It’s said that the Nepal earthquake disaster was a big blow to Himalayan tourism, which seems to be true looking at the huge drop in the number of western tourists visiting us at this time of the year. However, it hasn’t deterred Indian tourists. Thimphu and Paro are filled with Indian visitors these days. Along with them, countless Indian cars have entered deep into our country when we have enough of our own taxis and tourist cars lying idle this season.
Why are Indian tourists not taking Bhutanese cars?
The short answer is the affordability. Most Indian tourists love to travel cheap. But the bigger question is how could Indian cars offer such competitive prices that the Bhutanese can’t beat. There comes the logical reasoning. It’s like buying one item from a legitimate shop at certain rate and another exactly same one from footpath at almost half the price. The footpath guy could sell at cheaper price because he doesn’t have to pay any form of tax.
There are two types of Indian Cars coming into our country, one with white number plate that are private cars and other with yellow number plate that are taxis. The yellow ones are rare, even across the border. Why would anyone want to register one’s car as taxi and pay commercial taxes when one can easily use private cars as taxis. There must be regulations on paper but our neighbours across the border didn’t find it necessary to bring that regulation on the street.
Indian cars neither have to pay import tax, nor green tax, which places then at an advantage over Bhutanese cars. On top of that, without the mandate to register their cars as taxis, the cars with white number plates are bypassing every local tax in the land. This is how they easily beat our cars in the market.
Indian tourists don’t have to pay $250 per day, in fact they don’t spend that much during their entire tour. The tour operators across the borders use the cheapest hotels in Bhutan, and send them in their own cars, thereby contributing almost nothing to our revenue. If carefully calculated, we might find out that they contribute more in polluting our air than building our economy. Not to mention the pressure the additional cars put on our fuel supply.
Considering all these, I feel our government should take a simple decision to disallow Indian cars beyond Rinchending (Kharbandi) or allow only those cars with yellow number plates, which will be helping India curb the problem of illegal taxis. Any of the two decisions would compel the Indian tour operators to hire Bhutanese cars or tourist buses, contributing more to our economy and livelihood of people living on the transport business.
One Bhutanese tour guide per group should be made mandatory for the safety of Indian visitors, to give them right guidance, sensitize them to the local culture and habits, especially while visiting the Dzongs and Lhakhangs. This will ensure that our visitors will have the best travelling experience, our roadsides will be clean, our culture respected and our tour guides have constant source of income. Happiness then is truly a place.
By Passang Tshering
The writer is a teacher at the Bajothang Higher Secondary School