By Poonam Kirpal
Undoubtedly, there is divinity in the air in Bhutan. The Kuensel Phodrang nature park has one of the largest statues of Shakyamuni Buddha in the world. Most of the walkways are lined with prayer wheels. While walking to work or leisure, everyone just pushes the wheels and gets blessings from the Almighty. When attired in one’s own traditional dress and pushing a prayer wheel every now and then, how can a wicked thought enter one’s pure body?
My husband and I had been in Bhutan a few days – visiting Thimpu’s Motithang Takin Preserve; Punakha, where we saw dzongs (forts) and shrines; and the Dochula Pass where we got a mesmerizing glimpse of the Himalayan kingdom – before we reached Paro.
All through our sightseeing tour, our enthusiastic guide kept preparing us for the most impressive sight which we were to see. It was the Paro Taktsang monastery, well known as the Tiger’s Nest temple, perched precariously on the edge of a 1,200 metre cliff. It was a five-mile trek up to 10,240 feet.
Our guide said he could do it in two hours’ time. It seemed a bit daunting to us. We told him that we were no spring chickens and may not be able to do it. However, in his pleasant manner, he assured us that he would carry us up if required. Of course, we dismissed this proposal of his as totally ridiculous.
The day arrived when we were to leave for the uphill hike. We started apprehensively at 10 am armed with walking sticks and comfortable walking shoes. Unlike our holy uphill pilgrimages in northern India like Naina Devi and Vaishno Devi, where there is an abundance of food stops and tea breaks, this one is devoid of any distractions.
When you reach halfway up, there is a midway restaurant with decent restrooms. Our animated guide told us that many countries had come forward to finance a road leading up to the Tiger’s Nest but their beloved Royal Highness had declined such proposals to maintain the sanctity of the monastery.
While going up, I did feel that the king was unreasonable as the hike was really tedious, steep and unruly. I almost gave up a number of times. At one point, we heard a young couple with their guide complaining about the treacherous trudge. He pointed to the two of us midlifers and said, “If they can do it, so can you.” The woman asked wistfully, “How old do you think they are?”
His answer transported me to the seventh heaven. I heard him say they must be 40 or 50 years at least. It was music to our sexagenarian ears! I came closer and said that we are over 60. I think the woman almost passed out and our guide, who until now didn’t know how old we were, looked at us with reverence. We were older than his parents! After this, he addressed me as mama.
The route was precarious as there was practically no road. We were so busy concentrating on not falling and moving up slowly that we didn’t realise we had reached the halfway mark. This feat would not have been possible without the gentle prodding and encouragement of our affable guide. Some people turned back from here. We had set aside the whole day for this excursion and were in no hurry to return to our hotel room, so we decided to continue.
Making slow but steady progress, we kept trudging along. On the way, we joked, “What if night falls and we are stuck?” Our quick-witted guide told us not to worry as he had friends up in the temple who would put us up for the night. Accompanied by extremely pleasant company, determination and a lot of effort, lo and behold, we reached the summit.
Reaching the top, I almost felt we had conquered the Everest. I can imagine the thrill and excitement of mountaineers who achieve near impossible feats. I was so glad that we hadn’t give up and that the King of Bhutan had not succumbed to the Japanese to pave a road.
Coming down was not as easy as I had thought. When I looked down at the path we had taken up, I couldn’t believe we had climbed all the way up. It was steep, unruly, rocky, narrow – in short, perilous with a lot of loose earth flying around as the terrain was dry. We accomplished our mission in about five hours instead of the expected two hours. But we were ecstatic with our achievement.
At night, we soaked our worn-out feet in salted hot water and used the electric warm mattress to sleep on. The next morning, believe it or not, we were fit as fiddles ready to face another great day in Bhutan. It was an exciting day as we drove up to the Chele La Mountain Pass at a height of 12,000 feet. After parking the car, we decided to scale another mound a couple of metres high to enjoy a panoramic view of the surroundings.
The experience taught me that we often hold back due to the fear of something going wrong. On the contrary, if we bend a bit we can experience many escapades that may leave us with memories that will always cheer us. I remember one such exhilarating experience when I ventured to do paragliding in Manali. I was cautioned because of my age but I later realised that age has nothing to do with it.
Everyone is at equal risk and entitled to the feeling of thrill at the end of the venture. We should not hold back, but to bend till we break is also not wise. A little bit of grit, a spirit of adventure and oodles of common sense should decide what our body and mind can digest at our glorious dusk years.
First published in eShe’s May 2019 issue
Syndicated to CNBCTV18