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Day 106: Thimpu to Takstang

Michael Palin - HimalayaBy way of preparation, I plan a short training climb with my guide who, almost unbelievably, is not called Dorje. He's called Doje.

In the foothills near Paro is a complex of holy buildings that draws pilgrims from all over the Himalaya. Takstang, meaning 'Tiger's Lair', is built on precipitous rock ledges and, though it remains almost impossibly difficult to get to, there is now a well-trodden tourist trail up to the crags opposite.

We pass a farmhouse, whose walls are painted with motifs of tigers, devils and the curious symbol of a weasel disgorging pearls. Doje explains. The Guardian King of the North Direction traditionally holds a weasel, so anything emanating from a weasel's mouth denotes good fortune. Obvious really.

The clouds pile up as our trail climbs through oak and pine forest. Souvenirs are laid out for sale at every other corner. After an hour and a half's walking, the track levels out at a chorten with prayer wheels inside, from which a wide path leads to a log-cabin tea house with wood-burning stove and good local food. Outside is a terrace with fine views of the temple. It is believed to have been founded by the saint Padmasambhava, also know as Guru Rinpoche, who rode here on a tigress in the 8th century and took on terrifying form to chase away the evil spirits and convert the valley to Buddhism.

In 1998 a fire gutted the main sanctuary. Its restoration proved a formidable technological challenge, but it's almost completely rebuilt. Newly carved sections were hauled up from workshops 1000 feet below by a system of ropes and pulleys.

From across the valley, the white walls with the maroon band gleam from the top of the sheer tongue of rock that marks Takstang out as one of the most spectacular holy places anywhere in the world.
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  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 106: Thimpu to Takstang
  • Country/sea: Bhutan
  • Place: Takstang
  • Book page no: 249

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