Choki Wangmo

The home ministry yesterday approved Jigmechhu ecotourism campsite in Chukha as a formal international tourist destination.

Located along the banks of Wangchhu at Lamey in Sharphu village in Darla Gewog, the campsite is four hours’ drive away from Thimphu via Gedu-Sonambja and 19km from Lhamoidzingkha Drungkhag in Dagana.

The news was well received by the campsite members and the people of Jigmechhu.

In recent years, the number of visitors in the area has increased, with a record of more than 1,000 visitors from October last year to this month. This has helped boost local economy.

The camp manager, Wangchuk Dorji, said that the benefits would trickle down to the communities around. But the services have to be improved too, he said.  “For that, we need fund support and more time.”

With the season coming to an end by this month, the members are looking to start afresh with improved services for international visitors in the coming season. The campsite remains closed during monsoon (May-September) due to erratic weather conditions. “Tour operators showed interest in birding tours as it is also identified as a birding hotspot.”

More than 300 species of birds are found in the area, including the endangered white-bellied heron, peacock, barking deer, four types of hornbills, and different types of butterfly species.

Currently, the five founding members of the campsite are providing services to visitors. There are three campsites with tents. Visitors can choose to pitch their own tents and cook their own meals.

The members, Wangchuk Dorji, said have to improve food and lodge services and other facilities such as washrooms at the campsite. “Works to improve the quality of the road might start soon. The plan was approved recently,” he said.

Chukha Dzongdag Minjur Dorji said that the campsite is close to both main tourist entry and exit points—Phuentsholing and Paro—but hasn’t benefited due to its remoteness.

Deputy chief economic development officer of the dzongkhag, Sangay Thinley, said that developing Jigmechhu ecotourism had been a long journey and the dzongkhag administration had strived in the last four years to make it possible.

He said that currently there are no homestays registered in the locality. “We have sought support from the Bhutan Foundation and RSPN to build two eco-lodges for the guests and in the next season, it should be operational.” However, the registration of two homestays is under process.

Visitors can experience homestays, birdwatching, local drinks, fly-fishing, bamboo fish, and an hour’s hike to Ami Nye, the pilgrimage site of the local deity Aum Yangtham.

An assessment report carried out by the dzongkhag administration along with the Department of Tourism and the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators in 2020 found that Jigmechhu is one of the most attractive natural sites with rich biodiversity coverage and huge potential for the economic development of the dzongkhag.

A notification from the ministry stated that the daily Sustainable Development Fee mechanism would take care of the possible issue of overcrowding and mass tourism in the area. “It is important for the dzongkhag Administration to ensure that there is no overcrowding and mass tourism at the sites particularly with the visit of day visitors.”