Bhutan trail opens again after 60 years

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From April 2022, international tourists will be able to walk the ancient Trans Bhutan Trail for the first time, while also providing much-provided economic benefits to rural communities along the way.

The Trans Bhutan Trail dates back thousands of years, when it was part of the ancient Silk Road. Official records can be traced to the 16th century when it was the only route between the East and the West of the country, connecting fortresses (Dzongs) deep in the remote Eastern Himalayas.

The trail also served as the pilgrimage route for Buddhists in the East to travel to sacred sites in Western Bhutan and Tibet, and trail runners (the legendary Garps) would travel the trail at great speed with mail and important messages, often making the journey without food and water.  

The Trans Bhutan Trail. Image: Supplied

With the construction of the national highway in the 60s, the trail’s ancient stairways and footpaths slowly deteriorated. A team of surveyors have had to clear jungles, cross rivers and reconstruct bridges in preparation of the reopening of the trail. As the team worked tirelessly to restore the ancient trail to its former glory, communities provided hospitality and assistance, elders shared stories of the past and children marvelled at the strange, yet marvellous happening even amidst the Covid-19 crisis.

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G Adventures has been selected by the non-profit Bhutan Canada Foundation to be the first group adventure operator once the trail launches to the public. The community tourism pioneer will offer groups two Active trekking itineraries: An 11-day Camp the Trans Bhutan Trail trip featuring camping and home-stays, and a 12-day Highlights of the Trans Bhutan Trail itinerary which includes accommodation in home-stays, locally owned guest houses and hotels.

Yves Marceau, vice president of product at G Adventures, says that the two tours will focus on trekking specially selected parts of the 403km trail, allowing tourists to connect with local people and learn more about the Bhutanese lifestyle and culture. It is a wonderful way to combine active travel and cultural immersion with the benefits of community tourism.

Bhutan Bumdrak Camp
Bhutan Bumdrak Camp. Image: Supplied

G Adventures has been running tours in Bhutan for more than a decade and according to Marceau, they have long admired the country for its commitment to the happiness of its people and a sustainable way of life.

“Trails have historically connected remote communities and helped distribute much-needed income to local people as travellers move across the landscape. In today’s world, the pandemic has encouraged people to spend more time in nature and now they are looking for similar experiences when they travel,” says Marceau.

If all goes well, it is expected that Bhutan’s borders will reopen to tourists ahead of the Trans Bhutan Trail’s official opening ceremony, which is due to take place in March 2022. The two G Adventures trips will depart from 1 May 2022 and both are available to book now. It includes the permits required to walk the trail.



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