Choki Wangmo | Chhukha

Wangchuk Dorji had completed more than two decades in the police force. And then he became a taxi diver.

It wasn’t a smooth ride. Covid-19 showed up with all its malice. With repeated lockdowns and restrictions, Wangchuk had to think of something.

Gongto, his friend, also a taxi driver, was struggling. They met, discussed and headed home, Baeyul Kunzang in Chhukha, to start ecotourism camping site in Jigmechhu, Chukha.

Ecotourism had just about begun in Chukha. Jigmechu is located along the banks of Wangchhu in a place called Lamey in Sharphu village, at an  elevation of 180m above sea level. The place is four hours’ drive from Thimphu via Gedu-Sonamja and 19 kms from Lhamoidzingkha drungkhag.

More than 700 people had visited the campsite till date

Wangchuk Dorji did not have time to waste. He attended homestay training and formed a group with seven members to operate the campsite. Two left the group after marriage. Two years later, the campsite is a popular winter getaway. People from across the towns visit the campsite each winter for a relaxing getaway.

From October this year, more than 700 people had visited the campsite. More visitors are expected until March next year.

The five members and their families are catering to the visitors. There are three campsites with tents. Visitors can pitch their own tents and cook meals or dine from the campsite.  Each person has to pay Nu 700 per night inclusive of a tent, three meals, and other experiences such as campfires and drinks.

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 economic development of the dzongkhag.

It is an Eden for nature lovers. More than 300 species of birds are found in the area, including the endangered White Bellied Heron, peacock, barking deer, rufous-necked hornbill, wreathed hornbill, and different types of butterfly species among others. Due to presence of peacocks, the place is also known as Majathang.

There are varied experiences—homestay experiences, birdwatching, tongba drinks, fly-fishing, and an hour’s hike to Ami Nye, pilgrimage site of the local deity Aum Yangtham.

Bamboo fish, fish cooked in sealed bamboos is a new experience for many Bhutanese. Raw fish is cooked in a bamboo stump for an hour. The taste of bamboo and fish soup lingers for long.

Cycling track and rafting services along Wangchhu is yet to be developed.

The campsite has also helped revived the old Jigmechhu town. Once a buzzing trade centre, the town has lost its charm with years. Except for a few old wooden houses, nothing remains of its grand past.

Mandarin, potato, and cardamom are main cash crops in the valley. As an alternative source of income, communities work as labourers.

Due to unfavorable climatic conditions, rugged terrain and limited water supply, agricultural productivity is very low and people lack knowledge on agriculture. Wildlife depredation to crops and limited infrastructure for market access is a major challenge for those interested to take up farming.

People have opened shops to cater to the visitors. The campsite operators with the support of the Royal Society for Protection of Nature are encouraging the locals to grow vegetables.

The campsite has a huge potential if further developed.  To ensure sustainability, there is a need for management frameworks to be in place with information signage for visitors.

With increasing number of visitors, waste is mounting challenge for camp operators. Wastes are either recycled or burned. The campsite is already facing water shortage.