Border closure diverts regional tourists to other hill destinations

A tourist destination in Sikkim

Most have diverted towards the Indian hill-state of Sikkim as it has similar culture and geography

SANGAY RABTEN | Gangtok, Sikkim

Bhutan has been an internationally renowned tourist destination, however, the Covid-19 induced border closure has diverted most Bhutan-bound tourists to other destinations like Sikkim, Kalimpong, and Darjeeling.

Bhutan was also listed as the best destination for travel by the Lonely Planet in its 2020 edition and an alternative hill destination for most regional tourists from India, Bangladesh, and the Maldives.

The tourism sector is the second biggest contributor to the nation’s economy second only to hydropower while regional tourists, especially from India, comprise a major chunk of tourists visiting Bhutan.

Sandip a resident of Mumbai, India said he is heading towards the Indian hill state of Sikkim despite wanting to visit Bhutan as the borders still remain closed. He said that Sikkim offered similar attractions to that of Bhutan.

“Visiting Sikkim is like visiting Bhutan as both places have similar culture and environment,” Sandip said, adding he would visit Bhutan as and when the entry is permitted.

Akshay working in Delhi said that for now, he could not plan to visit Bhutan as the Indo-Bhutan gate is closed as a measure to stop COVID-19 transmission. He said that he would visit Bhutan in the future, but for now, he is also headed to Sikkim.

Residents of Delhi, Vipin, and Ravi also share similar opinions. They said as they cannot visit Bhutan due to the border closure they have chosen Sikkim as their holiday destination.

The duo said that Bhutan is known as a country of happiness with a rich culture and clean environment. “We will definitely visit when we are allowed to visit,” they shared. 

Hailing from Tamil Nadu and working in Bihar, Vipinish, said he will make a trip to Bhutan after the entries through the southern border gates are permitted. He added he would like to make the trip before he gets transferred to another state which is far from Bhutan.

Similarly, Soma Chakravati from Kolkata said that Bhutan is very near to West Bengal and one of their most preferred destinations. However, she could not plan to visit Bhutan as the border gates are still closed. “My family decided to visit Sikkim as the state has a similar landscape with similar culture and people,” she said.

The owner of a travel company in Gangtok said that he has no idea if regional Indian tourists are visiting Sikkim and altering their destination as the border is closed. However, he said that the tourists have started pouring into the state and the number is rising by the day.

A café operator at Ganeshtok and Himalayan Zoological Park in Gangtok said the number of tourists visiting the sites has increased since April after the Covid relaxation.

A cab operator from Jaigoan, West Bengal, Binod Lama said that regional tourists from India who earlier wished to visit Bhutan are diverting their destination towards Sikkim as Bhutan and Sikkim have similarities in culture and geographical location.

Bhutan closed its border gates in the south since March 2020 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and the certainties of reopening are still vague at least for now.