Paro (Bhutan), Jan 29 : The picturesque valley town of Paro, dotted with Bhutan's historical and sacred monasteries like Tiger's Nest that clings to a vertical rock cliff with a 200-foot majestic waterfall in its vicinity and wrapped in prayer flags fluttering with fresh cool breeze is far from the madding crowd - literally.
Aptly called Shangri-La, it's the blissful place where Buddhist spirituality and its ancient culture still reign supreme amidst virgin nature with oxygen-rich gurgling streams flowing downstream.
"Visiting Taktsang (also known as Tiger's Nest) and its nearby monasteries give me a feeling of a spiritual journey and helps me developing understanding about Buddhism," remarked Hong Kong resident Jeff Ho amidst chanting the 'Om Mani Padme Hum' religious prayer.
Visiting this Himalayan kingdom -- a landlocked nation located in the eastern Himalayas between India and China, for the first time, he said this is a place where the spirituality and traditional culture were still prevalent.
Taktsang Monastery is the place that every Bhutanese is expected to pay obeisance at least once in a lifetime.
It was first built in 1692 at a cave where Guru Rimpoche, also known as Padmasambhava, meditated in the 7th century.
Legend states that Guru Rimpoche flew to the site atop the back of a tigress and meditated in the cave for three years, three months, three days and three hours to subdue evil demons residing within it.
The cave has been considered a sacred site ever since and many famous saints have travelled to meditate in it.
It is located 10 km north of Paro town at an altitude of some 10,000 feet above sea level.
Reaching the monastery involves a steep trek that takes around three hours.
Ahead of the monastery's entrance, one can notice crevices filled with Tzatzas or cones made from ash in memory of departed souls.
The monastery's major reconstruction was completed in 2005 after a fire devastated its structure in 1998.
Mobiles and cameras are not allowed inside the monastery that houses various Buddhist temples.
Non-Bhutanese have to pay an entrance fee of Rs 500 per person at the base camp of the monastery.
One can attend the summer festival of Haa and delve into the wonders of the ancient living culture of the Haaps (people from Haa).
The festival highlights Shamanic rituals and other folk dances.
Central Bhutan includes some of the most significant historical and religious sites, while Eastern Bhutan is one of the least explored regions of the kingdom and offers one of most authentic experiences for adventure-oriented tourists.
Getting to Paro:
Paro, Bhutan's only international airport, is connected by regular flights from New Delhi, Kolkata, Bagdogra, Bodh Gaya, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Guwahati, Singapore and Bangkok.
The Delhi-Paro flight takes less than two hours.
Where to stay:
Luxury and small hotels, guest houses and even homestays with local people.
(Vishal Gulati can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)