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WORLD TRAVEL WATCH

Tourism in Bhutan Expanded

June 04, 1989|LARRY HABEGGER and JAMES O'REILLY | Habegger and O'Reilly are free-lance writers living in Northern California .

World Travel Watch is a monthly report designed to help you make informed judgments about travel throughout the world. Because conditions can change overnight, always make your own inquiries before you leave home. In the United States contact the nearest passport agency office; abroad, check in with the nearest American embassy .

Asia

--Bhutan: Either through an accident of history, geography or simply good planning, Bhutan has preserved its rich Buddhist culture and peaceful, agrarian way of life. The country opened to foreigners in 1974, and the government maintains strict controls on tourism, allowing only a few thousand visitors each year. Travelers are admitted in groups of six to 10, although in special cases, groups of two or three can be arranged.

Further restrictions were imposed last year when the government declared many of the oldest monasteries off-limits to foreigners in a move to halt alleged corruption of the local culture. Tourists' appetite for artifacts produced a market for antiques, and turned some locals to looting their heritage for easy money.

Tourism is being gradually expanded, especially since the introduction last November of an 80-passenger jet by Druk Air, the national carrier and only airline that flies into Bhutan. Service is now offered from Delhi, Calcutta, Kathmandu, Dhaka and Bangkok.

Many American adventure travel companies offer programs to Bhutan. The Bhutan Travel Service in New York, formerly an office of the Ministry of Tourism, specializes in tours there and handles the largest volume in North America. Call (212) 838-6382. The best time to visit is spring or fall.

--China: Exercise caution, especially in Beijing, due to the continuing anti-government demonstrations. The unrest will probably not have a major impact on travel unless a military crackdown comes, but discretion is advised in avoiding areas where demonstrations occur.

--India: An underground movement of armed Islamic militants is growing in Kashmir, the beautiful mountainous region wedged between Pakistan and China in India's far north. Travelers have not been affected by this development beyond tightened security at Kashmiri airports, which is now the most thorough in the nation. The weapons have come from Pakistan, where the arms market spawned by the war in neighboring Afghanistan has made them easily accessible.

Kashmir, the only Indian state with a Muslim majority, has experienced periodic violence since it became part of India rather than Pakistan in the 1947 partition of the two countries, but recent disturbances have been the most widespread and prolonged.

Soviet pilots have begun flying Soviet-built planes on some domestic routes to alleviate a wave of canceled flights because of state-owned Indian Airlines' maintenance problems and a severe shortage of planes.

--Nepal: A bitter trade dispute with India has created food and fuel shortages, reducing overland travel and the number of treks getting away to the mountains. Worse, it has exacerbated the already-grave deforestation in this Himalayan country, as firewood is brought to the Kathmandu Valley by the truckload. The government is making its best effort to give tourism services top priority.

--Sri Lanka: Colombo and environs, and the main tourist attractions, are generally safe, although political violence continues in many parts of the country. Avoid unnecessary travel to the northeast and south, where incidents are most common, and exercise caution. Register with the U.S. Embassy on arrival.

--Tibet: Travel to Lhasa remains off-limits to foreigners since the March 8 imposition of martial law. Air travel into Tibet by foreigners has been halted, and those trying to enter overland are being turned back in most cases.

Africa

--Ethiopia: Recent rebel successes in the battlefield, along with the May coup attempt against President Mengistu Haile Mariam, signal a growing instability. Life has returned to normal in Addis Ababa, the capital city, but further security breakdowns are likely. Defer nonessential travel, and don't plan to travel outside Addis Ababa. Exercise caution.

--Namibia: In a drastic measure to stop rhino poaching, rangers have started dehorning rhinos in the hope that absence of the horn will make the animals of little value. Rangers don't know what impact dehorning will have on the rhinos' behavior or ability to protect their young from predators.

--Somalia: The region of Nugal and areas near the Ethiopian border should be avoided due to unsettled security conditions. Register with the U.S. Embassy on arrival.

Europe

--France/West Germany: These two countries recently agreed to link their high-speed rail networks at the French city of Strasbourg, another sign of increasing cooperation between the traditional rivals.

South America

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