Journeying Across the Land of the Thunder Dragon: Exploring Bhutan via the Trans Bhutan Trail

Bhutan is open and wide for all those who wish to see the unparallel Himalayan beauty. Yes, there’s a suitability fee to be paid, but that is not stopping tourists from entering and exploring our beautiful little country. With the opening of the Trans Bhutan Trail, the numbers are only expected to go higher.

Bloggers and travel journalists are already writing about their mesmerizing experiences of trekking and spending their time with Bhutanese families to get a sneak peek of our real culture.

The Trans Bhutan trail dates back to the 16th century when it was the only means of transportation for rulers, pilgrims, monks, traders and those trail runners called ‘ garps’ whose job was to deliver political messages to the dzongs ( fortress ) across the country. The Trans Bhutan Trail stretches 4033 km between the towns of Haa in the far west and Trashigang in the east and crosses 27 gewogs (villages) and nine dzongkhags (districts) of Bhutan.

The trail was no longer used as the main route of transportation after Bhutan’s first national highway was constructed in 1962.. The maintenance was totally neglected, and as a result bridges, footpaths and stairways collapsed with the passage of time.

The trail was revived after 60 years and the credit goes to the His Majesty the King whose vision was to preserve Bhutan’s unique past. He realised that the growing modernization almost left the old trail and its history forgotten.

The non-profit social enterprise, The Trans Bhutan trail organisation has been instrumental in the growth and popularity of the trail. Not only it helps to connect with the local guides but also with the local farmhouses that are letting tourists have a glimpse of rural life.
Together with the Trans Bhutan Trail organisation, the guides are setting up a Trans Bhutan Trail Passport programme. To date, there are more than 60 “Passport Ambassadors” who host visitors; they’re spread across the kingdom and most of them are women.

Through the Passport Ambassador programme, local farmers open their homes to serve tourists a traditional meal while sharing their culture and heritage with their guests. Some offer cooking demonstrations, while others indulge guests in traditional hot stone baths. For a deeper experience, travellers can even spend the night. This is truly an excellent opportunity for women who wish to contribute to the tourism sector. This partnership not only empowers women to work in tourism and earn a sustainable income but also provides guests with a deep cultural understanding and connection with some of the most remote communities and people in Bhutan.

The guests are welcomed with our traditional drinks like Suja and Jaju (spinach and milk soup) followed by lunch or dinner.

The sight of chillies drying on the rooftops of these villagers is a unique experience to foreign tourists. They are even more mesmerized to eat our Bhutanese delicacies like Emma Datshi and Margu. The food is finally finished off with Ara.

“I wanted to open the doors of my farmhouse to tourism in 2018 but then the pandemic hit and ruined my plans,” said Zangmo, one of the women opening her house to the tourists. “Then last year, a guide from the TBT knocked on my door and invited me to be an ambassador, which changed my life. Not only can I make some extra money for my family, but I also have the opportunity to interact with people from around the world and learn new things.”

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