Tour operator engages guides and drivers in agriculture  

Younten Tshedup

Up above the Sangaygang hill, a group of men are busy. Armed with spades and pickaxes, the men, nine of them, donning shades and caps, dig out hard soil to be turned into agriculture land.

The men who recently guided and drove rich tourists to Sangaygang never expected that they would be tilling land to make a living. In a few days, they would turn the barren land at Tashiding, a secluded village, located about 15 minutes walk from the “romantic point” Sangaygang, into a rich farmland.

With the Covid-19 pandemic hitting the tourism and service sector the hardest, several guides and drivers lost jobs and livelihood overnight. The enthusiastic men are ready to do anything to make a living.

They found a saviour in a tour operator. Phuntsho Norbu, of Bridge To Bhutan owns 38 decimal of land at Tashiding. Seeing guides and drivers out of job, he wanted to turn that into an opportunity to help his colleagues in the same business.

Farming, Phuntsho Norbu found, could gainfully engage himself and his staffs in absence of guests in the wake of Covid-19 pandemic.


 The team secures the area

The team secures the area

Catching his breath in between making garden beds, a guide, Kuenga Tenzin, said that he had no backup plans when the disease took the world by surprise. “Our boss was thoughtful to have come up with a plan like this to keep us gainfully engaged.”

While the government is under pressure to look after those affected in the tourism and hotel sectors, some are trying to help the government.

Phuntsho Norbu said that the moment the disease hit the country, many thought it was the government’s responsibility to look into the losses the sector would incur.

“Although no one said this directly but it was implied. The tourism fraternity is now waiting for the government to do something because they are suffering. I think this is not the right attitude and it is almost cruel to think so.”    

Comparing the government to a milking cow, Phuntsho Norbu said that when the cow was in good health, everyone got their share of milk. However, when the cow fell sick, instead of helping and caring for the animal, people started hitting the cow for not producing enough milk.

This is the same situation today, he said. “Knowing all well that the government is not in a position to provide everything that is demanded, people should come forward and support the government.”

He said that as long as people had respected the country’s tourism policy and abided by regulations, there should not be any reason for tour operators to struggle at least for the next three months.

“If the situation remains the same even after six moths, we can then discuss ways to address this issue together with the government.”

The reason why tourism sector has flourished in the country, he said was because of the visionary monarchs and the different governments who have tirelessly worked to take Bhutan where it is today.

“Without all the stability in the country and the rich cultural and environmental assets for which we are know for, tourism will be out of question,” he said. “It’s payback time and there’s no better time than today to give back to the country when it needs us the most.”

Phuntsho Norbu added that while helping the country, it was equally important to look after those people who have been there for them during their heydays. “Leaving them behind in times when they need you the most was morally wrong. Your conscience should not allow such things to happen.”

The tour operator has donated Nu 600,000 to the government Covid-19 respond fund and Nu 700,000 to his employees taking into account the two month sustainable development fund (SDF) his company would have generated from the guests.

“We hope that there would be more people who can come forward in times like this and help the government,” he said. “If for nothing else, this would be a gesture to show support and solidarity and also to thank all those things that has help you become who you are today.”

Meanwhile, he intends to further extend his agricultural project. “Even before the Covid-19 issue, we had plans to do something with agriculture during the off season,” he said. “If not for anybody else, the virus has given us an opportunity to prove to ourselves that we can survive as a team.”