Travel Trade Journal
Discover the depths of BHUTAN with the ancient Trans Bhutan Trail
The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan reopened to tourism on September 23, after two and a half years of border closures. However, for the first time in 60 years, the breath-taking Trans Bhutan Trail (TBT) is back with an alluring trekking experience for the adventurous seeking out nature.
The India-Bhutan border gates in Assam and West Bengal have been reopened for tourists. However, the gates have been reopened with some new rules, including a cost for sustainable development.
Bhutan recently announced that it would raise its Sustainable Development Fee (SDF) from USD 65 to USD 200 per person, per night, which will go towards projects that support Bhutan’s economic, social, environmental, and cultural development. Travellers from India are levied an SDF of Nu. 1,200 or equivalent amount in INR per person per night, which will remain in effect for two years.
The levy of SDF is not a new concept for tourism in Bhutan. The tourism industry in Bhutan was founded on the principle of ‘High Value, Low volume’, and the SDF was introduced when tourism started in the country in 1974. The levy of SDF for Indian guests was in place since 2020. Beyond protecting Bhutan’s natural environment, the SDF will also be directed towards activities that preserve Bhutan’s built and living cultural heritage, including architecture and traditional values, as well as meaningful environmental projects.
In addition to the fee, visitors from India will have to produce a voter ID card, passport, or any other identity proof at the immigration check posts, while children have to produce birth certificates. Eco-tourism, bird watching, and other tour packages have been planned by the Bhutan government for tourists.
Bhutan has exciting events planned in the next few months, including the Snowman Race, which is the ultimate race for climate action, happening on October 13, 2022. However, to get the best of Bhutan and to discover the charismatic depths of the kingdom of Bhutan, the ancient Trans Bhutan Trail is now open.
The Trail offers trekkers an inclusive and adventurous experience with nature. The Trail was named in TIME’s 50
extraordinary travel destinations around the world for 2022. Travellers on its routes can chat with local monks, students, and villagers, learning first-hand why Bhutan is the birthplace of the innovative Gross National Happiness concept. Bhutan is consistently ranked one of the happiest places on earth and holds the coveted title of one of the only carbon-negative countries in the world.
The Trans Bhutan Trail dates back to the 16th century and used to serve as a pilgrimage route for Buddhists from the east, travelling to the most sacred sites in the western region and Tibet. Bhutan is considered one of the world’s top ten biodiversity hotspots and the world’s first carbon-negative country. The 403km trail connecting nine districts, 28 local governments, and two national parks now welcomes visitors from all over the world, allowing travellers to explore the mystique of this land. The path that was once used by monks, messengers, traders, and pilgrims fell into disrepair as the national highway was constructed in the 1960s. With the foresight of His Majesty, The King of Bhutan, and the support of the Tourism Council of Bhutan, along with the Bhutan Canada Foundation, a non-profit organisation behind the restoration, led the revival of the ancient Trail, making it accessible once again to locals and visitors alike.
The Trail connects the town of Haa, in the western extremes of Bhutan and near the border with Tibet, with Trashigang in the East, bordering Arunachal Pradesh. This ancient trail runs from Haa passing through Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangi Phodrang, Trongsa, Bumthang, and Mongar. All aspects of guided walking and biking on the Trail can be arranged directly via TBT on a not-for-profit basis. The restoration of the Trail is intended both as a homage to Bhutan’s ancestors and as a gift to its present and future generations.
The Trans Bhutan Trail will give visitors an incredible insight into life in remote parts of Bhutan as they hike from east to west (or vice versa) through pristine forests, past alpine lakes, meadows, and across high passes– experiencing first-hand the country’s unique culture, cuisine, and hospitality along the way.
The Trail contributes significantly to sustainable development, setting global standards for environmental preservation. One can hike, bike, raft, and camp as they pass through spectacular scenery, ranging from mountain ridges to lush valleys, through the lush meadows and dense forests all with breath-taking views of the Himalayan peaks. The trail passes at least 400 historic and cultural sites on its way. It is hoped that the Trans Bhutan Trail will benefit the communities along the route by providing new opportunities for economic growth.
The Trans-Bhutan Trail can be hiked or biked. True adventurers can complete the trail in just over a month. Half-day and full-day treks are also available, with three, four, or seven-day section hikes expected to be popular among most visitors. The Trail offers a diverse experience for birdwatchers and botanists, photographers, rafters and runners, and those seeking spiritual, wellness, or religious fulfillment. Signature campsites, homestays, and hotels will be available along the way. Curated options for shorter-duration tours are also available.