While the government had requested the Indian government to allow entry and exit of tourists from Darranga checkpost bordering Samdrupjongkhar until December this year and plans to conduct a bilateral meeting to resolve the issue, those in the business expect the governments to resolve it at the earliest.
The issue first surfaced in November last year when consultants from Thailand for Dungsam Cement, who exited from Samdrupjongkhar and entered India via Darranga were stopped at Kolkatta airport, imposed fines and stranded for days.
The understanding then, according to officials, was that since the consultants were travelling on e-visa, the immigration officials in India did not accept the Darranga entry. “We thought that Darranga was an accepted exit and entry point for third-country nationals as long as they had stamped visas,” an official explained.
However, in January and February this year, two groups of international tourists who had stamped visas and exited through Darranga were again stranded and imposed fines in Kolkatta. However, there were many tourists who exited through Darranga and were not stopped in Kolkatta.
The Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) had then written to Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) about the inconsistent application of immigration rules in Kolkatta and the need to clarify on whether Darranga was an official entry and exit point for tourists.
TCB had then written to the foreign ministry, who took up the matter with Indian Embassy in Thimphu, where it was confirmed that third country nationals could exit only through Paro and Phuentsholing.
TCB’s director general, Dorji Dhradul, said since it was officially confirmed that Darranga is not an accepted entry and exit point, they have informed tour operators that TCB would not entertain any applications for tourist who wishes to enter or exit from Samdrupjongkhar via Darranga. “We were respecting the Indian law and informing our tour operators through the notification.”
Indian media have, however, accused Bhutanese government of freezing the visas for international tourists wishing to exit through Samdrupjongkhar via Darranga.
Entry and exit through Darranga, sources say is important for both Bhutan and Assam, as high-end tourists visit eastern Bhutan and Assam through the route, benefitting both countries.