Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Whiskey In This Bar Surely Must Taste Ethereal

In a land filled with half-hearted people, I was so encouraged to see someone put in so much effort to do a good job.

Look at the extent of trouble he went to, to design and fabricate his Bar’s signboard. It is simply beautiful! The person must surely be a fastidious one. Look at the detailing of the K5 bottle and the box. Simply exquisite!

I hope the Bar is doing great business. Readers, please go take a swig!

Hand-carved with love: What a masterpiece of a Signboard

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Zhemgang Dzongkhag Unplucked!

As a Zhemgangpa (please to the note: I am not using the term Khengpa) I am under pressure from a number of people to blog on the issue of Zhemgang being unceremoniously removed from the tourism flagship program. I cannot understand what the brouhaha over the issue is all about. Have these people understood that under the flagship program, each of the four designated Dzongkhags is supposed to get a funding allocation of Nu.11.00 million each? Now ask yourselves - what does this generous Nu.11.00 million amount to?


That is all Nu.11.00 million is worth, nothing more, nothing less!

If anyone were to make noise over the issue, there should be two reasons:

1.  It is an insult of some kind to the Zhemgangpas – because we have been replaced by a Dzongkhag that is
     in the tourism negative list. Imagine!
2.  It is unconstitutional, once the matter has been passed by the NA.

Other than the above two, the unflagging of Zhemgang Dzongkhag will not matter in the least. In Thimphu Nu.11.00 million won’t build a three-storied building.

There – I did my duty as a Zhemgangpa. RIP

Zhemgang Dzong with the Black Mountain range in the background

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The March of Money: Part IX

In my post on the March of Money, some information were left out. And there were some inaccuracies. Please refer to my post: The March of Money: Part VI

The list of terms we used for our money was incomplete. The list has since been updated as follows:

Maar-trum           - red coin or copper coin
Zung-trum           - bronze coin
Ser-trum               - gold coin
Debai Tikchung - silver coin
Tiru                     - money
Thala                   - half money
Shiki                    - quarter money
Ngultrum            - silver coin
Chetrum            - half coin

The most extensively used coin before the paper money came into being in 1974 was the Thala which was denominated “Jatrum Ched” and coined since 1928. Going by how the term was spelt, the literal translation of this term would be: “Ja (Jaga) Trum (Coin) Ched (Half)” meaning Half Indian Rupee.

A knowledgeable senior citizen argues that the terms "Ngultrum" and "Chetrum" should have never been coined and applied to our currency. According to him, it is incorrect. He explained that "Ngultrum" means "Silver Coin" and "Chetrum" means "Half Coin". According to him, paper money is not coin and half coin cannot be a unit of currency.

Another knowledgeable person I spoke to said that our paper money should rightly be called “Shoglor” meaning Shog (paper) Lor (money).

The other very popular silver coin that was in use those days was the "Boetrum". I removed it from the above list since I realized that "Boe" means Tibet. So it is not our coin. I pointed this out to some one in our National Museum, Paro, when I went there to look at their collection of coins and found that the Boetrum was on display in their display case.

Tibetan silver coin that was known as Boetrum

Monday, July 15, 2019

History Of Tourism In Bhutan: PART V of V

Tour Operation Licensing
The earliest tour operator was the DoT/BTC. I suspect that they did not even have a license to conduct tourism business. When the business was privatized in 1991, the only officially authorized tour operator was the private sector monopoly - Bhutan Tourism Corporation Limited (BTCL). Other operators were categorized as sub-contractors, without the right to operate tours independently. That situation changed - after the government relented and a total of 33 tour operators came into being, by 1993 when, once again the government suspended the issue of tour operators' licenses. The earliest 33 tour operators were the following:

1.    Bhutan Tourism Corporation Limited
2.    Etho Metho Tours & Travels
3.    Yangphel Tours & Travels
4.    Bhutan Mandala Tours & Treks
5.    International Treks & Tours
6.    Takin Travels & Tours Co.
7.    Gangri Tours & Trekking Co.
8.    Be Yul Excursion
9.    Bhutan Adventure Private Ltd.
10.  Dragon Trekkers & Tours
11.  Thoesam Tours & Treks
12.  Tashi Tours & Travels
13.  Yod Sel Tours
14.  Chhundu Travels & Tours
15.  Yu Druk Tours & Travels
16.  Reekor Tours & Travels
17.  Khorlo Tours & Treks (Raven)
18.  Kinga Tours & Trekking Ltd.
19.  Lhomen Tours & Trekking Co.
20.  Lama Treks & Tours
21.  Taktshang Tours & Travels
22.  Namsey Adventures (Menjong)
23.  Bhutan Shangrila Tours & Travels (Lotey)
24.  Rinchen Tours & Treks
25.  Yeti Tours & Trekking
26.  Masagang Tours & Travels
27.  Bhutan Tours & Travels
28.  Bhutan Treks & Tours Company
29.  Singye Travel Service
30.  Dekiling Tours & Treks
31.  Kubera Tours & Treks
32.  Bhutan Cultural Tours & Treks
33.  Bhutan Travel Bureau

Along with a cap on licenses at 33, knowingly or unknowingly, the government discouraged competition by keeping the license fee very high. When the cap of 33 was in force, the license fee was as following:

1. Registration Fee             Nu.    1,000.00
2. Annual License Fee       Nu.   25,000.00
3. Security Deposit            Nu. 100,000.00
        TOTAL.                       Nu. 126,000.00

The security deposit requirement was done away with, in 2000 that resulted in a surge in numbers of licenses issued - from 33 in the 1990’s, to 116 by 2001.

Minimum Daily Tariff
The steady growth of the tourism industry in Bhutan should be credited to the sound policy of “High-Value Low-Volume” adopted from day one of the start of tourism business in the country. It helped keep away the backpacking variety of tourists, while ensuring that there was no pressure on the environment. The policy was also intended to prevent cultural dilution. Few may recall that those days when Bhutan embarked on the journey of tourism, the Hippie culture was overwhelming neighboring Nepal.

The High-Value Low-Volume policy when initially adopted was intended to keep the “volume low” through high tariff imposition. More recently, this policy has been rephrased to read “High-Value Low-Impact”. While the government has been truly imaginative in rewording the policy to suite the changing needs, it has failed to be equally imaginative - in preparing for the “high volume” inflow of “low impact” tourists. Other than the unregulated burgeoning of hotel rooms, the country’s carrying capacity in other areas is totally mismatched.

The Minimum Daily Tariff was fixed at the following rates:

1974 US$130.00 per person per night halt
1989 US$ 200.00 per person per night halt
2012 US$250.00 per person per night halt

It is remarkable that in the last 45 years, there have been only two tariff changes.

Visa Application Process
THERE WAS NONE - because those days Bhutan did not have a system of issuing Visas. However, since the tourists had to enter Bhutan overland through the restricted Indian territory of West Bengal, the DoT/BTC had to obtain a Restricted Area Permit called “Innerline Permit”. This was issued from New Delhi. This was a real problem and took anywhere up to six months to obtain.

The process of clearing the Innerline Permit from New Delhi was tedious because those heady days there was no Internet, no Fax machines, no Telex or Telegram. The information had to be conveyed to the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in New Delhi - over the Wireless sets - in Morse codes. The clearance of the Innerline Permits was also relayed over wireless. Much later, Telegrams and Telex communications came into being.

Tour Payment
During the early days, most often, tour payments used to be received in CASH. After few years, bank drafts were used, including depositing into the Bank of Bhutan’s bank accounts in select Indian cities.

Dominic Sitling remembers that he had to make regular trips to Bombay, Calcutta and New Delhi, to collect outstanding tour payments from tour agents.

All tour payments were deposited with the Ministry of Finance. The DoT/BTC was given annual budgets to cover their administrative costs and to pay for expenses to host tourists.

Tourist Arrivals
The first year of start of tourism in Bhutan (1974) saw a number of 274 tourist arrivals. By end 2001, the number had shot up to 6,393 arrivals.

Number of Tour Guides
There were 10 tour guides in 1974. The number, as of today, stands at 4,335.

Total Number of Tour Operators
In 1974 when the tourism business started, there was only one unlicensed tour operator. As of end of 2018, the number of tour operation licenses registered with the TCB stood at around 2,300.

Tourism is among Bhutan’s most vital industries - even more vital than hydropower, as it stands now. Unlike hydropower, tourism is a net gain industry - there are no loans to service and no punishing interests to be paid to foreign governments. It is the biggest employer - many, many folds more than the hydropower. Its benefit is accrued across the whole spectrum of the Bhutanese society - pony drivers, vegetable vendors, farmers, vehicle owners, hoteliers, guides, drivers, shop owners, restauranteurs, weavers, Thanka painters etc.

But this industry is now in danger of being besieged with a multiple of problems - the most damaging with serious long-term implications being the emergence of FRONTING. Surprisingly, this is barely spoken about. Undercutting is another - but this is a malice that will be difficult to control, for the simple reason that in most cases, it cannot be proven.

The root cause of most of the above problems is: poor regulation and enforcement by the regulator: Tourism Council of Bhutan. Undercutting happens because the business is unregulated. Bad debt happens because there is poor regulation. Poor service delivery happens because there is no regulation. Guides don’t wear their badges even when required by rules, because there is no regulation. The rampant incidences of accommodating tourists in unauthorized accommodations happen because there is poor regulation.

The Tourism Council and the government talk of billions of ngulturns to do flagships and starships, and yet the regulatory authority that oversees an industry that generates millions of dollars laments that they do not have money to induct 10-20 inspectors to improve the system. It is for this reason that I adamantly refuse to blog on the matter relating to removal of Zhemgang from the tourism flagship program. It will not matter in the least bit.

But now there is another elephant in the room - the tendency to be confused between the need to control, as opposed to the need to regulate. The crushing numbers of the regional tourists is causing some to be very jumpy, unduly.

It is time that we bring to focus our new mantra - “High Value Low Impact” tourism. I do not believe that the need to tweak the original mantra was because there was a need to curtail volume. I think the collective aspiration was to keep increasing the volume, while ensuring that there is the least bit of impact on the environment, our living spaces, on our road network, parking spaces, and cultural and religious sites. Today the reality is that the carrying capacity has not kept pace with the progress of the industry, other than the hotel industry. In rest of the service chain, there is complete mismatch. Look at our domestic airports - it is shameful and dangerous - they are not equipped with Bowsers. The national flag carrier has completely deviated from its principal responsibility. Today it is coerced into exacting a heavy cost on the tourism industry. They have lost track of the reason why they are the national flag carrier.

Our problem is that we are forever stuck at talking - it is time that we graduate to doing. We have screwed up our hydropower policy – lets not do it with tourism.

Today regional tourism is a topic that is flogged at every occasion. I wonder if there is another way of looking at it? Say, as an opportunity? Isn’t it possible that we could come up with ways and means whereby neither the snake is killed, nor the stick is broken?


Sunday, July 14, 2019

History Of Tourism In Bhutan: PART IV of V

Privatization of Tourism Business
There were some truly significant and direct interventions by His Majesty the 4th Druk Gyalpo - in areas of business and trade. I recall that one of the most significant was the nationalization of cardamom plantation and timber trade, in 1979. The other was the de-monopolization of dealerships - a policy that was well intended - unfortunately, very poorly implemented by the Trade Ministry. But privatization of tourism business has got to be the most impactful. Unfortunately, yet again, the government hashed it up during implementation, although it self-corrected eventually.

Late Gaseb Dorji Gyeltshen of the DoT/BTC masterminded the privatization of Bhutan’s tourism business. He is credited as the brains and the moving force behind the tourism privatization initiative. It resulted in the emergence of the private sector monopoly that came to be known as Bhutan Tourism Corporation Limited (BTCL), in 1991. This entity exists to this day - with the same name.

In a sense the BTCL is the direct offshoot of the erstwhile BTC of the government, because it inherited all the business of the BTC. Like its predecessor the BTC, BTCL aspired to be a monopoly. And they did - for a very short while. Unfortunately, the floodgates were open and there was no stopping the spillage. As the inheritors of the monopoly that was the BTC, the BTCL took it upon themselves to be the sole player in the game. That wasn’t to be - other private operators, some of whom were playing the field as early as the early 80’s, were up in arms. They complained bitterly to the government against the monopolization of the business. The government relented. But true to character, they once again hashed it up.

Instead of de-monopolizing the business entirely, they limited the issue of tour operators’ license to just - 33.

The tourism business was emerging as one of the most lucrative businesses - but there were no licenses to be had. The government  had put a freeze on the issue of new licenses. There was a cap put in place - at 33 licenses. No new licenses were being issued - a situation ripe for manipulation by the immoral and the unethical. That is what happened - tour operators' licenses came to be sold in the black market, like the vehicle quotas, at premiums as high as 2 million Ngultrums per license. That ended when the government decided to remove the cap, as of 2000.

The major and initial promoters of the BTCL, during its formative years were:

1.  Late Gasep Dorji Gyeltshen
2.  Dasho Ugyen Dorji of Lhaki Group
3.  Late Yub Ugyen Dorji
4.  Late Lhenkey Gyeltshen
5.  Aum Namgey Om
6.  Aum Shekhar
7.  Pasang Dorji of Karma Steel
8.  Omtey Penjore of Yarkey Group

There were other investors in the company - but they were minor shareholders.

By 2001, a total of 116 tour operators were registered with the TCB. However, only 80 of them were active. Of these, the top 10 operators handled 67% of the business.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

History Of Tourism In Bhutan: PART III of V

First Tour Guides
Ten of Bhutan's earliest tour guides were recruited on 1st January, 1974. They were:

1. Gandhi Nawang Dorji of Nawang Woods
2. Nim Gyaltshen of Etho Metho Tours
3. Karchung of Bhutan Lhomen Adventure
4. Late Kheng Sonam
5. Aku Chewang
6. Pema Chophel
7. Tseten Gyeltshen
8. Late Kinley Wangdi
9. Rapey Kinga
10. Kunzang Wangchuk

These ten received rudimentary guiding training so that they could be used to take care of the VIPs attending the Coronation ceremony of 2nd June, 1974.

First Tour Group
Bhutan’s first paying tourist group arrived Bhutan on 2nd October, 1974. The group was led by an American of Swedish descend - Lars-Eric Lindblad, founder of Lindblad Travel, Connecticut, USA. There were 12 in the group. The group came through an Indian tour agent - Summit Tours of Fr Richard McDonald of Darjeeling.

Lars-Eric Lindblad who led the first-ever tour group to Bhutan in 1974

Bhutan’s First Cultural Guides
Gandhi Nawang Dorji and Tseten Gyeltshen were the country’s first two cultural guides. They guided Bhutan’s first tour group led by the American Lars-Eric Lindblad.

Gandhi Nawang Dorji, one of the two first cultural guides who guided Bhutan's first tour group in 1974

Dominic Sitling recalls that the tour group entered Bhutan through India, organized by the Company Chairman Mr. Rana of Mercury Travels, New Delhi.

Nim Gyaltshen, one of Bhutan's first 10 tour guides - now a part-owner of Etho Metho - remembers that tour leader Lars-Eric Lindblad paid the tour cost in CASH. Electronic transfer of funds was unheard of during those early days.

Mr. Karma Sonam was a guesthouse waiter at the government guesthouse in Motithang, in the year 1971 - when he was just 19 years old. He now operates a laundry service in Thimphu. He recalls that the first Director of the Department of Tourism was late Dasho Tseten Dorji - who also doubled as the Personal Secretary to HRH Ashi Sonam Choden Wanghuck.

Karma Sonam as he looks now, at 67 years of age

Karma Sonam vividly remembers that Dasho Tseten Dorji went down all the way to Kharbandi Hotel in Phuentsholing - to conduct Bhutan’s first tour group, headed by Lars-Eric Lindblad to Thimphu. The group stopped at Chasilakha Rest House where they were served tea. Karma Sonam carried lunch from Thimphu and met the group at the Chapcha View Point called Zem-La.

Karma Sonam does not remember if the tour group attended Thimphu Dromche/Tsechu - but I believe that they would have - which would explain their choice of October month to make the trip to Bhutan. However, a team member who looked after the group by the name of Gopa Yeshey remembers that they visited Punakha where they were put up in a tented camp at Zomlingthang.

First Trek and Trek Route
Trekking began in Bhutan for the first time in 1976. The Trek route was Druk Path. There were 10 in the group. The trekking group was from Germany.

First Trekking Guide
Karchung of Bhutan Lhomen Adventure was the first trekking guide - he guided the first trekking group that did the Druk Path Trek in 1976. He was supported by Gopa Yeshey as the organizer, and late Meme Tawla and Tek Bahadur as cooks.

Karchung of Bhutan Lhomen Adventure was the first trekking guide who guided Bhutan's first trek group on the Druk Path, in 1976

The second trek route was the Jumolhari Base Camp Trek. It was opened up in 1980. The third trek route was the Laya/Linzhi/Snowman Trek. It was opened in 1984.

First Whitewater Descent
Bhutan’s first whitewater descent was in 1981 - arranged by Bhutan Travel Service, USA. The 3-members whitewater rafting team was comprised of Wick Walker, Eric Evans and Jamie McEwan - all known luminaries in the whitewater rafting circles.

First Pony Contractors
Gopa Yeshey clearly remembers that the Ministry of Finance provided the pack ponies for the trek in 1976. Thus the honor should go to the Ministry of Finance as the first pony contractors in the country. During those days, Ministry of Finance maintained a barren of mules for carriage of government stores around the country. The mules were under the care of caretake Aap Tsetse.

First Private Pony Contractors
Gopa Yeshey recalls that after the first Druk Path Trek, ponies for the subsequent treks were arranged through Phuntsho Wangdi of Paro. The second pony contractor was also from Paro - one Sonam Rinchen.

First Overseas Tour Agents
Dominic Sitling recalls that the first four overseas tour agents who worked with DoT/BTC were:

1.  Mercury Travels, India
2.  Ms. Marie Brown, Bhutan Travel Service, USA
3.  Travel Corporation of India, India
4.  Sita World Travel, India

Bhutan Travel Service, USA looked after the US market while the rest of the three Indian agents covered Europe, Japan and the South East.

First FAM Group
Bhutan’s first FAM group was organized in 1980, by Lars-Eric Lindblad, USA. One source put the number of this FAM group at 100. However, Wangcha Sangay who headed the Division that looked after tour operations disagrees - he says  that such a number is IMPOSSIBLE - although he cannot remember, he thinks the maximum would have been between 10-15 PAX at the most.

First Tourists from Japan
The first tourists from Japan entered Bhutan in 1976. The group was brought in by the Japanese tour company called Value Tours, Japan. Subsequently, another Japanese tour company by the name Saiyu Travels started to bring in Japanese tourists.

Bhutan’s First Tourism Sub-Contractors
Although tourism trade was a monopoly of the government, there were already some private tour operators operating in the country, even before the privatization of the business in 1991. Bhutan’s first five tourism sub-contractors were, in order of establishment, the following:

1.  International Treks & Tours Private Ltd., 1982
2.  Yu-Druk Tours & Treks, 1985
3.  Chundu Travel & Tours, 1986
4.  Yangphel Adventure Travel, 1988
5.  Etho Metho Tours & Treks Pvt. Ltd., 1990

They are categorized as sub-contractors, and not as tour operators, since they were not licensed to operate tours. The erstwhile government owned BTC sub-contracted portions of their business to these pioneering operators - particularly trekking, since they did not have enough manpower to handle it all themselves. All of these companies subsequently became tour companies, upon privatization of the tourism business in 1991.

If monopolizing the business were not enough, the government was heavy-handed in other ways. For instance, at one point the Auditor General of the Royal Audit Authority called the owner of Yu-Druk to his office and ordered her to shut down her business - on the grounds that she was married to a civil servant. She refused - saying that her business did not interfere with her husband’s work. If at all, he could ask her husband to resign from the civil service.

It is heartwarming to know that these pioneering tour operators are still in existence, and all doing very well, THANK YOU.

Friday, July 12, 2019

History Of Tourism In Bhutan: PART II of V

The Evolution & Structure of the DoT
One of Bhutan’s senior tourism personalities - Robin Wangdi - remembers that the Department of Tourism, headed by Dasho Tseten Dorji as its Director, functioned as a commercial tour operator since tourism activity began in 1974.

Mr. Robin Wangdi, one of the earliest tourism personalities of the country. He joined the industry in 1979.

Initially the DoT was structured as follows:

~ Dasho Tseten Dorji, first Director of the DoT;
~ Sonam Dhendup Tshering, in his capacity as the Administrative Officer, he was No. 2 in the DoT
   and looked after the entire operation of the DoT during its initial phase of operation.

The Department was later restructured as follows:

~ Hotel Division, headed by Sonam Dhendup Tshering;
~ Tourism Project Division, headed by late Dorji Gyaltshen;
~ Tourism Commercial Organization, headed by Jigme Tshulthrim;
~ Bhutan Travel Agency, headed by Wangcha Sangey;

~  Liaison Office, Calcutta, headed by Benchen Khenpo, mid 70's
Bhutan Travel Service, New York, USA was established in 1980. It was headed by a lady named
   Ms. Marie Brown, who was designated Regional Manager.

~ Bhutan Travel Service, Calcutta, India was established in 1982, headed by Karchung as the
   Senior Tourism Officer, with Dhendup Tshering as the Liaison Officer. 

~ Bhutan Travel Service, New Delhi was established in September, 1983, headed by the
   Program Officer, Chimi Dorji. He was succeeded by Dominic Sitling, in 1985. The office was
   attached to the Royal Bhutanese Embassy. This office was necessitated for faster
   processing of the Innerline Permit from MEA, Government of India.

In 1982, Bhutan Tourism Corporation (BTC) was created as a Division under the DoT - to take over its commercial operations. The DoT remained as the controlling authority responsible for policy issues. Subsequently, in 1985, Dasho Tseten Dorji was moved to Department of Animal Husbandry and Jigme Tshulthrim took over the reigns of the organization. It was at this time that the DoT was renamed Bhutan Tourism Corporation (BTC) - as a corporation of the Royal Government. Throughout these transitions, the tourism organization functioned as a tour operator with tourism activity as its core function.

Finally in 1991 tourism business was privatized and the BTC ceased to exist as a tour operator. This effectively ended the government’s monopoly over the tourism trade in the country.

The Demise Of The DoT/BTC
With the privatization of the tourism trade in the country, the government’s tourism organization morphed into a regulatory authority – it was renamed Tourism Authority of Bhutan (TAB) in 1991.

The first head of the Authority was Yeshey Norbu, currently the CEO of Norbu Bhutan Travel Private Limited. He spearheaded the formation of the TAB as a regulatory authority. He resigned in 1994 and moved to head the private sector Bhutan Tourism Corporation Limited (BTCL).

He was succeeded by Thinley Dorji – more popularly known as Motithang Thinley. Other heads of the organizations were: Tshering Yonten, Tshering Phuntsho, Sangay Wangdi, Lhatu Wangchuk, Tshering Yonten (second term), Kesang Wangdi, Chhimmy Pem and now the incumbent Director General Dorji Dradul.

For a short period following the transfer of Kesang Wangdi, Thuji Nadik acted as the Director of TCB. However he could not be promoted to full-fledged Director of the organization, given his classification as a Specialist.

It was during the tenure of Kesang Wangdi that the TAB became an autonomous organization and took on the name Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB). Before that, the tourism organization was put under a number of parent Ministries, as follows:

DoT : 1971 - 1982    Ministry of Finance
BTC : 1982 - 1991    Ministry of Communications
TAB : 1991 - 2000 Ministry of Trade, Industries & Forests
DoT : 2000 - 2008    Ministry of Trade & Industries
TCB : 2008 -             Autonomous under a Council headed by the Prime Minister

The Ministry of Finance built the following properties for the Coronation of the Fourth King of Bhutan. The DoT/BTC was allowed the use of these properties, thereafter:

Motithang Hotel, Thimphu
Bhutan Hotel, Thimphu
Olathang Hotel, Paro
Kharbandi Hotel, Phuentsholing
Chasilakha Rest House/Tea House, Chhukha

Upon privatization of the tourism business, some of these properties were sold to the BTCL.

It is quite remarkable that even while being not very highly educated, Dasho Tseten Dorji as the Director of DoT had the foresight to create a number of tourism related properties as far back as the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. These properties were:

1. Phajoding Cafeteria, Thimphu
2. Dochu-La Cafeteria, Thimphu
3. Wangdue Guest House, Wangduephodrang
4. Sherubling Tourist Lodge, Trongsa
5. Wangduecholing Guest House, Bumthang
6. Mongaar Guest House, Mongaar
7. Trashigang Tourist Lodge, Trashigang
8. Samdrupjongkhar Guest House, Samdrupjongkhar
9. Sharna Trekking Lodge, Paro
10. Thangthangka Trekking Lodge, Paro
11. Jangothang Trekking Lodge, Paro
12. Lingzhi Trekking Lodge, Thimphu
13. Shodu Trekking Lodge, Thimphu
14. Barshong Trekking Lodge, Thimphu
15.  Bunakha Cafeteria, Chhukha

Karchung of Bhutan Lhomen Adventure, the Trekking Manager of  the erstwhile DoT/BTC laments that all these properties have been allowed to go to ruin, particularly the trekking lodges. All these trekking lodges are no longer in existence.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

History Of Tourism In Bhutan: PART I of V

The Creation of Department of Tourism (DoT)
Going by written records available, there is proof that the Department of Tourism (DoT) was created in 1971, as a Department under the Ministry of Finance. Her Royal Highness Ashi Sonam Choden Wangchuck, His Majesty’s Representative in the Ministry of Finance, signed the order.

However, living witnesses bear testimony to the fact that there was no tourism activity for the next 2 years following the creation of the DoT. The only visitors to the country then were guests of the Royal Family and, in very rare cases, those of the Royal Government of Bhutan.

It was not until 1974 that the first-ever paying tourist group entered Bhutan.

Before I proceed further into the historical background of the development of tourism in the country, I feel it is necessary to put on record the following:

A resolution adopted during the 36th Session of the National Assembly on 7th June, 1972 reads as following:

In view of the likelihood that, despite being in its initial stage of development, Bhutan would attract a large number of tourists, the Cabinet had prepared a draft of rules governing tourism in the country. After due consideration of the same, the Assembly accorded its approval.

From the above, it becomes clear that a Tourism Act was tabled in the National Assembly and duly approved in 1972. So then where is that Act? And why are we talking of enacting a new Tourism Act?

Saturday, July 6, 2019

The Mystery Canal Rears Its Head

On 24th June, 2019 I was informed of the report in thethirdpole.net, about the response by our Prime Minister on the matter relating to Sankosh reservoir project during his recent visit to India. I am happy that the Prime Minister merely states “reservoir project” and not Sankosh Reservoir Hydropower Project. I would like to believe that there is a huge difference in the two.

First, the government has already declared on the floor of the Parliament that there will be no further hydropower projects – until those in the pipeline are completed and brought on stream. Thus the Prime Minister could not have done an about turn on a Parliamentary decision largely influenced by his party.

Second, the Prime Minister is fully aware that India is now electricity surplus and ranks among the top four electricity producers in the world. They are all set to export electricity.

Third, the Prime Minister should be aware that India is in the forefront of alternate energy production, such as solar, wind, thermal and nuclear. Because of the declining cost of production of other energy sources, hydroelectricity represents merely 13% of India’s total installed capacity, as of December, 2018. This will drop even further in the coming years.

Fourth, technologies in the production of alternate energy such as solar and wind has advanced so much that they are now the cheapest to produce – not hydro - atleast in China and India:

Soon, hydroelectricity production technology will be obsolete, in addition to being costly, as well as, environmentally disastrous.

Fifth, global warming is causing ice melt at an alarming rate, causing unpredictable shifts in weather patterns, and altering water flows.

Sixth, hydropower projects take many years to build – Punasangchhu-I was started in 2008 and after 12 years, it is still not even half done. They are prone to cost overruns and subject to geological surprises and environmental destruction.

Seventh, the Prime Minister would be aware that if a 1,200 MW project could take over 20 years to build, Sankosh at about 4 times the size would take half a century to build. By then electricity as we know now may no longer be in existence.

That brings us to the question: Then why talk of Sankosh Reservoir Project at all? The answer I think is the “mystery canal” that thethridpole.com talks about. I think the Prime Minister was talking of doing a water reservoir project – not hydropower project – in line with India’s grand plan of the Manas-Sankosh-Tista-Ganga Link Project:

This project would make sense to India as well as Bhutan. India will benefit in terms of mitigating the increasing threat to their water security, given the recent developments in the third pole region. In addition to sustained water supply for irrigation, flood control is another aspect to this project.

Bhutan will benefit since we do not have to pay for the construction of the project - at 10% interest. If India wants to do a water reservoir project - we should allow them, as a goodwill gesture between two long-standing friends. However, we should impose one condition:

There should be absolutely no hydropower project linked to the Sankosh Reservoir Project.

Doing so would cause us to be straddled with 70% loan at 10% interest and with no management control over the construction of the project. It is for this reason that I have been making noise for over a decade not to shackle our river systems with loans that do not benefit the people - not even the government - and a financial burden that we do not need.

Our water in it natural form should be even more precious to us, and to others.