Panbang’s Tourism Woe

Panbang’s Tourism Woe

Panbang’s Eco-Tourism potential is hindered by the absence of an exit and entry point nearby

Even as the country and concerned stakeholders strive to bring in more tourists to the country, an eco-tourism hotspot within the country remains untapped, not because of the lack of potential visitors, but the absence of an entry and exit point, with visitors having to take a long detour of 164 kilometers (km) when they are just about 13km away, a distance they can even walk.

This is a concern of the people in Panbang, who are preparing to write a proposal requesting the government to establish a checkpoint and thus an entry and exit point.

According to the people of Panbang, visitors from Bansbari, in the district of Assam, India, must travel 164 km to Gelephu and enter Panbang, and repeat the same distance to exit. With entry and exit points in Panbang, however, visitors would only have to travel 13 km. People say that the lack of accessibility is keeping Panbang from reaching its full potential as a tourism destination, and the benefits that come with it.

One of the founders of Jungle Lodge and a member of River Guides of Panbang, Ugyen Tshering, said that the people are planning to write to the government for the possibility to establish an entry and exit point. “However the second alternative, if the government does not consider the first proposal is to at-least establish an exit point,” Ugyen said.

He said that if the entry and exit point is nearby, the whole community would benefit, including rafting jungle lodges, eco-lodges, and hotels.

“If the entry and exit point could be from Manas Park and Bansbari, it would greatly benefit the people.”

He also said that initially, people might have thought that having an entry and exit through Manas Park is not important.  “But after researching for five consecutive years, people found out that around 180,000 tourists come to the Indian side of Manas Park annually, and there are over 60 camps, resorts, lodges, and Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) which are not able to accommodate all of these tourists,” Ugyen added.

According to him, the people of Panbang are confident that they will be able to attract visitors who are visiting the Indian side of the Park if there is an entry and exit in Panbang. He attributed this to the fact that the Royal Manas Park is on the top of the ten list of world heritage sites. Ugyen also noted that India has the second-highest population in the world and that currently, the number of Indian visitors to Bhutan is the highest.

“When around 180,000 to 200,000 visitors come to the Indian side of the park, they will be willing to come to Panbang also; but the lack of an entry and exit point in the place restricts them,” he said.

Ugyen underlined that the only business prospect in Panbang is eco-tourism, through which the community can earn. Additionally, he said, “If there cannot be an entry and exit point in Panbang for any reason, there is Nganglam integrated check point nearby, but it is currently not in use. If it opens up, it will be a good alternative.”

“Many guests who come to Panbang are from Guwahati, and they would benefit greatly from a nearby entry and exit point. Even if tourists enter from the current integrated check point, the exit could be from here.”

Meanwhile, another resident and River Guide of Panbang, Sangay Penjor said that it would be feasible for tourists if the government can make it possible for tourists to either enter through Gelephu but exit through Nganglam or Pangbang or either to make tourists enter Panbang or Nganglam and exit through Gelephu.

“Basically, we are requesting the establishment of either an entry or exit point in Panbang. Right now, tourists have to enter through Gelephu and travel all the way back to Gelephu, regardless of where they are based,” he said.

Currently there are 4 integrated checkpoints; Gelephu, Phuntsholing, Samdrup Jong khar and Samtse.

Meanwhile, in a place like Panbang, tourists face difficulties no matter where they enter or exit from as Panbang is far from the above four points and lacks entry and exit point.

Panbang residents reiterate that the only viable business prospect in Panbang is tourism. Previously, the main industry was the export of oranges, but ecotourism has now taken over. “It’s not hard to see why, as there are many attractions to see in Panbang. In terms of eco-tourism, Panbang is considered one of the hottest spots in the country. But we hardly have tourists,” one resident said.

The Royal Manas National Park is a great example of biodiversity epitomized. The Manas region is synonymous with biodiversity and is Bhutan’s oldest protected park. With about 92% of the area covered by vegetation and five different vegetation types, it is home to a wide range of fauna, including many rare and endangered species such as the Royal Bengal tiger, Asian elephant, gaur, wild buffalo, wild dog, common leopard, Black Panther, marbled cat, golden cat, clouded leopard, and Chinese pangolin. The park also hosts species endemic to the Eastern Himalayan foothills, such as the golden langur, capped langur, pygmy hog, and hispid hare.

In addition to other attractions, an eco-trail offers a unique experience. Located at an altitude of 420 meters above sea level, Shilingtoe Falls can be reached via a hike through a nearby village, providing an aerial view due to its higher elevation. Along the trail, visitors can spot a variety of bird species such as bulbuls, barbets, thrushes, hornbills, kingfishers, cormorants, wagtails, trogons, and others.

The hike from Shilingtoe to Changazam suspension bridge takes about three hours and offers an opportunity to see a religious cave, bat cave, and a twin waterfall called Lelang. From Changazam, a motorable road connects to Panbang and the Indian Manas Tiger Reserve

Meanwhile, other attractions in Panbang and Bhutan’s Manas include boating, river rafting, elephant rides, and wildlife watching, all of which are coordinated by the Park Range Office at Manas. Boating and river rafting along the Manas River offers a chance to view goral, capped langurs, cormorants, and many other bird species, as well as the beautiful landscape

This story is supported by GEF-UNDP Ecotourism Project under the Department of Tourism.

Tshering Pelden from Thimphu