The restored trans-Bhutan trail takes you on a chartered journey through the mountain passes and valleys of Bhutan. It is one of the many restoration projects Bhutan undertook during the COVID-19 lockdown to provide a better experience for visitors (justifying the implementation of the sustainable development fee for tourists since reopening in September). The trail is also an attempt to bring tourism to the remote areas of Bhutan.
WHAT IS THE TRANS-BHUTAN TRAIL?
The trans-Bhutan trail is an ancient mountain pathway dating back to the 16th century. Through a series of monasteries strategically built to form this route, it connected the western part of the country (Haa) to the east (Trashigang). The 403 km route, ingrained with the tales of many traders, soldiers on patrol, and royal messengers, disappeared into oblivion with the introduction of roads in the 1960s.
Today, you can once more hike the trans-Bhutan trail thanks to a team of researchers, who from memory than any form of documentation, located the original paths laid hidden by thick overgrowth, and the 1000 volunteers who hand-cut thousands of stone steps and built numerous bridges at dizzying elevations all within 3 years. To elevate the hiker’s experience are the 170 QR-coded signposts installed at each section of the trail that shares a bit of history of the surrounding area.
RELIGIOUS AND CULTURAL SIGNIFICANCE
Besides the scenic vistas, walking the trail is an act of retracing the footsteps of their ancestors and connecting with different local communities that live along the route.
There is a network of farmhouses throughout the trail that offer immersive experiences to tourists. From cooking demonstrations to hot stone baths, visitors are introduced to the rural way of life. You also get to learn about Bhutanese culture and history and unearth rich stories of the older generation.
It’s also about finding spirituality as you pass by numerous Buddhist temples such as the 300-year-old Kuenzang Choling temple. A part of the trail, locally called the “Divine madman trail,” leads to the former house of Toep Tshewang, whose house, according to legend, was struck by an arrow shot by the unorthodox 15th-century monk Drukpa Kunley (the Divine Madman) from Tibet. He later travelled to Bhutan to defeat evil spirits, and this particular part of the trail marks his footsteps.
The route: The 403 km trail traverses 4 monasteries, 21 temples, 27 villages, and 12 mountain passes. You will walk through rhododendron and pine forests and fertile valleys of buckwheat and potato fields.
Time taken: It takes 36 days to complete but you can opt to do any section of the route.
Best time to visit: March-May and October-December. January and February receive snow.
Different ways to approach the trail: Hiking, trekking, cycling, camping, backpacking
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