Home ministry stands by DT proposal

Tourism: The home ministry has approved the proposal to close Taktshang monastery in Paro for visitors every Tuesday from April 1.

The home secretary wrote to the Paro dzongdag on February 15 supporting the Paro Dzongkhag Tshogdu (DT) resolution of closing Taktshang monastery every Tuesday.

The letter states that the closure was necessary as increasing visitors was making sanitation and performing daily rituals at the monastery difficult.

The letter states that the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) had sought deferment of the closure timing or implementation of the resolution. The ministry found no problem in implementing the rule as decided by the DT.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) was informed on March 9.

“You are requested to immediately inform all travel agents and relevant stakeholders and request them to make prior arrangement for tourist visiting Taktshang so to avoid complications,” a letter from the dzongkhag states.

The approval comes despite issues raised by the tourism stakeholders since the Paro DT endorsed the closure timing last September.

ABTO officials said they were informed of the decision last week. ABTO, hotels and the guides association then met and wrote to TCB with a copy to the council members opposing the closure timing. The representatives also submitted alternate recommendations such as closing the monastery on Tuesdays by 3pm instead of the whole day, entrance fee and compulsory guide requirement for all tourists.

“A proper management system should be in place in consultation with all stakeholders instead of closing the monastery for the entire day on Tuesdays,” ABTO’s executive director Sonam Dorje said.

Sonam Dorje also said that it would be convenient if the monastery were closed early instead of the entire day for the proposed works. “That way, you gain about 14 hours a week,” he said.

Tour operators said the closure will not just impact tour operators but guides, hoteliers and other service providers. As tour itineraries are sold a year in advance, they said it would be difficult to change the itineraries overnight. They also said that no consultation was done with regard to the decision although it concerns a national heritage.

As the main attraction to draw tourists to Bhutan, Taktshang monastery is featured in every promotional material.

Guide Association of Bhutan’s (GAB) chairman Garab Dorji said that the decision would also impact guides equally who are the face of the industry. “We have also proposed that GAB would manage the Taktshang trail,” he said.

Garab Dorji also said that international tourist arrivals dropped drastically last year and such ad hoc decisions could further impact tourist arrivals.”

In September last year, the DT endorsed the closure timing for visitors on Tuesdays except on auspicious days from January 1, 2016. The dzongkhag administration submitted the proposal stating that cleaning and repair or renovation works would be done on Tuesdays.

The decision was to be implemented after informing TCB and relevant stakeholders.

However, during a meeting between TCB, Paro dzongkhag administration, and ABTO on December 23, it was agreed that the proposed timing would be deferred for three months.

Kinga Dema