Unless you are a citizen of Bhutan or India or have a special permit, those wishing to visit the Tiger’s Nest are only permitted to do so with a local guide. We were lucky enough to be accompanied by Bhutan Native and guide, Ugyen, who has spent his whole life trekking through the Bhutan Himalaya. Ugyen has probably hiked to the Tiger’s Nest hundreds of times, yet his passion and enthusiasm for the area and history is unwavering. Luckily for our lungs and legs, Ugyen would stop periodically to give us little history tidbits and answer any burning questions we came up with.
The hike, while strenuous at times, is almost as breathtaking as the temple itself. We were either walking through a beautifully dense and lush forest or taking in views of the stunning Paro Valley below. About one mile prior to arriving at the Tiger’s Nest we were treated to some delicious tea and biscuits at a small outpost selling treats and souvenirs. Here we had the opportunity to catch our breath and get our first visual of the Tiger’s Nest from across a steep and deep box canyon. The last mile or so of trail was narrow and had several moderately steep up and down sections but the Bhutanese government has spent a lot of money building steps and erecting guardrails to ensure the safety of locals and visitors alike.
Upon arrival at the temple we were required to remove our shoes and turn in cell phones and cameras due to the Tiger’s Nest being a sacred site. Visitors are allowed to quietly tour the temple with their guide, so we followed Ugyen through the plethora of rooms and narrow staircases, each serving a different purpose. While the Tiger’s Nest is a popular and frequently visited tourist site, it is still an active temple and we had the privilege of seeing several monks in the middle of their daily meditations, hence the need to be quiet during the tour.
The Tiger’s Nest harbors so many awe inspiring qualities – the history, the hike, the sheer beauty, etc. Most striking, however, is probably the architecture and engineering that went in to constructing this seemingly impossible structure on the side of a mountain in the 17th Century. The fact that, aside from a freak electrical fire in 1998, this amazing feat of human ingenuity has withstood the test of time should strike reverence in anyone who has the opportunity to visit.
The Tiger’s Nest should undoubtedly be included on every world traveler’s bucket list.