Chencho Dema | Punakha

White water rafting is a well-known sport in Bhutan and there are several locations to enjoy the sport. 

In Punakha, both locals and tourists enjoy it. Tourists, particularly, take great interest.

However, the sport has been affected by the pandemic and is only now beginning to pick up; March and April is the peak season for the rafting businesses in summer. 

Most of the rivers in Bhutan, however, are very steep and rough and with limited road access, making it considerably unsuitable for white water rafting. Only a few rivers are opened for rafting, considering they are commercially viable, offer safe courses, and are easy to access.

Phochhu and Mochhu (Punakha), Amochhu (Chhukha), Pachhu (Paro), and Drangmechhu Zhemgang are among the best rafting spots in the country.

A raft can take up to six passengers excluding the rafting guide. 

Currently, as per the commercial rafting licences issued, Punakha has five rafting operators, and one each in the other three dzongkhags—Paro, Zhemgang, and Chhukha. 

Tandin Penjor, Operations Manager at Xplore Bhutan, said the rafting business is improving since the pandemic times. “More international tourists have availed themselves of the services so far.”

This could be because walk-in clients are not accepted.

Kaka, a freelancer with the Kingdom Rafting Service, said that while business now is currently much better, it is still not as good as it was before the pandemic. “We can make two to three trips a day, each of which takes more than an hour. Indian tourists are showing great interest in rafting.” 

Tenzin, a former tour guide and now a manager with Tall Pines Bhutan, said the rafting is picking up, especially among regional and international tourists. “We now do about seven trips a day.” 

Tourists, regional and international pay Nu 10,000 per rafting trip. 

Prior to September 2018, the operation of river rafting was permitted in the Phochhu stretching from the Samdingkha bridge to the confluence of the Punatsangchhu. “However, the distance for rafting was shortened to ensure that it does not reach the dzong, as the dzong falls under the core area of the Punakha Dzong Management Plan,” said an official from DoT. On the Mochhu side, rafting stretches from Yoebisa bridge to Zomlingthangon the right side of the Punakha Dzong.

White water river-rafting began when tourism activities started in Bhutan in 1974. After several decades, the then Ministry of Economic Affairs granted a commercial rafting licence specific to the location in 2018.  

An official said, “Rafting is not allowed in cultural and biodiversity-sensitive areas and children below the age of seven years are not allowed on the raft.”