Chencho Dema | Punakha

The Chimi Lhakhang in Lobesa, Punakha is a popular tourist destination. The Lhakhang is also very popular among Bhutanese.

As tourists have begun to arrive, the surrounding village has become an ideal centre for local business.

Over time, the number of handicraft shops has grown visibly. There is a total of 18 handicraft shops and galleries in the two villages—11 in Chimipang and seven in Youwakha.

However, due to the increase in Sustainable Development Fee from USD 65 to USD 250 per international tourist, the business is not as lucrative as it was before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sonam, an owner of a handicraft shop, said that in 2010, there was only one handcraft store—High Quality Thangkha. “Now we have many. Competition is stiff. We are now not able to sell as much as we could in the past.”

Most of the business owners are from places outside the community, she added.

Before the pandemic, when there were fewer handicraft shops, Sonam’s shop could make a minimum of Nu 1,000 a day. Now, the daily income from the shop is barely Nu 100.

“I hope the business will pick up in the future,” said Sonam.

Sonam Pelmo, a salesgirl of High Quality Thangkha, said that sales have dropped because it is off-season and there aren’t tourists. “Sales have dropped also because of too many shops.”

Tashi Dolma from Trashigang opened a handicraft shop in Chimipang five years ago. To support the ailing business, she has now opened a small grocery store.

“We have not had a single tourist come in so far,” said Tashi Dolma.

The owner of Doejung Yangkhil Handicraft, Dorji Palden, said sales barely cover the rent. “In the past, I used to make at least Nu 5000 a day. Not anymore. I hope the government will find a solution for the affected businesses like ours.”