The Most Beautiful Yet Precariously Placed Monasteries on Earth

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Image: Charalampos Konstantinidis

All religion might be said to teeter on the edge of an abyss. For those whom the word means something more than a catch-me-if-I-fall donation to a toll-free number, faith is a dizzying business. “The rocks beneath one’s feet are ever liable to crumble into the void, but that’s the test faith demands – and we shall be protected,” the crazies who built the perilously placed monasteries featured here seem to have been saying – unless they simply dug free rock climbing, that most ancient of extreme sports.


Image: Douglas J. McLaughlin

Taktsang Monastery, Bhutan

The awesomely named Taktsang or ‘Tiger’s Lair’ monastery at a glance looks like something out of a bad 80’s Eddie Murphy movie, but pan out and you realise just how jaw-droppingly situated Bhutan’s famous Buddhist monastery is. Enveloped in mist, this beautiful but perilously positioned sanctum clings onto a sheer-sided cliff at a dizzying altitude of 10,200 ft (3,120m), some 2,300 ft (700m) above the bottom of Paro valley in the Himalayas.

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Image: Stephen Shephard

Mist-cloaked crag: ‘Tiger’s Nest’ teeters some 2,300m ft above the Paro valley

Completed in 1692, Taktsang was built around one of the thirteen taktsang caves where Guru Padmasambhava – the Indian sage said to have brought Buddhism to Bhutan – meditated in the 8th century. The name ‘Tiger’s Lair’ was born of the legend that Padmasambhava flew there on the back of a tigress. Today, less divine visitors must claw their way up the slope to the monastery’s seven temples on foot or mule-back. Still, mustn’t grrumble.

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