Step Step Stop Pant. Step Step Stop Pant. I looked up, squinting my eyes against the sun, hoping that somehow, miraculously, I had reached my destination. However, if possible, it seemed much further away than it initially was. I looked at the steep path with disdain and told myself that this was the only reason that I had come all the way to Bhutan- to visit the Tiger’s nest monastery.
Perched precariously at the edge of a sheer cliff high up on the mountain, it can be reached only on foot or horseback. It is considered to be the equivalent of Mecca for Buddhists, and people from all around the world come here for pilgrimage to leave behind their sins. The incident with the bad sandwich had left me a little weak and our guide Jamptzho bluntly proclaimed that I would not be able to make it. Having prayed fervently at all the monasteries that we had previously visited on this trip to give me the strength to trek to this monastery, my dad and I decided to embark on this journey. We decided to rough it out and do it right- we decided to go by foot.
I was up the whole night, excited and apprehensive, mulling over all the worst scenarios in my mind. My dad woke me up before dawn, and we booted up with a couple of water bottles each, energy bars and my dad with his inseparable camera. Our guide greeted us with two wooden sticks that acted as our support and eased our way up and down the rugged and steep terrain. As the birds started chirping and the leaves shook off the dew, we were ready to start the long trek. All I could see from the starting point was a small white speck high up on the cliff. Just when I was feeling completely disheartened, an elderly Bhutanese lady greeted us with a cheery “Kuzuzongpola” and quickly started climbing. This gave me renewed strength cause I thought, “Well if she can do it, maybe I can too!” After all, I still had youth on my side if not good shape.
We started off well, with our guide giving us constant encouragement. Tourists on horseback overtook us quickly while we were left sweltering in the non-existent heat, wondering if we had overestimated our bravado. After countless pauses and rests, we reached the end of the trail. Now, there were only five hundred odd roughly cut steps on the mountain between us and the monastery. Climbing the last step and sitting on the bench at the entrance, we breathed a sigh of relief and only then did we fully appreciate the intricacy of the architecture. It was completely worth the trek.
Small and compact, it is beautifully built and maintained. Legend has it that Padmasambhava flew to this cave on top of his disciple, a Tibetian princess, who took the form of a flying tigress. Here, the Guru went into meditation and later emerged in the form of eight manifestations, making this place holy. The tiger’s nest, after which the monastery is named, is a deep cave where the tigress had rested, and is now closed to public except on one particular day of the year. We were only allowed a peek into the cool and deep cave, protected by a trapdoor. The chanting of the monks in the main hall reverberated throughout the structure, and we walked as if in a trance, in and out of the various sanctum sanctorums.
I remember nothing of our journey back. All I can recollect was that it was ten times more difficult than the way up, as my muscles were on fire and my big toes were raw with the pressure exerted by the steeply downward track. We managed to reach our vehicle without incident and sank into our seats, with Jamptzho not looking a smidge tired and congratulating us on finishing this trek. I laid my head back, overcome by a multitude of feelings, dominated by joy at finally being able to rest my aching feet and smug happiness at having finished the trek.
I was sin-free.