Amid the Centre’s advisory to states asking them to not bar entry of foreigners in the wake of the coronavirus scare, a Thimpu-based tour operator from Bhutan, Sangay Wangdi, has trekked all the way to Taktsang, a sacred Himalayan Buddhist site popularly known as the ‘Tiger’s Nest,’ and sought ‘Guru Rimpoche’s (venerable teacher) blessings to contain the spread of Covid-19.
The Government of Bhutan has barred entry of tourists as a preventive measure against the virus after the country reported its first case in an American traveller. “There is no Iranian in our country. At present no tourists here, and entry of tourists has been banned from 7 March to 21 March. The government will review the situation after that. There are no more Covidpositive patients.
The American, who tested positive, is under observation and undergoing treatment. He is getting better and will leave for his country as he recovers fully,” Mr Wangdi, a former Bank of Bhutan’s branch manager, said. On the other hand, North Bengal-based tour and travel operators, who have been working in the eastern Himalayan range, are still confused over the present situation despite several advisories and orders issued from the central government’s tourism department.
Tour operators here are confused after the Ministry of Tourism issued a notice today, informing the authorities concerned that some Iranian tourists had been untraceable since 1 February. In an office memorandum, the Assistant Director (Travel Trade Division), Sunil Kumar Lal Gond, has released a list of 495 Iranians, who arrived in India on 1 February 2020, but have not left India), to trace their whereabouts.
“We are confused over the present situation and it is actually difficult to decide what to do now in the interest of the tourism industry,” said the general secretary of the Himalayan Hospitality and Tourism Development Network (HHTDN), Samrat Sanyal.
“At a time when the central government is asking the Sikkim government to not bar tourists, even the inbound ones, local authorities in Sikkim have been issuing orders to stop them,” Sanyal added. Notably, the secretary, Union Ministry of Tourism, Yogendra Tripathi, has asked the chief secretary of the Government of Sikkim on 5 March “not to stop their entry and to allow them to check in to hotels and, if required, medical testing of the tourists may be undertaken as per prescribed procedures.”
Notably, according to Tripathi’s letter, the Union Ministry of Tourism got information of several cases whereby foreign tourists were being denied entry into hotels and other establishments and are being advised to leave the cities and towns immediately by the local as well as district authorities.
“This is causing unnecessary panic and harassment to the tourists,” the letter said. The Rumtek Dharma Chakra Centre has also debarred tourists, both foreign and domestic, from 8 March till 30 April. On the other hand, the department of culture, government of Sikkim, has said that the ‘Sky Walk’ in West Sikkim, a popular tourist spot, will remain closed till 31 March. The Sikkim government has, however, circulated a Self Reporting Form for all travellers visiting Sikkim in order to screen tourists.
“This is a latest form just to screen travellers before entering Sikkim,” said Sandip Das, the president of the HHTDN. On the other hand, the Eastern Himalayas Travel and Tour Operators’ Association (EHTTOA) general secretary, Sandipan Ghosh, whose team has started campaigning at different tourist transit centres, to bring back confidence among the tourists, said, “As the tourists have to fill in the form, traffic has come to a halt in the Bengal-Sikkim border. To ease the rush, it was finally decided that hoteliers would receive the prescribed format before check-in.”