Personal Journeys


February 13, 2005|By Special to the Sun

A Memorable Place

Journey to 'tiger's nest' in Bhutan

By John Krowka


Taktsang Monastery loomed above me like an insurmountable goal atop a rock cliff in the morning clouds on my last day in Bhutan.

The starting point for the hike was more than 2 kilometers above sea level. I was already feeling light- headed and short of breath because of the elevation. A light drizzle made the path slippery, and the image of losing my footing and falling from the cliff kept running through my mind.

A pair of gray-haired Bhutanese women with backpacks blithely walked past me and began their pilgrimage to the holy site. I thought, "If they can do it, so can I." And if I should die, wouldn't the nobility of my quest enable me to move a few levels up the spiritual ladder in my next rebirth?

Besides, if I were to fall to my death, at least the view on the way down would be awesome.

Taktsang means "tiger's nest" in the Dzongkha language of Bhutan and refers to the flying tigress that carried Guru Rinpoche in the eighth century to meditate in a cave on this rocky ledge.

I began walking slowly, watching every step and breath, like a meditation. Frequent stops, often of short duration, were needed. The whitewashed monastery was often in view to provide inspiration.

Oaks and rhododendrons covered with ferns graced the hillsides. Our group would occasionally pass a gaily painted prayer wheel that was being turned by the water in a small stream. Prayer flags and shrines graced the way upward alongside the wet rock and muddy path.

Taktsang is a holy site where Guru Rinpoche, Milarepa and many other sages had meditated in past centuries. The aura of the place was palpable.

The temples there contained many forms of Buddha painted in bright colors that cast their contemplative gazes upon us. Tormas, the colorful butter sculptures crafted by monks, graced the altars. Incense and oil lamps burned in homage.

Later, the walk down the mountain from Taktsang was easy, and I had no fear. Despite my trepidations, my goal had been reached. The sun was breaking through the clouds and making us warm during our descent. As I reached the valley, I looked back at Taktsang and bowed.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to visit this site and enjoy the beauty of this wonderful country. It is a place where spirituality, heritage and the environment are priorities. I am grateful to Bhutan and its people for giving me many refreshing memories that I will carry for the rest of my days.

John Krowka lives in Boonsboro.

My Best Shot

Olga Polyakov, Baltimore

Hill of honor

While traveling around the world last year, I often chose destinations based on the advice of fellow travelers. Thus, while hiking in the Bucegi Mountains of Romania, I paid attention to the words of Larry, a fellow American who was hiking down the mountain I was hiking up. Larry had made numerous trips to Turkey and said the best place he had visited there was Nemrut Mountain. I resolved to go there. The mountain was a place where an ancient king, Antiochus, had built a temple to honor himself; it later became his tomb. Upon this monument he placed huge statues with immense heads that stood as high as 30 feet. The heads have since toppled from their bodies, but they remain no less impressive.

Readers Recommend

Husavik, Iceland

Charles H. Steele, Annapolis

I had supposed that Iceland was a glacier-covered volcano in the North Atlantic, but not so. While visiting there last summer I stopped at the fishing village of Husavik, and it reminded me of Annapolis during the 1930s and 1940s when it was home to the oyster fleet for the winter. In Husavik, it was fishing and whale-watching. The calmness of the waterfront speaks to the ambience of the entire village.

Nice, France

Sue Rouch, Bowie

This sculpture was in a beautiful park in front of my hotel in Nice, where I visited this fall. I loved the arc, which represents 115 degrees -- the latitude of Nice. It was interesting the way the shadows from the sculpture were cast on the grass below.

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