Buli lake boosts homestay business – Zhemgang

Besides the religious and spiritual significance, Buli lake is an asset to the people of Buli in Nangkor Gewog of Zhemgang. Homestay, which is a relatively new concept in the village is fast becoming a lucrative business as an increasing number of pilgrims from across the country visit the sacred Buli Moenmo lake.  

Buli is a village in a remote part of central Bhutan and rarely sees major developmental activities. But this very reason for being remote and inaccessible fuelled the growth of homestay which otherwise was not seen as a viable business.

Located about 20 minutes’ drive from the village is Buli lake at an elevation of a little over 1300 metres above sea level. The serene lake attracts visitors from across the country every winter bringing about a much-needed boost to the local economy.

There isn’t any hotel or guest house in Buli. So, homestays are ultimately the primary options for the pilgrims visiting Buli lake and officials on tours.

34-year-old Tshewang Lhamo is the first person to start homestay business in Buli.  She went on a tour to Phobjikha in Wangdue Phodrang three years ago and that’s where she got the idea from.

“RSPN took two of us from the village along with gewog officials on a tour to Phobjikha. We were kept in a farmhouse at Gangtey. There, when we asked the people about the farmhouse business, they told us it runs very well. So, that was when the two of us first thought about starting a farmhouse in our village. When we came back to Buli from the week-long tour, we told officials here that it would benefit us if we also start farmhouse in Buli. So, the current Gup who was the former Mangmi allowed us to start a farmhouse,” said Tshewang Lhamo.

Like Tshewang, there are 17 villagers who run homestay.  But only four of them were certified by the Department of Tourism. And they said it is a profitable business for now.

“The visitors mostly include those on pilgrimage to Buli lake and Dungkar Ney. Some are on official tours. Sometimes, in a month, we have around 10 to 15 guests although there are times we don’t receive even a single visitor. We cannot expand or construct a new homestay as the gewog officials advised us not to have more than five rooms. They said every homestay owner in the village should have equal opportunity,” Sonam Yangzom, a homestay owner.

“It has been three years since I started running homestay. We do not receive guests every day. We also do farming work but homestay is more profitable. We can earn up to Nu 40,000 if we receive guests continuously. I am currently renovating the house to get certified as a homestay. We are constructing flush toilets, and also making more rooms. I think it will be a viable business if we can get certified,” said Tshewang Lhamo, another homestay owner.

“The homestay business is growing in Buli. As we don’t have hotels or guest house accommodations in the community, the Tourism Department and the Gewog office proposed establishing homestay business. The Gup took the initiative to approach Tourism Department. However, only four are certified. Gewog cannot do much when it comes to the certification process. When we take the list of interested individuals to the Tourism Department, there is a list of checklists they should fulfil. As the amenity should not focus just on locals but also foreigners who look for better toilet facilities as a basic need,” said Sonam, Nangkor Mangmi.

Tshewang Lhamo said that they received a good number of visitors last year. In a week, they received about 20 guests.

However, she added that the number of domestic tourists has dropped after the COVID restrictions were lifted as many people opt to travel abroad for pilgrimage.

“Last year, when we had many visitors, we could save up to Nu 60,000 monthly during the pilgrimage season. This year, the number has decreased but we are able to save around Nu 15 to 16,000 monthly. Winter is the season for pilgrimage in Buli. The visitors mostly include pilgrims coming to visit the lake and sacred sites, and also some travellers and officials on tour as we don’t have hotel accommodations in Buli,” said Tshewang Lhamo.

The progress may be slow for now, but there is scope of growth for homestays not just in Buli. Zhemgang plans to become a destination for ecotourism in the next Five-Year Plan.

As such, the District Administration is working out ways to develop homestays in other villages of the district as well.

“To promote ecotourism, we need to improve the services. Moreover, for foreign and domestic tourists, we need to have a concessional rate. For now, we have homestays in Buli. In the future, we plan to make homestays in Shingkhar and Wangling as there is potential,” said Ugyen Lhendup, a member of the community-based ecotourism committee.

If everything goes as planned, it may not be too far before communities in Zhemgang see an increasing number of homestays and reap the benefits of becoming a hub for ecotourism.

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