Haa dzongkhag Tshogdu this year decided to issue a three-year moratorium on construction of high end resorts in the dzongkhag.

The basis for the decision was to promote community-based sustainable tourism (CBST) in the dzongkhag and allow the benefits of tourism to reach the grassroots, dzongkhag officials said. There is only one resort in Haa today.

Royal Society for Protection of Nature (RSPN) and dzongkhag administration implements the project with technical support from Japan Environmental Education Fund (JEEF) and Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) funding of 4.9 million Japanese Yen.

Haa Planning officer, Gyaltshen said, “One of the main components of the CBST project is the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s certification of home stays.”

There are 25 home stays in the dzongkhag. The project has so far established 17 home stays in Bjee, Katsho and Eusu gewogs.

Interested farmers were given Nu 10,000 to improve traditional homes, construct toilets and other amenities. Accommodation for a night costs Nu 700 for every regional or international tourist. They will have to pay Nu 1,650 for a night with three meals; the locals are offered a lower rate of Nu 1,150.

They have to pay extra for services such a hot stone bath, guides, and trekking services.

The project has completed the construction of a visitor information centre in Haa town. The CBST community will operate from the centre, which is expected to become operational by March.

“Tourists can book accommodation or tours from the centre and receive payments. People won’t have to run after tour operators, which was a problem earlier,” he said.

Most homes have three rooms and can at the most accommodate six guests.

Home stay group representative, Kinley Wangchuk from Dumchoe, operates his homestay with his wife. A home stay earns an average about Nu 200,000 a year.

“Business is picking up. But we need more exposure on how to treat our guests and the standard of services that we have to offer,” he said.

Tourists, he said, are interested in milking cows, farming and other works.

He said that the Dzongkhag Tshogdu’s moratorium is going to help their business. “This decision is going to benefit us otherwise guests will go to hotels,” Kinley Wangchuk said. “Most tourists prefer to extend their stays by a few more days.”

Planning officer Gyaltshen said that a total of 16 local homestay owners were trained in Kathmandu through International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal for a week.

Haa dzongkhag is an emerging destination, exploring its potential for tourism.

Besides home stays, the dzongkhag trained local guides and established a variety of programmes around culture, nature and adventure tours.

One of the main attractions of the valley is Lomba, the local New Year celebrations, Gyaltshen said. “The pristine natural environment adds to the tourism potential of the dzongkhag.

Lhakhang Karpo was established in the 7th century by Tibetan king Songtsen Gempo in his mission to build 108 monasteries in one day. The Buddhist King, through his magical powers, built Lhakhang Karpo and Lhakhang Nagpo in the valley.

Lam Neten Jampel Dorji, who is also from Haa, said that legend has it that a black and white pigeon were released to select sites to build the temples.

The temples stand as the guardian sentinels keeping watch over the south entrance of the valley. The white pigeon landed on the foothills of the three towering mountains worshipped as Rigsum Gonpo or Meri Puensum, the three Gods of Jampelyang, Chenreyzig, and Chhana Dorji. The Lhakhang Karpo was built on the site where the white pigeon landed.

Located in Dumchoe village, above the Lhakhang Karpo, is the seat of the local guardian deity Dado Tsen. Of the two pigeons, the black pigeon landed on the site where a temple was later built.

The temple was built on a lake, evident from the opening in its floor, which serves as the channel to the underground lake. Lhakhang Nagpo (or mostly popularly called Lhakhang Nam) has Choe-Lung-Truel Sum statues as its principal relic.

Another popular tourist spot in the valley is Tagchu Goemba. Dali Lama Sangay Jamtsho established the monastery in the Lungsekha village in the 20th century.

Tshering Palden | Haa