Nomadic community gears up for guests/tourists

Around 46 locals are being trained as cooks and guides for tourists

Merak-Sakteng : Around 46 Merak and Sakteng locals will be trained to guide tourists and cook, as the nomadic community in north eastern Trashighang opens officially to tourists next month.

A team of around eight experienced guides and trekking cooks is conducting the training for 15 days each in Merak and Sakten for 10 local guides and 36 cooks, said a tourism council of Bhutan (TCB) official. The training starts today.

Of the 10 would be local guides, eight are class XII dropouts, and the rest are classes IX and X dropouts. “The cooks will be trained in preparing both continental and local food that blend with the tastes of tourists,” a TCB official said.

To ensure that the local communities appreciate their traditional costumes, tour guides accompanying tourists might also wear the communities’ traditional costumes, said officials.

Dr Karma Tshering, with the nature recreation and ecotourism division at the ministry of agriculture and forests (MoAF), said that the strategy is being looked into to create some appreciation among the hosts to preserve such traditions.

“There is a lot of appreciation and it gives a sense of dignity and pride to the hosts, when they see outsiders wearing their traditional dresses,” Dr Karma Tshering said. “It has a major psychological impact and that would help preserve our culture.”

Although it’s still worn by some, he said, the culture of wearing traditional dresses is dying. “They just take a few hours walk to Trashigang and change into trousers,” he said. “So we’re looking at ways to gain support from locals to preserve the community’s tradition.”

The agriculture minister, Lyonpo (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho, said that they would ensure that most of the consumables, in terms of food and services, be provided by local people. “Instead of tourists taking butter, cheese and vegetables all the way from Trashigang, we’ll facilitate the farmers to grow fresh vegetables and produce hygienic milk and milk products for tourists,” he said. “We’ll also facilitate home stays with families and basic hospitality services.”

After feedback from some tour operators on “selling” Merak and Sakten at a higher price as an exclusive destination, officials said that the discussion on a special fee is still on. “But even if we stick to the present rate, we’ll ensure that the rates the communities get for the services they provide will be quite high to make up, in case we don’t impose the special fee.”

Dr Karma Tshering said, “We’ll ensure that there is minimum revenue leakage and that most of the money stays with the host population.”

Meanwhile work, such as construction of toilets, will start soon at the identified campsites. Fees will be charged for using the campsites. While the capacity of the campsite might change after the site is developed, agriculture officials estimate that it could accommodate around 40 people at any given time.

TCB has already received two bookings with about 10 tourists in each group for Merak and Sakten around the second week of September.

Source: Sonam Pelden (Kuensel)

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