In a move to attract more tourists, the territorial forest division in Tsirang has developed an ecotourism site in Tsirangtoed.

Located almost 30km away from Damphu town, the site has a ruin of a dzong, which according to locals is more than 200 years old. It is believed that the fortress belonged to a powerful local king (Raja) by the name Sang Sup Gyap. The ruins remain partially covered in overgrowth.

The ruin area is now fenced and about 45 acres of its surrounding is considered a heritage forest by the name Pemacholing Heritage Forest. The forest was degrading because of rampant illegal tree felling, livestock grazing, and extraction of timber for firewood purpose, forest officials said.

The heritage forest has a footpath and a walking trail from the ruins to a Goemba (nye) located about 30 minutes walk uphill. The trail enables visitors to eco-tour the woods. There is also a gazebo, on the way to the nye.

Chief Forestry officer Dimple Thapa said the establishment of heritage forest is part of the department of forests and park service’s 11th Plan target of establishing 20 Heritage Forest across the country.

“The concept of heritage forest is preserving the forest which are surrounding sites of ecological, spiritual and religious significance,” she said.   She added that Heritage Forest could be established in areas that can protect natural forests and rehabilitate degraded forest ecosystems around monasteries, religious and spiritual sites, national monuments, lakes and critical watersheds.

“This project tries to protect a small area outside the protected area, where resources are depleting,” she said. “With this project we have laid a stepping stone towards promoting tourism in Tsirang.”

Promoting tourism in the dzongkhag will be one of the priority areas for the 12th Plan. In the recent 12th Plan consultative meeting, Gross National Happiness Commission officials had pointed out that Tsirang despite having beautiful landscape and favorable weather, was not able to attract tourists.

The dzongkhag recorded 32 tourists last year.

Dzongdag Ngawang Pem said that the forest division has made a good start by instituting the heritage forest. While the place is rich in biodiversity, it has strong traces of history.

With this as a start, other 11 gewogs will have to think along the same line and come up with similar projects. “The way is clear, we all need to act together,” she said.

She added that local leaders and the dzongkhag administration have already been discussing ways to attract local tourists first. Regional and international tourists could be attracted with development of additional tourist sites and other facilities.

“I personally go for local tourists. People can come from nearby dzongkhags and enjoy the beautiful landscape of Tsirang,” she said.

Other tourist related activities that local leaders are pursuing are agro-tourism, trekking, hiking, biking, bird watching, nature sightseeing and eco-tourism.

The Pemacholing Heritage Forest, which was inaugurated last week, is established at a cost of Nu 0.6M.

Nirmala Pokhrel | Tsirang