Reviving an ancient trail

His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, Representative of His Majesty The King and the President of Bhutan Olympic Committee, formally inaugurates the Trans Bhutan Trail at a ceremony held at the historic Semtokha Dzong on 28 September

His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck inaugurated the Trans Bhutan Trial on 28 September this week

SONAM PENJOR
Thimphu

His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel UgyenWangchuck, Representative of His Majesty the King and the President of Bhutan Olympic Committee, formally inaugurated the Trans Bhutan Trail (TBT) at a ceremony held at the historic Semtokha Dzong on 28 September.

The press release from the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) states that the restoration of the TBT was conceived by His Majesty the King to revive and promote Bhutan’s ancient trail, known as the Zhung lam.

The 403-km long trail cuts through 27 Gewogs, nine Dzongkhags, and two national parks of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, and Phrumsengla National Park.

The restoration of the trail was supported by the Bhutan Canada Foundation and its founder Sam Blyth in partnership with the TCB.

Over 900 individuals across including De-Suups, Scouts, and tourism sector professionals, villagers from the community and various government institutions and corporate agencies contributed to the effort.

TBT is “a route of unification”, according to Dorji Dhradhul, director general of the TCB. In the ancient time, he said that it was used by religious personalities to spread the Buddhism, by traders to barter for products, by medieval guards and court messengers to ferry mails, and by our beloved monarchs to meet the people.

“We will be able to walk in the footprints of our ancestors as we travel along the TBT. We will also observe the sights and sound that makes Bhutan an exquisite tourist attraction,” stated Dorji Dhradhul.

The TBT journey, he added, is more than just a simple walk; it is also a study of ancient custom and an adventurous route through pristine woodland, a celebration of special cultural heritage, and a rediscovering of history.

He added, “What does it mean to believe? What do we need to believe to accomplish the aspirations of people, nation, and the King?”

Coinciding with the inauguration of the trail, TCB stated that a group of 24 young scouts are hiking the entire length of the trail – a feat that will take over 35 days.

The Scout Walk will incorporate nature-based education experiences, develop leadership and teamwork skills, support local communities through voluntary activities, and contribute to nation building.

Besides being an important symbol of national unity and a living cultural heritage, the press releases further states that TBT also provides an opportunity to contribute to the tourism sector.

Recently, the TBT was listed in TIME Magazine’s World’s Greatest Places to Visit in 2022 – highlighting unique travel destinations to visit across the globe. It has also won accolades for sustainability and community engagement.

The TBT aims to help rebound Bhutanese tourism in the post-pandemic market. The Trail contributes to the expansion of sustainable and responsible tourism by encouraging repeat visits, community-based experiences, wider seasonality, and eco-tourism.

In addition, the TBT also launched its Membership Program, which will contribute directly to the sustainability of the trail.

TCB states that there are two types of memberships – Institutional Membership and Individual Membership. Starting at only Nu 300 per person per year, the membership allows every Bhutanese and friends of Bhutan to become stewards of this important cultural heritage.

The press release further states that as a part of the membership program, all members will receive a TBT Trail Passport to document and log their trail exploration and adventures. It will help members track their journey in the footsteps of their ancestors across the nation.

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

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

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

Other benefits of membership include opportunities to plant trees along the trail, discounts on TBT partner locations and TBT merchandise, invitation to all TBT events, and members-only hikes along the trail.

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

“TBT is an important part of our history. It is a national symbol of unity; it is our cultural heritage, and it belongs to every Bhutanese. The membership program is an opportunity for all citizens to take ownership of this ancestral trail,” Sonam Rinchen said.

Meanwhile, Lyonchhen Dr Lotay Tshering, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Wangchuk Namgyel, Chairman of the National Council, Tashi Dorji, Cabinet Ministers, and other dignitaries also joined the occasion.

To commemorate the event, the prime minister led a hike from Semtokha Dzong to Punakha, covering over 35 kilometres of the trail.