Tuesday 30 October 2012
An early start for an hour hike up to Taktshang Monastery (or goemba). The name translates to Tiger's Nest because Guru Rinpoche is said to have flown there on the back of a tigress. Since he meditated there in a small cave, a much larger monastery complex has been built on the side of a cliff. Don't fall because it is a long way to the bottom!
A group of energetic monks sped past us on the steep mountain trail.
On the walk up to Taktshang Goemba, Bhutan
Some of the group take pony rides up, each pint-size steed being led by individual handlers who must be incredibly fit. The sun is already brazen and the sky completely cloud free. A photograph from the bottom shows the tiny monastery clinging to the vertical mountain side. We begin our walk and choose to take a short cut which we expect to re-join the main trail a little further up the hill. It doesn't, but there is only one destination up the top and we continue on with great views of Taktshang through the trees.
We hear a few shouts and laughs from below and are joined by a dozen young monks in their red robes. Their English is good and we discuss the climb and the destination. They pause at a painting of Guru Rinpoche on a rock, making small monetary offerings by slipping small notes into cracks in the rock. I do the same, wondering what happens to the money
The monks climb on ahead, but after a few more minutes we are joined by a young Thimphu woman, well dressed and somewhat incongruous in our mountain setting. She is attending her grand-mother's funeral at a temple up the top of the climb and is hoping to catch up to her brother who left much earlier. The grandmother always wanted to visit Taktshang and her dying wishes were to be cremated there.
The shortcut becomes steeper and steeper, the final metres almost a scramble until we arrive at the small tea house with a great view across to the monastery. Some of the group will stay here while the rest of us continue the climb. The trail continues to a point that is slightly above the monastery, after which it drops quickly for a few hundred steps before climbing back up to its final destination. We cross over a waterfall and finish our climb. Police ensure you don't take cameras or even mobile phones into the monastery.
Once again, part of me is disappointed I can't take photos, but another part thinks it's creating the charm. After all, there are many churches in Europe which don't allow photography inside either.
The walk down is much easier and that afternoon we visit a small farm in the valley. Some of the group take hot stone baths while the rest of us practise archery in a dry rice paddy. We get to walk around inside the farmhouse itself, the bare wooden floors highly polished, the few rooms spartanly furnished, and the main room serving as a family temple with its own shrine. While highly decorated from the outside, inside is much more rudimentary.
It is the end of the trip and tomorrow we fly home. The few black ribbons of road that meander around the mountains and valleys have revealed one of the world's most colourful countries.