Bhutan’s Tiger Nest to remain closed on Tuesdays

THIMPHU (Kuensel/ANN) - The monastery is one of the most sacred monasteries in the Buddhist kingdom.

Bhutan’s famous monastery, Tiger’s Nest (taktsang) will remain closed on Tuesdays starting April 1.

The decision to restrict visitors to the sacred 17th century monastery built on a steep cliff and famous among tourists was made following requests from the local government leaders. The local leaders in the district proposed the one-day closure to enable monks in the monastery to conduct daily rituals without disturbance and also for sanitation reasons.

Monks and volunteers will clean the two-hour trail to the monastery on Tuesdays. Increasing number of visitors, both local and tourists, local leaders said has contaminated the surrounding of the monastery.

Bhutan’s home ministry has approved the proposal after months of discussions with stakeholders like the Tourism Council of Bhutan, the Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB) and the Association of Bhutanese Tour operators (ABTO).

The home secretary wrote to the governor of Paro, where the monastery is located, supporting the proposal.

The letter states that the closure was necessary as the increasing visitors posed issues in keeping the monastery clean. Besides, the letter states that it has also become difficult for the monks at Taktshang to perform daily rituals and prayers given the increasing visitors.

“Closing the monastery on Tuesdays will help manage and provide better safety for visitors,” the letter states.

The letter also states that ABTO had sought deferment of the closure timing or implementation of the resolution. “In this case the ministry finds no problem in implementing the rule as decided by the local government,” the letter states.

The approval comes despite issues raised by the tourism stakeholders since the Paro district administration endorsed the closure timing in September 2015.

ABTO officials said they were informed of the decision last week. ABTO, hotels and the guides association then met and wrote to TCB with a copy to the council members opposing the closure timing. The representatives also submitted alternate recommendations such as closing the monastery on Tuesdays by 3pm instead of the whole day, entrance fee and compulsory guide requirement for all tourists.

“A proper management system should be in place in consultation with all stakeholders instead of closing the monastery for the entire day on Tuesdays,” ABTO’s executive director Sonam Dorje said.

Sonam Dorje also said that it would be convenient if the monastery were closed early instead of the entire day for the proposed works. “That way, you gain about 14 hours a week,” he said.

Tour operators said that the closure will not just impact tour operators but guides, hoteliers and other service providers. As tour itineraries are sold a year in advance, they said it would be difficult to change the itineraries overnight. They also said that no consultation was done with regard to the decision although it concerns a national heritage.

As the main attraction to draw tourists to Bhutan, Taktshang monastery is featured in every promotional material.

Guide Association of Bhutan’s (GAB) chairman Garab Dorji said that the decision would also impact guides equally who are the face of the industry. “We have also proposed that GAB would manage the Taktshang trail,” he said.

Garab Dorji also said that international tourist arrivals dropped drastically last year and such ad hoc decisions could further impact tourist arrivals.”

As a popular tourist hotspot, Taktshang gets more than 1,000 visitors a day including tourists. With the number of visitors increasing, keeping the trail clean has become an issue. Except for lunch, Taktshang monastery remains open seven days a week as of now.

The monastery was built in 1692 by fourth Desi (Dharma Raja) Gyalse Tenzin Rabgye.

According to legends, Guru Padmasambhava, a 7th century saint who introduced Buddhism to Bhutan flew to the site where the monastery now stands on a back of a tigress from Tibet.

In one of the caves there, the saint then performed meditation and emerged in eight incarnated forms (manifestations) and the place became holy. Dance of the eight manifestations of Guru Padmasambhava is one of the most popular mask dances around the country today.