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