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Tiger’s Nest and Darts, Bhutan

Day 166: Country #19

I woke early to enjoy the scenic views of rice fields from the balcony. After breakfast, we set off to hike up the Tiger’s Nest, a Buddhist temple nestled into the side of a mountain.

We arrived relatively early and were the only people around, which allowed the guide and I solitude with nature. Aside from a few signs and horse tracks, the starting point was not very well defined, but the guide knew the path. A short distance up, we saw a few kids picking up trash.

The tree line thickened as the paths narrowed, and at points connected by bridge, but all the while we could still glimpse the mountain top and occasionally spot the temple in the distance. It was an absolutely beautiful day for a hike in the Himalayas.

I was a bit worried about altitude sickness despite having walked on average 10 miles (15km) per day, but I found myself keeping a brisk pace because I wanted to finish early and accept the invitation to a dart game that was going on back in Paro.

At our pace, we eventually caught up to other groups of people, which let the guides talk to each other and me to learn new things.

Finally, we reached the last stretch and the temple was within reach, but it turned out to be further away than perception because it declined down the side, then back up another few hundred steps to the Tiger’s Nest.

The main temple was quite large with multiple areas for prayer. After a quick walk through, I asked to go further up the mountain. The guide said she’d wait for me at a viewpoint which we passed by earlier and gave me an hour to explore on my own.

I hiked higher and higher as the paths got narrower and narrower. Eventually, Tiger’s Nest disappeared from sight and I became uncertain of my path, but I continued upward, climbing makeshift ladders and squeezing between trees, until finally reaching the temple at the peak. I was almost scared away by dogs, but there were a couple of other people around who offered enough distraction for me to sneak in and experience the mountaintop.

I was tempted to take a different path down but did not want to get lost, so I tried to carefully trace my steps, somehow managing to get back to the rendezvous point. We headed down to a restaurant at the halfway point for lunch, then as we made the final descent, we ran into the same kids picking trash. There was a pile of sacks filled with empty bottles. The guide offered to take a bag, and I decided to take one as well. So, we lugged trash bags down the mountain for extra exercise.

Once we reached the parking lot, the driver arrived and we drove to a bridge to meet my newest friend who I met two days prior. He walked me to his friend’s house where they had a game of darts setup. They had been playing all morning and the losers made lunch. I arrived at the start of the afternoon session. They handed me a beer and told me to watch them play.

But after watched a few rounds of throws, I got a sense for the rules. I also notice some of their arms were starting to fatigue, and one person was clearly in pain, so I offered to substitute in and give it a shot.

The game is incredibly hard, requiring both strength and precision. Unlike the western version where you rely on finesse to throw a small dart a short distance, Bhutanese darts is like archery. Players make their own pair of darts from pieces of wood and metal. They are large and heavy because you need to throw the dart 50 meters (150 ft) to a small target on the other side. It was insane, and my first few throws landed quite short. I could see how throwing a baseball for 8 hours in rapid succession would lead to physical injury.

Here’s a first person view of my friend throwing a dart at the minuscule target.

I managed to hit the stump, outside the bulls-eye, one time, scoring one point and proudly earning a ribbon!

Our team lost, so we headed inside right as it started to sprinkle. We sat around the living room talking and watched a little TV, then they asked me to try on a full Gho and helped me get dressed. It was very warm and comfortable. After wearing it a while, my teammates started preparing dinner.

My friend said that he wanted to return his Gho, which he was borrowing from his sister. I offered to join him for the walk, not realizing how far it would be. Halfway in, it started to rain heavily. With few options, I attempted to keep my phone dry and we kept walking down a very long road by the river. He couldn’t believe that I would keep going, but I’ve had worst rainy hiking experiences in the US Marines carrying lots more gear.

Finally, we reach a store that was another of his friends’ house. We were able to dry off a little and have a hot tea and liquor as we waited for his sister to pickup the Gho. Then he called one of the friends from the dart game who worked as a taxi driver to pick us up.

Dinner was delicious and it felt like I was hanging out with a group of old friends. As it got very late, my friend got a call from the hotel wondering if I would return for dinner. With it being my last day, I had nothing to worry about and said that I would return late.

Had I only experienced the spectacular views of Tiger’s Nest, I’m not sure it would rival the majesty of a triple rainbow I saw in Brunei, but as my new friends dropped me off at the hotel, I was confident that this concluded the best day of the adventure so far.

Tip:

When hiking uncertain terrain, or urban trekking, where you may need to backtrack, you should turn around occasionally and memorize the scene so that it looks familiar on the return route.

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