More than three years after it was inaugurated, Gelephu domestic airport received its first scheduled flight, yesterday.
The national airline, Drukair, flew seven revenue paying local passengers and four government guests, including the information and communications secretary to Gelephu from Paro. From Gelephu, the airline picked up the information and communications minister and other government officials on its return flight to Paro via Bumthang.
The airline will conduct two flights a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays to Gelephu.
The promotional fare for Bhutanese is currently Nu 6,000 for a return ticket to Gelephu, and Nu 3,500 for a one way ticket. The flight time between Paro and Gelephu is 45 minutes.
Foreigners will be charged USD 250 for a return trip and USD 140 one way.
Drukair CEO, Tandin Wangchuk said that commercially the flights will not be financially sustainable and that the airline is simply following the government’s directive. “We’re respecting a government directive and we’re operating,” he said.
The government instructed Drukair to begin flying scheduled operations to Gelephu in April and in November.
He pointed out that Drukair would operate to Gelephu even if there is only one passenger flying one way. But when there are no passengers, the airline will not operate.
The CEO said that the government could make the business more sustainable for Drukair if it were to provide aviation fuel facilities at Gelephu domestic airport. Up to 30 percent of the cost of a flight is spent on fuel.
Department of Air Transport (DAT) director, Karma Wangchuk said that it may not be commercially viable for the Bhutan Oil Distributor to have in place aviation fuel facilities at Gelephu given the potentially low number of flights to the airport. However, he said that the DAT will ask the fuel company.
Tandin Wangchuk also said that the government should consider expanding Gelephu airport so that both airlines can use it to temporarily halt there when there is bad weather at Paro international airport. He said this would be a cheaper alternative than having to halt at Kolkata or Bagdorgra.
Karma Wangchuk said that there are plans to eventually expand the airport but that significant costs would be involved. He said any expansion would depend on the government and fund availability.
Tandin Wangchuk did not rule out Drukair approaching the government later on if it is found that the route remains unsustainable.
The erstwhile Department of Civil Aviation constructed the airport at a cost of Nu 225.3 million. A further Nu 9 million was spent to build a new terminal at the airport when the runway had to be shifted and it was found that the first terminal was located too far away.
The whole town is awake and the people are rushing to the celebration ground.
This day’s observation of 108th National Day celebration in Paro is special. And this is happening at a historically significant venue – The Ugyen Pelri Palace – the seat of the once powerful Paro Penlop Kusho Tshering Penjor.
It is early morning, 3am. Paro, December 17.
The winter sun is mellow and the air cold. But the day is bright and the atmosphere most serene. The significance of the day has added special colour to the day. And the King arrives.
People turn solemn and earnestly reverent all of a sudden. Glad they are that the monarch extraordinaire has come to partake of the joy and success of the nation with the people of Paro Dzongkhag. And there is His Majesty the Fourth King and the Royal Family.
The National Day is important to us, His Majesty said. “On this day in 1907, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck became the first hereditary King of Bhutan, and from that day onwards, the successive Kings, the government, and people, have worked together in harmony to build our nation. Their collective efforts over the years have resulted in the peace and prosperity that we enjoy today.”
His Majesty said while some countries suffered economic crises, others had to deal with internal conflicts, terrorism, war and natural disasters in 2015, Bhutan, with the blessings of theKenchosum, the merit of the people, the prayers of our ancestors, and the protection of our guardian deities, this year was filled with peace and happiness. “I am deeply satisfied by our hard work and achievements.” His Majesty informed that next year is not only the birth year of Guru Rinpoche, who came to Bhutan in the 8th century, but also marks 400 years since Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel began the wheel of the dual system of governance in Bhutan.
“Since then, 54 desis governed the country, beginning with Desi Umze Tenzin Drugyel, and ensured that Bhutan remained united. We have had an unbroken line of Je Khenpos beginning with Je Pekar Jugne, to Je Trulku Jigme Chhoeda today. Their efforts have helped the dharma to flourish boundlessly,” His Majesty said.
“Since 1907, with the installation of the hereditary Monarchy, our successive Kings, along with the people, have worked tirelessly to achieve our national goals and strengthen our country.”
The collective efforts of those years culminated in the establishment of the democratic system of governance in 2008, said His Majesty. “With democracy, we aspire to build a just and harmonious society, strengthen our beloved country, and fulfill all the aspirations of our people.”
His Majesty bestowed upon some 45 retired civil servants gold medals for the service they rendered to the nation and the people with true faith and utmost dedication. Among them were teachers and educators, engineers and agriculturists, linguists and lamas.
This award to the citizens emeritus was instituted by the Royal Civil Service Commission in 2013 to remind and encourage the young and highly potential civil servants to work even harder for the benefit of the country and the people. The success of this fast prospering nation hinges on the strength and dynamism of its civil servants, said His Majesty The King.
This year’s National Day in Paro, the one-time capital of Bhutan, was also markedly extraordinary because His Majesty the King gave special recognition to education and the educators. Bhutan has come a long way in terms of socioeconomic development, but its future will inevitably depend on the success of education and growth of excellence in teaching, said His Majesty the King.
His Majesty The King emphasised on the importance of protecting and preserving Bhutan’s rich culture and heritage that give shape to the face of a nation that is increasingly becoming an example of a good and successful country in the comity of nations. In the last one decade, seven dzongs in the country were renovated, three newly built, and some 300 choetens entirely rebuilt. There are still 2836 choetens in the country to be rebuilt.
That is why the service of some seven Bhutanese traditional engineers and architects were recognised with gold medal.
“We are lucky to have been able to celebrate the nation’s most important day with His Majesty The King. We pray for the nation to succeed beyond what it has been able to until now. Peace and prosperity will come so long as we have monarchs like we have been blessed with,” said 78-year-old Aum Kencho.
His Majesty the King informed the people that Bhutan has a unique advantage to achieve great heights. Time has now come for the people of the country to act for the benefit of the country and its people. It is a matter now of whether we can muster the courage to do it, not of whether we can, said His Majesty The King.
Bhutan is slowly emerging as a destination for sex with tourists from the West and the sub-continent looking for young girls and boys in Bhutan.
This was one of the emerging vulnerabilities listed in the recently released study on status of vulnerable children conducted by RENEW (Respect, Educate, Nurture and Empower Women) with support from Save The Children.
While there are no figures to support this “invisible findings” the study states that this has been happening for some time.
“This is the area where high-end sex workers also enter,” the study states. “Tourists are preferred due to the monetary incentive and also the fact that they would leave the country, thus protecting identity of the service providers.”
Other emerging vulnerabilities, according to the study are commercial sex workers, which include children besides children born to HIV/AIDs patients but are negative, family and neighbours of children with mental illness and children of parents serving time in prison.
Based on case studies, the study states that with various categories of sex workers, the profession was slowly becoming well organized. It further states that single women can be picked up at bars and discotheques and are paid a paltry sum of Nu 200 to 500 while school drop-outs and the unemployed, who mostly approach men themselves in intoxicated state, often siphon off everything that the man has.
The study also states that there are commercial sex workers below 18 years, whose identity and phone numbers are known by few people. “High-end girls, both children and youth insist on going to hotels of their choice for sex,” it states.
The study highlighted that under-age girls, including students being engaged in the trade and attributes this trend to poverty. Those serving high-end customers charge a minimum of Nu 15,000 a night.
“Clients are mainly Thimphu’s mobile population, particularly Indian tourists and those working in various hydropower projects, apart from other tourists and few Bhutanese,” the study found.
Tour operators and guides agreed that there could be women catering to tourists with the increase in visitors. However, they said it has to be verified as the information are based on hearsay.
Guides Association of Bhutan’s president Garab Dorji said that from what he heard, it was quite rampant.
“We hear of cases where some tourists indicate or demand female guides and escorts to accompany them during their stay in the country,” he said. “If true, it needs to be monitored as it could lead to bigger issues in future especially if it’s arranged by tour operators, guides or drivers.”
A tour operator said the issue was more prominent among regional tourists than the tariff paying tourists. “But it’s not right as Bhutan is known as an exotic cultural and spiritual destination,” he said.
The study also states social stigma, low self-esteem, single parents and poverty have made children born to HIV/AIDs patients but are negative, more vulnerable.
Lhak-Sam, the study states was not able to bring this group into their family while there is no record on the number of HIV/AIDs patients who are married and have conceived. “Neither is there a record of children who are negative but born to HIV/AIDs parents,” it states.
Mental trauma such children faced has led to attempted suicide among them, the study states.
The study also categorises children of parents serving time in prison as the vulnerable lot as they are often subject to social stigma, poverty, negligence, exclusion or deprivation and exposed to abuse.
One of the limitations highlighted in the study was the difficulty in contacting vulnerable groups like commercial sex workers. As conducting focus group discussion with them was impossible, since the girls do not want to know each other, snowballing sampling was adopted to get information on this vulnerable group.
Another limitation was lack of a standard definition of vulnerability or a baseline indicating the prevalence, type and factors making children vulnerable. “For obtaining a nationwide status of the vulnerable, a national level study should be conducted,” the study recommend.
For the purpose of the study, a vulnerable child was defined as “a child in difficult circumstances,” incorporated from the Child Care and Protection Act.
Of the total sample size of 891 children, 459 were in Trashigang, 235 in Paro and 197 in Tsirang. Respondents were children with one form of vulnerability or the other.
The entire country will observe three days of celebrations and
festivities beginning November 9 and culminating on the 11th for the
60th Birth Anniversary Celebrations of His Majesty the Fourth Druk
Gyalpo, it was announced at a press conference on Thursday.
The conceptual guidelines for the three days of celebrations was presented by special coordinator Dasho Sonam Tenzin.
While celebrations and festivities will be occurring, Dasho Sonam
Tenzin pointed out that His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo has made it
clear to the organizers that the emphasis should be on “nation building”
as commanded by His Majesty The King, rather than a birthday party,
Dasho Sonam Tenzin said.
In line with this over arching theme, the focus of the celebrations
will be on reflecting the achievements of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, taking
stock of the current status of initiatives and achievements, and to
plan for the future based on the vision, wisdom, and direction of His
Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.
“Everything we have is because of what He has done,” Dasho Sonam Tenzin said.
His Majesty The King will be addressing the nation on November 11.
While prayers are already being conducted for the occasion, the Zhung Dratshang on November 7, will hold a Goempoi Tongtshog Kurim by 100 monks at Tashichhodzong and a public Nyen-ney Yenlag Gye-Pai Dompa by the Dorji Lopen at Tendrel Thang. On November 8, three thongdrols will be unfurled at Tashichhodzong and other rites conducted.
The activities, which will commence on the 9th, are divided into
three categories: paying tribute and gratitude, the offering of
collective prayers, and celebrating the occasion of His Majesty the
Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s 60th Birth Anniversary.
Some of the highlights during the three day celebrations include His
Majesty The King presenting one statue of Chenrizig to each of the 205
gewogs enabling the people to pay homage to His Majesty the Fourth Druk
Gyalpo. Each statue is to be placed in a temple that is mutually agreed
upon by the people of the gewog. However, if there is disagreement,
throw of dice will determine which temple is chosen.
The Queen’s Project Office in collaboration with the 60th Birth
Anniversary Celebration Coordination Unit will launch 60 different
products from various dzongkhags under the One Gewog, One Product
programme. The products shall be displayed in tents and sold to the
While deferred to after the celebrations, a Druk Gi Norbui Kachen to
pay tribute to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo’s extraordinary
qualities of Ku-Sung-Thug-Yonten-Thinley will be built. The
monument will be made out of solid stone and be 30 feet high. “The
presentation of the monument will be simple but striking with profound
significance as the Asoka pillar,” it was pointed out.
The monument will eventually be replicated in all dzongkhags.
The celebrations have been organized into four themes.
The first theme is the offering of kurims and longevity prayers for His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. Nationwide kurims in all dzongs, monasteries, temples, gomdeys, and shedras will be held. A collective recitation of Kanjur by various shedras will also take place. Soelkha will occur in all goenkhangs nationwide and Baza Guru, mani, tshedo, and tshedrub, will be recited jointly by the dratshang, rabdeys, chhodeys, drubdeys, and the public.
The second theme is to create a special event and environment for
people to express their gratitude, love, devotion, and loyalty to the
His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.
An elaborate chipdrel seldrang will be staged for the final
day of celebrations. A guard of honour by 1,000 army personnel, will be
presented three times to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. The Zhung Dratshang, rabdey, chhodey, civil service, dakhagsum, and public, will offer a Mendrel Ku-Sum-Thugten or Mandala.
A zhabten for His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo, described by
Dasho Sonam Tenzin as perhaps the highlight of the programme, will also
be offered collectively by the 1,000 representatives of the Dratshang
and Chhodey, and representatives from various other sections of society.
Dzongs, boulevards, institutional buildings, and streets will be
decorated with flowers, trees, the respectable display of pictures of
the monarchs, and illuminations.
The third theme is to stage for the highest quality entertainment
programmes that legitimises the event philosophically, ritually, and
ceremonially. All schools will be provided with the opportunity of
coming up with exceptional programmes and the best ones screened in
their respective dzongkhags.
The Dratshang shall display the Zhing-Sheg Pem Chham by 100 monks at Changlimithang.
Senior citizens, above the age of 70, both male and female, will
perform a traditional dance for His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.
Thousands of colourful bio-degradable balloons will be released.
The fourth theme includes parallel entertainment programmes to be
organized at different places at different timings in Thimphu city by
private entertainment associations.
Shows will be organized at the Centenary park, Dechenchholing,
Changjiji, Clock Tower square, Mothithang park, and on Norzin lam.
A treasure hunt is planned for November 9 to be held at Mothithang, Dechencholing, and Nazhoen Pelri.
On November 10, a marathon for the elderly, above age 60, will begin
and end at the Clock Tower square, besides various other entertainment
On November 11, a cake cutting ceremony will be held in three locations.
Separate avenues may be created to stage all traditional sports of Bhutan.
All 205 gewogs will observe and celebrate the occasion.
After trekking for two days from Shana in Paro and as temperatures dipped to almost zero degree, about 200 people including tourists joined the local communities last week at the third Jomolhari Mountain festival to celebrate life in the mountains.
Amusement: Winners of a horse race, which was held as part of the Jomolhari Mountain festival last week (Photo: Lhendup Tharchen, JDNP)
Perhaps the coldest festival celebrated in the country, the two-day fiesta at the base of Mount Jomolhari, which is about 3,850 meters above sea level, is organized annually to encourage wildlife conservation through community participation and promote ecotourism opportunities in the Jomolhari region.
Among others, one of the highlights of the fest this year were the hikers sighting the elusive snow leopard, the national bird ravan, the Himalayan black bear, blue sheep and marmots.
About 50 visitors, in groups with local guides hiked to Tshophu, Lhaliphu, Bagala and Thomphuna. The guided tours, said festival organizers help the local community generate income besides the fest also providing a forum for them to market their dairy produces.
Through various events such as the horse race among the community’s men, the festival, which the Department of Forests and Park Servcies’ director general Chencho Norbu opened on October 7 also showcased local culture and tradition and encourage yak herding among the people in the highlands.
Unlike in the last two festivals, this year, a team of five officials from the Faculty of Nursing and Public Health (FNPH) joined the community and provided a free health checkup. The Bhutan Foundation, which had supported the first two festivals, funded the health camp, which the people received well, said park officials.
“The health checkup, which was done for the first time benefitted the communities including park officials,” Jigme Dorji National Park manager, Lhendup Tharchen said. “Given the long distance that people have to travel to avail health care, the check up saw a good turn out.”
About 100 people got their health checked, the dean of FNPH, who led the team Dr Chencho Dorji said. “We checked their Body Mass Index and people were quite happy to get the facility, even though there is a BHU there,” he said. “Those who were found with hypertension and high sugar levels were asked to visit a hospital.”
The teachers and students of Jomolhari School also participated in the fest with cultural programs while an art competition was also organized for the students.
“The main objective of the festival is to strengthen community based conservation by involving the communities,” Lhendup Tharchen said.
The Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) with the gewogs of Tsento and Soe organized the Nu 5.5M festival that the Tourism Council of Bhutan funded. The festival is held every year on the 25th and 26th day of the eighth month of the Bhutanese Calendar.