Kila Nunnery 2

Chele La to Kila Goenpa Nunnery Hike

Kila Goenpa Nunnery (Kila Gompa Nunnery) was not exactly on my plan as I wasn’t even aware of it unlike Tiger’s Nest. Nevertheless, we were made aware of it by our guides as we reached Bhutan and so, we decided to go for it when we were in Paro.

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View while leaving Paro for Chele La

“The Kila Goenpa is precariously positioned against a rock face. Initially, we assumed we were visiting the Kila (Phurba) temple due to its name. However, ironically, the main deity worshipped here is Avalokitesvara (Chenreyzig). The name “Kila” signifies “Ki” for Peaceful and “La” for Mountain. Founded by Chogyel Norbu in the 9th century, this monastery is among the oldest nunneries in Bhutan. Adjacent to the monastery, adorned with a golden dome, are several retreat houses.”

So, the Nunnery is somewhere en route to Chele La, a 3800 meter high pass that connects Paro to Haa Valley. One can directly reach the Nunnery but our main goal was to hike. So, we decided to first cross the Chele La, visit Haa Valley for a while, return to the Chele La top, and then hike down the hill through a jungle route to the Nunnery. One of our guides decided to take the car down and wait lower down the road near the Nunnery. 

The plan was perfect and we left quickly. But more than these landmarks, we were intrigued about something else, the seasonal blossoms of the monsoon! No one told us anything about it but the hunch was that we are going to see some wild blossoms as we climb up the Chele La like one can spot in Sach Pass or Rohtang.

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A sudden stopSikkim Cowslip (Primula Sikkimensis) with a few irises

We were proven right soon as we left the Paro Valley and started climbing up. We were probably halfway through to the Chele La when a thick grove of irises became impossible to ignore! It reminded me of my glory days in the Western Himalayas when I stumbled on the slopes of Iris near Shoja. However, thia are also had a thick concentration of some yellow blossoms that later on we figured out to be primulas. These are not the short, grounded purple primulas I was used to. They were instead yellow in colour and much taller Sikkim Cowslip (Primula Sikkimensis). As one can see from the scientific name, it is a native for Sikkim and nearby areas, i.e. Bhutan and Eastern Nepal. 

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Monsoon Delights

We took multiple photo breaks in this area and eventually moved on to reach the top of Chele La, which looked a bit too subdued for the near 4000 meter altitude! As it was July, there was no sign of snow but due to the monsoon clouds, there was no sign of the high peaks on the horizon either. There is a small food truck selling stuff to visitors and apart from that there weren’t too many people atop the Chele La. We were told that Himalayan Blue Poppies were more prevalent around the pass but they have gradually disappeared with increasing people. I was hoping to see some high altitude birds but the only moving thing we spotted was a mourning cloak (Nymphallis antiopa) resting on the ground. 

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Atop Chele La
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Prayer flags atop Chele La
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Mourning cloak (Nymphallis antiopa )

The next plan was to drive beyond the pass and pay a quick visit to Haa Valley before returning to the same point for the hike. We did it but I will skip the Haa valley part here and will write a separate post on it. So, after visiting Haa and having lunch, we returned to the Chele La at around 3PM and started the downward hike. As we were mostly descending, it was mostly easy and soon, we started coming across the monsoon blossoms. We saw the iris and primlas that we had encountered earlier. But there were many other varieties too such as foxglove, asters, Japanese Meadowsweet, and Chinese hound tongue, clover, wild Geranium, lily of the valley, etc. 

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The Descent Starts

As we gradually descended, these shrubs gave way to taller trees and thicker jungles forming a dark canopy. There were rhododendrons but the blooming period was over for them. Eventually we passed through a dark stretch under large oak trees and we began seeing the gompa at a distance. We eventually passed that stretch too and suddenly appeared at a chorten in the middle of a floral grove.

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A slightly denser areas after the blooms
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The chorten

We were at the peripheries of the Gompa and Nunnery but surprisingly hardly anyone was visible. Anyway, we had no plan to enter. Just like Tiger’s Nest, we were avoiding entry here too as we were almost bankrupt after paying daily fees to the government in Bhutan. 

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Finally reached

As far as the Kila Goenpa and Nunnery is concerned, these rooms carved out of the rockface reminded me of Yardong Gompa near Keylong, just in case you haven’t read it. 

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Desolated existence

We spent time around the area clicking more photographs and eventually descented down on teb other side to the road which connects it to the main road. Our vehicle had arrived at that point already.

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Time to leave
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Time to leave

So this was more or less it from Chele La and Kila. I find it it more satisfactory in terms of visuals compared to other better known destinations.

Here is a video from the trail from my introvert channel.

How to Reach Chele La?

It is around 38 KMs from Paro and should not take more than an hour. Since tourists cannot roam around on their own, you will have a vehicle with a guide anyway. 

How long is the hike between Chele La to Kila Nunnery?

It is around 4-5 KMs and should take around 2 hours going downwards from the top of the pass.  

Jitaditya Narzary

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