BHUTAN : Cliff-top fortresses and rhododendron forests on a revived trekking trail.

After two and a half years of pandemic isolation, Bhutan reopened in September with changes to its longstanding ''high value, low volume'' tourism policy.

Visitors are no longer required to travel on package tours, but Bhutan's mandatory ''sustainable development fee'' increased to $200 from $65 per day. 

At the same time, the 250-mile [ 402-kilometer ] Trans Bhutan Trail, a path used for centuries as pilgrimage and communications route, reopened after a three-year restoration that mended suspension bridges, stone stairs and long-over-grown temples.

The trail stretches east to west across nearly the entire country, passing through cities, villages, farmlands and wilderness.

Depending on the route and the time of the year, trekkers might spy the snowcapped Himalayas, visit cliff-top fortresses., scale sacred mountain passes or pass through blooming rhododendron forests.

Official guides are required, and itineraries range from half a day to more than a month. Accommodations include guesthouses, home stays, luxury hotels and well-appointed campsites on each of the trail;s 28 sections.

Proceeds from trips booked with Trans Bhutan Trail, the nonprofit organization that led the restoration, go toward trail maintenance, educational programs, guide training and other community causes. [ Sara Clemence ]


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