Friday, October 29, 2010

Bhutan to-do list: hike to the Tiger's Nest!

Okay. I am very, very sleepy at the moment but I haven't yet told you about something I accomplished on Sunday so...

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Another of my must-do-in-Bhutan items was to climb to the Tiger's Nest monastary, locally known as Taktsang Goemba. The cliff-hanging temple is undeniably Bhutan's most famous image. The hike is one of the most popular tourist activities and it is also a meaningful pilgrimage for Bhutanese people. The Lonely Planet Bhutan book states that the hike takes 1¾ hours with a change in elevation of 900 m.

Paro Taktsang 6

Last fall, I only reached the tea house which is about halfway up the trail. This was largely because I have rather serious asthma. Physically, I'm strong and I have decent cardio endurance but my lungs are always my weak point. Any uphill motion is very difficult for me. If I was going to reach the Tiger's Nest this time, I would need to keep my heart rate low and steady. If it were to speed up, I'd start to gasp and my breathing would become constricted and it would then take a few hours to go back to normal - no way to hike in that condition. So, my strategy was that right from the parking lot at the base of the trail, I would keep a very slow and stable pace. Steps at one-one-thousand, two-one-thousand. For the entire way, the steep bits and the flat segments alike. Never mind how fast anyone else was climbing, my only concern would be my own speed.

pony trail

I confess that this technique required a lot of focus so I wasn't paying as much attention to the scenery as I might have. But, that's okay because more importantly, I made it! I kept that same pace, without breaks, from the start of the trail to the point where the the hill climb section turns into steps hacked into the cliff face. Then there are over 1000 stone steps down the chasm to a waterfall followed by about 500 more up to reach the monastery. I got there in 2:15 hours, so only 30 minutes longer than what the Lonely Planet folks needed.

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Paro Takshang

I was feeling so happy and proud of myself to have made it to the Tiger's Nest (no photos allowed inside the very interesting and holy structure) that I was still smiling after the stair climb back up.

Happy Hiker 2

I'm too sleepy to remember what other thoughts I had on the experience. But here's the monastery with its depiction on the 5 Ngultrum note.

5 Ngultrum note

Thanks are due to the JICA volunteer group who allowed me to tag along (sorry my Nihon-go is so rusty) and also to the Royal Institute of Management for the transport and the splendid post-hike picnic!

splendid lunch post-hike!

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