The Kingdom of Bhutan is set to reopen the historic and sacred Trans Bhutan Trail for the first time in 60 years. This comes after two years of extensive restoration.
The trail, which will be officially inaugurated in March 2022, by His Majesty the King of Bhutan. From April 2022, international tourists will be able to walk the trail for the first time providing much-needed economic benefits to rural communities along the way.
Community tourism pioneer, G Adventures, has been selected by the Bhutan Canada Foundation, the non-profit that led the restoration of the trail, as the first group adventure operator when the trail launches to the public. Two new Active trekking itineraries are now available to book with G Adventures, an 11-day Camp the Trans Bhutan Trail trip, which features camping and homestays, and a 12-day Highlights of the Trans Bhutan Trail itinerary with accommodation in homestays, locally-owned guest houses and hotels.
The Origins of The Trans Bhutan Trail
The Trans Bhutan Trail’s origins go back thousands of years to 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 west of the country, connecting fortresses – or Dzongs – deep in the remote eastern Himalayas.
It also served as the pilgrimage route for Buddhists in the east to travel to sacred sites in western Bhutan and Tibet, and legendary Garps – trail runners – would travel the trail at great speed by foot with mail and important messages, often making their journeys without food or water.
When construction of the national highway began across Bhutan in the 1960s, the trail’s ancient stairways and footpaths gradually fell into disrepair. To prepare for the reopening, in March 2020, the team of surveyors restoring the ancient route began clearing jungles, fording rivers and reconstructing bridges to their former glory. As they worked, communities provided hospitality and assistance, elders shared stories of the past, and children marvelled at this unusual group, even as Bhutan and the world were enveloped in the emerging COVID crisis.
Connecting With People and Learning
Yves Marceau, vice president of product at G Adventures, says the operator’s two tours focus on trekking specially selected parts of the 403-km (250-mile) trail and connecting with local people to learn about Bhutanese life and culture, thus combining active travel and cultural immersion with the benefits of community tourism.
“We’re honoured to be working with the Bhutan Canada Foundation and the Trans Bhutan Trail to launch this newly restored route in magical Bhutan. It’s a country we’ve run tours in for more than a decade and have long admired for its commitment to the happiness of its people and sustainable way of life, which are both philosophies that align with our values as an organization,”says Marceau.
Sam Blyth, chair of the Bhutan Canada Foundation and lead donor for the Trans Bhutan Trail, says G Adventures was an obvious partner to help relaunch the trail given the company’s long history and success running small group tours and giving back to destinations through its commitment to community tourism.
“As well as providing income opportunities for local people, especially youth, in rural communities, the restoration of the trail is a community-based project designed to preserve an ancient cultural icon and provide a sustainable experience for travellers. Economic benefit will flow directly into the local communities as a result of community tourism, whether via homestays, the purchase of supplies locally for multi-day trips or the employment of local guides.
It is expected that Bhutan’s borders will reopen to tourism ahead of the Trans Bhutan Trail’s official opening ceremony in March 2022. The two new G Adventures trips on the Trans Bhutan Trail depart from May 01, 2022.