Choki Wangmo 

Coinciding with the Social Forestry Day, 45 laid-off tour guides planted 50 willow tree saplings and collected six tonnes of waste along Samtenling stream yesterday.

The guides were engaged for the past one month in beautification works along the stream which is about two kilometres. The works include bush clearing, creating rock gardens, reforestation, planting grasses on gentle slopes and cleaning the area.

The group is divided into five smaller groups and deployed at different locations.

The two-month project is in collaboration with the Tourism Council of Bhutan, Thimphu Thromde and facilitated by the Guides Association of Bhutan (GAB). They are paid a minimum monthly salary of Nu 15,000.

A coordinator of the project, Jinpa Phuntsho said, that in the beginning, the guides found the work difficult as most of them were first-timers but were learning with time.

“It is an opportunity for us to interact and learn because there is a good mix of people.”

Yeshi Wangdi is helping his friends learn flora and fauna in the area. He is specialised in avifauna and has recorded about 28 bird species. He is surveying the area and in the future, hopes to use his experience when tourism resumes in the country.

“Beginning April and through May, it is an important season for bird watching. It is also the breeding season,” he said.

While clearing the bushes, his love for birds and experience in handling helped the team save 70 percent of the nestlings.

In the future, the thromde will create an information board where the list of species would be made available to the public.

The project also entails planting flowering plants and trees, therefore, creating mini-habitats for birds.

However, the work is not without hurdles. Jinpa Phuntsho said that waste was a problem in the area. “Daily, we clean the area and the next day, the place is littered.”

The guides said that the Covid-19 heat on tourism would take time to cool off for another year. They are willing to work in other similar projects even.

They also said that the pandemic has taught them the value of savings and being prepared for uncertain times.

“If everything goes well, we want to take ownership of this project,” Jinpa Phuntsho said, adding that as of now, the workers require safety gears while working with the thorny bushes.

About more than 1,000 tour guides are expected to be employed in different sectors and agencies in the coming months.