After six years of establishing itself as a competitive academic institution in Bhutan, the Royal Thimphu College (RTC) continues to evolve looking beyond campus boundaries for opportunities to engage society meaningfully through research. A pilot research project on Ecotourism Sustainability is currently underway that is hoped to be one of many such academic endeavours. In the Fall 2015 semester, the Ecotourism research project was initiated in order to build the research capacity of faculty members and students, and to generate critical knowledge that might affect future tourism policy direction. The research project is led by Mr. Jesse Montes, a faculty member from the Environmental Studies department at RTC. This research project was conducted to explore environmental sustainability issues associated with the ecotourism sector in Bhutan, Nepal, and Sikkim, and is a three-University consortium between RTC, Kathmandu University, and Sikkim University funded by ICIMOD.
A number of RTC students and faculty members participated in research methods trainings and conducted multiple separate field stints to Phobjikha, Haa, and the Druk Path trek from Phajoding. Plans are currently underway for more training of the student researchers in data analysis, additional field stints, potential journal submissions, and a final wrap-up conference in Sikkim in December 2016 where students from the Himalayan region will share ecotourism research findings.
Ten students joined the project because of their interest in research, travelling and meeting new people, which altogether contributes to their holistic learning. The experience has helped the students develop research skills, have perseverance and tolerance in life towards a long-term project, and to embrace an adventurous and experiential learning process. They trekked through the ‘Druk Path’, a six day trek through gorgeous natural landscape of blue pine forests, high ridges and pristine lakes while making key research observations and interviewing local communities along the way. The students also actively participated in a week-long field research stint at Phobjikha, where they carried out field GPS measurements and interviewed and interacted with the local communities and visitors to the unique Black Necked Crane Festival. Jangchuk, a 2nd year student, says of his experience, “Through this opportunity, I had great experiences in which I developed good research skills, which will be beneficial in the job market.”
Beginning in the Spring 2017 semester it is hoped that the research will continue into a 2nd phase in which other elements of the data are further explored, specifically socio-political factors. Royal Thimphu College looks forward to expanding research opportunities for its faculty and students in line with its mission “To be a crucible of new ideas and knowledge that serves to enrich people’s lives and enhance the welfare of society.”