The only hurdles are in the mind.
The only progress achieved is through singleminded focus.
And the only rewards are in the strengthening of our inner spirit.
Paro Taktsang is a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and a temple. When I started the ascent (November 9) towards what is referred to as a monastery at the highest level in Bhutan, at 10,000 plus feet – the Tiger’s Nest – I had many apprehensions. Can I sustain the trek, I have a back problem, I’ve never done this before, what if I faint… just 30 min into the trek, and my mind said, you’re really not cut out for this; one hour later, I was breathless and ready to give up, I was weak and panting and my legs felt numb; as the monastery came in sight, I mustered the courage, bit onto an energy bar, and pushed those breaking muscles, but what seemed close at that point was still 350 steep steps up-n-down away! I was getting out of breath, it had already been three and a half hours of treading this tough Himalyan terrain and my destination was still so many steps away!
Now, it’s life-saving to have the right trekking partner with you; Vivek was just perfect, he kept telling me we are just ten minutes away, just ten steps away, just the next step is what counts. I know I’m not in kindergarten, but when you throw yourself into an alien experience, it’s best to trust and follow someone who has more understanding than you. After four gruelling hours of trek, we were finally at Taktsang. Yay! I wanted to soak in the beautiful sights around me, the waterfall, the mountains, and say, ‘Thank you God!’ But all I could think of was the descent back…Seriously, can I not be teleported back to the parking lot, what about flying cars, flying anything, I just cannot walk back, I thought to myself.
Well, we went inside the temple. As is customary in most Buddhist and Hindu tradition, we removed our shoes outside and gave our respect to the deities, lit candles and meditated. It had been an hour inside and when it was time to go back, it wasn’t as if I was a new person with supernatural powers. I was still vary of the trek back, but then my feet felt lighter, could it have been the freezing cold floor under my feet or the magical powers of the Buddha, I can’t say!
Something had certainly shifted in my condition; only one thought remained in my mind – It’s not about the long distance I need to cover, it’s about the next step I need to take. It might be amusing for the onlooker, but truly I was taking one step and then the next one and then the next, I really tried not to look at the serpentine path ahead of me. And just when it felt like I could go no more, out of nowhere, a young boy, all of 16 years met us half way. It was getting dark so we found it odd that he was climbing up as we were among the last ones making our way back. We asked him why and he replied that he had visited the Tiger’s Nest – Takstang – in the morning with his friends and had left his bag at the temple by mistake, he was going to get it back. Going back!? I thought to myself. What’s in the bag? I asked him. My school books and 200 rupees. He said. I was speechless! Well, we convinced him to go in the morning as it did not seem safe at that time. He agreed and happily joined us on our way back, sharing stories of the legends of the Tigers nest, his schooling at a Bhutanese school and his mother’s small shop in the village. I could not help but follow how comfortably his canvas-shoes covered feet rested on the uneven, down steep. How could I complain when he wasn’t. It took another four hours to reach the base camp; my feet ached and my calf muscles felt sore, even my knees seemed so exerted; but when I looked up at Takstang and then at myself, it all made sense.
I reckon that there are journeys that make a vacation, a memory, a Facebook post, and then there are journeys that make us who we are. Tashi Delek!