Friday, July 12, 2013

Tackling the Tiger

Hiking makes me a little schizophrenic.  I love it.  I hate it.  Last fall I came to the conclusion that really I love it, as long as I can take whatever time I need to do it.  After visiting Taktsang Monastery, the iconic Tiger's Nest that Bhutan is well known for, I'm not sure that I can still say that.

The day started out well.  After a light breakfast of an omelette and coke (because you need the protein for a long hike, as well as that crazy burst of energy that coke gives you to get you started.  Don't you agree, Coca-Cola company???) we were on the trail by 7:30 a.m., before the horses could even get up there.  Not that that was even an option...my family is full of outdoorsy sort of people and there is no way I was taking the easy out.  I never have, although there have been moments when I kind of wished I could (usually about halfway up, to be precise).
The ascent to the Tiger's Nest is gradual.  No, really, it is!  The trail consists of a LOT of switchbacks, but very few stairs, at least until you get to the very end.  It's not until you come to a break in the trees and see how high you've come that you realize it.  And THEN you'll see how far you still have to go, and you'll cry a little bit, if you're a wuss like me, anyways.
Still, the forest is lovely, and even though you are sweating buckets, the sun is not out, and there are lots of things to take photos of.  And if you're lucky, your guide will be supportive.  Mine was.  Sree kept telling me how well I was doing and that she appreciated me.  Maybe two-thirds of the way up, she wanted to know if she could ask my age.  I told her I was nearly 34.  "Oh, that explains your good walk.  The driver and I were talking, and even though you are fat, you have a good walk."  Oh.  Um.  Thanks?  My size has been discussed and pointed out a LOT while I was traveling this summer, in spite of my effort and some success in getting it under control.  Sree went on to explain that they agreed that my size suited me, that unlike some people, who are only fat in their faces or their stomachs, that I am fat all over, and I said that I was lucky to be tall, and that in spite of being fat, I am really healthy.  She said that she could tell that by how I walk.  All this would, I guess, serve to help me accept myself, which is also part of my current mission, but it's still a topic I'd just as soon not talk about.  Guess I have a ways to go.
And speaking of having a ways to go...man, but does that hike go on and on!  The closer we got to the Tiger's Nest, the more we saw of these.  They are little tiny stupas made of human ashes and clay, hidden in the hollows of rocks.  Knowing that the Bhutanese follow Tibetan Buddhism, I couldn't help but ask about sky burial...do they practice it still in Bhutan?  Sree said no.  They used to, but now people get cremated.  And apparently turned into tiny stupas.
Finally, after what seemed like forever we came to the Tiger's Nest.  Peppermint's been lying low this trip, although she did pose for me at the Potala and Everest.  She's been threatening to start her own blog, but since she's a cat, I have serious doubts that she'll get further than the first post.  She likes her naps too much.  At any rate, we finished climbing up to the monastery and had a look around.  A famous statue of Guru Rinpoche, one of Bhutan's holy men, is up there, and there's a legend of how it has spoken in dreams, twice now.  There is a hole in the floor that you can look down in, and see where he stabbed a demon with his three-bladed dagger.  And in case you were wondering, there was once a tiger's den up here.  The monks used it as a meditation cave before the monastery was built.
And those monks?  I gotta say they were a helluva lot more pious than me!  Heck, Sree is a dedicated woman - she must do this hike once a week, and she hardly broke a sweat.  When we got to the car, I was more like, "I am never hiking again."  By the time we were on our way down, the sun was out, which I was not happy about.  When you go on vacation during rainy season - and it was, I checked my forecasts in Lhasa, and every damn day said, "cloudy with a chance of rain" FOR THREE STRAIGHT WEEKS! - you expect a lot of clouds.  Instead, I came back with a bloody tan (remember what I said about being paranoid about skin cancer?)  And you know that saying (that I hate) about how getting there is half the fun?  Well, when said sarcastically, it's true...the other half is getting back down again!  Which is less work for your heart, but more for your knees.  One of the things I remember about hiking Ulsan-bawi in Korea is how wobbly my legs were afterwards.  The morning walks and occasional hikes this year must have helped me a lot, because my legs were okay, but my feet hurt like hell!

Still, I made it, and I think I am as proud of that hike as of just about anything I did on vacation.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for such a nice blog,

    Can you please tell me how much time is required to complete up and down journey of Tigers Nest? And is it nearer to Thimphu or to Paro?

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    1. The hike up and back down including the time at the monastery probably took about 5 hours, although if you are less pathetic than me you could probably do it faster. It is just a little drive away from Paro, as you go away from Thimpu.

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