Thursday, February 26, 2015

[PARO] Journey to the Tiger's Nest

As much as I hate those who often say that you haven't really been to this or that country if you haven't visited this or that attraction, yada yada yada, for Bhutan even locals say that this is the case for the Tiger’s Nest. Come to think of it, every foreigner who has been here most likely posted a selfie with that temple in the background. Be warned, though, it requires an uphill climb that usually takes two hours for a normal person. If you are not that fit, this might be challenging for you.

But then again, I am not the epitome of fit. We still made it in just two hours despite my repeated attempts to look cool and shit even when all I really wanted to do was total bed rest preferably at Makati Med for the weeks to come. Most tourists who usually just have a day or two to spare will have the Tiger’s Nest in their itinerary. As for the locals, the importance of this landmark stems more from its significance in Buddhism rather than the awesome backdrop most tourists think it should be.

The weather took its toll on me while we were in Thimphu. Humidity was hellish in Dhaka and suddenly the high elevation of Bhutan meant braving the cold. Despite wearing how many layers in an attempt to keep myself warm, I still fell prey to cough and colds. The good thing is that they never really developed into something full blown, but I still had sore throat, and I hate having sore throat. And so I just slept from Thimphu to Paro and woke up when we finally arrived at the base camp.

The base camp is where locals making a living out of selling souvenirs are located. Don’t worry, for they would not harass you like touts in any other developing country would. In fact, the only interaction I got from them was a good morning nod from an old lady as well as a nonchalant “shopping shopping” remark from one of the middle-aged women. When I shook my head to mean “no,” they instantly dropped the pursuit for profit just like that.

You'll also find horses before you climb. Now there is no fixed price, but Dorji said that it would more likely be 1000 Ngultrum round trip. That’s around 750 pesos for a two hour climb and the hour and a half descent later on. Most of the people we caught up with around a quarter of the way were elderly Caucasians who were more interested in promoting their physical health through hiking than run the risk of angering PETA by forcing a horse to carry them up the hills.

On the contrary, those horses are the main source of livelihood for the locals living in the area. If you really could not endure the trip based on your own strength and stamina, getting the horse will not only help you but their owners as well. It’s a win-win situation for you and the owner in the end, but perhaps not for the horse. But come on, you have to do this trek. It is part of the thrill. The satisfaction would not be as much if you get up there on a horse, take the selfie, and then let the horse carry you again all the way back down!

The history of the place is still related to Buddhism. They say that once upon a time there was a deity of sorts who wreaked havoc in that region of Paro. In order to protect the people, the second Buddha (Guru Rinpoche for the Bhutanese) came and transformed into his vengeful form so as to scare away that deity. How did he get there? Legend has it that his consort transformed into a tiger and they flew all the way there. I didn’t know that tigers back then could fly but who am I to object, really.

I was a little bit disappointed because I thought the namesake meant we would be encountering tigers along the way. If there is a Seiryu in this country, there should be a Byakko too, right? Well, not really, but you will still be encountering a lot of animals on your way up. Dogs, in particular, are very active in climbing that mountain. We saw two donkeys making their way up too. And of course, the horses and their masters could always be seen going up and down the hills.

The temple is visible from down below but the view gets more and more amazing as you close in on the halfway mark. There should be more than three viewing decks on which you could view the temple in varying sizes. As for the angle, it does not change that much because much of the hike happens in the western part of the hills, while the temple lies in the east. In any case, seeing it stalking you from the background and getting bigger and bigger as you come closer is a pretty good motivation in itself.

Dorji could not reiterate enough the importance of presence of mind while climbing those mountain ranges. You see, it was not so long ago when a Thai tourist fell down to his (or her?) death because of too much camwhoring. I mean, yes, that selfie is the answer to all the problems we have in the world right now, but be careful in taking that shot! There are speculations that the said tourist spun the Buddha wheels counterclockwise, and you know what happens when you do that, right?

The destination is just as amazing as the journey itself. The temple is considered to be very important to Buddhism because of the events that happened there which mainly involved the main characters meditating to attain their goals. You'll see crevices in that temple which have been decorated with colorful wooden balustrades, the hole itself full of paper money. Those are believed to be the sites where the meditation happened. And wow, those holes are deep.

Along the way there are two or three cafeterias that you can check out if you feel like you could no longer take another step without fainting. We never visited any of them, though, so I could not say if the food would be worth it. Since most people who climb bring their own sustenance, I guess those cafeterias are not that profitable. That’s so sad. Or maybe they should just relocate downhill where more people could actually reach them?

You are right to expect that getting that perfect spot for the selfie would be like a new version of the Hunger Games, what with all the tourists you have to engage in battle with to capture that space. There have been no violent incidents, however. Everyone gets their turn, and impatient people are perhaps neutralized by the presence of the temple itself. You will get that selfie, you know. Patience is a virtue, but also a curse in this kind of weather.

The hike, by the way, is tricky in terms of what you should wear. I anticipated the cold weather so I wore layer after layer of clothes, only to find out that the sun wanted to come along. Since you are trying to defy gravity, sweating is inevitable, and soaking all your layers in sweat is bad news once the cold breeze decides to blow. Your best bet would be those clothes especially manufactured for hiking, and perhaps a light sweater that you could tie around your waist when it gets a bit hot.

You are not allowed to take photos inside the temple. Lockers will be provided for you to stash your valuables in while you get another Buddhism lesson from your guide. But wait, there are games! Or maybe just one which I’d like to call Pin Your Thumb on the Rock. It’s like Pin the Tail on the Donkey but the tail is your thumb and the Donkey is a big rock with a mini crater on it. You close your eyes, make a wish, and attempt to have your thumb meet that crater. You get to try thrice. I failed every attempt. FML.

The trip downhill should be easier but is actually considered more dangerous if you are not careful. Rolling down the hill is a common problem if your footwear has no traction. And so I walked down those hills as if walking an invisible runway, modelling my Levi's Jeans. Hey, better slow and annoying than fast and dead. The horses won’t judge you anyway. Lunch should follow right after your descent. We were supposed to visit a museum after lunch but hell no, I am so taking a hot bath and a long nap after that hike. Mission accomplished!

[PARO] Journey to the Tiger's Nest

2 creature(s) gave a damn:

the viewing deck said...

dude, thanks for sharing :) I keep reading your Bangladesh and this Bhutan posts as i was planning to do triangle tour with Nepal. But sadly, Bangladesh embassy here in Nepal (presently where I am) does not issue tourist visa for Non-Nepali here.

ihcahieh said...

@andoyzki ang haggard naman nun babalik ka pa ng Pinas? Feeling ko unahin mo na lang itong Bhutan. Next time na Bangladesh, la naman masyado makikita sa Dhaka. Sayang andyan ka na e lapit na!

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