60 Years on, Bhutan Will Reopen 430km ‘Footpath of Warrior Monks’

In March of 2022, Bhutan will restart its historic Trans Bhutan Trail, a 430km footpath that runs through the Himalayan nation, connecting east to west.

Once well-maintained by its many anointed “trail runners”, it fell out of use when Bhutan introduced its national road system in the 1960s. It was closed by Bhutanese authorities shortly thereafter.

Now, after 60 years of closure, the Tourism Council of Bhutan and the Bhutan Canada Foundation (BCF) are ready to reopen the ancient trail to Bhutanese locals and international visitors alike.

From tip to toe, the Trans Bhutan Trail encounters 400 cultural and historic sites, including fortresses, monasteries, and a national park. A thru-hike takes 28-30 days and carries hikers from Bhutan’s eastern province of Tashigang to Haa in the west. Shorter itineraries and tours by bicycle will be optionable, as well.

Chain bridge of Tamchong Lhakhang Monastery in Bhutan. Photo: Sabine Hortebusch

Tamchong Lhakhang Monastery. Photo: Sabine Hortebusch


Trans Bhutan Trail Restoration

Efforts to revitalize the Trans Bhutan Trail began in 2018 as a joint project between the Tourism Council and BCF.

In that time, teams of specially appointed volunteers, or De-suups, have restored all 430km. Working the entire length of the route on foot and by hand, the De-suups have forged new footpaths, remediated crossings, mended and updated signage, and recorded points of interest along the way.

Officials undertook the restoration to unearth the centuries of storied history within Bhutan.

According to BCF chair Sam Blyth, the project has been community-based. It aims to “restore an ancient cultural icon and provide a sustainable, net carbon zero experience in the country for pilgrims and travelers.”

Path leading to the Tigers Nest. Photo: Wantanee Chantasilp

A path leading to the Tigers Nest monastery. Photo: Wantanee Chantasilp


History of the Trans Bhutan Trail

The trail dates back to the 16th century when it served as the Buddhist kingdom’s trans-regional thoroughfare. For several centuries, it strung together the region’s monasteries and fortresses, enabled trade, and provided monks with a means of pilgrimage to sacred sites.

Historians call it the mechanism that unionized the royal kingdom’s provinces and ultimately culminated in Bhutanese nationalization in 1906.

“By walking or cycling the Trans Bhutan Trail, you will immerse yourself in generations’ worth of stories, and become a piece of a unique part of the country’s history,” promise the Trans Bhutan Trail’s organizers.

For more information, visit transbhutantrail.com.

The Trans Bhutan Trail will encounter over 400 cultural and historic sites.

Monastic service within the Bhutanese Himalaya. Photo: Kateryna Mashkevych

Jilli grew up in the rural southern Colorado mountains, later moving to Texas for college. After seven years in corporate consulting, she was introduced to sport climbing. In 2020, Jilli left her corporate position to pursue an outdoor-oriented life. She now works as a contributor, an editor, and a gear tester for ExplorersWeb and various other outlets within the AllGear network. She is based out of Austin, Texas where she takes up residence with her climbing gear and one-eared blue heeler, George Michael.

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Louis-Philippe Loncke
4 months ago

I spent the arvo (afternoon in aussie) to check all about this trail as perhaps trying to do something, here are my conclusions: -doing it unsupported. Possible but will not be accepted -running for FKT : should not be done as it is not in the mindset of the country (see the people/respect and consume locally) by runnning it in 4-5 days one would disturb the villages and not see the locals -of course the main issue is the cost: the end to end trek is +11.000 USD and in general a 1 day stay in the country is 250… Read more »