A 9-time visitor to Bhutan, Ulrike Ropler Pensionier, 61, from Germany, was making a steady climb up the hill that shoulders the summit on which Lingshi dzong stands.
She had stopped and was looking at the open wilderness of the mountains when Kuensel approached her. “The Chebisa village used to be very clean but the stream and surroundings have become dirty now,” she said.
She said that there is a good feeling among tourist trekkers about Bhutan and many who followed her said that Bhutan is a very different country. “When I came to Bhutan for the first time in 1996, the villages were very clean and pristine but now we see rubbish and too much of plastic strewn, which is not very nice,” said Ms Pensionier.
With the rise in the number of trekkers every year, garbage consisting of pet bottles, candy wrappers and biscuit covers are also becoming ubiquitous around the campsites. Thangthankha, a big and open campsite, doesn’t seem to have garbage strewn around, but a closer look reveals the hidden truth. They are stuffed under boulders, inside caves and in the dense forest along the right bank of the Pa chhu.
The Officiating Joint Director of Services Division, Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB), Rinzin Jamtsho, blamed irresponsible trekking cooks. There is a standing regulation that all camping crews must return with their trash.
TCB officials said that they send inspectors to every exit point to check their trash according to the campers’ shopping lists during trekking seasons. If the groups are found to be breaking the rule, they are fined Nu 5,000 for the first time, Nu 10,000 for the second and their license is revoked on the third offence.
TCB also organises cleaning campaigns every year, alternately on the Paro and Gasa trekking trails. “ We clean up mainly to create awareness about keeping the trail clean. It shouldn’t be construed that we’re garbage collectors,” Rinzin Jamtsho said. Last year, the TCB cleaning campaign collected 15 sacks of garbage from the Gasa-Laya trail.
A 15-member cleanup team has already left for the Paro – Jhomolhari – Dodeyna and Druk Path trails. TCB is also in the phase of constructing a pilot ‘manage campsites’ along the Paro – Jhomolhari trail, where kitchen, shower and toilet facilities will be provided. “It’ll reduce garbage accumulation along the trekking trail,” said Rinzin Jamtsho.
A recent trekker to Laya and Lingshi, the United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (UNICEF) representative, Dr Gepke Hingst, said that the trekking experience was very beautiful. “Unfortunately, you see garbage being dumped in streams and I think it should be the forefront of discussions among the community and the gups,” she said.
So far, 531 tourists have trekked the Paro – Jomolhari trail this year, according to records with TCB.