A verification team from Paro dzongkhag is due to visit the site

Tourism: Following allegations of a permanent private campsite set up at Bumdra, above Taktshang monastery, the Paro dzongkhag administration will send a verification team to the area this week.

The team was supposed to visit the site early this week but officials said they had to postpone their trip owing to the bad weather.

It has been alleged that a permanent campsite owned by a private trekking company has been established at Bumdra occupying the entire camping area. The company is also alleged to be charging exorbitant rates for the facilities at the campsite that is equipped with solar electricity and internet connectivity.

Some local leaders also raised the issue with the dzongkhag after which it was decided that a verification team would be sent to Bumdra. Several letters were also exchanged between the local government officials and the Bumdra lam.

Paro dzongdag Chencho Tshering said that he spoke to the Bumdra lam who denied all allegations. “I was told that the land belongs to the dratshang and that there is no permanent campsite there,” the dzongdag said, adding that Bumdra has been identified as one of the trekking routes in Paro.

Lamgong gup Phub Tshering who is also the dzongkhag tshogdu chairman, in a letter to the dzongkhag administration, sought verification of the land ownership and whether the person concerned has an approval.

As a sacred lhakhang, many people from within and tourists visit Bumdra for pilgrimage and trekking, he wrote. “But recently a private individual has set up permanent tents in the area below the lhakhang while other visitors are deprived of the space to pitch their own tents,” he wrote. “The campsite is also an important grazing land for cattle in winters.”

Gup Phub Tshering told Kuensel that the person concerned did not follow the due procedures to lease the land from the dratshang in setting up a permanent campsite. “One person cannot monopolise the business there as there are many tour operators who also bring their guests to camp at Bumdra,” he said. “This could also have an impact on community based tourism with all facilities available there.”

However, Bumdra lam Phurba Tshering said that there are no permanent tents pitched at the campsite.

Lam Phurba Tshering also said that they did not stop other tour operators from camping at Bumdra and that it was not true that the campsite area has been leased out. He said that the tour operator who is alleged to have set up permanent tents, uses the space like all other tour operators.

“They’ve been contributing in cash and kind for the welfare of the lhakhang,” he said, adding that the company was not given any special treatment.

In a letter to the Tsento gewog gup, the lam wrote that with many people camping at Bumdra, it was an issue for the lhakhang to maintain the area. “It was difficult for us to protect the drupchu as well,” he wrote. “To protect the drupchu, we allocated an area near the drupchu to the company while the rest were for other trekkers.”

The lam requested the gup to allow the company to camp in the designated area as they have contributed immensely for the welfare of the lhakhang in the form of CGI sheets, fencings and others.

The alleged company is Sonam Treking Services. Its proprietor Tshering Chuki denied the allegations saying that they never pitched permanent tents at the campsite.

“There’s no way we can afford permanent tents as the tents will be damaged by the weather when we don’t have visitors,” she said. “We pitch tents as and when we have guests.”

Tshering Chuki said that provide trekking services to about 30 tour operators. Since they started camping at Bumdra, she said they managed the area well by keeping the area clean and well maintained.

“Earlier it was filled with waste and the drupchu almost dried up,” she said, adding they even transported water tanks at the source for the welfare of all trekkers. “In fact, we’ve been managing the campsite for free making things better for all trekkers.”

Tshering Chuki also said that there are no solar panels and internet facilities. “There is no need for internet when most people have 3G on their cell phones,” she said. “We just carry portable solar lights.”

According to Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) officials, the normal procedure for the establishment of campsite is that TCB receives a proposal from the proponent. The proposal is then reviewed and the clearance issued to manage campsites.

“Regarding Bumdra, TCB has not received any proposal,” an official said.

TCB officials said that for trekking tour operators are mandated to stay in the designated campsite but TCB cannot impose that upon tour operators for Bumdra, as it is not a designated campsite.

Kinga Dema