Like an improbable mirage from a James Bond movie, the Tiger’s Nest hangs off a sheer cliffside drop, nestled among green foliage, 10,000 feet above sea level. But there’s no espionage here, in the mountains of Asia’s other hermit kingdom, Bhutan. Colorful prayer flags drape the forest path and a waterfall flows near this sacred Bhutanese monastery, where one of the holiest figures in Buddhism was said to have arrived in the country more than a thousand years ago.
Though the name evokes a secret cinematic lair, the roots of the Tiger’s Nest are more folkloric. According to legend, in the 700s, a Tibetan missionary known as the Second Buddha mounted the back of a tigress and flew up to this remote mountaintop in the Eastern Himalayas, where he is said to have taken up residence in one of the cliff’s caves for three months, three weeks, three days, and three hours of meditation. After, he spread Buddhism to the Bhutanese. The country continues to celebrate his legacy today with an annual festival in his honor.
Officially called the Taktsang Palphug Monastery, the four connecting temples of the Tiger’s Nest were built in 1692, tacked onto the rock face in homage to the holy leader. Today it’s believed to be one of the highest temples in the world. When the original complex partially burned down in a fire in 1998, killing one monk and damaging valuable artwork, it took seven years for the government to renovate the Tiger’s Nest back to its ancient glory.