24 March 2024

Bhutan is a country of mountains and monasteries. However, possibly the pièce de résistance of Bhutan’s plethora of monasteries is Tiger’s Nest. If one sees travel photos of a monastery in Bhutan, it most probably represents Taktsang Monastery or Tiger’s Nest. 

The Tiger’s Nest Monastery survives as a sacred Buddhist site. Constructed in 1692, Guru Rinpoche meditated in the holy cave and this is where he introduced Buddhism into Bhutan. The monastery received its name from the legend which tells about Guru Rinpoche carried from Tibet on the back of a tigress which was a manifestation of his divine consort Yeshey Tshogyel. Once here, he subdued the local demon then meditated in a cave for 3 months. 

Preparing for the Climb

Before sunrise with lights of monasteries on the mountain

Start early to avoid the crowds. Early equals being on the track by daybreak. Also, you do not want to climb up in the heat of the sun. Some parts of the trail are narrow. If you use a walking stick bring one, or you can rent one at the starting point. This is also where you rent a horse. Bring plenty of water and chocolate or snacks for energy. The starting point is at an altitude of 8510′.

After several days of trying to acclimate to high elevation, this will still represent a challenging hike up to this incredible holy site. Perched at around 3,000 feet atop its rocky cliffs, the monastery commands a spectacular view of Paro Valley. This perch may not seem much, but the valley floor is at 7,218 feet. The monastery is another 3,000’ and what seems endless stairs. This is the iconic monastery everyone wants to see and visit. So, be prepared.

Climbing Half-way to Cafe

If one cannot hike up to the temple, there are horses for hire that will go as far as the tea house. However, this remains the easiest section and most people can manage this part of the hike. But don’t let this portion fool you. Even the horses balk at doing this trip several times a day.

The approximately 2.5-mile hike, through pine forests, lichen, creeks and waterfalls, needs at least 4 hours. If you want to run up, go for it. Other than the Bhutanese guides and occasional mountain climber, I saw few climbers who were not struggling from time to time.

Hiking trails are dirt paths and hundreds of uneven steps up. Add occasional rocks to climb over, tree roots, and avoiding the horse dung and most people face a challenge. Prayer flags flutter everywhere, small memorial stupas fill the rock crevices. Perhaps for those who have not made it.

About half way there stands a tea house/cafeteria. The views are amazing. One can rest here and enjoy the sunrise and memorable views. Or, if able, trudge on, up, up and more steps up.

Climb to the Outlook

From the tea house, the climbing becomes steeper for about a mile along which there are some fantastic viewpoints. Here are the best views of the Himalayas and of the monastery itself.

While clouds briefly threaten the view, they quickly disappear. Blue sky and snow-capped mountains can be seen for miles and miles. Through the forest of pine and the occasionally red magnolia, one can get a peak at the monastery clinging the cliff’s edge.

Also, the views will give you reason to pause and catch your breath. The lookout is over 9,500′ altitude. The higher up the more challenging it is to climb steps.

Waterfall and Assent to Monastery

Then trudge another half mile as the path descends a flight of stairs to a waterfall, crosses a wooden bridge spanning a deep gorge, then ascends more stairs to reach the monastery. 

If stairs are a problem, then both the climb in and out will be a challenge. The trail coming down can be steep. Add the high altitude and many may want to go only as far as the tea house. No photography, phones or shoes allowed in the monastery.

Indeed, once one pauses during the climb, it is time to speculate about those who managed to build the monastery. Perched on a steep cliff of granite, I cannot imagine carrying all the building supplies needed to accomplish this feat. I am standing at an altitude of 10,240 feet. The views over the Paro Valley are as breathtaking as the climb! 

Once at the monastery, you must have a guide to enter the temples. Because we were slower than the rest of the group, we did not enter the temples. High security requires checking bags and cell phones.


Retracing steps down is much easier though always be aware of tree roots and rocks. We return to the cafe for a cup of coffee and one last view before proceeding to the base.

Tired, sore, and glad we did the climb.


Retired. Have time for the things I love: travel, my cat, reading, good food, travel, genealogy, walking, and of course travel.


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