English | Dzongkha Sunday, April 11, 2021

Same old wastes around tourist destinations even without a single foreign visitor

Mar 1, 2021

The country has not received a single tourist after the COVID-19 pandemic gripped the world almost a year ago. But what remains the same even after a year is the waste problem. From filthy trails to plastic-choked waterways, litter is still threatening some of the destinations and wildernesses in the country. While most people blamed tourists for the wastes in and around tourist destinations before, Bhutanese environmentalists say residents are no different.

Gyembo is a freelance guide who nowadays has fully committed to picking up trash. Every Saturday, he religiously organises a cleaning campaign mostly around Thimphu city and holy places. Just recently, Gyembo, with his friends, organised a mass cleaning along the Kuensel Phodrang area. When trash was found along the way to Kuensel Phodrang in Thimphu before, the blame was put on tourists in the country.

And Gyembo also used to think that foreign visitors were responsible for most of the wastes in the country.

“The kind of wastes regional tourists produce are mineral water bottles, and some pack their food which is few. When I look at it properly, it’s our own people. One thing I have come to realise is, one reason we blame them is that we want to save ourselves from the embarrassment of littering,” he said.

Many destinations that saw very limited local travellers before are now seeing an increase in visitors.  Discarded pet bottles and chips packets, sanitary napkins and diapers, food packaging and other waste reveals the ugly face of local tourism.

“I have been going around many of the touristic areas nearby Thimphu and outside Thimphu. So just to get a glimpse of it and then I found out there are many local tourists visiting there especially around the lakes and also going up to Phajoding. If you go above Tango, there is a pilgrim area, which is filled with litter.  If you go to Phajoding, it is also almost unbearable to see all these litters. All this while before the pandemic, we were like regional tourists is doing that, tour operators are leaving behind that but local tourist are equally responsible,” said Nedup Tshering, the Executive Director of Clean Bhutan.

The domestic tourism sector is growing, but so is its litter.

“Let’s stop the blame game. And let’s take responsibility for our own trash and something like less is more. Today we seem to be bogged down with consumerism things. So that’s where all these trash is generated. We are considered an environment-friendly country but I think our consumption pattern is really so much bad one day they might say we are a very consumerist society and I think we should stop that,” he added.

While some of the places still remain overwhelmed with rubbish as a result of poor environmental practices by local tourists, the only solution these environmentalists can find despite all their own efforts of organising cleaning campaigns is for people to learn how to travel sustainably and manage trash responsibly. For some, even reducing the waste at source.

Samten Dolkar

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