19 March 2019 Since the launch of helicopter service in November 2015, the two choppers have operated 1,542 flights between 2016 and 2018, ac- cording to the 10th annual info-comm and transport statistical bulletin.
Annually, the chopper service is largely engaged in keeping with its mandate for medical evacuations. The helicopters conducted 180 medical evacuations and 20 fire-fighting operations last year.
Besides these operations, the two choppers are also involved in providing charter flight services to both locals and tourists.
According to officials from the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Services Limited (RBHSL), the number of tourist charters is increasing annually. From 86 charter flights conducted for tourists in 2016, the numbers increased to 110 in 2017. RBHSL conducted 162 tourist charters last year.
Currently the charters flights are made for the nine available heli-scenic tour packages that RBHSL pro- vides to the tourists visiting the country. The packages include exploring the aerial views of different parts of western, central and eastern parts of the country.
Officials said that heli- biking, where riders and their bikes would be carried
and dropped in challenging biking trails across the country is also being worked out.
Another tourist product using the chopper service is the heli-hiking, which is set to begin towards the end of next month.
In order to boost tourist attraction further, especially for hikers, Terma Linca Journeys, a local travel agency, is introducing Terma Hiking, a heli-hiking activity for the tourists.
Heli-hiking is a recreational activity in which a helicopter is used to access re- mote areas of a country that are inaccessible by other means of transportation.
Terma Linca Journeys’ chief executive officer, Tse- wang Rinchen, said that tourists could sign up for the product after arrival in Bhutan without any pre-arrangements as the general tour package.
“Beyond the dzongs and Taktsang hikes, there are so many beautiful hikes, trails that one may not easily get to by road unless you drive for hours each way,” he said. “Or even while trekking, in order to get to the beautiful part of a trail where there is the view of the mountain peaks, or rhododendron forests or simply beautiful nature, one may have to trudge for hours through mud and bad part of the trails.”
He said that with helicopters, it was not only possible to get to the furthest parts of
A tourist can sign up for the heli-hiking after their arrival in Bhutan without any pre- arrangement as the general tour package to the country, but also experience the nature without hav- ing to drive for hours. “This way, one of the main com- plaints from visitors to Bhu- tan of spending long hours of driving to get anywhere in the country is addressed.”
The first hike would be the Gasa Sabsel Goenba Hike. Tourists would fly to Gasa, visit the dzong and then hike for a few hours to the Sabsel Goenba.
“From there the clients would be picked up by car or they can retrace back to the dzong and then drive out to Punakha,” said Tsewang Rinchen.
The hike would involve trekking through lush forests and ancient path lined with ruins.
Gasa Khatoe gewog mangmi, Sangay Tashi, said that the activity would help the local residents in the gewog to reap the benefits from tourism. “It would be an opportunity for the people of Gasa to showcase the beautiful sceneries and share its rich culture and tradition.”
“In Paro, the Chelela to Sagala ridgeline is perhaps one of the most beautiful views of Bhutanese land- scape. You can see mount Jumolhari, Kanchenjunga, and Jichu Drakye with views of Paro valley and Haa,” said Tsewang Rinchen.
For the Chelela-Sagala Ridgeline hike, it will cost USD 555 per person in a group of four people and for the Gasa Sabsel Goenpa hike, USD 1,399 per person.
He said that one of the main reasons for introducing the product was to diversify tourism products and to help income generation in rural areas. As trail guides, local people would escort hikers along the trails and help prepare meals for the tourists. “This would help in the growth of tourism.”
Other heli-hikes include Rawaza-Phabi Gyen hike in Wangdue, Dramitse to Sheri-Zam hike in Mongar and Tharpaling to Duer in Bumthang.