While hiking to Tiger’s Nest Monastery draws most travellers to Bhutan,
this Himalayan nation is also rich in culture and cuisine.
By Cathy Scott
The most unforgettable and spectacular spot in
Bhutan is Tiger’s Nest Monastery, also known as
Paro Taktsang. Built in 1692, this iconic Buddhist
temple clings to the side of a cliff 3,120 metres above
sea level. Accessible only on foot, the monastery is
the highlight of my group’s journey. The path is steep
and winding and dotted along the way with clusters
of prayer flags guiding us along the arduous trek.
The air is thinner up here which can be a challenge
Riding a horse on the first part of the trail is an option,
but only for the adventurous, as the horses walk on
the outside of the thin path precariously close to the
edge of the cliff. For those unable to make the full
trek, there is a tea house with views of the monastery
about half way up.
Along our trek, we are treated to glimpses through
the pine trees of the monastery which fuel our
anticipation. The main lookout offers breathtaking
views of the Tiger’s Nest Monastery. Next is 600
descending steps and 200 ascending steps before
finally reaching our destination. The journey is worth
it – from the monastery’s high perch is the most
spectacular view of the valley below, dotted by
tiny houses, trees and more beautiful prayer flags
billowing their mantras over the countryside.
CULTURE AND CUISINE
Bhutanese culture is rich and diverse, partly due to
a lack of outside colonization and partly because it is
a predominantly Buddhist country. Throughout our
journey, we are privileged to witness this deeply spiritual
culture through the many monk blessings, drum
ceremonies and traditional mask and sword dances
that are still part of the colourful everyday life in Bhutan.
The traditional Kira is still worn by most women and
the Gho by the men. Yak wool scarves and salted
yak butter tea are found in abundance. Although it’s
popular in Bhutan, the highly salty yak butter tea was
not our favourite!
Bhutanese cuisine has been influenced by its neighbours,
but like the country itself, the food has kept its own
unique character. The Bhutanese people love their
chillies and the food can be very spicy. A trip to Bhutan
would not be complete without sampling the national
dish, Ema Datshi, a delicious blend of chillies (ema) and
cheese (datshi) that can be found at every meal. Along
with traditional red rice, it quickly became one of my
favourite dishes in Bhutan.
Due to its remoteness, Bhutan is not the easiest place
to get to but a visit to this magical kingdom does not
disappoint. This culturally and spiritually preserved
country of profoundly beautiful natural surroundings
and peaceful people is one of the most memorable
places I have experienced.
There is something so peaceful about the sound of prayer flags flapping in the ever-present wind – especially
in a country where it is believed the wind carries your prayers. In Bhutan, where flags are seen everywhere, it
is believed that when touched by the wind, the prayers are activated and carried through the air to benefit all
sentient beings – or they can be a tribute to loved ones who have passed away.
With a population of just over 800,000 inhabitants, the tiny country of Bhutan lies in the Eastern Himalayan
Mountains, landlocked between China in the north and India in the south. Mostly known for its enviable
philosophy of “Gross National Happiness”, it is also the world’s only carbon neutral country. We have a lot
to learn from this tiny kingdom.
Tiger’s Nest Monastery