Tucked in the Himalaya, Bhutan is a deeply traditional kingdom where Buddhist beliefs colour every aspect of life. Enlivened by Tantric deities, Bhutan’s main religion is akin to Tibet’s but incorporates some variations. The most prevalent school is from the Drukpa Kagyu lineage with rituals designed to elevate both the spiritual and physical worlds.
Through prayer and meditation, monks are seen to play an essential role in the welfare of the community. Today, anyone on holiday in Bhutan can join the pilgrims trekking up to Taktsang in the Paro valley and enjoy fabulous views along the way. However, a permit must be obtained through tour operators, such as Blue Poppy Bhutan, to enter the site.
Taktsang, Top Attraction in Paro Valley, Bhutan
Clinging to a rocky ledge, 900 metres above the Paro valley, Taktsang is known as the tiger’s lair. Here, they say, Guru Rinpoche landed in the 8th century, as he flew from the east on the back of a tigress. He meditated in a cave before preaching Buddhism in the valley. Myriad saints followed in his footsteps and Takstang grew into the most holy site in the land.
When fire raged through part of the complex in 1998, donations of cash and labour flooded in to ensure full restoration. Seen from the valley floor, Taktsang is as daunting as ever, seemingly inaccessible at almost 3000 metres, across a vertiginous chasm.
Holiday in Bhutan, Trekking to Taktsang
It’s roughly a three hour trek to the temples and monastery, first through rhododendrons and blue pines, past prayer wheels and Buddhist flags. Primroses and orchids flower along the trail and all is silent but for bird song and the tinkling bells of ponies who offer an easy option to the half way point.
There a rustic lodge tempts everyone with refreshments and views of Taktsang, framed in marigolds, so close yet so far across the precipice. The path continues to climb above the tree line, skirting holy rocks and caves, then it’s 775 steps down to the small bridge crossing the waterfall and up to the gate where cameras should be left with the guardian.
Taktsang, Buddhist Temples and Monastery
Taktsang includes 13 temples and shrines, many scattered on the surrounding slopes, but most visitors head straight for the main cluster and the meditation cave where sacred treasures were found long ago and handed to the King for safe keeping. The cave is open only once a year but one can peep through the entrance any time and sense this is a very special place.
The temples are covered in wall paintings and there are gilded statues, offerings and incense drifting from the altars. The deep chanting of monks echoes now and then while out on the precarious ledge, visitors and pilgrims gaze at the idyllic Paro valley, a sprinkling of traditional houses far below, the meandering river and golden paddies framed by the hills in all shades of green.