Friday, June 17, 2016

Devastation of Bhutan's Most Famous Trek Route

I am perhaps among the very few Bhutanese who have trekked to almost all the highest regions of the country. I have trekked the Tsokar-Tsonag-Terdalhatso-Gosung areas in Singye Dzong. I have trekked the Nagchungla and Jumokungkhar regions in Merak in the eastern parts of the country.

In the central parts of the country, I have trekked to the very base of Gangkhar Puensum - Bhutan’s highest mountain and the world’s highest unclimbed peak, and to Dhur Tsachu Bhutan’s most pristine hotspring, on the route to the world famous Snowman Trek.

In the north-west, I have trekked to the base of Jumolhari, Jichu Drake, Jo Gem, Bonte-La, Lingzhi and Chebesa. I trekked to the base of Masagang, Gungchen-Taag, Tserimgung, Tarigang and  Lunana, including to the very base of Gungchen Singye. In Haa region, I have trekked to Gonzola, Nobtsonapatra, Chundugang, Chundulhatso, Sinchulumpa etc.

Thus, because I have been to most of the treks, I can say that of all the treks, the Jumolhari Base Camp trek is the very best. It is the easiest and the most popular among the tourists with trekking on their itinerary. It is also perhaps the shortest - it can now be done in two days - even by the chilips. A seven year old kid can do the trek with ease!

On the Jumolhari Base Camp trek, one can see the most beautiful views anywhere else. In two days one arrives at a location where one can view: Jumolhari, Bhutan’s second highest peak; Jichu Drake, twin Tsophu Lakes, Bonte-La, Jo Gem, Ngele-La etc. It is for this reason that Jumolhari Base Camp trek is the most popular trek among trekkers - it is short and it is absolutely stunning. One trek group comprising of high end photographers from USA I hosted last year spent entire 6 days in Jumolhari - they refused to move - they were supposed to trek to Lingzhi and then exit through Dodena. They said that they did not believe that there can be a more beautiful place than where they were - Jumolhari base.

Even our Hon'ble Prime Minister one day told me that Jumolhari Base Camp holds the highest potential for tourism and that Bhutan should look at how to develop it to offer better experience to the trekkers.

But now it is being devastated. Look at the images below. The Bhutan Power Corporation chose to build their transmission lines right along side the trekking trails. In the process, the trail is strewn with felled trees. Notice that trekkers who pay thousands of dollars are made to negotiate their trek through a trail that is covered with trees and branches - risking injury and fatality.

Tourists who pay thousands of dollars are made to negotiate their trek through felled trees and logs that are strewn all over the trail - risking injury and fatality.

Felled trees cover the trail route while ugly transmission lines intrude on the trekkers - a far cry from the pristine wilderness that was promised the trekkers

How did the government allow this? The government surely knows the consequences of allowing BPC to destroy the country’s most famous trek route. The BPC should have been more responsible than to cause such destruction to the trail and, ultimately, wipe out Bhutan’s biggest attraction for trekkers.

How is the BPC going to compensate the country for their mindless act? Who was responsible to authorize such destruction? It is not enough to say that service delivery is their responsibility. Service delivery with responsibility should be their first duty.

One tour operator told me that one group has already cancelled their trekking trip to the Jumolhari Base Camp. We will see many more cancellations in the coming months as trekkers become aware of the devastation. Over time, this trek route will no longer draw trekkers - resulting in loss of millions of dollars in revenue. Even more worrisome, Bhutan's image as a champion of environmental conservation will take a beating.

As I said, the Bhutanese tourism industry is targeted for demolition. Look at the road-widening works - it is something that we do not need and yet it has been forced on us. Now the road is all dug up from Thimphu to Trashigang. Journey over these roads are painful, laborious, long and dangerous. The Hon’ble Minister of MoWHS had said last August that the roads will be done in three years time. I have stated that it will not be done in twenty years. She must already get the sneaky feeling that I may be right, because "pre-financing" of the road widening works have already begun.

I wish people would do things with a little bit more sensitivity - put ones heart into what one is doing. Mindlessness is becoming too rampant among the Bhutanese.



  2. Bpc didn't had Nu 755126 for realignment and tourism council was so poor and couldn't pay the amount demanded ... Feeling confused

    1. If the Australian Govt. paid for the rural electrification of this region, the cost of rerouting the lines to preserve one of Bhutan's key tourism destinations should have been included in the budget. Optionally, if tour operators around the world were told of this disastrous decision, they could have launched a campaign to raise funds to pay for the rerouting! Why weren't these options considered?

  3. Thank you for raising your voice on this. All relevant authorities have not done their job. There is wanton destruction of many many old birch and conifer trees unnecessarily - trees that have taken hundreds of years to grow. Where is the environmental championship that Bhutan shows to the world when we really need it on the ground? Many locals and visitors are terribly saddened by such large scale destruction. Locals are saying 'the government puts heavy restrictions on us even to take small amounts of timber, and then when they want to do it all rules are abandoned.' More trees have been felled than what would actually fall within the 12m corridor that BPC uses for its transmission lines. Even within the 12m there are many many old trees that did not have to be felled. This is truly sad and no one wants to do anything about it. On top of this, the large number of workers plying this trail on the power transmission works have now contributed to such a huge amount of trash that the whole stretch is strewn with garbage, further diminishing the draw of the famous Jomolhari trek! Sad indeed! But hey, we are champions of the environment - carbon negative and all. Bullshit hype and hypocrisy. I am ashamed.

    1. Those responsible for these horrible decisions should be held accountable. Of course, it now sounds like it is too late to make any difference for the Jhomolhari area.....

  4. The Phobjikha-Gogona trek was destroyed the same way. The tractor road ran alongside the trail and the sound of tractors was not a good replacement for the chirping of birds.

  5. I have the same dream to make it happen like you sir. Its a great concern and need to preserve for all the time....thanks

  6. This post resonate with what I feel about being Bhutanese and civic sense, moral responsibility of Bhutanese in general. We are big time hypocrate. Big talker. We can talk all day and night, senseless and illogical. but when it comes to actually doing and implementing, we suck big time. because we are lazy, incompetent or simply egoistic barbarian. we need to walk the talk. show not just tell. 1. politicians and leaders need to take action. But how? I feel they are not capable. well most of the leaders are talker only. And I don't have a solution for that.
    I am sad, sad by looking at the way be Bhutanese conduct our daily affairs. How we make decisions and how we work hard, put effort, how we own our country. i can go on and on ranting about our people, but i am baffled to core that I cannot come up with a solid solution. The whole crowd mentality is poor. Is it education? is it leadership?

  7. Deeply saddened by this.

    I was hoping to trek up next spring.

  8. Having been involved in promoting tourism to Bhutan for the past 30 years and having done this trek route several times myself, this is heartbreaking news. After my sadness passed, I became angry that such a disastrous decision was allowed to proceed! While rural electrification is a lofty and admirable goal, there has to be a cost and benefit analysis done. How many Bhutanese are going to benefit from these lines? What is the implication to the environment, to this popular trek route and to the tourism industry that employs so many Bhutanese? While it is true that only a small number of travelers (out of the thousands that visit Bhutan each year) actually do this trek, these types of actions damage the overall impression of travelers to the country. Bhutan is heavily promoted as an environmentally sensitive and extremely forward thinking country. Actions such as this make people wonder if those descriptions are actually true. Putting electric poles and lines along this pristine trek route would be the equivalent of putting a four lane freeway through Yosemite Valley and to what benefit, the electrification of a few households and villages? Wouldn't that money have been better spent developing solar, wind and mini hydro power for these regions, especially given their value to Bhutan and the world? Rather than just complain about this bad decision, I think it needs to be stopped and funds need to be raised to reroute or bury the lines. I would be happy to help instigate a fund raising campaign focused on that goal if it isn't already too late......

  9. Introduce micro hydro, pico hydro, wind and solar instead of pulling huge expensive overhead transmission cables across the country... where is the cost benefit analysis?

  10. The same happened with the beautiful forest up to Paro Chumphu. I have walked the Ney 7 or 8 times, and found it one of the most magical areas in Bhutan. But this year it was totally devastated, also for installation of power-lines. It looked like a war-zone, and it will take decades for the forest to recover, if it ever will. I cannot imagine that this work couldn't be done in gentle, considerate ways. It was about building one simple power-line, and for that they destroy a forest for miles?

  11. A Bhutanese company, for the Bhutanese and by the Bhutanese is negatively criticized. Reaching electricity to all is the Nation's priority but people feel that chillips are more important than fellow villagers.

    1. It is not a question of foreigners being more important. Of course, electricity is a priority for the villages. But it does not have to come at such a high price to the trekking trails. Why not use solar, with minimal environmental impact? And where trees have to be felled, they should be removed from the trail. Tourism in Bhutan generates a huge income for the country. Foreigners will stop coming when they see the mess left behind by the electricity company

  12. Kuzuzangpo from Australia Yeshey,

    I am James Irving from Bhutan & Beyond. We are a tour Operator specialising in Bhutan (since 2003) and we visit Bhutan annually ourselves plus send in on average just over 300 pax per year with a high % trekking (compared to the Bhutan average).

    Like you we are so distressed by the trekking trail destruction and this is now deeply affecting our business. We have 2 Chomolhari trek groups booked for this coming OCT and what do we now tell the 15 pax involved who have all paid significant deposits plus bought their airfares?

    We have already taken TCB to task, incl PM as Hon Chairman of the TCB, and been told, in no uncertain fashion, that they no longer want to have any correspondence from us. The sooner they are disbanded the better for Bhutan.

    Please can I ask a few questions re the trek route destruction by the construction teams:

    1. How far does the tree felling extend to along the trail?
    2. From where to where?
    3. Has there been any official Govt support for a trail clean-up before the coming trekking season?

    We pledge our support to you and anybody in Bhutan who wants to'save your tourism industry' which frankly, from our perspective, is in a one-way downwards spiral. It is a very sad moment indeed from nation priding itself on being 'pristine'. No longer it seems.

    Tashi delek, James Irving / Bhutan & Beyond Australia. E: