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Citizens initiative for safer Taktsang trail

Safety: Following the recent death of a tourist at Taktsang, a private campaign has been launched to collect funds and make the trail to the monastery a safer one.

While the campaign is still in its very early stages and a concrete objective has not yet been decided, the goal is to at least collect enough money to install railings at sections that can be made safer.

The Thai tourist who died last week fell from an area that had no railing as the section was too narrow for one to be installed, according to the dzongkhag.

“To hear that somebody died at a place we find so much peace and happiness was very sad,” said Vivi Tshering, the organiser of the campaign: “Safe trails for Taktsang”. Following a discussion among family and friends, she set up a page on Facebook for the campaign.

So far, almost 800 people have “liked” or subscribed to the page.

She said the public response has been overwhelming and that the next steps of the campaign are being determined. The organiser will be travelling with Paro dzongkhag officials to Taktsang shortly to obtain an estimate of the amount of money that will be required.

However, Vivi Tshering pointed out that the trail to Taktsang has been improved significantly in recent times with the installation of railings, among others, and that it is not unsafe if the hiker is careful and alert. “We don’t want to alarm anybody and I’m not trying to frighten anyone or anything,” she said.

But she also pointed out that the recent death was an indication that the trail is not as safe at it can be. “It’s just that maybe it’s not 100 percent safe, obviously, because somebody did die,” she said.

She added that for the elderly, especially elderly tourists, and children, the path to the monastery can be challenging. And so if railings could be added in areas that require it, the hike up and down to the monastery would become a safer, more relaxed and more enjoyable experience, she explained.

If enough money is collected, she did not rule out further enhancements to the trail and even installation of new toilets, and renovation of an existing one located at the base.

“As citizens we love that place, if we can make it safer and nicer for everybody I thought it would be nice,” she said.

The campaign is entirely a private citizens initiative. “I just thought every time we say that it’s not our responsibility, the government should do this or that office should do that,” said Vivi Tshering. “But I thought it’s okay, let whoever should do it, do it, but from our side, if we can do something, why not.”

The organiser also travels with her family to the monastery every month.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) welcomed the private initiative. “Any private initiative is welcome,” said TCB spokesperson Damcho Rinzin.

TCB collaborates with Paro dzongkhag on the up-gradation and upkeep of the Taktsang trail. The construction of an alternate route for horses, a fire alarm system at the monastery along with fire extinguishers, and lockers for visitors to store their cameras, among others, are some of the works that have been undertaken.

Damcho Rinzin said that the dzongkhag has been given the task to build a toilet near the monastery and that funds have been acquired for another toilet at the base. However, he said TCB has been unable to acquire land for the toilet at the base for “many years”.

Meanwhile, the Thai foreign ministry announced that it will now advise Thais travelling to Bhutan to buy travel insurance, and be aware of weather and landscape conditions prior to travel, according to Thai media reports. The spokesperson for the Thai foreign ministry added that be believes better precautionary measures will be put in place following the accident, it was also pointed out in a Thai media report.

The spokesperson added that relations and tourism between the two countries will not be affected by the incident.

By Gyalsten K Dorji

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