Devastation of Bhutan’s Most Famous Trek Route

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By Yeshey Dorji

I am perhaps among the very few Bhutanese who have trekked to almost all the highest regions of the country. I have trekked the Tsokar-Tsonag-Terdalhatso-Gosung areas in Singye Dzong. I have trekked the Nagchungla and Jumokungkhar regions in Merak in the eastern parts of the country.
In the central parts of the country, I have trekked to the very base of Gangkhar Puensum – Bhutan’s highest mountain and the world’s highest unclimbed peak, and to Dhur Tsachu Bhutan’s most pristine hotspring, on the route to the world famous Snowman Trek.

In the north-west, I have trekked to the base of Jumolhari, Jichu Drake, Jo Gem, Bonte-La, Lingzhi and Chebesa. I trekked to the base of Masagang, Gungchen-Taag, Tserimgung, Tarigang and Lunana, including to the very base of Gungchen Singye. In Haa region, I have trekked to Gonzola, Nobtsonapatra, Chundugang, Chundulhatso, Sinchulumpa etc.
Thus, because I have been to most of the treks, I can say that of all the treks, the Jumolhari Base Camp trek is the very best. It is the easiest and the most popular among the tourists with trekking on their itinerary. It is also perhaps the shortest – it can now be done in two days – even by the chilips. A seven year old kid can do the trek with ease!

On the Jumolhari Base Camp trek, one can see the most beautiful views anywhere else. In two days one arrives at a location where one can view: Jumolhari, Bhutan’s second highest peak; Jichu Drake, twin Tsophu Lakes, Bonte-La, Jo Gem, Ngele-La etc. It is for this reason that Jumolhari Base Camp trek is the most popular trek among trekkers – it is short and it is absolutely stunning. One trek group comprising of high end photographers from USA I hosted last year spent entire 6 days in Jumolhari – they refused to move – they were supposed to trek to Lingzhi and then exit through Dodena. They said that they did not believe that there can be a more beautiful place than where they were – Jumolhari base.

Even our Hon’ble Prime Minister one day told me that Jumolhari Base Camp holds the highest potential for tourism and that Bhutan should look at how to develop it to offer better experience to the trekkers.
But now it is being devastated. The Bhutan Power Corporation chose to build their transmission lines right along side the trekking trails. In the process, the trail is strewn with felled trees. Trekkers who pay thousands of dollars are made to negotiate their trek through a trail that is covered with trees and branches – risking injury and fatality.

How did the government allow this? The government surely knows the consequences of allowing BPC to destroy the country’s most famous trek route. The BPC should have been more responsible than to cause such destruction to the trail and, ultimately, wipe out Bhutan’s biggest attraction for trekkers.

How is the BPC going to compensate the country for their mindless act? Who was responsible to authorize such destruction? It is not enough to say that service delivery is their responsibility. Service delivery with responsibility should be their first duty.

One tour operator told me that one group has already cancelled their trekking trip to the Jumolhari Base Camp. We will see many more cancellations in the coming months as trekkers become aware of the devastation. Over time, this trek route will no longer draw trekkers – resulting in loss of millions of dollars in revenue. Even more worrisome, Bhutan’s image as a champion of environmental conservation will take a beating.

As I said, the Bhutanese tourism industry is targeted for demolition. Look at the road-widening works – it is something that we do not need and yet it has been forced on us. Now the road is all dug up from Thimphu to Trashigang. Journey over these roads are painful, laborious, long and dangerous. The Hon’ble Minister of MoWHS had said last August that the roads will be done in three years time. I have stated that it will not be done in twenty years. She must already get the sneaky feeling that I may be right, because “pre-financing” of the road widening works have already begun.

I wish people would do things with a little bit more sensitivity – put ones heart into what one is doing. Mindlessness is becoming too rampant among the Bhutanese.