Someone from outside wanted me to update him on the state of affairs in our tourism industry. The following is what I wrote back to him:
Thank you for your long, long mail. I am happy that there are many around the world who genuinely care for Bhutan.
I would be happy to discuss trekking in Bhutan but as you have seen from my posts and others in the papers, there is nothing heartwarming to tell you about the state of tourism and trekking in Bhutan. There seems to be a deliberate attempt to destroy the industry.
The road widening works that was started last year has caused huge dip in tourist arrivals. Even local Bhutanese dread driving between Thimphu and Trashigang since the road has been dug up and travel over them is a painful experience. The government has promised that the road will be done in 3 years - one year is already passed and even that stretch of road that was started more than 15 years back - Simtokha - Metsina - is still not done. So I cannot imagine how the government is going to complete over 400 KMs of road in 3 years. Strangely, we do not need to widen our roads - but to pave it well and maintain it well. I suspect that we have been made a victim of a greater scheme in which Bhutan wants no part.
Before the widening works was started I had suggested that even if we must undertake the work, we should do the work in short stretches - to minimize wholesale destruction to the roads. That suggestion was ignored and now the entire stretch from Thimphu to Trashigang is in shambles.
Thousands of tons of earth and boulder are dumped below the road - in the process causing destruction to trees that have taken hundreds of years to grow and mature. The bushes and forests through which the roads run are home to hundred of bird and animal species - their homes have been invaded and entire ecosystem has been altered irreversibly. The mountain sides that now resemble patches of warzones are a sight that breaks your heart. If a champion of environmental conservation - such as Bhutan - can act so irresponsibly, what chance does this earth have - in the hands of those who are said to be less responsible towards the environment and its conservation?
One stretch of road in the East - Sengore to Yongkala - is famed for the birding opportunity it provides to the world birding community. Over the coming years that too will be destroyed by the road widening works thereby effectively ending Bhutan’s claim to being the birding capital of the world.
Our most famous trekking route is now ruined. Most other routes will be destroyed too - because we are incapable of doing things with responsibility and feeling. So there does not seem to be anything useful to talk about our tourism.
And yet, tourism is Bhutan’s biggest industry that employs the largest number of people - across the broad spectrum of Bhutanese society. It beats hydro-power hands down - both in terms of providing jobs as well as real (not perceived) income to the people and the government. And yet, there is a mindless rush to do hydro-power projects that has already enslaved many future generations of Bhutanese.
All that I know is that we need to protect our tourism industry. Despite all that is not going well, Bhutan still holds allure to many around the world. At an individual level, even in very small ways, I am committed to doing what I can to promote and energize tourism in Bhutan.