Lhakpa Quendren | Panbang

After enduring the pandemic, businesses in Panbang are struggling with financial hardships as they see fewer customers. Many business owners fear that their businesses would dry up almost entirely soon.

Tharzom, a restaurant owner, said that it has been a tough year for her business. “I am facing hurdles and difficulties to keep my businesses going. It has been difficult to pay rent for many months now.”

“After paying a house rent of Nu 7,000, it is difficult to meet other expenses and save for the future,” she said. “If the situation continues, I believe the future of the businesses here would be even more difficult.”   

Sampa Trulku said that his small grocery shop was at a loss. “I used to earn Nu 2,000 to 3,000 a day before the pandemic. Now I hardly earn Nu 500 a day.”

Panbang’s Thromde Ngotshab (representative), Jampel Choeda, said that one of the many reasons could be civil servants quitting their jobs for other pursuits.

“Panbang became quiet after all the three accountants were taken to the Zhemgang dzongkhag administration because contractors and labourers have no work to come here,” he said.

Some restaurant owners claimed that Ugyen Tshering, the owner of Khenda Restaurant, who is also a member of the River Guides of Panbang, spoiling the businesses in Panbang by taking over the Indian casual visitors to Panbang. 

“Ever since he (Ugyen Tshering) went to Indian borders for marketing, all the Indian casual visitors go to his restaurant. He influenced the marketing agencies at the border. I have lost my clients to him,” said a restaurant owner.

“While we have been charged at the border checkpost, he and his family members including his relatives and friends have never been charged,” he added.

According to residents, the border checkpost on the Indian side charges Nu 550 for vehicles, while also charging Nu 150 per person and Nu 50 for online registration.

“Before the pandemic, they charge Nu 300 for light vehicles, Nu 375 for medium, and Nu 475 for heavy vehicles. Now, medium and heavy vehicles are not allowed,” said a resident.

Refuting the allegation, Ugyen Tshering, said that he went to market the services his restaurant provides to the clients. “It is a marketing strategy to attract more customers, not to steal others’ clients.”

“I provide free drinks and lunch to the drivers and guides bringing clients to my restaurant. If other restaurant operators also work hard, more people would visit Panbang,” he said.

Ugyen Tshering agrees that he does not need to pay the entry fees at the border checkpost, but refuted the allegation that his relatives and friends get free entry.

“When officials from India visit here, I give my full support to them. Likewise, when I go to India, I also get the same support,” he said, adding that public relations is an essential part of a business to move forward.