Day 5 started with me worrying about the weather for the epic trek to the Tiger’s Nest. The rain started early in the morning and didn’t show signs of stopping. I was worried, given the fog in the Dochula pass (see Day 3), that my climb to the Tiger’s Nest would end in disappointment. The downpour reconfirmed my travel rule that venturing out during rainy season is a bad idea (see Would You Travel During the Rainy Season?).
In order to make the trek, I needed sustenance. I ordered a masala omelet that had flavor compared to most hotel/planned meals I ate at hotels this trip.
The drive from the hotel is twenty minutes. I treated this trek like a 5k race (see Puerto Rico Turkey Run: TPOL Wins, Then Trolls) and had plenty of water along the way.
Upon arriving, there was one last opportunity to use the toilet. There’s a charge for it like there was when I went to the Salt Flats in Bolivia (see Salt Flats, Bolivia: The Definitive Guide to Going). This time I paid.
We began the trek around 7:30AM. At that time, it was very foggy and wet. At that point, I wasn’t fixated on the weather.
Like the Alaska Marathon, I was very excited and started running up the path. My energy was well and my breathing, in spite of a starting altitude of 10,000 feet, was excellent. A few minutes into the trek, I began to feel the after-effects of the chili from the night before (see Day 4) and the masala omelet from the morning. Instantly, I regretted my food choices and began to helplessly and hopelessly dream up solutions. To paraphrase Costanza, I wonder how I could “extricate myself from the proceedings and relieve this unstoppable force.”
TPOL’S Tigers Nest Bhutan TIPS: Pay for the bathroom and use it to its fullest extent before trekking.
Like the Athens Marathon, I tried to stay mentally strong despite my dire situation. The discomfort would pass and I would resume running. Going faster cut down the time to the halfway point but that proved counterproductive. Much like trying to drive fast when you’re almost out of gas, no joke intended, this strategy only made matters worse.
Having left my guide behind, I didn’t know the best route to take or if I was going the right way.
TPOL’s TIP: Follow the dogs, they know the way.
At one point, I was confused. I found myself going up a steep hill on all fours. That probably wasn’t correct but I managed to crawl back to the path.
After a half-hour, I reached the midpoint.
Trainspotting flashed through my head as I gingerly went to use the facilities. There was no charge but I would’ve paid the toll nonetheless.
I found happiness. And that’s all I have to say about that.
From the cafeteria, trekkers are supposed to be able to see the Tiger’s Nest. With the impenetrable fog, I couldn’t see anything. Light on my feet, I was more focused on the climb than if the sky would clear. Suddenly, the sun came out, and between the trees I was able to catch a glimpse of Tiger’s Nest. Energized, I began to sprint to the temple.
I stopped my Garmin tracker when the trail ended and the stairs began.
By that time, the fog was thicker than ever and my joy turned into despair as I couldn’t see anything. My guide sensed my anxiety and promised me that the sky would clear.
TPOL’s TIP: The trek to Tiger’s Nest is not difficult. It took less than 1 hour to reach it (minus emergency).
The Tiger’s Nest Story
Don’t rely on me for the full story of the Tiger’s Nest, but from what I learned Padmasambhava, who brought Buddhism to Bhutan, flew to this perch on the back of a tiger. There’s also a cave that is only open one month a year. Only the distinguished monks can enter.
As we were completing our tour of the temples, as promised, the fog began to clear. Giddy, I asked my guide what the structure was even higher than the Tiger’s Nest. He made the mistake of asking if I wanted to climb up there. I said absolutely and he looked as distraught as I did when I thought the fog would ruin my adventure. Trying to discourage me or perhaps trying to save me from disappointment, he said it would be too foggy to see anything from that high. I insisted that we go. Heading there, I stopped at lookout points and took fantastic photos of the Tiger’s Nest.
At the top, it was very foggy. Nonetheless, I was proud of the effort it took to reach this point. It was a much harder and much steeper ascent.
After catching my breath, we went to the ledge (see Beware of Selfie Death!) to see if we could see Tiger’s Nest. Here’s what I found:
Pushing myself and pushing my guide to go beyond what most people do was well worth it.
TPOL’s TIP: Demand to go here!
On the way to the halfway point, I couldn’t help but sprint. It was runner’s high meet adventurer’s high. Earlier, I had accepted my fate that seeing Tiger’s Nest was not to be. I tried to rationalize that the view through the trees was sufficient because it made the place look mythical. Now, I had seen it all.
For lunch, I had chili cheese, the food of choice in Bhutan, just not before a steep trek. I also took more photos of Tiger’s Nest, which came into clear view by the end of my meal.
Descent to the Bottom
I didn’t run to the bottom. I took my time to relish in what I had just done. It was a victory lap.
One Last Photo
With the skies fully clear, I took a photo to capture how far we had climbed. None of this was remotely visible when we first set out.
Last Last Photo
Driving away from Tiger’s Nest, I took my final photo. It is mind-boggling that humans built these temples here.
Traveling during rainy season is not recommended. It drastically increases the chances that mother nature will not cooperate. Having said that, the fog around the Tiger’s Nest made it look more magical than when it was completely clear. I am lucky that it worked out and I’m eternally happier for going all the way up.