Taksang Monstary, also known as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, is the most famous icon in Bhutan. Even for people who have never heard of the country know pictures of the famous cliff side monastery when they see it. So why is this icon not on everybody’s list of places to visit? I suppose it is because they didn’t know where it was.
My Discovery of the List
Sometime in the early 2000’s I started my real travel ventures after a few trips I ended up at Niagara Falls followed a couple of years later at the Grand Canyon. I thought that maybe it should be a goal to see the “Seven Wonders of the World”. In order to do this, you need a list of the seven wonders of the world, and I turned to the Internet. Quickly I realized that the “Seven Wonders of the World” was really about the Ancient Wonders and most of them had disappeared but with enough digging I found “Hillman’s Wonders”.
Howard Hillman has a lot of experience when it comes to travel and you can read about him on his website www.hillmanwonders.com. The list continuously changes and is controlled by a board of advisors so that the list is not just one person’s opinion.
At the time that I found Hillman’s wonders, I read through everything on hist list making a “travel plan” of the things that I really wanted to see. Bhutan was not on that list and, to be honest, I had not even heard of Bhutan but if I am certain that if it was on the top 100 list, I would have added it to my planned destinations a lot sooner.
Since finding the list sometime around 2004, I have managed to reach 37 of the 100 places on Hillman’s Gold list so I like to think that I have some basic experience in attempting to rank the Tiger’s Nest monastery but of course this will be just my opinion and it could be biased.
Measuring a Wonder of the World
The Dull Places
Measuring a travel destination so that it can be ranked against all other travel destinations is going to be highly subjective. I don’t have a metric that is going to accurately place the Tiger’s nest onto the list but I think it is reasonable to say that a destination can be easily dropped into one of three simple categories: 1) I wish used my money to go somewhere else, 2) This was cool and mostly what I expected, 3) This place was way beyond what I expected.
Luckily there are not too many of these trips, but they sometimes do happen. Sometimes it is because we experienced enough trouble during the trip or somebody spoiled our mood at the destination through some scam attempt but other times the destination just didn’t live up to the hype.
An example of not living up to expectation is the Burj Khalifa building in Dubai. I booked the tickets on line to get the lowest possible price. When I reached the observation level, I said …. “That’s it?”. You only reach about half way up and the view is just a dusty desert. It might be a wonder in terms of its construction but as far as a travel destination, I didn’t find it particularly amazing.
Spoiled by Success
Over the past couple of years there has an increase in the interested of the topic of over-tourism. In fact, while researching to write this I found this:
When a place becomes successful, it tends to draw a lot of people to it. While this can be good for the local economy, it can also lead to huge crowds that negatively impact the local environment or lower the enjoyment for people traveling to that location.
A fairly high number of the places on Hillman’s list are tourist icons located in Europe that everybody wants to visit. Examples of these icons include Venice, the Eiffel Tower, and the Leaning Tower of Pisa. I will admit that these places were always on my list of things to see since I was very young.
I’ve noticed that posting a Facebook picture of oneself in front of a famous icon such as the Eiffel Tower you will receive a significant number of likes and comments. Posing in front of Iguazu Fall on the other hand will receive considerably less attention. I think that some destinations are just more popular and will usually receive higher placements in lists than places that fewer people have heard about. It is not likely that anybody on Hillman’s advisory boards have actually travelled to all the destinations in the world to really give equal justification to everything.
A lot of the famous icons, especially in Europe, have fallen victim to their success. The crowds are incredibly large and enjoying the scene can be a real challenge if you are looking for one of the better views. We had to give up on trying to go up in the Eiffel Tower because the estimated time to reach the top was 4 to 6 hours. While we did manage to get the famous photo of trying to hold up the Leaning Tower of Pisa, it was a challenge to find a place on the lawn that wasn’t already occupied by somebody else also trying to get the exact same picture.
After visiting a number of places that have become basically too crowded, I have adjusted my plans and try to avoid such destinations these days. Of course, I don’t always follow my own advice and I have a tour in India booked in less than 1 month and it includes the Taj Mahal. I know already to expect a crowd but I’m hopeful that I’ll at least get a few good pictures. My decision to go is less about visiting a touristic icon but rather a familiarization tour so that I can check and see what out agents in India are provided for hotels and transportation.
The trips that turned out as expected
A number of the places that I have gone off to visit have turned out to be spectacular just like I thought. Places like Iguazu Falls, and the Galapagos Islands were as I imagined. The sights were as I imagined them and I enjoyed the visit because they were not over crowded.
These places deserve to be high on the list and they are. Ecuador is making significant effort to control tourism in Galapagos in order prevent the disturbance of the wildlife. When I visited, we were told that only two groups of 10 people were allowed on each island on any particular day. This type of control will ensure that these places remain enjoyable.
Places that Overwhelmed
I’m not easily overwhelmed by things that I experience in travel because I have spent a lot of time researching a destination and I’ve seen a lot of photos and videos or I have had similar experiences in other places. I could tell when I was in Galapagos that most of the people on my cruise were amazed by the visit because they had never experienced such close proximity to exotic wildlife, and I realized that people’s excitement about travel depends a lot on their previous experiences.
The places where I’ve been really amazed was the Amazon in Brazil and the Banaue Rice Terraces.
These places were amazing because seeing these places in person far exceeded what you could possible capture with a single photo, even an entire photo album. Sometimes is the color or the light that doesn’t work its way into the photos like you hope and sometimes it’s the other senses such as smell, touch, and sound.
When I reached the viewpoint of Banaue I just stood there in awe for at least 30 minutes and didn’t really want to leave. I certainly didn’t have the same opinion of the Burj Kahalifa the first time I saw it.
What made these places spectacular? For the rice terraces, it was simply the size of the valley and the clouds floating in and out as I watched. For the Amazon, it was the sounds of the insects and the animals that you could only dream about seeing. An important part of the experience is the limited number of people that you are visiting these places with. In the Amazon, people don’t travel by themselves, they stay at a small lodge and travel with others staying at the same lodge; maybe there are 8-16 people that are in your group. When I reach Banaue, there was absolutely nobody else there that particular day and I had planned on visiting that location for at least 5 years.
Ordering the List by “Wow Factor”
You would think that the list of the wonders of the world should be ordered by “wow factor” and I think that Hillman’s list is actually done by “wow factor” but it is based on the advisory committee’s input. When I saw Angkor Wat for the first time, I though it was a very nice view but having never seen a glacial lake in person before, Lake Louise was more or an amazing thing to see and Banff is much further down the list than Angkor Wat.
Finally, we turn back to the Tiger’s Nest Monastery to see if it should be in the list and where.
You have seen the pictures (in fact you saw the picture that I put) and the building itself is certainly impressive if you have never seen a Buddhist Monastery in Bhutan before. However, there is a lot more to the Tiger’s Nest wow factor I have never really been able to capture with a simple picture. When you reach the view point you are impressed and its one of those things that I looked at for several minutes.
It is difficult to describe with photos that the monastery is nearly 900 meters above the valley floor and while the number might seem small when written, when you reach, your legs will tell you how difficult that really was. The effort to reach the monastery itself is significant and unless I showed you a very boring 90-minute video of people struggling to reach the view point you wouldn’t really appreciate the fact that each brick would have been carried up by hand.
Where does it go the list?
Since the list of sort of subjective in the first place and I don’t necessary agree with the ordering of Hillman’s list, I don’t really want to put an exact number but I’ll try to describe an approximate position.
In order to put the Tiger’s Nest on the list, something would have to be removed since there is only 100 items. Is there something that could be dropped in order to make room? Just like Hillman’s list is subjective, so is my decision and you are completely right to disagree with my reasons.
I don’t think any modern city should actually be considered to be a wonder and the list contains New York, San Francisco, and Hong Kong. Don’t get me wrong, these cities are nice places to visit and they have some really nice things inside them but classifying the entire city of Hong Kong as a wonder of the world is sort of silly; what makes it any more fascinating than say Singapore? To me a Wonder of the World is something that was either completely natural or something that was extremely difficult to create.
Compared to the things that I’ve visited from Hillman’s list, I wouldn’t rank Taksang into position 1 through 20. The things that I’ve seen in the top 20 are certainly more amazing than the Tiger’s Nest Monastery.
Looking the list of things in positions 50 to 100, I think that the Tiger’s Nest Monastery is better than any of the things there. Again, these are all very nice things, but I think that the Tiger’s Nest is more amazing than several of these (not necessary all of them).
So, this means that a good spot for the Tiger’s Nest is somewhere between 20 and 50. Of course even if it ranked in at 90 it would be better than the ranking that it currently has.
It is too bad that the Tiger’s Nest hasn’t made it into the top 100 list on Hillman’s site but since things are continuously changing maybe if enough people on his advisory board find out about it and give their opinion, it might suddenly appear but I would be shocked if it ever made its way into the top 20.