The Nation’s Eco tourism capital completes construction of five three-star Eco lodges
Tourists traveling to Zhemgang dzongkhag (district), may earlier have faced issues related to accommodation. The problem will be reduced as the dzongkhag has constructed five three-star cabin Ecolodges at Berti, three kilometers away from Tingtibi town. Probably the first of-the-kind high-standard cabins, international tourists need to pay only Nu 4,000 per night for a twin bedded cabin with an attached toilet and bathroom at Berti Eco lodge and avail other services ranging from food, open camping facilities, picnicking space, bonfire, MICE facilities and others at different additional rates. The rates for regional tourists is Nu 3,000 per night and Nu 2,000 per night for locals. The cabins have attached toilets, showers, and an open deck to view.
Constructed with funds from the Royal Government of Bhutan and the UNDEP/GEF, the cabins were built at a cost of about Nu 5.7 million. It is hoped that the infrastructure will become a tourism product as well in the future and attract tourists.
According to the Dzongkhag’s assistant planning officer, Norbu Jamtsho, the Eco Lodge will be run by a group (2 males and 6 females) from Berti Community. The Dzongkhag has drafted bylaws in consultation with the group for efficiency and sustainability. The Dzongkhag will soon develop operation plan for the group with experts. While it will be leased out to the group, the district administration will handhold and guide the group for the first few months, after which the group should be able to run it independently.
Jamtsho further added that Zhemgang is blessed with rich biodiversity (approximately 94% forest coverage) and has a high number of other ongoing tourism projects. “The dzongkhag administration has identified eco-tourism as one of the key sectors that can alleviate poverty, generate rural employment, and solve allied issues in the 13th FYP,” he said. The administration has accordingly proposed projects that need to be implemented in the 13th Plan.
Zhemgang has recently been named the Ecotourism capital by the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the district has other ongoing tourism projects. “As the tourism sector has allied sectors, promoting it will bring impacts and alleviate poverty. Community-based eco-tourism is growing in the region and Zhemgang is a hotspot for community-based eco-tourism,” Jamtsho said, adding that there are several eco-tourism enterprises that are doing well, generating employment and contributing positively to the community such as River Guides of Panbgang, Eco Lodges run by the community, hot stone bath managed by the community and others. He also said that eco- tourism will reduce rural poverty though community engagement in providing tourism services (lodging, birding guide, sale of local products (cane and bamboo products), camping services, and others. “Overall, the tourism sector, will remain as one of the sources of passive income for the people,” the assistant planning officer noted.
Zhemgang Dzongdag, Kezang Jigme added that community benefits include not only employment generation but sale of local products beyond arts and crafts and additional income that can be generated through the sale of agriculture and livestock products. He further elaborated that the Berti Eco Lodge will provide quality accommodation and services and has enhanced the tourist absorption capacity of the Dzongkhag.
To boost tourism in the district, the district has taken up other projects like the DY Jadram Café in Wangdigang junction, which will be operated by a group of unemployed youths. The café will provide roadside services (fast food, meals, farmers’ sales outlet, etc.) for guests and travelers. Twin waterfall site development in Pangbang is another ongoing project. The Dzongkhag is exploring funds for Trong heritage development as a tourism product, a recreational lake at Buli, and others.
Though less traveled and seen, the district has its share of other tourism products, such as the sacred Dungkar Nye in Buli, the Buli Tsho (lake), Dungmang Tsachu (hot spring), white water rafting in Pangbang, Dangkar Menchu, amongst others. The Dzongkhag also has plans to promote agro-tourism.
However, there are several challenges faced, starting from poor and limited infrastructure, accessibility, product diversification, promotion and marketing, service standards and others.
“Dzongkhag is now focusing on constructing quality and sustainable tourism infrastructure as well as tourism products and services. Providing accommodation is a big challenge,” Jamtsho said. Thus, the Dzongkhag has developed designated campsites, while promoting homestays in the villages. “In collaboration with and fund support from DOT, the Dzongkhag carries out marketing and promotion to reach the target audience through various means (social media marketing, direct marketing, promotional video) etc. Besides, local service providers are also sent for training and exposure trips,” Jamtsho said.
Zhemgang’s tourism potential is reflected by the fact that the district had 33 species of mammals, 234 species of birds, 41 species of herpetofauna, 207 species of butterflies, 60 species of moths, 93 species of orchids, and 349 species of wildflowers recorded as of June 2022 by the Zhemgang Forest Division– while many are still unrecorded. The Dzongkhag has recorded the highest number of tigers outside the protected areas with a density of 3 tigers per 100 km2 during the nationwide survey in 2015. The second largest population of White-bellied Heron occurs in Mangdechhu and Drangmechhu Basins and their tributaries draining through the Dzongkhag. The Golden Langur which is endemic to Bhutan and the Indian state of Assam is largely found in the entire Dzongkhag.
After a three-year break, Zhemgang opened the curtains of the Bhutan Bird Festival this year. The festival is an annual event for Zhemgang Dzongkhag and a signature occasion to promote community-based ecotourism with the objectives of celebrating the birth anniversary of the fourth king Jigme Singye Wangchuck and pay tribute to His Majesty’s visionary leadership to conservation in Bhutan, promote Community-based ecotourism in Zhemgang through signature events like river journey and bird watching and provide opportunities for local people to participate in festival and enhance their income. The festival begins on November 11th every year and ends on the 13th of the same month.
Dechen Choden from Zhemgang