But lack of Indian Rupees may mean less pilgrims this year

Pilgrimage: More than 200 Bhutanese set off on their journey to Bodhgaya in Bihar, India from Phuentsholing yesterday evening.

This time, the Dungkhar Wangchen or the Kalachakra initiation teaching will also be conducted in January 2017 and many more Bhutanese are expected to travel to Bodhgaya.

The 200 pilgrims who left for the holy city are on a low-budget 10-day package tour costing Nu 4,000.

Many in the group, who would have otherwise not made it without such a package, welcomed the initiative.

Wangchuk, 60, from Paro, who is going on pilgrimage for the first time said he was happy to be part of the group. “I’m getting old and maybe going on a pilgrimage will help me later in life,” he said.

Another pilgrim, Pem Tshering, 66, who is also from Paro said that Nu 4,000 is reasonable. “I’ve been to Bodhgaya three years ago,” Pem Tshering said, adding that he spent more than Nu 15,000 in 2013 for the same spiritual trip.

Pem Tshering said he would like to meet learned monks and enhance his spiritual aspirations.

Another part of the package welcomed by the pilgrims is that they don’t have to pay the Nu 4,000 in Indian Rupees.

Three individuals initiated this package tour. Their main objective is to help those who want to go for pilgrimage but cannot afford.

One of organisers, Kinley Gyeltshen from Wangduephodrang, said that everything is covered by the Nu 4,000 fee.

“We take them to more than 10 religious sites on this trip,” he said, adding that the cost of the trip is lower than the regular packages available. Around half of the 200 pilgrims are also going to Tsho Pema. 

“We are not running after profit,” Kinley Gyeltshen said. “We even bear losses.”

This is the seventh year in a row that the organisers have offered the package tour. On of the organisers, Chencho, 49, said that he even had to spend Nu 200,000 from his own pocket, last year.

The third member of the organisers, Phurba Tshering said they are even taking some pilgrims who were only able to pay Nu 1,000 or Nu 2,000.

However, this year, demonitisation has affected the pilgrims. Last year there were around 700 pilgrims.

The owner of Druk City Tours and Travel, Gyempo, said he had to cancel two buses to Tsho Pema. “People say they would go if we can manage Indian Rupees for them,” he said. “But we can’t.”

Ticketing officials also said they have to pay in Indian Rupees to their Indian counterparts.

A ticketing agency owner, Pema Phuntsho said business is down this year. While the Kalachakra is in January 2017, he said, many would not be able to make it as the Indian Rupee shortage continues.

Wangchuk and Pem Tshering from Paro just have Indian Rupee 1,000 each, which they would offer to the temples in Bodhgaya.

Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing