The Trans Bhutan Trail Survey

In early March 2020, two teams set off from each end of Bhutan, to locate the ancient Trail, tracking distances, cataloguing historical and cultural sites, identifying flora and fauna, clearing dense bush and beginning the process of building a Trans Bhutan Trail Community. Its restoration would not have been possible without the assistance of countless local leaders, Desuups, National Land Commission, Forestry, the Tourism Council of Bhutan and other supporters. Below are the journals from the Survey which mark the beginnings of our story. 


Before the Expedition

We almost didn’t do it. With the first cases of coronavirus coming to Bhutan, borders closing, expats leaving, schools closing and preparations underway for the pandemic, surveying a trail didn’t seem like such a priority. But our Bhutanese partners felt strongly that we should move ahead. Why? First, at a time when working together is critical, two teams crossing Bhutan on an historic trail that hadn’t been completely walked since the 1960s, was an important symbol of national unity. Second, the journey provided an opportunity to directly educate more remote villagers about what measures were needed to protect families from Covid-19. Finally, this was going to be Bhutan’s year for tourism, identified as Lonely Planet’s ‘2020 Country of the Year’. 50,000 people in Bhutan are directly dependent on tourism and many, many more rely on them. The impact has been devastating. The TBT expedition was the only working trail crew in the country at the end of March made up of a team that would otherwise be unemployed. The information they gathered regarding trail restoration may lead to continued work for those in tourism during these difficult times.As we all become more isolated it is important to remember that Canada and Bhutan have been friends for many decades and that that friendship and mutual support will outlast this adversity. Community connection is vital to human resilience whether down the street or across the globe. BCF is proud of our ongoing commitment to this mission.

Report from the Survey Expedition
  • On Friday March 13th, two unique brigades set out on a 14-day journey in the footsteps of their ancestors. From Haa and Trashigang, teams representing a collaboration between Tourism Council of Bhutan, Desuung, National Land Survey Commission, Royal Institute for Governance and Strategic Studies journeyed across Bhutan. With lead sponsorship by the Bhutan Canada Foundation the brigades retraced, mapped and cleared the historic trail that was once a critical physical connection across the Nation.


Team East with local volunteers above Domkhar.

  • Trails are as much about building community as clearing the path. All along the route, volunteers came out in abundance to help clear, provide hospitality, share stories and walk with the teams.


Volunteers working hard to clear the trail.

  • Detailed mapping is still to be completed, however the total distance of the Trans Bhutan Trail has been estimated at 403km. Total elevation gains and losses will take a while to calculate. On several days teams climbed over 1,000m per day.


Heavy snow crossing Thringsingla.

  • Forestry, Dzongdas, community leaders local guides along the route provided vital local knowledge and support.
  • Given the recent Covid-19 global virus outbreak, the Brigades offered community health education, soap, along with hand sanitization tips to communities along the way.


Team West undertakes Covid-19 Education.

  • Wednesday, March 25th marked trail survey completion. The teams met at the historic Trongsa Dzong gates, the symbolic connection between East and West in Bhutan. Like so many travelers throughout the ages, there were sore feet, lots of stories to share, and deep connections.


East meets West with Trongsa with Dzongda, Lam and other dignitaries.

  • Tourism directly employs approximately 50,000 people in Bhutan and many more indirectly. It competes with hydro as the largest industry in Bhutan. Covid-19 has wiped out 2020 tourism and caused great economic hardship across the country. To mitigate the impact, the TBT has been requested to prepare work plans for trail improvements through which many unemployed tourism workers might be engaged in the coming months.


Trongsa Dzong: Mid-point on the TBT. The Gateway between East and West.

Kinley flagging the Trail.

Drying out by the fire at Gazamchu. Surveyors Yenten and Bikram taking a well-deserved rest.

Team West prepares their final report.

Time to explore the ruins of Zhongar Dzong.