The Kingdom of Bhutan is at the eastern end of the Himalayas, bordered to the north by China (Tibet) and to the south, east and west by the Republic of India. Since opening their borders to tourism in 1974, Bhutan has carefully nurtured its environment while preserving its living culture. More than 72% of the country is covered in forests. 60% of the total land area is protected, while 40% is designated as national parks and reserves.
But it was the iconic images of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery—formally known as the Paro Takstang—that inspired me to visit Bhutan. Built in 1692 into the side of a cliff at 10,240 feet, the rock slopes are almost vertical and monastery buildings are built right into the face of the rock. The Tiger’s Nest appears to defy logic, gravity and reason as it hangs from the side of the rocky mountain.
According to legend, this is the cliff side where Guru Rinpoche landed on the back of a flying tigress, bringing Buddhism to Bhutan from Tibet during the 8th century. It is considered to be one of the most sacred and holy places in the country.
From the valley below, the monastery seemed quite close at first but it was surprising how far away it actually was. The vertical ascent is about 3,000 feet along steep switchbacks, and takes well over two hours to climb due to altitude. There is an option to make most of the ascent on horseback but the final approach is by foot, including a series of almost 800 steps to reach the monastery. Along the paths, we saw various stones, prayer flags, prayer wheels and Buddhist shrines. Reaching the temple was like a breath of fresh air. The exhaustion felt was quickly replaced with amazement from the beauty of the monastery that emanated a sacred feeling of calm and inspiration.
It’s no wonder the New York Times rated Bhutan as #5 out of 46 “must-go-to” destinations for 2013! Forbes Magazine also recently named Bhutan among its “10 Best Once in a Lifetime Trips” where it referred to the destination as an “outdoor recreation wonderland for hikers and mountain bikers to explore” and “one of the most uniquely individual places on earth, physically and culturally.”
Thinking of visiting someday? Here’s a tip: Eight of the world’s ten highest peaks are in Nepal. You can take an early morning excursion flight out of Kathmandu on Buddha Air for about $190 to see Mt. Everest and get a close up look at the Himalaya Mountain Range. Or you could have almost the same experience and save $190 by booking your flight from Kathmandu to Paro, Bhutan. Be sure to get a window seat on the left side of the plane facing forward. The view is incomparable!