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Pilgrims are the biggest litterbugs

Despite numerous cleanup campaigns, the trail to Taktshang remains strewn with trash

Tourism: From its base in Ramthangka until the monastery, the garbage strewn along the trail is evidence that the Taktshang monastery in Paro is one of the most visited destinations in the country.

Polythene bags, pet bottles and empty packets of packaged food litter the trail.  Three huge dustbins placed at different locations are overflowing.

Despite the recent cleanup by Clean Bhutan, a project initiated last year to advocate behavioural changes, the place still remains littered.

Project coordinator Nedup Tshering said people don’t take responsibility to empty the overflowing bins, let alone clean t

he trail. “The responsibility lies with the community but they don’t do it,” he said. “We’ve asked the community to inform the municipality after they bring down the waste.”

Although people are informed of the garbage issue, he said most don’t bother. “I’ve seen tourists coming back with waste but not Bhutanese.”

While hiking to Taktshang, some tourists stop on the way to collect garbage, while some express their disappointment.  A tourist said she was surprised to see garbage almost everywhere. “As a tourist hotspot, this shouldn’t be the case, especially with the monastery being a sacred one,” she said.

Tour operators also said that many tourists were concerned by the garbage issue in Taktshang, and said that the absence of a proper waste management system has aggravated the problem.

Tour operators, guides, hotels, and volunteers conduct ad hoc cleaning campaigns but, given the number of visitors, the place needs a regular cleaning.

A tour operator, who visited Taktshang last week, said he was happy to see the trail cleaned, but the wind had strewn the garbage from the overflowing bins. “Somebody should take up the responsibility seriously,” he said.

Lack of coordination among all agencies was pointed out as another issue for the mounting garbage issue.  Besides Taktshang, a tour operator said tourists complained of Bhutan being filled with garbage. “Tour operators alone can’t do much, we need to work together and there are people willing to help,” he said.

With over 1,000 people hiking to Taktshang every day, Tsento gup Chencho said it was difficult for the community to keep the trail clean.  Besides tourists, horsemen, local visitors, and people catering to tourists also use the trail.

He said Tsento gewog, along with hotels like Uma, Amankora, and Zhiwaling, take turns monthly to clean the trail, while in summers, students volunteered.

“We remind people not to litter and the dzongkhag, gewog and tourism council of Bhutan (TCB) monitor the trail every month,” gup Chencho said.

Another issue, the gup highlighted was that the garbage collection trucks were irregular in their community.  The gewog has requested TCB to help them procure a garbage truck.

“We’ve also requested the dzongkhag to send the garbage truck at least twice a week to collect the waste.”

A Tsento resident said it was time the gewog or the dzongkhag initiated a nominal fee for tourists to address the issue of garbage and safety of the trek path. “If not, with everyone blaming each other, and no one taking responsibility, the issue will remain forever,” he said.

By Kinga Dema, Paro

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