The pilgrimage to Taktsang, also known as Tiger’s Nest or Tiger’s Lair, is (literally and figuratively) the high point of any visitor’s sojourn in Bhutan. For the National Geographic committee for research and exploration delegation, it was the final stop of a week-long visit that had taken us around the western part of the kingdom, visiting dzongs (monastery fortresses), temples, and the wintering grounds of white-bellied herons and black-necked cranes. We’d had plenty of time to acclimate to the altitude and there had been at least two long walks through farms and villages to prepare us for the steep climb to the Tiger’s Nest.
Taktsang is said to be the holiest site in Bhutan. It’s where Guru Rinpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, materialized some 1,300 years ago on the back of a flying tigress. Finding shelter in a series of caves, he meditated for some three years and then set about converting the Bhutanese to Buddhism. The monastery that commemorates this auspicious beginning was built nine centuries later, in the 1600s, although the buildings we see today have been replaced several times, including major reconstruction completed in 2005 after a fire devastated the structure and its contents in 1998. But as the Bhutanese point out, buildings are temporal and meant to be renewed; the ideas and philosophies they represent cannot be destroyed.