It’s now winter but Thinley, a farmer in Trongsa is looking forward to next autumn. Not that he’s particularly crazy about the season, though things may seem nicer then. What he’s excited about is the stream of tourists that the fall delivers.
Tourists mean opportunity for work, and to make some money.
The 50 year old lanky man from Nabji village, made about Nu 10,000 in 2008 portering tourist bags and tents and foodstuff using his ponies. Fortunately for him, since the government opened the Nabji Korphu eco-tourism trail, tourists have been coming to the region. Their numbers are not huge, but enough to keep him occupied, from autumn through winter, the seasons tourists visit. Winter is not bitter cold like in Paro or Bumthang, it’s relatively balmy.
Thinley plans, the most part, to use his money on his 4 school going children. There are uniforms to buy, shoes to repair. The Nabji Korphu eco-tourism trail, since its opening in 2006 has had that kind of impact. It has opened new windows of extra revenue and beneficiaries include the farmers of 6 villages in Nabji, Korphu and Nimshong of Korphu gewog and Kuda, Phumzur and Jangbi of Langthel gewog. It is the country’s first community eco-tourism trai with two entries points – one from Tongtophey in Langthel via the Jangbi, Phumzur and Kubdra villages to Nabji Korphu; and the other from Reutala via Nimzhong.
Located in the core area of Jigme Singye Wangchuck national park, the trail has chirpine and broad leaved trees and bamboos to rhododendrons and wild orchid along the way. One of the rare animals, found in Bhutan and Assam, the golden langur is most commonly seen here. It’s also the home to the endangered rufous-necked hornbill.
“The trail has helped improve the living standard of people by providing alternative means of sustainable livelihoods,” said Nimzhong tshogpa Adola, 55.
Korphu gup Wangda told Kuensel that the farmers of the 6 villages, located along the trail, earn cash through porterage, assisting as cooks, and as village guides. Some perform cultural programmes and sell crafts and vegetables. Others have set up village lodges. Such possibilities of employment were non existent in the past. Cardamom used to grow but some disease killed it all. The trail came as a godsend.
Records with the Jigme Singye Wangchuk national park office in Nabji show that, in 2008 alone, about 110 tourists used the trail. The trail has also helped in community development, as the campsite fees, rented for Nu 300 a night per tourist, goes directly to the community development saving fund. A part of the farmer’s earnings of 10 percent also goes to the fund. So far, the 6 villages have saved more than Nu 100,000 each, which, village tshogpas say, they will spend on their village development projects, children’s education and expansion and maintenance of the trail and its infrastructure.
Amidst all this success, one village feels a bit left out. Residents of the 78 households in Korphu village complain that only few tourists visit their village. Farmer Karma said that only about 20 percent of all tourists visiting the trail come to Korphu. This, he said, was because guides and porters from other villages, especially, Kubdra and Nimzhong, took the tourist directly to Nabji to escape the steep climb to Korphu. Because of this, benefits are not spread equally. He is optimistic, however, that the tourism council of Bhutan would do something about the matter.
The trail has, however, uplifted the Monpas of Trongsa as it passes right through their homeland. The trail attracts Bhutanese tourists as well. Nabji Korphu has historical importance. As the first place to be visited by Guru Rinpoche, many people use the trail to visit the holy Nabji lhakhang, where the commemorative pillar, which symbolises the occasion when peace was negotiated by Guru Rinpoche in the eight century between the two kings, Nauche from India and Sindu Raja from Bumthang Chakar is present.
A lot of traces and sites, considered as ney (holy places) are also in the region along Jangbi to Phumzur via the Nabji-Korphu trail.