Entry fee for Monuments
The entry fee system for tourists visiting significant places, which was started in Thimphu and Paro, will expand to other dzongkhags according to the Dratshang Lhentshog.
Last year, the Dratshang Lhentshog and the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) notified that tourists, who do not pay the daily tariff, would need to buy an entrance ticket worth Nu 300 to visit the Tashichhodzong in Thimphu.
The entrance fee requirement is already in place at the Memorial Choeten in Thimphu and Taktsang at Paro. It is Nu 300 for the Memorial Choeten and Nu 500 for Taktsang.
Dratshang Lhentshog secretary, Karma Tsering Namgyal said, that countries charge for monuments but Bhutan hasn’t done so until recently. He said that there had been problems related to overcrowding at commonly visited places because there are no tour guides for non-tariff paying tourists. “The tourists paying high tariff visiting Bhutan do not receive the facilities they deserve,” he said.
The initiative is aimed at giving better quality service for the benefit of tourists visiting Bhutan.
Karma Tsering Namgyal said that tourists after paying the entry fee are led by tour guides from the assigned place. He said that with proper guides, tourists would not enter restricted areas or break from the group causing overcrowding. “The government is pursuing a project that is in line with the GNH principle by making sure that our visitors have a very good experience with the country,” he said.
TCB stated that tourists paying a daily tariff of USD 200/250 and children below 7 are exempted from paying entrance fee. There will be 50 percent deduction for student tourists upon production of the student ID card.
Counters are made available at the chosen places to provide entry tickets. Karma Tsering Namgyal said that the fee is subject to revision.
The collected fees will be used to pay tour guides. The money will also be used in future for improving facilities such as restrooms, sheds and canteens at the sacred places.
An audit committee comprising of the information and communications secretary, the Chief of police, Dratshang Lhentshog secretary, concerned dzongdags, TCB director and the home secretary, will monitor the fee collected by TCB.
Meanwhile, the Dratshang Lhentshog secretary clarified that there was no instruction from their office asking visitors to wear the national dress during the prayer recitation that was held recently at the Memorial Choeten. The prayer recitation was held from June 29 to July 3, to celebrate the birth anniversary of Guru Rinpoche.
In 2016, a total of 209, 570 tourists including regional and international visited Bhutan. Tourist arrivals increased to 35 percent last year, compared to the previous high of 16 percent in 2015. This was the highest growth percentage in the last five years, according to the recently released Bhutan Tourism Monitor 2016.
Two new birds discovered
Two new species of birds, the Oriental pratincole (Glareola maldivarum) and Desert wheatear (Oenanthe deserti) were discovered in Wangduephodrang and Punakha respectively on April 25.
While a teacher from Bajo Higher Secondary School and a keen bird watcher, Tshering Tobgay spotted the Oriental pratincole on April 25, Jigme Dorji National Park senior forester, Lekey Wangdi spotted the Desert wheatear on the same day. The Oriental pratincole was found in the Punatshanchhu and the Desert wheatear was spotted at Khawajara in Samdingkha that morning.
With the two additions reported less than a month after the discovery of the Godlweski’s bunting in March, Bhutan now has 721 bird species. In February, the Yellow-eyed babbler was recorded at the Royal Manas National Park.
Lekey Wangdi who has an interest in high altitude birds said this is his first discovery. He said he did not know if the bird he spotted is a new species. He shared a photograph of his finding on the Birds of Bhutan Facebook page, where an ornithologist of Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation of Environment, Sherub and others confirmed the bird as a Desert wheatear.
Birds of Bhutan is a popular Facebook page for Bhutanese bird watchers, where some prominent local and global ornithologists share information, videos, bird song records and photographs of birds.
Tshering Tobgay who spotted the Oriental pratincole took to Facebook to express his excitement on the discovery. “I can’t enjoy more than this – sighting of this species in Bhutan,” Tshering Tobgay wrote. Both local and global ornithologists confirmed the bird in his photograph as the Oriental pratincole.
Tshering Tobgay however expressed concerns over mining activities in the Punatshangchhu, which he claimed is a hotspot for water birds. “Almost all water birds found in the country are found here in Punatshangchhu,” he said.
The critically endangered White-bellied heron and River Lapwing, which are categorised as vulnerable in the International Union for Conservation of Nature, are both found in the river. Other water birds roosting and feeding in the river include, the Mandarin duck, Mallard and Grey heron.
Tshering Tobgay urged the need to regulate and reduce mining activities along the Punatshangchhu. “Sand quarries and other forms of environmental degradation can be detrimental for the water birds so it’s important to conserve and protect the river by reducing disturbances,” he said.
Bhutanese bird enthusiasts are also planning to participate in the upcoming Global Big Day for the second time on May 4. Last year during their debut in the Global Big Day, they recorded 165 bird species. Global Big Day is an international annual bird-watching event contested by bird watchers across the world on a single day.
Tempa Wangdi, Kuensel
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