In anticipating this trip there were only two parts that gave me pause...both in Bhutan! One was the landing in Paro, which Julian pulled off like a pro! The second was the walk up the mountain to The Tiger’s Nest, or Taktsang Lhakhang. Bhutan is the only Buddhist Kingdom in the world and this is one of the country’s most holy and most iconic sites. Built in 1692, the temple literally hangs off a cliff about 3,000 feet above the valley and sits at an altitude of 12,000 feet. Daunting? For me it was!
We headed out right after breakfast, full of vim and vigor! It was a bit of a drive, and as soon as we arrived at the base we realized how many people were keen to climb. The first thing we did was to get two handmade walking poles for me, and load poor Chencho’s backpack with everything we were carrying. (It really wasn’t much, and aside from his many other talents, Chencho is a mountain trekking guide...we were in the hands of a real professional).
So we hiked. I’m not sure how to put this...we hiked UP all the way, on rocky uneven paths that were calm except for the horses carrying riders up the slope. Now, why did I not get a horse, you may ask? Well, now that I’ve seen how they maneuver the path, I know I would never get on one! (That’s not to say you shouldn’t if you go...just know that they’ve been known to stumble!). So we hiked. And it was hot. Not that, whew, it’s warm out here hot...it was full on sweat dripping, gasping for water and air now and then hot. A little more than halfway up the mountain there sits a cafe that serves water, tea and lunch. I kept envisioning that cup of tea...but even yet had to stop 5 or 6 times, trying not to be dizzy or wimpish. The combination of not being really fit, the altitude and the arthritis in various joints worked against me. Julian was feeling the heat and the climb as well, but was better equipped with his own fit self and his manly muscles and all. I just barely kept up. And Chencho...well, I think he could have done it with his eyes closed and a glow on his face! About the 3rd time I had to stop I realized that I couldn’t make it the whole way. I went through my own private humbling for a while before I confessed this to my companions, who nodded sagely at my wisdom, but I think they had surmised this truth in the first 20 minutes! (But kindly and patiently supported me at every step).
Of course the purpose of this course is to sharpen your mind, and to make the physical sacrifice of effort to prepare you for entry into the temple...and I regret that I wasn’t able to go the whole way. I understand that effort and sacrifice serves an important part of a sense of spirit. But about 3 hours later, I was very happy to be ensconced on a bench in full view of the temple above with my cup of tea and two walking sticks sitting near me. And I saw the intrepid pair, Chencho and Julian head off for the last bit. I don’t think I moved for the 2 hours and some they were gone. I was entranced by the distance of the temple...it seemed somehow very far and very near. How on earth was it possible to build this outcropping of a structure in 1692, and then finish reconstructing it without modern technology in 2005 after a fire in 1998 almost destroyed it thoroughly. Chencho described the distraught feeling in the area as people struggled to get up to the beloved temple to help save it when it was ablaze.
Julian had a profound experience in the temple and came back flushed and moved. We ate our lunch slowly and in silence, digesting the bounty of literally being on top of the world in such a precious spot.
Eventually I lifted up my walking sticks and we moved down the mountain. Of course it took half the time, and it helped that the air got richer on the way down instead of thinner on the way up. Still, I managed to stumble twice on the unpredictable gravel here and there, and both times “my guys” caught me. As we hit flat stable ground, my body almost skipped to the car!
But the day was not over! We visited a nearby temple, named as one of the most spiritual places in Bhutan: Kichu Lhakhang, built in the 7th century. We were lucky enough first to have rested in the car with the AC refreshing every pore...and then to be able to see a ceremony underway at the temple, not a usual occurrence.
We even took a bit of a detour to see an art gallery, an exquisite collection of Buddhist art.
And then on to Thimphu, the capital city of Bhutan, to get a feel for city life in Bhutan. It took about 2 hours to get there on a road sandwiched between mountain and river, with often breathtaking views. After freshening up (badly needed at this point) at the lovely Le Meridien, we joined Chencho and Dorji, the owner of the travel company for a wonderful dinner. We enjoyed meeting Dorji so much and hope to meet him again in days to come.
THEN we took a nap. All night.