Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Roads of Doom? Part III

At one time during my various trips within the country, I started my journey from Bumthang at the ungodly hour of 3.30AM. This was necessary because I had to make it to Nobding before 9AM – when they open the road for traffic until 9.30AM – only to be stranded at Tekezampa road closure.

There were occasions when I required my guests to get up at 4.00AM in the morning so they can start their journey from Thimphu at 5AM – in order that they can beat the road closure at Lamperi. I offered the excuse that they needed to cross Lamperi before 8.00AM after which the road would close for traffic until 10.00AM. That is a lousy excuse for visitors who pay US$250.00 a day and more, to be asked to get up at 4AM - merely to beat a road closure.

And we think we are doing them a great favor!

A few days back, I heard of a tour group that started from Phobjikha towards Paro. By the time they reached Wangduephodrang - a distance of around 60 KMs - they were so fatigued and tired and frustrated by the roadblocks that they did not wish to proceed any further. The tour operator had to accept an unplanned night halt at Punakha, at great expense.

Another group traveling from Phobjikha to Haa also ended up night halting at Thimphu - because the tourists were so tired and frustrated by the numerous stoppages at road closures - that they refused to go beyond Thimphu. The tour operator had to arrange hotel accommodation in Thimphu and pay for the cancellation at Haa.

A few days back, a tour operator providing bird watching trips arranged for camping at Pele-La so they could do early bird watching in that area. Unfortunately he found that the road closure at Nobding opened at 9.00 and gave him only half hour to pass Tekezam before the road closed for traffic. Thus he was faced with a choice: either do bird watching in the area and be prepared to be stranded for hours at Tekezampa or beat the road closure at Tekezampa and miss bird watching in that area which was the sole reason for camping at Pele-La.

I can bet my last Chettrum that these are not stray incidences – there must be many such horror stories out there.

What kind of experiences are we giving the tourists? What horror stories will be told other prospective visitors, when these beleaguered tourists go back home?

The road-widening project has been a source of great worry for the tour operators and the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) - the regulatory authority that oversees tourism in Bhutan. About two weeks back, some members of the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) and the officers of the TCB made a joint/separate representation to the National Council of Bhutan - to do something about it. I have no idea if something has come of it. However I have been witness to a gathering of the following luminaries at Lamperi, on Sunday the 12th April, 2015 when I was on my way to Trongsa. I am encouraged to believe that they were on a field trip to make amends, hopefully:

Lyonpo Dorji Chhoden, Minister of Works & Human Settlement
His Excellency Indian Ambassador Gautam Bambawale
Dr. Sonam Tenzing, Secretary, Ministry of Works & Human Settlement
Aum Chhimmy Pem, Director, Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB)
Aum Tashi Wangmo, Eminent Member, National Council of Bhutan
And many others I didn't have the time to see or recognize.

It is my hope that something useful has emerged from the above people gathering at Lamperi. They need to do something URGENTLY - or see the tourist arrivals dwindle in the coming years. All that hard work for the past many years would have gone down the drain if we allow the only industry that has any chance of redeeming this country from the stranglehold of debt and despair that we now find ourselves in, to be run into the ground becuase we are incapable of better planning and foresight.

And for what? For the cause of a wide, wide road that we do not even know we need? be continued

No comments:

Post a Comment