Visited the Paro Taktsang (3120m) on the 26th January 2023 (Thursday) – Winter
1st time and one time, 4800 steps on foot, we made it! My group of 15 members (including my mum at 74), ALL MADE IT!
Temperature marked at 1c when we were descending at 11.32am.
The whole trek took us 6.5 hours.
I wish to stress that I am not the physically fit, with poor stamina (rarely do exercise, I confess). Have thalassemia (low red blood cell with potential lack of blood oxygen.
1st trek (7.11am – 8.05am) 55 mins
– Foothill carpark to cafeteria (mid-way) 1600 steps required if on foot. We rode the horse.
Horse riding is only till half-way point and for one ascending way only.
Horse riding was risky, undoubtedly. I do agree with some reviews on the potential danger of taking the horse ride. The climb is steep and slippery. The horses’ preferred path is inches within the cliff side.
Frankly, there is no medical facility/1st aid available. And there is no governmental law enforcement/intervention on the operation of the horse-riding and on the assurance of the safety of the riders by the cliff. It is all at the riders’ own risk.
We were asked to sign an indemnity to exempt the horse owners from any responsibility of injury or death.
I was blessed that my tour guide led my horse all the way (some horses were not guided – a horse owner (the local village) handles 3-4 horses/riders per trip). There was not a single trace of fear I felt (fear claimed by many) and I was rather relax (gazing over for the cliff-side view when my horse stopped briefly to catch its breath)
2nd trek (8.12am – 9.23am) 1 hr 10 mins
Cafeteria to closer look-out point of the Paro Taktsang. The hike was uneventfully smooth for us. Nothing thrilling or daunting. Nothing that I could remember of, that instils bad impression. Paced hike, synchronized breathing, that’s about it.
3rd trek (9.23am – 9.56am) 30 mins
Photoshoot point to monastery – have to descend for about 400 steps and ascend 400 steps (stone-cut steps with uneven height) before reaching the entrance of the monastery. (There are more steps inside the monastery, but I bet you won’t mind the stairs anymore after walking through 1600 steps to reach this point).
I have the detail records of time because I was sharing the precious moment with family live, through video calling and texting (time is recorded).
Some reviewers suggest making access to the Paro Taktsang easier (building a rope-way, cable car etc). Some claimed that there is nothing much to see after the strenuous climb, as the temple will be similar to what you could have seen in other Dzongs in Bhutan, and some other Dzongs are even better in their architecture.
However, it is not just the tangible architecture that we value in the visit, isn't it?
For mental pleasure – the positive & healing vibes soaked in, the sense of achievement through the hike, the confidence developed & the spiritual wellness/awareness gained;
For physical pleasure - the views of the NATURE along the way – century-old high-land plants, mountains, abyss, waterfalls, mani stones piled, the primitive transportation (horses carrying the cafeteria’s necessities for business operation), the uneven & rough stone steps and the ‘humble’ dust/mud/animal droppings…
Aren’t these the uncontaminated elements that foreign visitors are pursuing when we visit Bhutan (the last Shangri-la on earth)? Why bother putting up modern ropeway to stain the pureness?
Nevertheless, the temple itself is 628 years old and perched at the cliffside, 10240 feet above the Paro valley (3400m above sea level). It is worth the climb for it (my stance).
Do not hike if the weather is not good. No point wasting the effort. It will be difficult and you won’t see the monastery if you could only reach the mid-point (cafeteria).
I was lucky, weather was good to me, and with not much crowd (probably not as crowded as before covid as reviewed by many). People that I met along the way, the foreign tourists, and the locals (many tour guides, tour drivers and local villages were along) were all encouraging and supportive.
Without nationality distinction, everybody was helpful and reassuring to each other. Isn’t this another intangible pleasure that is priceless?
Wear proper trekking shoe and wear knee protector. Walking stick is essential, use one.
Carry minimum stuff (I had a backpack with some money (notes not coins), HALF bottle of water (250ml only) and some small packets of biscuits/sweets/chocolate). Trust me, even a few mg (not kg) of weight reduction matters. I felt the strain on my back carrying my LIGHT backpack during the horse ride. Thereafter, (with much gratitude) my tour guide carried my bag for me, for the whole journey till I was back at the foothill. I could not thank him enough.
Do not OVER eat and drink before the hike. And try not to eat (just leave the sweet/chocolate btw your palate and tongue to infuse sugar/energy to your system) and drink minimum during the hike. I (comfortably) did not drink at all until descending (the only toilet is at the mid-way at the cafeteria).
I would say, if you are healthy with normal lung capacity, no heart, knee and leg problems, and with determination, you will make it.
This is not necessary only for the young people, the athlete/hiking enthusiast (physically fit) and the bold or hyper-adventurous. I am not of any of these, AT ALL. Neither is my mum (she is 74).
At our comfortable pace, synchronizing with our breathing, and with the bless of Guru Padmasambhava, it is the determination that brings us up to the Paro Taktsang.
Not easy (if it is easy, then it is worthless). But it is not impossible for the average-healthy. Be determined, be safety-conscious.
I am thankful.