On any day, a large crowd at the Phajoding monastery is a good sign. But not the way it has been observed in the past few weeks.
The monastery and its monks are dealing with the largest number of hikers, mostly youth, they have ever seen. They visit the lakes above the monastery and a huge number camp nearby leaving a trail of garbage that included a hookah – used for marijuana.
The monks are so exasperated that if it were up to them they would stop hikers altogether.
Phajoding is not alone. Monasteries in Paro and hiking areas in nearby dzongkhags share similar stories of indiscriminate dumping of waste and a large number of daily visitors despite the health ministry advising against such ventures. Some of them were just out of quarantine.
Mountains and lakes are sacred. Campers are having good time at the cost of those monks and nuns in deep prayers or retreat. Such behaviour is unacceptable. We are taught values in schools to protect the natural environment and respect others.
What is more disturbing is the safety of those in the monasteries. Some have also reportedly manhandled monks when they could not get a place to camp. Whose responsibility is it to ensure the safety of the monks at the monastery? The safety of the hikers? The trash?
Given the gravity of the situation, it does not seem far fetched to worry about vandalism or personal injury to the monks.
They are endangering their own lives. There were incidences where police and DeSuup had to rescue some youth after they suffered from altitude sickness. Others were injured. The DeSuups at the entry point cautioned but none heeded.
The weather in the mountains changes quickly from warm and sunny to foggy or heavy hail and snow. The dangers increase as darkness falls. We need not look far back into the past to realise the consequences of such misadventures.
On July 27, 1996, six boys disappeared in the forest above the Tango monastery. It triggered nationwide concern. Twelve days later, some members of the massive search and rescue mission found four boys in Punakha. Two had died in the forest from fatigue and hunger.
On 27 July 2009, eight boys from Tshimasham went on a picnic by the Wangchhu. Only one made it back home.
Anything can go wrong any time in such an environment.
When every agency’s hands are full dealing with the Covid-19 and fixing the disruptions the pandemic caused in the plans and programmes, such a distraction is the least they need at this point in time.
Closing the route is the easiest the authorities can do. But where do those college students, and students whose schools remain closed go? Many youth have returned from abroad. With not much to do at home, they are restless.
There are many online courses through which a lot can be learnt including critical skills such as coding, data analysis and research, and graphic designing. Labour ministry has subscribed to Coursera. Local colleges and institutes have similar platforms too. More effort is needed to make these options known.
Opportunities have to be made for them to volunteer, remain engaged. After all, an idle mind is a devil’s workshop.