Friday, October 25, 2013

Made In China, Littered in Bhutan

Few years back when I went to the Alpine regions of Dhur in Bumthang to photograph the collection of Cordyceps, I came back totally disgusted by the amount of litter strewn on the grounds at altitudes in excess of 16,000 ft. The litter included plastic wrappings of precooked noodles to beer cans and bottles with Chinese markings. At that altitude, the culprits have got to be the Cordyceps collectors. Another problem I noticed was the desecration of the fragile Alpine flora.

 The kinky, crinkly half-worm, half-grass wonder called Cordyceps sinensis

 This time during my trip to Lunana, the litter was even more but it was evident that the cause of it was the local residents. But strangely, 95% of the litter had Chinese markings - they included plastic wrappings, cans and bottles of beverages, cigarette packets, paper cartons - the works. This can mean only one thing - there is good bit of trade between these areas and Tibet China. And why not - Phari’s proximity to these areas makes good business sense. Thanza is about 9 days from the nearest road head in Gasa. Phari is probably only 2 days away. I am told that trading goods bought in the Chinese bazaar across the border can fetch handsome profits - as much as Nu.60-70,000.00 with an investment of as little as Nu.10,000.00. Even more attractive, I am told by some youth in the area that the girls there are like Khandums (celestial nymphs) - simply irresistible. That seems to be part appeal for the burgeoning illegal Cordyceps trade across the border - including the fact that the traders there offer better prices for the kinky worms.

 Made In China, Littered in Bhutan

At Ganglakarchung campsite, part of the litter was an empty bottle of red wine. Now the craggy Bjops cant be drinking wine at that altitude - they are all completely sold on Black Mountain Whiskey or Druk 11000 lager beer. This means that the litter must have been generated by the support team of tourist groups - irresponsible and poorly educated guides, most likely.


  1. Littering is one of the biggest issues in our country. With increase in import of junk food, the amount of garbage has increased by many folds. Our landfills are virtually overflowing with garbage, and serene remote places are littered with garbage.

    The worst is our people have accepted the existence of garbage recklessly strewn everywhere. Most people seem to be least bothered by clogged drains, polluted water bodies, and cattle eating garbage. Despite many clean up campaigns initiated by local and government authorities, our public seem to accept cleaning up garbage as a collective social responsibility.

    I am beginning to wonder how we can effectively deal with the issue of littering in Bhutan. I am wondering if we are doing enough on educating the youth and adults, if we are recycling enough, and whether we have and implement robust policies of garbage management.

    If not dealt properly and timely, our country will be literally filled with rubbish in every nook and corner. Such a situation will downgrade our ranking as one of the favorite tourist destinations.

  2. What we need are stringent laws to deter littering. Severe, monetary penalties may just work. Everything is taken for granted from littering to spitting out doma and rubbing the lime anywhere convenient.

  3. I would request the author and the readers to look at the Waste Management Regulations of 2012 and check if any of its clauses are being implemented anywhere. Dealing with issues from urinating in public to spitting doma juices to washing vehicles along streams are well articulated in the regulation.

    Many will agree that we are very good at making rules and regulations, but often very poor at implementing. Once the rules are made by an organization, it is automatically assumed that people will follow them, and there is hardly any monitoring and evaluation of the laws and regulations.

    Yes, there is no denying that we need stringent laws, but we need to first start with soft and simple clauses to appeal to the general public. Depending on the progress of compliance, we can make the law softer or rigid. Laws have to evolve with changing circumstances.

    On the issue of littering in high altitude places, there has been growing concerns that guides are not implementing the regulations imposed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. Given the shortage of manpower at TCB, there are very few instances of monitoring and inspections at the point of entry and exit of a trekking trail.

    Like the author has pointed, favored by proximity to the Chinese side, our bjops are bring in lots of trashes from our northern neighbor. There is absolutely no proper mechanism to deal with such recent influx of junkies and consequent accumulation of garbage in our water towers. Most of our major rivers stem from the alpine rangelands and screes which are increasingly getting polluted with plastics, bottles, and tins. Presumptuously, some dangerous chemicals could leach and find their way in our drinking water.

    While trekking along Jhomolari route, I have encountered many tourists who were very much displeased with plastic bottles, wrappers, and papers strewn all over the trails. I have also seen many negative reviews on travelogues prompted by their disgust at seeing littered areas.

    While TCB and our government attempt to market our country as a top tourist destination, we need to do some cleaning up in our country to make it more appealing to wealthy tourists. By all accounts, Bhutan is a beautiful and unique country, but our tacit acceptance of careless garbage dumping will prove to be counterproductive.