Bhutan Travel Blog

How we cope with COVID-19 crisis?

Firefox Tours team

Dawa Dorji Tamang photoDawa Dorji Tamang
(general manager)
Vim Chhetri photoVim Chhetri
Dawa Radhip photoDawa Radhip
Yeshi Dorji photoYeshi Dorji
Michal Thoma photoMichal Thoma
(marketing manager)
Sabita Gurung photoSabita Gurung
(reservation assistant)
(Click on photo or name to scroll to particular story)

Phurba T. Ghising (guide)

I take this free time under lockdown, to write about the present situation and how it is affecting our tourism field.

Firstly, we are so fortunate that our govt and particularly our His Majesty the King himself is so much involved, day/night, tirelessly, in fighting this COVID-19 issue and giving best to save our country and people. The situation had been much under control, until last 11 Aug, when we had few positive cases coming up with sign of community transmission. Hope it will be controlled in time, before it gets worst. This pandemic has not spared Bhutan as well and most impact has happened in tourism and hotel industries.

Phurba on voluntary guard mission on India border
Phurba on voluntary guard mission on India border

We, working in tourism industry, are really hit hard. The more concern is… how long this global issue is going to prolong and when we could get back to business? We do miss being in our field, being with our valued visitors and guiding them to show best of our country, beside having fun and learning many things from them as well. Hoping, wishing and praying for this pandemic to get over as soon as possible, so all people around could live peacefully, back to normal life in each different profession, and our leaders too could take breadth of joy and satisfaction. May this issue get over soon and the world would be a much safer place to live again. For sure, people would learn a great lesson from this pandemic once this situation is over. TASHI DELEK.

Picture was taken during a day of my voluntary patrolling over the Bhutan-India border at Bhutan side, to watch if any intruders from India side, or any Bhutanese trying to cross border to do illegal business which could bring the virus into our country!

Dawa Dorji Tamang (general manager)

It was early morning on 11th August around 4.30am, when my wife had quick return from her regular morning walk, because she was sent back by police and said to me that from today it’s nation lockdown. Quickly I saw through window police and Desuung (volunteer corps) patrolling in the pin drop silent street.

Dawa with his daughter in his prayer room
Dawa with his daughter in his prayer room

First day of lockdown I felt it as a normal holidays, and we enjoyed staying inside the house doing household activities but from second and third day my three years old daughter started asking why we aren't following regular routine and requesting us to take her around out of the house… But the only option left with us was to show her empty and silent street patrolled by police and Desuung through the windows...

At this time we used to be busy with many office activities but this pandemic even made us far from each other and many things left unsure among us. Further the national lockdown increased my stress levels but the solution I got to overcome is to upgrade my knowledge in household activities like cleaning, cooking washing etc. I proclaim that ultimately I am proud because it is the reason why my wife smiles all the time at me.

Another most ever truly thing I gained is time for chanting and meditation as it has helped nurture and develop my passion for that. Meditation and prayers helps us to stay healthy and keeps us in peace from all disturbing thoughts.

My experience was that chanting out loud helps to drown the bad thoughts and meditation can change our mood and stress levels. Ultimately I feel some inner peace now.

Sangay Thinley (guide)

Since, the outbreak of novel coronavirus, I was worried about the sustainability of our work in tourism as the crisis might last for a year or even more. Me and my friends formed group to start farming on the field, more than an acre large. Anyway, after few weeks, Thimphu city corporation announced vacancies for 90 plus guides for blue collar job with wages paid on daily basis. So we cleared the forest along the stream side, below His Majesty the Fourth King residence, making there recreational park. It's really a hard work as we had to lift the stones, break it into pieces for walls and label the ground.

Sangay (far left) with his borther and cousins
Sangay (far left) with his borther and cousins

On 11th August, Tuesday morning, I heard the news of lockdown. We were total 6 the household – my brothers and cousins. We stayed idle, sitting together, watching movies and news.

During lockdown, we got an ample time for reading and other activities of the household chores. I spent time browsing through the various birds sound on Xeno Canto website, reading story books, reciting religious texts, doing prayers and cleaning. Cooking is my passion, so I baked cakes, prepared momo dumplings and other dishes for my brothers and cousins.

After twenty-one days, prime minister announced releasing of lockdown with the various do's and don'ts. On the first day of lockdown relaxing, I went to walk towards Buddha Dordhenma statue. Second day, I had evening walk towards Changangkha temple, circumbulating the stupas there.

Due to all prayers and wishes we are all safe and sound and if the city corporation resume with our work, thinking of continue with the work till the date they provide us la…

Thank you!

Tek Bahadur Gurung (guide)

Hello everyone!

As Bhutan is under lockdown, everyone is urged to stay at home and spend time with family. And this is what I have been doing during the lockdown. As I have nothing to do, I start my day bit late, waking up at around 9am or sometimes even later, refresh myself and then having breakfast. I do love cooking which I do for the dinner. During the day I spend most of the time playing with my two little ones, make fun, sometimes making them dance and this is how little ones entertain me. Yes, sometimes it is good to be with family and give them time.

Tek with his daughters during lockdown
Tek with his daughters during lockdown

Well, before lockdown I worked as a volunteer with the FCB team (Food Corporation of Bhutan) in unloading and stacking rice bags and other food items. I was with the FCB team for about 2weeks and than went to Paro for some construction work with my uncle.

There my job was to do mixing of concrete, breaking boulders, pulling of loaded cart etc. And yes I really enjoyed working there and experiencing doing hard labor! Yea! This is what I have been doing after the closure of tourism in Bhutan due to the COVID-19 breakout and now spending lazy days in the lockdown.

Wish to see you all again when situation gets better and controlled. Stay home, be safe!

Khar Nanda Adhikari (guide)

Since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, we the tourist guides, lost all income because no tourist did arrive in the spring. After a lot of struggling, seven of us, all guides, decided that we will try to turn to farming.

First we started searching a land for cultivation. Finally, we found one field near Kiychu temple. The owner was so nice! She said, that given the situation, we don't have to pay anything at all. We should just provide her some fresh vegetables, if possible. She also said that we can cultivate the land for two years, after which she plans to build some houses there.

Adhikari and his friends before their field
Adhikari and his friends before their field

The main reason why I turned to farming is to sustain myself during the COVID-19 crisis. It was really difficult for me to find any job, since I have only experience and knowledge in tourism field. Nowadays vegetables are more expensive than rice. My main plan was to sell vegetables in and around Paro, Thimphu and, if possible, Haa. The income that I earn can be used to buy some necessities for me and my family. I stay with my parents and other relatives in Paro. I have to pay rent for the house. So that's why I started farming with my friends.

Most of the people eat vegetables imported from India which is not organic. I want to grow organic vegetables so people stay healthy and strong during COVID-19 situation.

It was really hard at the beginning, but we got the number of helpers, who made time in their busy schedule to step up. We would also like to thank for the wonderful meals and refreshments many people brought and arranged for us during our hard work on field. Our hearts have been deeply touched by so many people kindness.

I believe that the strongest people always make time to help others, even if they are struggling with their own problems! And I’m also proud to be a part of the family of the guides who are rendering an aid during COVID-19 crisis at Paro.

Last time we went to support the doctors, who were running makeshift Flu Center in Paro. Government wanted to prevent people coming to hospital with flu, so they don’t bring coronavirus there. Thus, the medical camp with doctors and nurser was established for people to get checkup safely at the outskirts of the town. We were there to provide the meals to the doctors and nurses. I’m very happy and grateful that I could help! A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.

With team at Flu Center
With team at Flu Center

Guide Association of Bhutan also praised us with these words: “GAB once again would like to extend our heartiest appreciation to our guides who have rendered voluntary service at Flu Center, Paro, today. You have shown an exemplary gesture to the nation at the hour of national concerns.”

We the people of Bhutan are really lucky to have His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as our king. His Majesty has sacrificed his days and nights helping people in and around the country and didn't have proper sleep since the crisis of COVID-19 started. I call my country Heaven on Earth and thanks to His Majesty for his great support always.

Vim Chhetri (guide)

I’m staying in my village in Tsirang district. My job is just to eat and sleep all the time. Not much work in my village. I was planning to do something but suddenly country is under lockdown. So I’m just at home doing nothing. No good story to write about 😜🤷.

Vim relaxing with his puppy
Vim relaxing with his puppy

After lockdown is over, I’m planning to do tourism survey around my home Tsirang district. Discovering new village walks, off-road cycling opportunities and birdwatching spots. And I plan to produce some new tourist itineraries, which we can offer to our guest.

Dawa Radhip (guide)

With COVID-19 affecting the nations globally, Bhutan too is feeling the impacts of it. But unlike other countries, we Bhutanese are truly blessed to have our beloved, selfless hardworking and compassionate King 🙏🙏🙏.

Recent lockdown forced us to stay home keeping ourselves as well as others SAFE.

Well, the lockdown indeed is giving us time to be with our families 😁.

Dawa at home

My day begins with cooking for myself and my son, since my wife is on her voluntary duty as Desuung (Guardian of Peace, voluntary helper corps). From being a professional guide, I’m now getting re-qualified as professional baby-sitter and a cook. 😂😜

Before the lockdown, I occupied myself with some physical exercises like bicycling and vegetable farming. I felt bicycling is good idea, since Firefox Tours gets cycling tours often. Now in lockdown I am into reading books on cultural history about our country, which would boost my knowledge and would help me share it to our guest in the future.

And not to forget, my best companion on this lockdown is a 650ML Druk11000 😂😂. Yes, you read it right, the local beer Druk 11000, that's what keeps me active all the time. (Note: Drinking is injurious to health)

At the end, I would like to thank to His Majesty 🙏🙏🙏, His Holiness Je Khenpo (Chief Abbot), to the Government of Bhuttan and to all those frontliners for keeping us safe – Kadinchay! Beyond the sky and the earth 🙏🙏🙏!

Yeshi Dorji (guide)

Before the lockdown I was indulging in doing community patrolling for a month and was exploring different areas and hikes, giving good use to Firefox Tours rainproof jacket.

When the first COVID-19 positive case was announced back in March, we all were in shock and surprised. People started acting weird, wearing different type of masks made from plastic and all different things. But gradually people started taking matters easily and numbers started increasing.

Yeshi in his Dessung uniform
Yeshi in his Dessung uniform

I was in deep sleep while I got call in around 3:30am but I did not wake up. After many more calls from friends and coordinators I finally got awake and called back to one of my Desuung (Guriand of Peace, voluntary helper corps) friend immediately. He told me: ”Yeshi, lockdown mae lockdown! Sho sho gay ra ready mae, tash message jo ba.” (Lockdown, lockdown. All of my Desuung friends were doing patrolling.)

I did put on my uniform and within a minute I was ready. Gently I woke up brother-in-law from his sleep, though he was already awake. I told him to get essential items from the shop.

National lockdown was announced on 11th of August at 3:15am. I joined patrolling at around 4:30am and have seen lots of vehicle movements and people rushing to purchase essential goods, all panicking. Only after 7:00am I could see the real lockdown. Thankfully breakfast was served by the restaurant owner with momo and milk tea. Our coordinator informed us to get our bedding and all, so we don’t need to come home.

As a Desuungs, we were always ready to serve Tsa-Wa-Sum (My king, People and Country). It’s been 21 days under lockdown helping every individual in need, doing day and night patrolling to keep our place, the North Thimphu, a safe zone.

Now I feel really great that I’m serving Tsa-Wa-Sum as a proud Desuung. You all stay safe and be safe, we take care!

Nidup Tshering (guide)

First of all, I would like to say: Stay home, stay safe.

This is an experience which I got during the time of COVID-19.

With the number of novel coronavirus infections in world and in our neighboring country rising, increased security and preventive measures were needed in the districts that border the Indian states of Assam and West Bengal. Government deployed the first batch of 400 Desuungs (Guardians of Peace, voluntary helper corps) to the border as an additional security. Other personnel providing round-the-clock surveillance of all formal and informal border crossing points were Police, National land commission staffs and most importantly the foresters, who has most experience patrolling these wild and secluded areas.

Nidup standing on border stone
Nidup standing on border stone

The duration was for one month and 100 Desuungs were deployed at each of four Southern borders crossings. I was deployed with 99 Desuungs friends attached to Samtse district, where country shares border with West Bengal.

I felt very excited to do the border patrolling as I waited for this opportunity so long and finally it came true!

After reaching to Samtse, we were divided into groups, and we were being deployed at different zones.

The very first deployment of me and my friends was at the border checkpost. Our duty was to monitor the trucks coming from India, bringing-in the essential goods and carrying-out Bhutanese exports.

We stayed for approximately two weeks, after which we were relieved from border checkpoint duty and immediately we were sent to outpost named Yangphelthang, few hours drive from Samtse town.

Oh, I forgot one thing that is regarding the food! We were being provided with the ration form Royal Bhutan Police, exactly the same portion as police officers with the vegetable allowances.

After reaching the outpost, we were given duty roster, and we started conducting our volunteer duties day and night on shift basis. We stayed there for approximately one month, and then we came back to capital.

Being back to Thimphu, we further continued with night patrolling at assigned locations. After the two weeks, the government ordered lockdown and I did serve during the first phase of lockdown in Bhutan.

Nima W. Sherpa (guide)

Since the March 6th 2020, as this monster coronavirus started burdening Bhutan, so many people lost their jobs and businesses. Most affected sector is tourism which is Bhutan’s 2nd biggest economy. I was frustrated and panicked as I was left with no income.

Nima and his daughters
Nima and his daughters

It was such a relief that His Majesty the King announced the need to protect the health and the lives of the people in our country from the risk posed by the global spread of the COVID-19 virus through the Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu (King’s relief fund). I thank the almighty god that we have such a selfless king and wish His Majesty long live and good health. I also thank to Mr. Dawa Dorji Tamang, Managing Director of Firefox Tours and whole company’s team for helping me to reach out concerned authority, after being deprived of the income.

For 3 months, from April to June, I received King’s relief Nu. 13.600 a month which gave me immense courage and breathing power. Government is also equally fighting and managing to protect country and keep virus away.

Since it was uncertain how long this pandemic will last, we moved to my village Lhamoyzingkha, very humid place in southern part of Bhutan about 200 km from the capital. To sustain ourselves, me and my family started farming. We cultivated 100 kg of ginger, 100 kg of turmeric, half acre of vegetables like chilly, beans, tomato etc. All done and set. I also did some mason work to fix the drain. Anyway, because place is so hot and humid, we finally returned to capital and planned to go back by August to harvest.

On 11th August I got ringed by my friend at about 5:30am. He informed me about the lockdown from 7am same day. Quickly I looked from the window. Wow. Lots of people already queuing up to buy the essential items. Goss bum! I ran down the stairs and followed up the queue. I was so worried if I get enough essential items to sustain throughout the lockdown. Ultimately I got enough groceries. COVID-19 taskforce team was set up and there were amazing services rendered to the people, like home delivery of the essentials goods, vegetables, and dairy products all to the door steps. Big thumbs up to the government. Happiness really prevails in Bhutan.

Few days I happily spent with my family, mainly playing with my two daughters 8 years and 2 years old.

For me, being a field worker, it was damn boring and monotonous to be confined inside the room but there was no option because that was the best action for the good cause in general. We killed time by fashion shows with my wife and kids, me being their photographer.

Baking cake and donuts was the best part! My third cake was the best shape and very delicious. I hope one day I will exhibit these skills to make my clients happy during the trekking.

Due to no trekking and no cultural trips either, I started gaining weight. Lockdown gave me enough time to exercise. Funny is that I had no dumbbell and any other equipment, so I improvised with 5 liters oil jerrican as my workout equipment for biceps, triceps, back press and chest. My wife’s weight for the legs and Thai press work out. Mopping and cleaning my house became my daily routine. See on photos bellow!

Coronavirus recorded 225 cases so far and zero death. We have great faith in our spirituality, our King, Government. and generous nature, so we get enough oxygen to overcome this unprecedented situation. Lockdown was finally lifted on 1st September 2020.

My advice: Stay home during lockdown, keep distance, wash your hand and keep healthy!

Michal Thoma (marketing manager)

Since my home is in Czechia in Europe, I don’t have first-hand experience of Bhutanese lockdown. Our country had been locked-down in March and April, at the beginning of pandemic. Anyway our stay-home order was much less strict than the Bhutanese one. People were allowed to go to work (work from home was recommended, where possible), we could go for essential shopping and also exercise in parks.

After selling the photo
After selling the photo

Anyway I was very much worried of what is going to come and how the pandemic will affect our work. Although Europe had finally managed to keep virus numbers in reasonable scale and reopened travel, most of the Asia remains closed, Bhutan included.

Anyway I decided to spend the time creatively, updating the Firefox Tours website and working on our Bhutan Tourism Blog. Also, I had time to work on photographic leg of my profession, which I neglected for a couple of years due to the lack of time. I did publish monthly calendar for 2021 with photos from my travels in Bhutan, Nepal and India and even sold few enlarged photographs to the people interested in Himalayan region.

I also kept updating my knowledge of the region through study of various books on Bhutan and Himalayas.

Now I’m looking positively towards Spring, during which, I strongly believe, tourism will bounce back and I’ll again meet my dear friends in Bhutan!

Sabita Gurung (reservation assistant)

On March 6th 2020, as the first coronavirus case was detected in Bhutan it just brought panic in people forcing everyone to buy sanitizer and facemasks finishing the stock in almost all medical stores and shops. So the panic contiued for some days and everything was returning back to normal until the county's first lockdown was announced on 11 August 2020 3am which woke all early to buy the essential in the nearest shop.

Since, the outbreak of novel coronavirus, I was worried about the income to sustain my family as we both my husband a guide and myself working in travel agent office is left without work until the announcement of Druk Gyalpo’s Relief Kidu (King’s relief fund) which we are getting monthly brought us a great relief.

Sabita with daughters
Sabita with daughters

The novel coronavirus in one way is a blessing in disguise for me as it gave us time for my family since before as working parents we were not able to give our time and attention to our children. So now I am spending all the time with my family. Playing with my daughter's, dancing and eating together completely forgetting the problems due to coronavirus. Now am happily living a housewife life.

Till now all good and hoping for the better tomorrow when the coronavirus is all clear, and we can resume our office so that we can welcome the guests again to Bhutan and live a normal life as before.

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