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    Reviving the trail of unity

    Chhimi Dema  

    ANN/KUENSEL ONLINE – The paths connecting western to eastern Bhutan that served as Zhunglam from the 15th Century and that re-mained untrodden for 60 years are revived today.

    Trans Bhutan Trail (TBT), an ancient 403-kilometre (km) trail that passes through Haa, Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, Trongsa, Bumthang, Mongar, and Trashigang was launched recently. Bhutan Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck inaugurated it at Simtokha.

    The full trek will take 36 days to complete but people can opt to take different trails in the nine dzongkhags.

    Trekkers on the trail pass through 27 gewogs, 12 mountain passes, five suspension bridges, and 10 cantilever bridges, and can visit 21 temples, 77 choetens, and 30 stupas.

    The trail crosses a variety of terrain from lush rice paddies, rhododendron forests, thick wilderness, remote villages and bustling towns. It also goes through some of Bhutan’s major cities including Thimphu the capital and the royal city of Bumthang, according to TBT’s website.

    The highest point of the trail is between 3,900 and 4,000 metres above sea level. Tourism Council of Bhutan’s (TCB) Director General Dorji Dhradhul said that TBT is a ‘trail of unity’.

    His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck inagurates the Trans Bhutan Trail at Simtokha. PHOTO: KUENSEL ONLINE

    He said, “In ancient times, it was used by religious leaders to spread Buddhism, by traders to barter products, by soldiers marching towards battles, by legendary Garps to share secret messages, and most importantly, by our beloved monarchs to meet with people and thus unite the country.”

    With the development of the national highway in the 1960s, the trail was neglected to cause the bridges, footpaths and other architects to collapse. Furthermore, the separation of land holdings did not foster migration hence the use of the trail.

    The re-development of the trail started in 2018 with guidance from the king, and collaboration between TCB and the Bhutan Canada Foundation led by Sam Blyth.

    Dorji Dhradhul said that TBT is about exploring ancient traditions, an adventure through the country’s ecological inheritance, and a celebration of a unique cultural heritage. The trail is open to everyone. 

    The trekkers passing villages can opt to stay in homestays or hotels. People can experience a hike or choose different locations and days of trekking. A total of 170 QR codes are placed on the trail, each revealing information about the place. The trail also engages villagers, de-suups, scouts, and other interested individuals.

    “The Trans Bhutan Trail is a trail that unites, and the inauguration is a result of a national collaborative effort,” said Dorji Dhradhul.

    The Trans Bhutan Trail also launched its membership programme, which contributes directly to the sustainability of the trail. 

    There are two types of membership – institutional and individual.

    Starting at BTN300 per person per year, the membership allows every Bhutanese and friends of Bhutan to become stewards of the cultural heritage. 

    All members also receive TBT passports to document and log their trail exploration and adventures.

    With over 70 TBT ambassadors across the trail, users can get their passports stamped for each gewog they pass through. In addition the ambassadors are also key to delivering an authentic local experience to all trail users.

    Ambassadors belong to the local community and are shopkeepers, farmers, hoteliers and homestay owners, who are ready to help all travellers and share their stories of local legends.

    “I am excited to welcome travellers to Chungseykha. We hope to not only share our stories, but also learn about the guests and their culture,” said TBT ambassador in Phangyuel gewog in Wangdue Passang Wangdi.

    Senior TBT Project Director Sonam Rinchen said, “Together we can commit to maintaining and enhancing this ancient trail out of respect for the ancestors who built it, and as a gift to the future generations.”

    He said that the trail is an important part of Bhutanese history. “It is a national symbol of unity, it is our cultural heritage and it belongs to every Bhutanese.”

    TBT was named in TIME’s 50 extraordinary travel destinations around the world for July 2022.

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