Hiking in Bhutan – on an ancient trail
In March this year, 2022, the Kingdom of Bhutan will reopen the ancient Trans Bhutan Trail for the first time in 60 years. After two years of extensive restoration, the trail will be officially inaugurated by His Majesty the King of Bhutan. It was his vision to restore the ancient route for tourism, adventure and connection. International tourists will be able to walk the trail for the first time in April, providing a much-needed financial boost to rural communities along the trail.
G Adventures, a pioneer in community tourism, 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 with G Adventures are now available to book. Choose the 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 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.
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 organisation.
“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. Our new trips cover the highlights of the trail as hikers traverse forests and meadows and travel through rural settlements around the Dzongs. Travellers can expect an average of three to four hours of hiking each day and delicious local meals each night, whether they are camping or staying in homestays, hotels or local guest houses,” 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.
“Spanning the world’s only carbon negative country, the Trans Bhutan Trail also reflects the country’s philosophy of Gross National Happiness and enables the children of Bhutan to continue to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors. It’s our vision that one day the Trans Bhutan Trail will be considered one of the great walks of the world,” says Blyth.
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. Both are available to book now and include the permits required to walk the trail. For more information on G Adventures, please visit www.gadventures.com. For more information on the Trans Bhutan Trail see https://transbhutantrail.bt.