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Lhuentse bans brewing of Ara
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New Trekking Routes: Community based tourism
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Lhuentse bans brewing of Ara
Thimphu officials visiting Singye Dzong in Lhuentse were a bit surprised when locals offered bottles of Whey (or daw) instead of the usual ara (locally brewed liquor) as dongchang. Subordinate staff who searched for ara in the vicinity were politely but firmly refused.

Lhuentse dzongkhag has officially banned the brewing of ara in all its seven geogs after the second dzongkhag yargey tshogdue (DYT) meeting in February this year.

Offerings to visitors, home consumption and commercial sale has been completely banned while use of ara for special religious and social occasions like construction of new houses, birth and death has come down drastically.

Community based tourism: Two new trekking routes

The department of tourism (DoT) and the nature conservation division (NCD) have identified two trekking routes in western central and central Bhutan as part of pilot project to develop community tourism in the country. The two trekking routes will form the basis of a study on developing a proper framework for community based tourism in consultation with the primary stakeholders or the community members themselves. "Community based tourism", according to Karma Tshering of the NCD, "is an approach where the local community is actively involved in its development and management, are able to derive benefits and enhance income, and promote conservation of nature and culture". Earlier DOT, NCD and SNV officials presented the findings of the preliminary feasibility study on the existing ecological and cultural resources in the selected sites.

The two routes, from Nabji to Jangbi in Trongsa and Zhemgang and from Phobjikha to Kamichu in Wangdue and Tsirang were selected for their prominence as unblemished areas. "They are rich in flora and fauna, which is of interest to the tourists and lie within Jigme Singye Wangchuck national park," said DoT director, Lhatu Wangchuk. The Nabji to Jangbi trek starts from 1,000 metres and goes up to 1,500 metres passing through broad leafed sub-tropical forests.

It is a one-week trek and passes through eight villages. The Phobjikha to Kamechu route is a three-day trek with the route dropping from 2,900 metres to a much warmer Kamechu at about 600 metres.

Karma Tshering said that on this route, tourists will be able to see the endangered golden languor, hornbills and a variety of plants and flowers of which the most abundant is the Rhododendron.According to a eco tourism specialist, Charles Giblisco, with the DoT, the new routes will also address the seasonality problem as they are best suited for trekking between November and April, the lean tourist season. During summer these routes are infested with leeches and snakes.

The study indicated that the new routes will also help generate additional income to the local communities. Locals can run lodges, have campsites within the villages, provide horses for the tourists and also work as guides since they would be more familiar with the ecosystem of the place. Most villagers agreed that rendering services to tourists would fetch them additional income. But some villagers in Phobjikha and Kamechu felt that motor roads and electricity in their villages was more beneficial than leaving their environment untouched for tourist attraction.

"I had a hard time convincing the people about the benefits of the project," said one of the surveyors.The second stage of the project will list down the basic requirement for tourists in the pilot areas and study the possible socio-economic impact on the local community.

The third and final stage will result in tourists visiting the selected sites. Karma Tshering said that the main purpose of the project was to change the outlook of the community towards tourists 'from strangers to guests'. "And this can only be possible with the involvement of the community whereby they benefit."Meanwhile the start of the second phase is yet to be decided.

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