Taktshang Pelphung Monastery
Taktshang or 'Tiger's Nest' as it is often referred to for Taktshang Pelphung monastery, is one of the most venerated and famous of Bhutan's monasteries. It is located on the face of a 900m sheer cliff. It is an impressive and unmissable site, but accessible only by walk or to ride mules/pony.
From the trail head at Rumtokto (2600m), the walk till the Cafeteria is a steep one hour uphill (about 350m ascent). From the Cafeteria (2940m), one can get a good close-up view of Taktshang. Savor views of the monastery over a well deserved cup of tea and biscuits at the cafeteria and continue uphill for another 45 minutes to a high observation point (3140m) where there is a Chorten. From this vantage point, the lookout to the monastery is a very spectacular and seems almost close enough to touch. It is now on the other side of a deep chasm, only around 150m away as bird flies, but takes half hour or even more to reach. Continue down the flight of cliff-hanging steps on the narrow trail to a beautiful waterfall that plunges down the deep chasm and alongside is a retreat hermitage, jammed dramatically into a rock crevice. Then climb up the flight of steep steps to the monastery. At any point on this walk, you can always return if you find it too difficult. Once inside the monastery, there are several shrines or temples with few monks in residence. After visiting Taktshang monastery's many shrines, most tours schedule lunch at the Cafeteria upon return. After lunch, retrace back to the road-head where you started in the morning. The return from Cafeteria is all downhill and takes just over half hour.
Further, if you have more time, energy and ready for more challenging day, you can start early and trek beyond Takstang to see several monasteries, temples, retreat houses in the surrounding area. The most notable among them are Zangdopelri and Ugyen Tsemo.
Pony/horse can be hired for ride up till the Cafeteria. However you cannot ride beyond the cafeteria or come down hill on the horse.
According to the legend, Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, who spread the Buddhism across the entire Himalayas is said to have flown here in the 8th century on the back of a Tigress, in order to subdue negative spiritual forces that were hostile to spread of Buddhism. In 853, one of his students, Pelgyi Senge mediated here in the main cave. The stupa inside one of the temples contains his mortal remains and therefore the cave is known as 'Pelphung or Pelgi's cave'. Subsequently many great spiritual masters such as Milarepa, Thangthong Gyalpo, Phajo Dugom Zhigpo, Shadrung and many others, passed periods here in profound meditation. In 1692, Tenzin Rabgye built a two storey temple around what little may have existed previously. This was expanded and refurbished many times over the period of time. Taktshang and several temples in the area were burnt down in 1951 by fire accident but much of them remained intact and most of the relics were saved. Soon after, the, Taktshang was rebuilt by population of Tsento village. Again in April of 1998, a major fire destroyed the main structure of the building and its contents (some believe it to be arson). Reconstruction began in 2000 and was completed and consecrated after extensive efforts and financial support of Governments as well as donors.
Taktshang or the Tiger's lair as the monastery is widely regarded is one of the most important in Bhutan. Its history is associated with the visit of Guru Padmasambhava, the Indian saint who came to Bhutan in the 8th century AD. According to the legend, the cave was named Taktshang, after Guru Rinpoche is said to flown here from Kurtoe Singye Dzong in eastern Bhutan on the back of a tigress. Guru Rinpoche then manifested into a wrathful form known as Guru Dorji Drolo to subdue the demons. The monastery is one of the main among thirteen Taktshangs, predicted to be built in the Buddhist world. The cliff on which Taktshang stands is also supposed to resemble a ritual dagger known as Phurpa. Many Buddhist masters also spent time here in meditation. The foremost being Langchen Pelgi Sengye, one of the 25 disciples of Guru Rinpoche, who also named it as Pelphug (the cave of Pelgi). Langchen Pelgi Sengye went to Nepal after a spell of meditation in Taktshang and died there. However, Damchen Dorji Legpa (protective deity) is said to have brought back his kudung (bone relic), which is still preserved today. It is still believed that Langchen Pelgi Sengye on auspicious days pay visit to Taktshang and the chorten which contains his remains is believed to fulfil one’s wishes. The site was later visited by many other Buddhist saints and masters including Milarepa, Thangthon Gyalpo and Phajo Dugom Zhigpo. Later it was also visited by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and conducted Monlam Chenmo (the great prayer ceremony), and a Drubchen (consecration ceremony) for a week in honor of Tshepamed - Amitayus and formally took charge of Taktshang. Jinpa Gyeltshen, the brother of Tenzin Rabgye was also appointed as the Taktshang Lam, which was then a small shrine. The fourth Druk Desi Tenzin Rabgye laid the foundations of the Taktshang Monastery and the construction began on the 10th day of the Water Monkey Year in 1692. The two storied monastery was finally completed after three years corresponding to the Wood Dog Year in 1694. The first Lama to be installed was Sakya Tenzin.
Next to Taktshang is a waterfall known as Shelkar Zar. This is believed to be the Drupchu (holy water) of one hundred thousand dakinis. Beside the water fall is the main seat of Guru Rinpoche on a rock where he preached to his consort Khando Yeshey Tshogyal. As a blessing, he gave his crystal rosaries to Khando Yeshey Tshogyal and thereafter the area came to be known as Shelkar Zar.
On the left side of Shelkar Zar is a small meditation cave in which Khando Yeshey Tshogyal and Guru Rinpoche meditated. The stone seems to resembles a lion’s face and therefore the cave is known as Sengye Phug.
The monastery was burnt down in 1951 by the fire, which was started accidentally by a woman while preparing her land for the next crop and burning the old stalks, the fire became uncontrollable and in the process reached Taktshang. King Jigme Wangchuck ordered the entire population of Tsento village to rebuild the four temples of Taktshang as they did not help in controlling the fire. The Shama gompa was built by the Drugyal Dzongpon Jangsarp. The lady who was responsible for the fire was ordered to rebuild the Zangdopelri Monastery. Ugyen Tsemo was rebuilt by the Taktshang Lama Khagorp, which was rebuilt again in 1954 on the order of the Queen Mother Ashi Phuntsho Choden by Je Khenpo Tenzin Dendup and Phub Dorji. On Sunday night 19, April 1998, a huge fire, probably caused by butter lamp destroyed the temple almost completely. The government undertook the reconstruction in 2000 with funds also received from outside donors. The monastery was recreated to its original splendor. There are shrines or temples like Druphu Nye, Guru Sung Jon mai, Kunrey (assembly hall), Chorten temple, Guru Tshengyad temple, Drolo, Namsey, Tshepamed, Naypoi and Marmi Dagsum temple. The main event at Takstang is a weeklong ritual in the 5th month, dedicated to Tshepamed (Amitabah), as introduced by Zhabdrung in 1645.