Travels with the Beard – Nepal and Beyond

Our travels, chickens and surviving life

Bhutan 2

on April 12, 2013

On the day we tackled the Tiger’s Nest climb our two young Bhutanese guides arrived at the hotel to pick us up exactly on time.
We, unfortunately, were 15 mins late, due entirely to that damn rogue 15 minutes, which had tricked us yet again, and managed to add itself onto the rogue Nepalese 15 minutes! It’s a long and confusing story….
The two lads just laughed. In the land of Gross National Happiness what’s 15 minutes between friends?
Our first impression of Bhutan was that it is neat and ordered, with magnificent scenery of towering mountains and deep valleys.
They told us that it teemed with wildlife, and we found that easy to believe. We had the impression of neatly cared for remoteness, and for sure tigers and yeti roamed the thickly forested slopes of some of the world’s highest mountains.
I already knew that I would be able to ask (and I DO mean ask) a horse if he/she would carry me a third of the way up to Tiger’s Nest.
I had the awful feeling that the horse I’d ask might look at me with horror or disdain, and decline.
What would I do then? Ask another, less discerning horse the same question? Risk another embarassing refusal?
Tod thought it was funny.
But when it came to it I couldn’t do it, and I can honestly say that part of the reason for my decision to attempt the whole climb under my own steam was fear of equine refusal, of equine laughter, and fear of the look that said,
“You must be joking; you need an elephant, not a horse!”
Well, I don’t think there are any elephants in Bhutan, so off we set.
It was very quiet and still as we stood and stared up at Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
We had never seen a sight like it. The mountain face upon which it balances is mostly bare rock, which is itself unusual, as the area is almost completely covered in forest elsewhere.
A couple of very large black birds floated on the currents, circling each other on a level with the Monastery. They looked like moving black specs at that height.
My breathing refuses to work on any upward inclination, and believe me, this wasn’t just ‘any’ upward inclination – this was the side of your house.
Of course taking deep breaths doesn’t achieve a great deal because there isn’t as much oxygen in the air at that height – 10,000ft.
We seemed to be alone on the track and our two guides eventually gave up tut tutting sympathetically and trotted on ahead.
I struggled grimly on with Tod by my side.
We eventually realised that we were late starting the climb, and we began to pass a steady trickle of fellow climbers who’d already reached their goal and were now descending.
They were in various stages of exhaustion, although none as bad as I was! That really didn’t bode well, and there was a great deal of sympathy extended in my direction.
Now I’ve said it before, but I really do have to say it again; if you want an ice breaker in any part of the world take a Tod with you.
It’s not JUST the beard, it’s the smile above it too.
There was not a group, not an individual that we passed who did not stop and chat, shake hands, smile, laugh.
I was glad – it gave me extra time to catch what breath I could.
While we sat waiting in Kathmandu airport for our flight to Bhutan we realised that the ‘Departures’ board in front of us was showing incorrect information. One of the many passengers who we warned about this was a young Chinese-looking man who grinned broadly and thanked us.
We ‘met’ him again as we visited the site of the world’s largest sitting Buddha in Bhutan, and he and Tod greeted each other like long lost friends. We all laughed.
So it was perhaps not entirely unexpected that we bumped into this young man yet again, as he and his guide came down the track towards us at Tiger’s Nest.
We all sat down and chatted. He told us he was from South Korea, and was going on to Darjeeling to check out the green tea plantations there. We too were on our way to Darjeeling.
But before that I had to get to the top here!
Two hours later I reached the ‘Horse Car Park’ and just after, the ‘Canteen’.
We sat down at a table outside the wooden dining house, and the lads brought us cold lemonade. I hope you won’t feel jealous as I tell you that we sat drinking the lemonade staring across at the Monastery. We were on the same level, and felt we could reach out and touch it. It was breathtaking.
However, in order to actually REACH it we had to descend quite a considerable distance, and then ASCEND the other side of the ravine that separated us from Tiger’s Nest.
We had a wonderful lunch first! while I whinged about being a condemned man….
From that point on we were alone on our climb – everyone else had finished and gone on down.
I puffed, panted and sweated, but was absolutely determined to get there. I did NOT want to see an ‘I told you so’ expression on any horse’s face.
Tiger’s Nest is built over caves in the rock face where monks meditated in ages past. It has been rebuilt twice following destruction by fires. The last fire was blamed on villagers who, having harvested their crops in the valley below, then set fire to the stubble. Whether or not a spark, or glowing ember actually travelled so far up the mountain as to set fire to the Monastery will never be known, but the villagers accepted responsibility, and rebuilt Tiger’s Nest.
Oh the feeling of achievement as I actually set sweaty foot in the Monastery!
Tod was disgustingly bright and unsweaty….
As you might expect, there is little to see inside, and the 11 monks who live there have no comforts, save the knowledge that they are truely closer to God.
Our 2 guides did not bother waiting for us, assuming that I would need another 4 hours to get back down, so off they went.
Imagine their guilty surprise when we trotted into the forest clearing at the mountain’s base no more than 30 minutes after them! They both jumped, and switched their mobiles off, staring at me as if Tod had descended the mountain with another woman.
I just don’t have the problems going down as I do going up!
Tod and I stood for a while in silence, staring up at Tiger’s Nest, that Gem, that Marvel, and thanking the chance that had posted a certain magazine through our door one cold and rainy winter’s day.

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