel it felt like the most strenuous day so far, and that’s saying something. In the silence overlooking Paro we settled down for the night and prepared to begin our ascent to Central Bhutan.