A first-person account of the Trans Bhutan Trail: memories of connection and community in one of the world’s most remote destinations
By: Heidi Durflinger, President of EF Go Ahead Tours
The beauty of Bhutan struck me before I even set foot in the country. As I flew into the town of Paro, I was awed by views of the Himalayas and fields of rice paddies—it felt like I was in a fairytale. I came to Bhutan in September 2022 as part of a travel delegation attending the inauguration of the Trans Bhutan Trail, but I found that the splendor of the country stretches far beyond the reaches of the 250-mile trail.
For the past several years, the Bhutanese people have worked together to restore this pilgrimage and transportation route, which has connected villages and regions across the country for centuries. Joining the celebration of the site’s reopening after 60 years was an honor, and it was incredibly peaceful and scenic to walk along the trail, over bridges, across streams, through forests, and past fields. I felt a strong sense of community in every village and home we were welcomed into throughout the journey. After hiking to Lingmukha, villagers invited us to sit down for a cup of traditional butter tea paired with a lunch of red rice, peppers with cheese, and green beans. They were so kind and generous, and they shared how hopeful they are about the jobs the trail can bring to the community.
The Bhutanese people have a strong belief in the value of community and helping one another, and the trail’s reopening has allowed them to stay connected and continue telling the story of their country. My favorite part of going on our tours is learning the stories behind the places we visit and connecting with the people who call those places home. Our mission at EF Go Ahead Tours is to open the world through education, and our tours aim to bring history to life and highlight how it’s shaped culture today. While travelers will soak up the country’s beauty on our guided tour of Bhutan, it’s the stories, shared meals, and conversations that make the adventure so special and immersive. Shared moments across cultures allow us to not only see a place, but truly experience it.
Traveling to Bhutan with a group and following a thoughtfully planned itinerary alongside local guides allowed me to gain a deeper connection to the country. The local experts knew the best paths to hike to bring us to remote villages and connect us with the true beauty of the country: the people. As my group and I hiked along the trail on the day of the grand reopening, people in the community handed out butter tea and apples. Everyone was so giving and we ended the day dancing, singing, and celebrating a trail that connects people and brings stories of the past, present, and future to life.
I felt this sense of community throughout my trip, but it culminated during my visit to Tiger’s Nest, which is a sacred Buddhist pilgrimage site and one of the most well-known places in Bhutan. As my group and I climbed the last of the 700 steps leading to Tiger’s Nest, we rounded the corner to the monastery and saw Buddhist monks who had journeyed across the country to come here. They were all singing and chanting prayers in unison. That, paired with the view of the sacred site tucked into the Himalayan mountains, had me in tears. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Seeing the world has taught me to be present and soak in these moments, and trips like this inspire me to reflect on just how much travel gives us. When traveling, it’s the beautiful connections that have stuck with me the most. I look forward to seeing how the reopening of the Trans Bhutan Trail and our new guided tour offers this same opportunity to more travelers across the globe.
All Photos Courtesy of Heidi Durflinger
About the Author
Heidi Durflinger, President of EF Go Ahead Tours, has 20 years of experience in the travel industry in both direct-to-consumer and group affinity educational travel. Heidi’s extensive background in the travel sector includes sales strategy and leadership, customer experience, market innovation and development, quality control, and risk management. Her interest in cultural exchange stems from childhood. Her family brought the world to her small hometown in Kansas by hosting international students for 10 years, giving her a truly global extended family. She has lived in Mexico and Spain, and is currently based out of the EF Go Ahead Tours Boston office. Wellness, adventure, food, fitness, and travel are her passions.
About EF Go Ahead Tours
EF Go Ahead Tours offers more than 200 guided trips across six continents. Every tour is carefully planned with a maximum group size well below the industry average and has the perfect balance of guided sightseeing and free time to explore. EF Go Ahead Tours is a division of EF Education First, the world’s largest international education company, which was founded in 1965. The company’s mission is to open the world through education, and they have over 600 offices and schools in 50 countries.