With the long-awaited reopening of the Trans Bhutan Trail, future generations of Bhutanese once again be able to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors, and visitors to the kingdom will get to experience a vital piece of its history

Many of us have emerged from lockdowns with a renewed sense of adventure, a desire to connect with nature—and a fondness for long walks.

On September 23 this year, Bhutan re-opened to international visitors for the first time since the  the 'Land of the Thunder Dragon' shut its borders on March 23, 2020. Today, Bhutan marked another major milestone: the reopening of the Trans Bhutan Trail. For the first time in 60 years, the Bhutanese people walked in the footsteps of their ancestors on this historic trail that runs from east to west across the country. 

Dating back to the 16th century, the Trans Bhutan Trail was originally part of the Silk Road, connecting fortresses—or dzong—and serving as a pilgrimage route for Buddhists travelling to sacred sites in western Bhutan and Tibet, including Druk Wangyal and the Punakha Dzong.

It was also used as a trade route, and was the only way to travel across the country until the national highway was built in the 1960s, causing the trail to fall into disuse. 

Fun fact: Cars, and driving, were not introduced to Bhutan until 1962. Remaining mostly rural to this day, its capital city of Thimphu is the only capital city in the world without a single traffic light. 

 

For the last two years, the Trans Bhutan Trail has been carefully and lovingly restored by teams of Bhutanese desuup. Known as the Guardians of Peace, the desuup are volunteers who carry out various acts of service throughout the country. From delivering medicine and groceries to the elderly to disaster relief, as well as clearing litter from hiking trails and cutting down dead trees or branches that might harm hikers. 

The desuup have helped to construct new pathways and renovate bridges, while recording cultural sites and upgrading signs along the route—a project led by the Bhutan Canada Foundation with the support of the Tourism Council of Bhutan.

Spanning more than 400km, the new and improved trail covers the whole of Bhutan from east to west, connecting hundreds of historic, cultural and spiritual sites that can once again be explored on foot or bike. 

As part of Bhutan’s commitment to environmental conservation, the hope for the trail is to allow visitors to experience a part of Bhutan that is so vital to its history, while encouraging eco-friendly tourism and giving back to the Bhutanese people.

If you plan your visit directly through the Trans Bhutan Trail organisation, all profits go back to the upkeep of the trail and the welfare of the communities that live along it.

We at Tatler were lucky enough to be one of the first guests to visit Bhutan since its re-opening, and to walk the new Trans Bhutan Trail. Stay tuned for more stories and guides to one of the world's last great kingdoms. 

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