Bhutan is reopening a sacred ancient route for tourism after 60 years


Following 2 years of extensive restoration, Bhutan is set to open its sacred Trans Bhutan Trail to travellers and trekkers after 60 years.

All Hail Adventure Aficionados!

Get ready your water-resistant trekking boats and windcheater coats.

Bhutan is all set to open its sacred Trans Bhutan Trail (TBT) after 60 years for the world to walk on tentatively by April 2022. You would not want to waste an opportunity to explore the entire country of Bhutan (almost!) through an ancestral trekking route. From a day hike on the trail to a month-long trek or anything in between, the Trans Bhutan Trail has something for everyone’s taste. You have a choice to walk or bike.

What is the Trans Bhutan Trail?

The Trans Bhutan Trail is a 403 kilometers historical trail spanning the country from Haa in the west to Trashigang in the east crossing through nine Dzongkhags, 27 Gewogs (group of villages) and two national parks. 

Dating back to at least the 6th century, the Trans Bhutan Trail's origins can be traced back to when it was a part of the ancient Silk Road. The trail had connected Dzongs (fortresses) of the nine Dzongkhags (districts). It thus served as the pilgrimage route for Buddhists pilgrims and monks in the east travelling to the most sanctified sites in western Bhutan and Tibet. Trail runners, or ‘Garps’, who were the messengers of the then infamous provincial governors were legendary, travelling with vital messages and mail between Dzongs at great speeds with little food or rest. With motorable roads by the 1960s, the trail had fallen into disuse.

With the wisdom and vision of the Fifth King, the trail restoration project was led by the Bhutan Canada Foundation with support from the Tourism Council of Bhutan in 2019. Two years later, the Trans Bhutan Trail is restored to its full glory reviving history. It is made accessible to all to retrace and relive the lives of their forefathers by walking in the footsteps of their ancestors and rediscovering generations’ worth of stories and history – ‘Connecting Bhutan: Past, Present and Future’ as the tagline proudly claims. 

Today, one can either walk, run or bike on these trails. While the younger generation enjoys the physical sights and scenes of the trail, it’s the deep appreciation of the connection to their ancestors they feel. There is more to it than just the physical benefit of trekking the trail.

Why trek the Trans Bhutan Trail?

ToebChandana, Punakha

The divine madman known to the locals as Lam Drukpa Kuenley followed his arrow that he shot from Tibet in search of his destiny in Bhutan. He followed the trail in ToebChandana (one of the trails on the Trans Bhutan Trail) and found it stuck on the ladder of a house. It’s believed that the household offered the arrow as zung (mantra/scriptures inserted inside statues) in one of the Buddha statues in Tango. A temple was built in the location to mark the historical event and it holds such sacredness and cultural significance to the people even to date.

Each trail promises one or more fascinating tales unique to them. You can expect to travel back in time or be lost (or found) as you interact with 70 local ambassadors in the 27 Gewogs. With 400 identified sacred cultural heritage sites scattered over the serene landscape, the Trans Bhutan Trail is a journey through Bhutan’s rich culture and history. Surely, a journey that will delight the self-proclaimed historophiles.

The Trail crosses 12 mountain passes perching you on some of the highest peaks with a picture-perfect panoramic view of the country. It'll give you an adrenaline boost as you plunge deep into the lush valleys winding along some of the unexplored trails of the country.  

As one of the top ten global biodiversity hotspots, Bhutan is home to as many different bird species as are found in Canada, the United States, and Mexico combined and many endangered animals. This makes the trail through the peaceful pristine forest a paradise for bird watchers, naturalists and photographers. 

With the choice to tailor your trips, special program activities such as biking, rafting, fly-fishing and yoga can be added to your itinerary. Whether you are a biker, marathoner, bird watcher, pilgrim, spiritual traveller, photographer, nature lover or simply someone who likes to stroll in nature, Trans Bhutan Trail will have something to offer you.

Photo: TBT

There is a wide variety of accommodation options along or nearby the Trans Bhutan Trail. You can choose homestay experiences in traditional Bhutanese farmhouses to experience the Bhutanese lifestyle or standard hotel accommodation if you prefer the familiar comfort. For those adventure-seeking souls, you can opt for camping experiences at strategically-located signature campsites. 

As one of the longest trails covering all of central Bhutan, trekking the entire trail takes about a month, making it more of an undertaking for those with endless vacation allowance. But if you do not have the luxury of time, you can actually do a small chunk of the classic route in parts. 

To keep track of your progress on the Trail, you can purchase a Trail Passport that is a part of the TBT membership (for individuals, companies, institutions) at a minimal fee. Becoming a member allows you to take ownership of the important cultural landmarks and support the environment. With every membership, TBT will plant a tree in honour of its members. Members will also receive an invitation to members-only events, discounts on merchandise and regular newsletters and bulletins. 

Brownie point: You will be able to receive stamps in each of the 27 gewogs on the Trail from one of the local ambassadors. If you are in Thimphu, Bhutan and have done the Pumola hike and/or the Buddha Point-Debsi-Semtokha walk, you have already been on some trails of the Trans Bhutan Trail and could get a stamp! The idea is to collect as many stamps on your Trail Passport. 

Photo: TBT

Trans Bhutan Trail will also be launching a mobile app with a QR code that will unlock specific information along the trail and also a feature to get digital stamps.

How to book your Trans Bhutan Trail Trip?

For international travellers, you can book the Trans Bhutan Trail package with your local tour operator such as Druk Asia, a trusted and reputable Bhutan Travel Specialist. There are various itineraries created and scheduled departures throughout the year for you to choose from or you can customize the itinerary based on the number of your tour days to Bhutan. 

For Bhutanese, you can opt for regular guided group hikes through Trans Bhutan Trail or go on a self-guided expedition or a picnic in some of the scenic picnic spots the trail has. 

It isn’t every day that you can live history and connect with the story which you are continuing yourself. That’s exactly what every individual will experience while traversing the world’s only carbon-negative country on the 250 miles trail. An opportunity to immerse yourself in an enriching cultural, spiritual, adventurous and scenic experience of a lifetime. With a ‘For Bhutan – Not for Profit’ aim, all profits are fully reinvested into the Trail and your journey will have a positive impact on the Bhutanese communities for generations to come.

Can tourists enter Bhutan now?

As of January 2022, the Royal Government of Bhutan has yet to announce plans for the reopening of borders. Thus, tourists including regional tourists are currently not allowed to visit Bhutan. With ever-evolving situation of the pandemic within and beyond Bhutan, the government is still closely monitoring the situation. You may subscribe for further updates on Bhutan tourism

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