… but the lack of an immigration office there is hindering further growth potential 

Tourism: The remote community of Pangbang in Zhemgang eyes big from tourism as the dungkhag sees an increasing number of tourists by the year since it opened its doors in 2011.

“Tourism could be huge for Panbang in the future,” said Dorji Yangkey, the proprietor of River Valley. Dorji Yangkey, who also runs Manas eco-lodge added that the number of tourist arrivals has been steadily rising since the eco-lodge was opened in 2012.

Panbang immigration officer in-charge, Karma Dhendup also said the number of casual visitors has risen steadily for the past few years. Between September and April, at least two vehicles of Indian tourists from various states visit Panbang every day.

“While the number of international tourist arrivals has been negligible, over 300-500 casual visitors have been visiting Panbang monthly especially in the winters,” Karma Dhendup said.

Casual tourists are allowed to only visit the town in the daytime and aren’t permitted to halt in Bhutan overnight.

“They can go to town till Panbang bridge but cannot go beyond because no tourist permit is issued from Panbang,” Karma Dhendup said, adding that entries are issued only from Gelephu.

Activities like wildlife safari, rafting, eco-trail, fly-fishing, elephant riding in the Manas park range, bird-watching and camping, among others are on offer in Panbang. The area’s rich biodiversity of flora and fauna, rivers and villages are also on offer. Cycling is to be introduced soon.

Although the River Guides of Panbang (RGP) just opened its office in September, last year, river expedition activities such as rafting fetched Nu 0.49 million in seven months of the tourist season, which ends in April.

This year tourist arrivals have just started and the RGP has already conducted 20 trips earning a revenue of Nu 80,000.

“We have already attended to 100-160 tourists,” RGP assistant operations officer, Sangay Penjor said, adding that it is likely to cater to more guests this year than in 2014.

Tourist arrivals begin by September end and conclude by April, every year.

Manas eco-lodge chairman, Dorji Nado said the number of tourist arrivals have been increasing since it was opened in 2013. This year the eco-lodge has already received around 50 guests compared to 30-35 each in 2013 and 2014.

“This year has been better than last year,” Dorji Nado said.

But casual visitors from India still make up the majority of the arrivals. Only a few international tourists have visited because Panbang is yet to gain popularity as a viable destination.

The lack of an immigration office still hinders tourism growth in Panbang. Sangay Penjor said many tourists find it displeasing to return to India for the night since no halts are permitted in Bhutan.

“The tourists have to return to India for a night halt despite Panbang offering accommodation facilities,” Sangay Penjor said.

Dorji Yangkey said relevant agencies must explore avenues to allow night halts in Bhutan since most of the casual visitors wish to stay back. Moreover, business is also affected without halts for casual visitors.

“Even now most of the guests in the eco-lodge are foreign officials who come to Manas park for expeditions,” Dorji Yangkey said, adding the only way to promote tourism in Panbang is to open entry and exit points or at least allow halts to casual visitors from India.

RGP chief operation officer, Kinlay Dorji also requested to allow the casual visitors till Mangdechhu since guests prefer rafting in rapid rivers, which Drangmechhu lacks.

“Right now business is getting affected because casual visitors aren’t allowed beyond Drangmechhu bridge while Mangdechhu rafting starts from over 22km from the bridge,” Kinley Dorji said.

Tempa Wangdi, Panbang