Study Buddy (Challenger): 400km Trans Bhutan Trail is a model for sustainable tourism development

  • Study Buddy Challenger is for students who want to take their understanding to the next level with difficult vocabulary and questions that will test their inference skills
  • Check your reading comprehension using the questions below or in the linked Kahoot! game
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A hiker on the Trans Bhutan Trail, which winds through virgin forest, protected areas and wildlife corridors. Photo: Trans Bhutan Trail

Content provided by British Council

Read the following text, and answer questions 1-9 below:

[1] From Haa to Trashigang, the width of a country that measures its success in gross national happiness can now be counted in footsteps. The name Trans Bhutan Trail refers to both the 400km historical route across the small Himalayan kingdom and the organisation (TBT) responsible for its restoration, 60 years after it fell into disuse. Following four years of repair work, the trail is slated to reopen later this spring.

[2] Now that 18 major bridges have been rebuilt and 10,000 stairs replaced, the trail again connects nine dzongkhags (districts), 28 gewogs (local governments), two municipalities and a national park. It winds through virgin forest, protected areas and wildlife corridors. The views of soaring Himalayan peaks are panoramic, and the trail passes at least 400 historic and cultural sites.

[3] The trail’s historical significance stretches back at least 500 years; it linked dzongs (fortresses) and served as the pilgrimage route for Buddhists travelling to sacred sites in western Bhutan and Tibet. Along its length, garps (messengers) and traders rubbed shoulders with soldiers and pilgrims, all playing their part in a process that united Himalayan kingdoms and ultimately led to the birth of Bhutan as a nation in 1907. However, the trail’s stairways and footpaths fell into disrepair once the construction of roads began across the country in the 1960s.

[4] Reopening ceremonies will be hosted in the sacred city of Trongsa, which is roughly halfway along the trail. From April 2022, a limited number of permits will be issued to international travellers to hike or mountain bike the trail, in whole or in part.

[5] A month should do it, if you’re thinking of walking from one end to the other. Three-, four- and seven-day section hikes led by local guides are expected to be more popular with “birdwatchers and botanists, photographers, rafters and runners, as well as for those looking for a spiritual, wellness, or religious experience”, according to TBT, which is arranging visits on a not-for-profit basis.

[6] A main aim in restoring the trail was to create socio-economic opportunities for rural communities and contribute towards sustainable development in remote areas of the planet’s first carbon-negative country. According to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Bhutan has earned the distinction because its forests “absorb more than 9 million tonnes of carbon each year, while its economy, designed to reduce fossil fuel use and waste, produces less than 4 tonnes”.

[7] TBT has set some eco guidelines: marker posts are made from recycled plastics; single-use plastics will not be tolerated; reusable bottles will be supplied to international visitors along with filtered water for refills; and campers along the trail will be fed meals made from locally sourced, organic ingredients.

[8] Even the repaired bridges used responsibly sourced timber and sustainable forestry practices. TBT has committed to planting a tree for each trail member and international visitor, adding sapling by sapling to the 70 per cent forest cover Bhutan already enjoys.
Source: South China Morning Post, February 16


Play a Kahoot! game about this story as a class or with your friends by clicking on the link here.

Or play on your own below to test your understanding:

1. What is the “country” mentioned in paragraph 1?

2. List two attractions visitors can expect to find along the Trans Bhutan Trail according to paragraph 2?

3. Based on paragraph 3, what was the importance of the Trans Bhutan Trail to those who travelled to Tibet in the past?

4. Which of the following words can replace “rubbed shoulders” in paragraph 3?
A. healed
B. interacted
C. conspired
D. collaborated

5. Based on your understanding of paragraph 5, what is TBT doing to ensure the local community benefits from the trail?
A. By operating non-profit trips, it ensures that the money earned goes back to the people.
B. Having month-long hikes means that foreign visitors can immerse themselves in local culture.
C. It is converting unused buildings owned by locals into accommodation for tourists.
D. all of the above

6. In your own words, explain why Bhutan is known as a carbon-negative country.

7. Why does the author use the word “even” at the start of paragraph 8?
A. to highlight that TBT is truly committed to being eco-friendly
B. to showcase the local builders’ and craftsmen’s skills
C. to encourage more international visitors to the country
D. to warn visitors about the possible consequences of violating the trail’s eco guidelines

8. Decide if the following statements about the Trans Bhutan Trail are True, False or Not Given. (4 marks)
(i) It is a historic pilgrimage trail running the length of the Himalayas.
(ii) The restored trail will allow travellers to walk in the footsteps of Buddhist pilgrims from the past.
(iii) International visitors will have to apply for permits to enter the trail.
(iv) If visitors bring disposable masks and utensils to the trail, they will be fined and sent home.

9. In which section of a travel magazine might you find this article?
A. natural heritage sites
B. eco-tourism
C. cultural heritage tourism
D. all of the above

The trail connects nine dzongkhags (districts), 28 gewogs (local governments), two municipalities and a national park. Photo: Trans Bhutan Trail


1. Bhutan
2. national park / historic sites / cultural sites (any 2)
3. It was part of the pilgrimage route for Buddhists travelling to sacred sites in western Bhutan and Tibet.
4. B
5. A
6. The country’s forests absorb more carbon than its economy produces. (accept other reasonable answers)
7. A
8. (i) F; (ii) T; (iii) T; (iv) NG
9. D

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