Private business with toilets benefits

Chencho Dema

Punakha—How do we make the most of the increasing number of tourists coming to the country? A couple running a business at the Phochhu end of the famous suspension bridge in Punakha has the answer.

Even if not planned, Sonam Dhendup and his wife is having a brisk business from tourists visiting them not only for snacks, but for an essential facility – a clean restroom. 

The suspension bridge over Phochhu is considered the longest suspension bridge, connecting the Chubu and Dzomi gewogs. It is adorned with vibrant prayer flags that flutter in the breeze and a good tourist spot, with guides making it almost a must-visit place, when visiting Punakha dzong.

Tour guides say the suspension bridge is the most visited place in Punakha after Chimi Lhakhang and Punakha dzong.

A group of tourist from Kolkata

However, not all tourists are happy. They are complaining of lack of basic amenities like clean toilets. It is here Sonam’s establishment. – “a restaurant cum bar”, a cafeteria, and a grocery store, which provides much-needed facilities, including restrooms, and offer a place for visitors to sit, relax, and enjoy some food, making the visit more comfortable and enjoyable.

Sonam Dhendup who had been running the business for two years said his small restaurant is flooded with guests and locals who drop by to eat and drink. “Tourists in particular come to use the washrooms. We are doing good business,” he said.

Tshering Euden, 34, who has been running a cafeteria for over 10 months, said that during the tourist season, business thrives. Her small but inviting café offers a variety of flavored coffees, pizza, dumplings, and more.

Namgyel Dorji, a tourist guide and the owner of Linking Bhutan Tours and Travel, said that guests used to complain about the lack of toilets and shops near the bridge. “But now, with the businesses at the end of the bridge, guests are happy and walk there for food and drinks,” he said.

According to him, it was tourists from India that made the bridge a popular tourist’s hotspot back in 2010. 

Another guide said that a toilet is a basic necessity when tourists find the suspension bridge  a good spot to relax after a long drive to Punakha. Locals said that curious tourists would come to the cremation ground near the bridge looking for toilets. “The toilet at the cremation is horrible and a shame when desperate  tourists visit it,” said a local, Ugyen.

 A tourist from Kolkata, Debabrata, 40, visiting Bhutan with his friends for a week-long holiday said, there should be more hotels and restaurants around these places as the number of tourists are increasing yearly. “More choices and more amenities for the guests would help the locals,” he said. 

Tourists who talked to Kuensel said that while these establishments have come to their rescue, concerned agencies should provide basic amenities like toilets. They emphasised the importance of having designated facilities, as it’s uncertain where to go when nature calls.

Kuensel learned that the Department of Tourism had planned to construct additional restroom facilities near the parking area before the bridge. However, this plan was dropped as the Department of Culture and Dzongkhag Development (DoCDD) reported they were assessing the area to develop a master plan for the Dzong area. 

The steel bridge is suspended around 60 meters above the Phochhu and spans a distance of approximately 160 to 180 meters and about 1.2 meters wide. Visitors cross the bridge to reach the Punakha Dzong, a historic fortress and monastery located on the other side of the river.

The suspension bridge was renovated several times and was originally built to connect Punakha Dzong to the small villages on the other side of Phochhu.