A number of significant strides have been made in infrastructure development to bolster tourism and uplift the living standards of highlanders living across the mountains of Laya in Gasa.
With an allocation of Nu 9 million (M), sourced from the Gewog annual grant and support from the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB) through the Department of Tourism (DoT), initiatives are underway to enhance the region’s homestay facilities and highland festivals.
One of the critical challenges highlighted during the recent Royal Highland Festival was the lack of basic amenities, including toilets along highways, potentially impeding the district’s reputation as a ‘high value, low volume’ tourist destination. Consequently, a significant portion of the allocated budget has been directed towards the construction of flush toilets.
The budget is considered a farm Granular Sub-Based (GSB) constitution for Gewogs which does not have farm roads. Toilets were built on cost-sharing basis, where the Gewog supplied basic materials and 80 percent compliances were borne by the people.
The Member of Parliament (MP) of Khatoed-Laya constituency in Gasa, Tenzin, shared that they are focused on building infrastructure mainly in improving homestays, citing the importance of reducing regional imbalances and catering to the specific needs based on the region.
“To provide basic services to the hot spring and highlander festival, the RGoB has done soiling to 4-kilometer farm roads of individual households through Common Minimum Infrastructure (CMI) budget of Nu 396M in the fiscal year 2019-2020 and homestays development,” he said.
A comprehensive plan is envisioned to ensure sustainable income generation and capitalize on the tourism potential of Gasa and Laya in the long run. The Royal Highland Festival, initiated in 2016 under Royal patronage, has been instrumental in celebrating significant historical events and uplifting the living standards of the highlanders.
MP Tenzin added, “Efforts are now being directed to enhance the festival’s facilities and services to meet the expectations of the growing number of visitors.”
The DoT has taken proactive measures, including training programs and strategic marketing initiatives in collaboration with local governance bodies to promote Gasa’s homestays. Furthermore, plans are in place to improve hygiene standards by developing basic facilities such as flush toilets and uniform footpaths.
Notably, the absence of local governance leaders during the festival coordination has been efficiently managed by dedicated individuals, including the local based Chairman and a team of professionals, highlighting the significance of effective teamwork and collaboration in driving the region’s sustainable development.
Meanwhile, Tshering from Toka, Laya Gewog, who had about 20 Bhutanese guests staying at his home, earned about Nu 40,000 in a few days during the recent Royal Highland Festival. Prior to that, they had received some basic training, like cuisine and how to deal with guests. However, due to lower rates and fewer people, they could not make much profit.
Sangay from Dokola village said that the festival is a special event for the Layaps which helps them earn more. He said that their homestay business was inactive for about two years and they could not earn. With nine Bhutanese guests staying at his homestay, he earned a decent amount.
“The Royal Highland Festival is a special event for the highlanders, initiated by His Majesty. This festival inspires people from other parts of the country and the world to visit very remote places like Laya,” he said. He thanked His Majesty the King and RGoB for improving the infrastructure and providing better services for the people of highlands.
There are about 40 homestays in Laya Gewog. Unlike other tourist hotspot areas, homestays in Laya are the homes of the villagers which can accommodate tourists without modern facilities.
However, travelers are made to indulge in a travel experience that enables them to connect with locals, and get genuine insight into their cultural and traditional lifestyles. Besides the homestays, people also set up stalls where local products were sold.
Nidup Lhamo from Thimphu