GUWAHATI, Sept 10 - The Bhutan government has officially decided to freeze visas for international tourists wishing to exit through Samdrup Jongkhar (Bhutan) to enter Assam (India) via land check post at Darranga in Baksa district, a development that is expected to have an adverse bearing on the State�s tourism industry.
In the wake of the decision taken by Bhutan, Assam is expected to miss out on a large percentage of high-end international tourists who tend to enter the State through this route and explore tourist destinations.
The State tourism department is, however, not yet aware of any such development. �We still do not know such a decision has been taken; at least the tourism department was not taken into confidence,� a senior State tourism department official said.
The matter came to the fore recently when a group of international tourists, who tried to enter India through the Darranga check post, reportedly had a tough time to get immigration clearance at the Kolkata airport.
The route assumes significance, especially from the point of view of international bird watchers who invariably prefer to opt for this route and further extend the trip to Manas, Kaziranga and Nameri national parks and other tourist destinations in the State.
Assam has for long been benefited by the Bhutan government�s initiatives to woo European tourists.
According to the Bhutan government, the decision was prompted after the Indian authorities reportedly put the land check post at Darranga as an unauthorised exit point for international tourists.
In a notification issued by the Tourism Council of Bhutan recently, it has asked the tour operators to refrain from sending tourists to Assam (India) via Samdrup Jongkhar.
�We have requested the State government to take up this matter on an urgent basis with the Government of India to include Darranga under the list of authorised exit points of international tourists,� the notification stated.
�As an interim measure, until we receive further directives on the matter, we will freeze visas for tourists exiting via Samdrup Jongkhar with immediate effect until further notice,� the notification added.
Arijit Purkayastha, chairman of the North East chapter of the Association of Domestic Tour Operators of India (ADTOI), said, �The popular birding tours in east Bhutan, currently conducted by Bhutanese tour operators, are extended to cover a birding tour in Assam which has fine birding habitats. Similarly, the culture and wildlife tours of Assam draw the attention of foreign tourists.
�Samdrup Jongkhar, Bhutan�s oldest town and the gateway to the country�s eastern region, is just 110 km from Guwahati, approximately a three-hour drive. As of today, foreign tourists often use this route to enter or exit the Kingdom of Bhutan. The sooner the issue is sorted, the better it would be for the tourism sector,� he said.
Ranjeet Das, president of the Tour Operators Association of Assam, said, �The recent development could put a hindrance to the good work the stakeholders have done over the years in Assam. Guwahati and its adjoining areas is no longer a stopover. It is slowly emerging as a destination, too. If the Darranga entry point is tagged as unauthorised, all our efforts will go futile.�
Hemanta Das of Network Travels said that the route is of immense significance for Assam and if that becomes nonoperational, the State will lose on revenue and it would also affect the tourism sector. �We therefore need better coordination between the two countries,� Das said.