The Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan, tucked high up in the Himalayas, is opening a sacred hiking trail for the first time in 60 years.
Many of us have reemerged from lockdowns with an urge to explore the world, reconnect with nature and take on fresh challenges. Maybe be one of the first to try something new?
In Bhutan, where the Gross Domestic Happiness (an indicator of the population's happiness) is assigned a priority over the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), you may be able to tick all those boxes thanks to the reopening of the ancient Trans Bhutan Trail.
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The 28-day trail, which is sponsored by the Bhutan Canada Foundation (BCF) and the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), traverses from from Haa in the west of Bhutan to Trashigang in the east (near the Tibet border) and spans 403km (250 miles).
For hundreds of years, the trail was an important trade, pilgrimage and communication route. In fact, until the 1906s when the national highway was constructed, it was the only way to travel across the country. So it isn't exactly new. But hiking the ancient trekking route will be a new experience for many younger generations of Bhutanese people and visitors who want an in-depth exploration of Bhutan's traditions and culture.
For the past two years, two teams of of De-suups (guardians) have been working to restore the Trans Bhutan Trail; constructing new pathways, renovating bridges, fixing posts, recording cultural sites and upgrading signs along the route.
"This is a community-based project in both its building and operation which will restore an ancient cultural icon and provide a sustainable, net carbon zero experience in the country for pilgrims and travelers," Sam Blyth, chair of the BCF, told CNN.
He added: "the Trans Bhutan Trail also reflects the country's philosophy of Gross National Happiness and will allow the children of Bhutan to walk in the footsteps of their ancestors."
Read more: How to book a trip to Bhutan - everything you need to know
The trail can be explored by foot or by bike and crosses through one national park and about 400 historic and cultural sites. According to Trans Bhutan Trail officials, you can complete the trail in a month or do anything in between. Whatever you like.
Treks are taken with guides as per Bhutan's visitor rules and there are various itineraries, packages and scheduled departures throughout the year. You can add activities to your trip such as biking, rafting, fly-fishing and yoga, as well as special programs for bikers, marathoners, bird watchers, spiritual travelers, photographers and more.
"The restoration of this trail will provide you with an intimate view of one of the world’s best preserved traditional cultures and environments while traversing the world’s only carbon negative country," a statement on the Trans Bhutan Trail website reads.
"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."
For more information about itineries and tour groups, see the official Trans Bhutan Trail website.
Bhutan tourist fee
Foreigners must be accompanied by local guides in Bhutan and there is a minimum daily tourist fee of US$250. This price includes three-star accommodation, meals, a private guide, internal transportation, camping equipment and haulage and most activities.
Getting to Bhutan
Bhutan has only one airport, located in Paro. Two airlines Bhutan Airlines and Druk Air fly to Bhutan from Bangkok, Singapore, Dhaka, Kathmandu, Kolkata, Delhi and other cities in India. Visitors are required by the government to book their trips through a registered tour operator. International visitors, including Americans, British and Australian visitors, must apply for a visa in advance.
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