Pilgrimage: Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay said that the government will look into the safety and quality of services Bhutanese pilgrims are being provided during their pilgrimages to India and Nepal.

He was responding to a question from a journalist at the Meet the Press yesterday over allegations of poor services.

Lyonchoen Tshering Tobgay said there are about 22 travel agents who take Bhutanese pilgrims outside Bhutan. So far this season, he said more than 3,200 pilgrims have travelled through the agents.

“I have met some of the travel operators,” Lyonchoen said. During his meetings with travel agents, he found that pilgrims pay Nu 15,000 per head for 10 days.

Tour operators also take their own cooks and food supplies from Phuentsholing.

“It is a shoestring budget. I am deeply grateful to the travel agents,” he said.

According to him, those conducting the travel business are Bhutanese although there could be some Indian nationals involved.

He said that had it not been for those tour operators many Bhutanese would have not been able to go on pilgrimage to important sites like Bodhgaya. “I am happy that they have been providing this service and making some profits,” he said.

He added it is because of those travel agents many farmers and people from relatively poor financial backgrounds have been able to go on pilgrimage to India.

“Even if we have the money it’s difficult to arrange the tour,” he said. “This is something that I celebrate.”

However we should not undermine the safety and the quality of the pilgrimage,” he added. “I admire their entrepreneurship.”

The government, he assured, will look into issues like the quality and quantity of food and the safety of Bhutanese pilgrimages. “Perhaps the buses are not of good quality. Maybe there are not enough drivers,” he said. “We must look into these matters and the government will look into that.”

The Prime Minister said that the obvious solution is to increase the rates. “There have been a few complaints. There has been a death,” he said.

MB Subba