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The recent incident where an Indian tourist climbed atop a choeten at Dochula has triggered public outcry, and reignited the debate to regulate regional tourism. 

Incident sparks outrage; builds pressure to regulate regional tourism

Tshering Palden

The recent incident where an Indian tourist climbed atop a choeten at Dochula has triggered public outcry, and reignited the debate to regulate regional tourism.

Many Bhutanese lambasted the tourist for being insensitive and poured their anger on social media. The action was a serious breach of conduct, act of disrespect to the faith and insensitive to the sentiments of the locals, many wrote.

The picture of the Indian tourist standing atop one of the 108 Druk Wangyal choetens at Dochula went viral starting October 17 evening.

The director general of Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), Dorji Dhradhul said that had there been a certified guide such an unfortunate incident would have been avoided.

“Since the handler (who accompanied the tourists) was not a registered guide we could not pursue the matter further,” he said.

Kuensel learnt that there had been numerous such cases by regional tourists and the concerned authorities have warned and taken actions against individuals responsible.

Dorji Dhradhul said that the main intention of having a regulation is to have every tourist accompanied by a professional guide.

“It’s mainly to ensure safety of the tourists, and that they have an enjoyable experience,” he said.

There was no signboard at Dochula to caution the visitors of what actions were prohibited at the site.

Dorji Dhradhul said that two signboards were printed in Singapore recently and would soon be posted at Phuentsholing and Paro airport.

Guide Association of Bhutan chairperson, Garab Dorji said majority of Indian tourists, at the moment, come in without local tour guides and in their own vehicles. “If rules are put in place, such problems will never occur.”

He said it was time to implement certain rules and regulations for regional tourists.

Opposition Leader Pema Gyamtsho (PhD), in a comment on social media, echoed the conerns of the stakeholders in the tourism industry and urged the government to expedite the framing and implementation of proper rules and regulations to avoid such incidents in future.

“Bhutan should welcome all visitors and provide them dignified entries and exits, pleasant and safe stays, and equal access to all visitation sites and facilities, but, on equal terms and conditions including pricing.”

Association of Bhutan Tour Operators general secretary, Sonam Dorji said that the Tourism Development Board and tourism council have been working on the draft guidelines to regulate regional tourism.

“We’ve pushed for this a long time and finally we’re hoping it would be implemented within this year,” he said.

Kuensel also learnt that it has been submitted to the Cabinet.

GAB has proposed to the authorities, including the Embassy of India, to help it set up a regional office in Phuentsholing, which would serve as an information and facilitation desk for all the regional tourists.

 

What happened? 

 The man from Maharashtra, India came through a tour company in India. A private individual handled the 15 bikers. The incident occurred on the fourth day of the tour while the bikers, who were on their way to Punakha from Thimphu,stopped at Dochula to rest.

Sources said that the woman guide, who was not registered, was arranging parking for those who were arriving at Dochula when the incident took place.

The biker found a Bhutanese carpenter carrying out maintenance works on the choeten and then climbed to take pictures.

Police in Punakha summoned and interrogated the individual yesterday. Police Chief Brigadier Chimi Dorji said that investigation found the individual was unaware of the religious sentiments associated with the stupa.

“We accepted the apology letter and he was released,” the chief said.

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