DISCOVER BHUTAN: Trashigang Dzongkhag to Bloom as Ecotourism Hub

In an ambitious move to boost its tourism sector, Trashigang Dzongkhag is set to be promoted as a community-based ecotourism destination over the next five years. This strategic initiative, spearheaded by the dzongkhag administration, aims to leverage the region’s rich history, culture, and biodiversity to attract a diverse array of tourists from around the globe.

Despite its natural allure, Trashigang faces significant challenges in accessibility and infrastructure that have hindered its potential as an ecotourism hotspot. To address these issues, the administration has formed a tourism development committee dedicated to creating and enhancing tourism products tailored for eco-conscious travelers.

Ugyen Dorji, the Trashigang Dzongdag, explained that the ecotourism management plan follows directives from the Prime Minister and involves a collaborative approach with local gewogs. Each gewog is encouraged to devise unique ecotourism initiatives to be integrated into the broader dzongkhag plan.

“If any unique plans related to ecotourism emerge from the gewogs, we will incorporate them into the dzongkhag plan,” Dorji stated.

Reviving Ancient Trails and Festivals
One of the plan’s highlights is the restoration of ancient trails, including routes from Khaling to Lumang, Radhi to Merak, Merak to Sakteng, and the Chenla trek in Kangpara. These trails will be equipped with basic amenities to enhance the trekking experience.

Additionally, the dzongkhag will introduce a week-long Rhododendron festival at Sheteymi starting next year. This festival will showcase 41 of the country’s 46 Rhododendron species found in the Merak and Sakteng areas, alongside the unique highlander cultures.

Biodiversity and Bird-Watching
Trashigang’s vast forests, covering 77.87% of its area, include the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, home to rare and endangered species such as the Red Panda and Bengal Tiger. The region also boasts over 20 endangered animal species and 234 bird species, making it a prime destination for wildlife enthusiasts and bird-watchers.

Wamrong Drungpa, Tashi Tenzin, highlighted the potential of Khaling and Lumang gewogs as spectacular bird-watching sites, featuring over 250 bird species and three types of Tragopans.

Addressing Challenges
However, several hurdles remain. The dzongkhag’s underdeveloped tourism infrastructure, coupled with its distance from Paro International Airport and challenging road conditions, have limited tourist inflow. Drungpa Tenzin noted that the community’s lack of experience in tourism activities, particularly in quality homestays, and inadequate roads contribute to the low tourist numbers.

“We are exploring trekking routes and improving roadside amenities, proposing to invite tour operators for immersion and explore tourism opportunities in the drungkhag,” he said.

Enhancing Tourism Infrastructure
The dzongkhag is constructing cafes and restrooms in Wamrong and Kharungla with support from the GEF Project and UNDP, while raising awareness about tourism’s socio-economic benefits. Improvements are also underway at cultural sites, including road enhancements and new guesthouses and restrooms at Chenla Nye.

Community and Industry Support
Local hoteliers support the ecotourism initiative, emphasizing the need for concessions and new entry points for tourists to boost regional tourism. Kuenga, proprietor of Druk Doethjung Resort, called for opening new entry and exit points from Samdrup Jongkhar.

Sonam Yeshey Tshomo, manager of Lingkhar Lodge, stressed the importance of prioritizing ecotourism promotion plans and educating locals about their heritage and natural surroundings to better engage tourists.

Tour operators suggested that the Department of Tourism create dedicated ecotourism packages, such as bird-watching tours, to attract enthusiasts. They also called for public efforts to improve hygiene and enhance homestays.

A Bright Future for Trashigang
As Trashigang prepares to embark on this transformative journey, the dzongkhag’s unique blend of natural beauty, cultural heritage, and community-driven initiatives positions it well to become a premier ecotourism destination. With concerted efforts to overcome existing challenges, Trashigang is poised to unlock its full potential and attract a global audience eager to explore its treasures.

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