In Bhutan, the cities are full of surprises, from the snooker bars in the city to the absurdly changing landscape. We wrapped up Punakha and Thimpu via Dochula Pass with snow-clad peaks on one side, however, ochre ombre courtyards welcomed us as we checked into the Kichu Resort in Paro. It was almost evening when we arrived at Paro, so a hot beverage was the need of the hour.
The resort has been carefully decorated with traditional Bhutanese ceremonial masks and old Thangkas. As I was engrossed in marveling at the rich décor, I noticed an elderly man mediocrely dressed in a pantsuit with warm layers of woolen shawls and coats; sitting close to a fireplace reading the local newspaper while sipping on his hot cuppa, he nodded as we hovered around the fireplace for some warmth. Some pleasantries later, he introduced himself as the owner of the Kichu resorts across Bhutan. He had served in the Bhutanese army and had been an active contributor in setting up a renowned mountaineering camp. One topic led to another and finally, we were knee-deep in a discussion about Bhutan and its economy and why having more disposable income has led to unavailability of house help, quite an adverse and unexpected set-back for the geriatric population.
The best was saved for the last on this trip, Taktsang or more popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest. Taktsang, is a sacred Vajrayana Himalayan Buddhist site located in the cliffside of the upper Paro valley in Bhutan. It is one of thirteen Tiger's Nest caves in historical Tibet in which Padmasambhava meditated and taught Vajrayana. Sagar, our guide arrived for an early pick-up at 6:30 and we arrived at the base at 7 AM. We started walking at 8000 feet and our destination was situated at 10,000 feet above sea level. The terrain is a typical hiking trail with muddy pathways curving alongside the mountainous cliffs. Clean washrooms are available on the trail at the midpoint and small eateries also offer hot beverages and Maggi. After innumerable ups and downs, we were finally at the last flight of stairs leading to the Tiger’s Nest, and what a breathtaking view.
View of Taktsang from the mid-point
Tiger's Nest - Taktsang, Paro
The temperature drops on a whim as soon as we enter the monastery, quite a stark difference after the hiking warmup. The monastery has been carved inside a cave and as we entered the nooks and corners, the darker and colder it got. The down jacket and feet warmers totally saved my case that day. We walked back after a couple of brief stops to catch our breath and had successfully completed the round trip in 5 hours, not bad for a beginner we were told.
The Kichu resorts have well-established spa retreats, soaking in a wooden bathtub filled with mineral spring water, otherwise known as a hot stone bath. Only areas with mineral spring water have these baths and Paro is one of them. A perforated panel creates a small section in the tub into which red-hot stones are dropped, gradually heating all the water in the tub. I emerge about an hour later with jelly legs and soothed muscles.
The next day, looking out of the window of our Creta at the dotted Paro Valley and snow-clad mountains in the distance – I think back to the word “quaint”. During my trip, I’ve been humbled by people’s faith, intrigued by legends, impressed by eco-conservation laws, and surprised by hidden urban spaces. Yet, in all its wonder and with globalization trickling in, the country still has an endearing simplicity.