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Kingdom of Bhutan to Reopen Some Sites

September 30, 1990|K.E.S. KIRBY

The Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, which closed all monasteries, temples and other religious sites to tourists nearly three years ago, will reopen selected sites beginning Jan. 1, according to officials of the Bhutan Tourism Corp.

The move is one of several recently announced changes in tourism policy that may result in the remote nation attracting more visitors, which now number fewer than 1,500 a year. Other changes include a lowering of tourist rates by 10% to 30%, although fees during peak season will continue to top $200 a day, including board, meals and guides.

The tiny Tibetan Buddhist country, which places unusual emphasis on the preservation of its national heritage and identity, has in the past severely restricted entry to foreigners and still virtually prohibits individual travel.

Under the new policy, according to Jigme Tshultim, managing director of the Bhutan Tourism Corp., up to 4,000 visitors a year can be anticipated. The corporation, previously run by the government, now is privately run, but will continue to coordinate all tour groups. Three other private tour agencies also have been established in Thimphu, the Bhutanese capital.

In closing all monasteries, temples and dzongs --religious and administrative fortresses--to foreigners in January, 1988, the government was responding to pressure from the Central Monk Body, the nation's premier religious institution. The monk body had been receiving complaints from more remote villages about tourists taking photographs in temples and handling artifacts, both of which are still prohibited.

Meanwhile, the national airline, Druk Air, has announced that it will increase its flights to Bangkok to twice a week beginning Oct. 27.

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