It's an unmissable icon in Bhutan - clinging like a swallow's nest to the edge of a cliff high above the Paro Valley, it makes many foreign visitors wonder how such a monastery could ever be built. It is only accessible by narrow mountain paths, and surrounded by dense forested mountains and dramatic rocky drops, yet it has become one of the most popular places in Bhutan for pilgrims and awe-struck tourists alike.
To the local Bhutanese, there's no doubt as to why or how this difficult to reach temple earned it's name Taktshang - "Tiger's Nest". The legend goes that the great Indian master Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche in Tibetan, was called to Bhutan from Tibet to subdue demons who were causing difficulties for the people of Paro Valley. He flew from Tibet to Bhutan on the back of a tigress, landing at a cave high up in the cliffs above Paro. This cave is where he then spent the next three years, three months, three weeks and three days meditating and performing rituals to subdue the demons of the land, and the place became known as "Tiger's Nest". Some believe that the tiger who carried the Guru was actually his disciple and consort, Yeshe Tsogyel, who transformed herself so that she could assist him in travelling to the Land of the Thunder Dragon.
Guru Rinpoche is regarded in Tibetan Buddhism - the religion which is dominant in Bhutan as well as in Tibet - as the second Buddha. His magical feats are famous and his image is seen in every monastery and temple across the Tibetan Buddhist world. He was invited to Tibet in the 8th century in order to tame the demons of the land and convert them to Buddhism, which he did through many battles and contests. He then travelled to Bhutan for a similar purpose - to calm the demons and harmful spirits so that Buddhism could flourish and the people could thrive.
The fantastical stories of the Tiger's Nest don't end there though - Guru Rinpoche apparently returned to the site hundreds of years later, reincarnated as Tenzin Rabgye, the man who built the structure that turned the meditation cave into a temple. It is said that many miraculous things happened during the construction and consecration of the temple, which proved its highly sacred status. According to one legend, the buildings were even anchored to the cliff using the hairs of dakini - otherworldly celestial beings from Tibetan Buddhist mythology.
Over the centuries many famous Tibetan, Indian, and Bhutanese yogis came to the temple to meditate, drawn by its powerful energy. Today, still, the monastery is in use as a hermitage by monks from monasteries near and far, seeking to attain the level of enlightenment that the Buddha and Guru Rinpoche achieved.
Visitors are welcomed to visit the Tiger's Nest, this place of myth and legend, to see for themselves the incredible temple and perhaps believe - even if just for a moment - that the stories of flying tigers and magical gurus may be real.