A sacred trail to 10,240 feet

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The Sacred Mountain

“Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction, ends up being the biggest step of your life.”

As I stood at the base of the Paro Takstang, aka the Tiger’s Nest, I was quiet. As I started to examine my surroundings,the chirping skies suddenly went silent. The moment in time looked heavy, a burden of sorts sat on my chest. The skies started looking gloomy with grey dust sprinkled over. The mountains looked dark and somber. A canopy of clouds filled the atmosphere and the monastery camouflaged itself.

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Prayers of faith

When you are aware of your goals or even if you know how far is your destination, you know how to reach achieve them and therefore the chances of winning are higher. However, when the journey itself becomes the destination, you experience a wind-rush of adrenaline. This is exactly, what was happening. “We might just get to see some snow or may be a thunderstorm!,” exclaimed Ditchu, my sweet little Bhutanese guide, with a sparkle in her eyes. Whether she was trying to test my spirits or she really meant to stop me in my tracks, I would never know. But Ditchu knew, I  had never trekked alone to an altitude beyond 10,000 feet, so may be, she just wanted to give me a fair warning.

But I had calculated all my risks and had made this decision to travel independently to a country abroad for the first time (Well Bhutan is a foreign land, isn’t it? 😉 ). So I decided that I would take up everything and anything that comes my way. With small little chant of “Om Mani Padme Hum”,  I took my first step. Honestly, I have no idea when the first step became a full blown ascent and descent up a 10, 240 feet cliff. I cannot recount how many hours did I take to complete the trek (guess more than half a day was spent), except for a story around the Paro Takstang Monastery, a story, I would come to remember for the rest of my life.

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The reason why Bhutan is the happiest country? May be they are just conscious universal beings

In the Bhutanese land, Paro Takstang or The Tiger’s Nest is a legend. Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Buddhism in Bhutan, landed on a flying tigress at the monastery, perched on an edge of a precarious cliff to meditate. The legend soon took a spiritual ring and today, a  hike to Tiger’s Nest is considered the highest point of sojourn for spiritual Bhutan. For my trip to Bhutan, a day for the monastery had been already planned and accommodated. So when the moment came, I was excited and nervous. The hike to the monastery is a well marked trail. The trek offers plenty of lush green views of the Paro valley with ample fresh mountain air. For a city dweller like me however, acclimatization, was a big challenge. On top of it, I was alone with no family member to take care of me. My thyroid condition that day seemed aggravated with bouts of nausea and fever accompanying me. However, determined, I set my foot one after other.

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Towards the cafeteria, the goal still looks far!

Halfway, through the trek, there is a cafeteria that provides respite to travelers and pilgrims (depends on what you are going up as)! Banana biscuit and some hot tea can refresh you in minutes and after a short break, you find yourself up again there.  The final ascent to the monastery came after a hike of around two hours over a bridge, with a waterfall that dropped 200 feet into a sacred pool. The entire area was decorated with colorful prayer flags fluttering in the air, while the crevices in the rocks were crammed with tsa-tsas, small reliquaries containing ashes of the dead. Post that, one last brutal flight of steps or rather rocks finally delivered a majestic view of the Paro Takstang, up close and personal. Inside the monastery, there are a complex of 7-9 temples, which house different versions of the Bhutanese deities along with the Guru. I was fortunate enough to witness the holy chants and offerings by the red robed monks inside each temple. The monks piously inside each temple, splashed holy water to the devotees and trekkers who had ultimately made it to the top, seeking blessings or some sort of spiritual awakening. In that moment, I forgot all the tiredness and the pain that the dark weather had given me. As I made my way downhill, I now clearly could hear the blue magpies singing somewhere in the background. All the hardwork had paid off and there was a storming happiness that I experienced!

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Small reliquaries or tsa-tsas containing ashes of the dead on the ledges in the vicinity of Tiger’s Nest

And then came the epic moment, which I mentioned about earlier. The altitude sickness had finally got to me and I fainted! But a handsome young Bhutanese guy was quick to help me out. He almost picked me up and delivered me in the cafe, safe in his arms. He placed some cold water and lemon tea, at my table and swiftly moved back to attend his guests uphill. I hardly had time to converse with him, but managed to get a quick snapshot with him.

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My hero, my saviour

It was then, in that moment of epiphany I realized,  it is not uncommon for visitors to have some kind of magical spiritual awakening in the land of “the happiest people on the earth.” Sandwiched between China and India on two sides, this tiny Himalayan kingdom , Bhutan’s isolation and spiritual reverence towards life has enabled the country to hang on to its traditional ways of life and heritage, despite the intrusion of modern complexities and globalized world. It wasn’t the beautiful landscape or the spiritual renaissance that the country had experienced.

Or may be they just know the way to happiness instinctively:

“Sometimes the smallest step in the right direction, ends up being the biggest step of your life.”

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