Today was the big day we took our longest hike yet to see Tiger’s Nest, a monastery that hangs on the side of a mountain about 3,000 meters above sea level. It’s the place where Guru Rimpoche is said to have arrived on the back his wife, who he had turned into a flying tigress.
The hike takes a solid two hours on a fairly steep path, as well as more than 600 steps, the first 400, which dip down before you have to climb up to the monastery. This is a must-do hike that everyone who comes to Bhutan does, but it was painful. The stairs, particularly, was my idea of a personal hell. The monastery, however, is beautiful. The original, unfortunately, burnt down in a fire about a decade ago, but they’ve rebuilt it on almost the same exact footprint, and it’s quite amazing that such a structure could be built hundreds of years ago.
Chencho told us that about 25 monks live at the monastery, including a 15-year old cousin of his that we bumped into when we were up there. He looked no older than 10 years old –Patrick later commented that their diet must be such that the teenagers probably don’t hit puberty until their much older than their Western equivalents. Inside the main temple, we prostrated ourselves, and got blessed with holy water by the head lama there.
As I held out my left hand for some of the juniper water, sipped it a little, and rubbed the remainder on my head, I thought about how adept we’ve gotten at this, and how it was likely to be our last time doing it. I still have mixed feelings about the appropriateness of non-believers like us to go through this little ritual. The Catholic Church would certainly not want non-believers taking the Eucharist. I’ve decided to consider it as a sign of respect toward the Buddhist religion especially since it seems to matter a lot to our guide, but it doesn’t sit completely well with me. I respect Buddha’s philosophies, and what he is said to have done, but I obviously don’t worship him as a god, and I really have no idea what to think as we go through the motions of prostration.
My knees were a mess by the time we made it back down the mountain. The total trip took three and a half hours, which we were told was pretty fast. Chencho, however, has gone up and down in 45 minutes, when he was with a guest that had to catch a flight. It’s pretty unbelievable, though I saw him barreling down some shortcuts to circle ahead of Patrick, who was way ahead of us when I freed him from keeping me company.
That afternoon, I took a traditional Bhutanese stone bath, where they drop scalding stones into the water to heat it up. That was followed up by a much needed massage. Heavenly.
At dinner, we sat next to Paul and Dorte, two British septogenarians. Paul, we suspect, is someone back home, but at vacations in the middle of nowhere like this one, it seems wrong to ask too much about your fellow guests’ backgrounds. For once, however, Patrick, I think, has met his match. Paul, who strikes me as a quintessential British gentleman with a hugely cynical wit and a sharp tongue, seems to have decided that in his old age, he is free to be utterly outrageous and say whatever he thinks. He has been poking and probing — or “launching arrows” as Dorte puts it — Patrick’s beliefs, thoughts, and opinions for the past few days. Patrick has held up well, but that just seems to amuse Paul even more, which amuses me. I never thought I’d ever say this, but we’ve finally met someone, who makes Patrick appear reasonable.
I’m terrified of Paul probing my outlook on life, but I hope that I’m half as sharp and fit as he is when I’m in my 70s. Patrick, interestingly enough, doesn’t have much to say about him good or bad. Paul, I’m sure, has offended him a couple times in conversation, but I suspect he enjoys sparring with someone, who is his intellectual equal or superior possibly. Paul also has the advantage of the wisdom that comes with old age.