Every winter thousands of Bhutanese pilgrims head to neighboring countries like India and Nepal, for religious pilgrimage.
It is also around the same time we get a spate of bad news of people dying in horrific accidents, people getting lost and even cheated.
Once a Bhutanese leaves the territorial jurisdiction of Bhutan, it is very difficult for the government to help them.
However, when this has become an annual phenomenon with such large numbers, it is time for the government to start getting involved in ensuring the safety of Bhutanese pilgrims.
The first place to start would be with our growing domestic industry of religious tour operators. The growing accounts of loss of life and poor facilities during such budget tours is a call for regulatory agencies to get into action to ensure that at least Bhutanese or Bhutan based tour agencies don’t cheat our own people.
A major headache for travelers is reliable transport so government agencies like the RSTA could identify and certify reliable transporters and vehicles in India in both Jaigaon and Bodh Gaya, to start with.
Our agencies could work with these transporters on safety and minimum facilities that must be provided.
Another issue is accommodation, so it would not be a bad idea to gather information on reliable accommodation facilities in religious hotspots of various budget classes and share this information in a website or on public brochures in Bhutan.
In case of emergencies and problems it is important to have public officials nearby. In this case it would make sense to have a Bhutanese official or officials set up temporary liaison offices to help Bhutanese facing problems in places like Bodh Gaya. Existing properties like the Bhutan monastery can be used.
In all of this, the most important factor is information. The government should take an active lead role in gathering as much information as possible to share with potential pilgrims be it through the media, websites, social media or even at the bus stops. It would not only potentially save lives but also prevent a lot of inconvenience for the vulnerable travelers.
It is better to travel well than to arrive.