Until now, Bhutan has revealed it’s treasures shyly, like a reluctant courtesan playing chasey chasey after a few too many saké sours.
But today was the day we did Taktsang Monastery. It’s the one that pops up in all those National Geographic Instagram posts you signed up for (and are now pig sick of). It’s the impossible pile of crisply painted mud that appears to bud from the striped cliff face it’s perched on, as unfeasibly delicate as it is obviously built like a brick sh*t house. Today was the day the painted lady threw her robes to the floor and pondered a G*A*Y cabaret classic on the karaoke machine.
They nicknamed it the Tiger’s Nest Monastery because the founding monk apparently flew here from Mongolia on the back of a tiger. The utter ridiculousness of the origin story of course pales into pastels in the face of the building itself. It’s a breathtaking series of temples, each one architected to make use of natural caves in the rock face. The craziest cave is the one they call the actual ‘Tiger’s Nest’. It looked like it might set my claustrophobia off so I gave it a miss but I’ve been told that basically you went down a few rickety ladders and it was a ‘sort of hole’. Heaven knows I’ve been in enough of those.
But it’s not the interiors anyone cares about. This place sings a very loud song even from the carpark, 800m below. It must do if it was enough to make the Chuckle Brothers tear themselves from their iPads. Here they are at the bottom pointing at the beast they think might carry them to the top. They were wrong.
John looks as proud as the pony looks abjectly depressed.
In the end, John and Ed – sans beast of burden – managed to get half way, to the cafeteria which was teeming with elderly Americans from places in the Deep South that are probably currently drawing up kill-lists way less diverse than a sample of the people you’ll find on this mountain. There was a strong sense that this was Day 8 of a ‘Wonders of the Himalayas’ tour and most of them were silently planning their dinner. Hell, I know I was. This was a HIKE. Yeah I’m fit for a bird of advancing years but even so: proper jelly legs on the way down.
Adam won the photography competition (it’s not explicit but we’ve both got cameras with BIG LENSES and COMPLICATED CONTROLS so obv we secretly want to get the best picture) with the money shot at the top of this post, of the building itself. It would be interesting to know where he would come in a poll of the day’s best though, which would have about half a billion entrants: we occasionally found ourselves in an ACTUAL QUEUE to get a shot, and this is a country that heavily controls tourism. Our courtesan was now experiencing that ‘Week 6 after Celebrity Big Brother’ paparazzi overload that is very hard to come back from. Leave it another couple of years and there will be a Costa Coffee stand to reward your re-emergence from the ‘fetid disappointing hole’ I MEAN ‘Tiger’s Nest Cave’.
It sounds like I’m underselling it but that’s only because the picture speaks for itself. If you have the means, I highly recommend making this pilgrimage. There is unlikely to be another precariously perched monastery that you visit that comes anywhere close to having the effect this one does. I imagine John and Ed will grow up and go ballistic when they find out they were there in the flesh but their heads remained in Planet Paw Patrol. That’s the subtextual tragedy of this whole odyssey: John may as well be in Leamington Spa buying pants for all he’ll remember. Still, Bhutan isn’t going anywhere. And barring a massive earthquake, or war with China, both of which aren’t statistically negligible likelihoods*, so will Taktsang.
Now put your clothes on love, you’ve pulled.
*Get me and my MISERY.