Better solutions needed

Following a debate, it has been decided that Taktsang will be closed on Tuesdays from next month.

The decision has been made on the grounds that the performance of daily rituals is being hampered given the increasing number of tourists visiting the monastery, and that sanitation has become a problem.

With its dramatic scenery, Taktsang is undoubtedly Bhutan’s top tourist site, and a great photograph to take home. It’s like the cherry on the cake for a visit to Bhutan.

Therefore you can understand the tourism industry’s objections, despite there being six other days of the week that the monastery will remain open. Itineraries planned months ahead may have to be changed to accommodate a visit to Taktsang.

Tour operators have also said that better management rather than a closure could solve issues like sanitation, garbage and conduct of daily rituals.

They do have a point. Locals and tourists alike regularly bemoan the amount of garbage they come across along the path to Taktsang. The lack of bathroom facilities is another problem.

Why it is taking years to better manage the garbage or build bathrooms along the trail to perhaps Bhutan’s top tourist site is a mystery with perhaps enough material for a comedy sitcom.

But Buddhism is a living culture here and allowing the monks of Taktsang a respite from the daily bombardment of tourists seems reasonable.

In fact, if daily rituals are being affected, more stringent measures should have been adopted to demarcate tourist areas at Taktsang and prevent them from interfering in the day-to-day life of the monks there. Perhaps access to the inner most areas of the monastery even need to be restricted.

It is probably safe to assume that if explained to tourists, they would be more than willing to limit their visit only to the tourist areas and not enter areas that are considered sacred by the religious.

However, it must also be recognized that there is also a large amount of religious pilgrims that visit Taktsang and restrictions to areas where prayers and offerings are made would be disheartening.

If the main problem is the disturbance of the daily conduct of rituals, then a better solution that covers all seven days of the week is needed, not just one day.

If the real problem is garbage, then a one-day clean up is also not the way ahead. Waste management needs to be a more frequent affair otherwise we will still encounter overflowing trash bins and dogs fighting over discarded baby diapers.

Public toilets also need to be cleaned daily and an acceptable level of hygiene maintained seven days a week.

For this to happen, the tour companies have to be involved. If you are making money off a resource then it’s only logical that you should pay for its upkeep as well. Given the challenges and therefore slow progress in this area, perhaps it is time the tour industry take the lead and contribute to the hiring of a private company to take up this responsibility. The total expenditure, if crowd sourced from among the hundreds of tour agencies in operation may not be too large of a pinch.

For now, the decision is to close Taktsang on Tuesdays. This is the best solution that has been found for now. Hopefully, both sides are open to further discussions and input in finding an even better solution.

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