THE CULTURE OF COUCH SURFING IN BHUTAN- THE GOOD & BAD PRACTICE

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Have you ever practiced couch surfing?

Would you dare to stay and share with a stranger?

Mind you “Couchsurfing is not for introverts,”

Among travelers from all over the world, there is a practice that has become a trend in recent years, acquiring massive popularity, it is known as Couchsurfing, and you won’t want to miss what it is all about.

What is Couchsurfing?

To keep it short, Couchsurfing is about staying in other people’s homes without paying a penny in accommodation while you travel. Of course, it implies the maturity and seriousness to respect the rules of the mutual agreement by both parties (the guest and the hosts).  

The practice of this activity lately has been helping many adventurers to travel around the globe by significantly reducing their expenses and to explore destinations in a whole new way; as well as making friends and living new experiences by opening the doors of their homes to other citizens of the world.

The Trend in Bhutan 

“Couch Surfing is all about sharing, learning, and growing. The famous Couchsurfing spirit, the genuine generosity and warmth of someone willing to let a stranger into their homes, and more importantly, into their lives has become a trend all over the world”. 

In Bhutan, the term “Couch Surfing” may sound recent because it was only a few decades ago that many people I know learnt the term ‘couch’. Owning a set of couch in the house resembled the class in the society – The Elites and their fancies for designs and imported furniture’s.  

The term ‘couch surfing’  could lead you to think that it would be something like “staying asleep on the couch/ furniture during your trip”, However on contrary, mind you that it is not always so literal. Despite its name, this activity includes the hosts, who relinquish their personal space to accommodate visitors who have common interests with them and show an appropriate attitude.

Thus couch surfing was never about the ‘couch’ thing. In Bhutan, the culture of couch surfing has existed since time immemorial. In the eastern part of Bhutan the practice in the local term is known as  ‘ Nyepo’  the guest and host culture of seeking refuge.

As a child, I use to spend every winter break with my late maternal grandparents in the far-flung village of Galing, Gongsephangma under the Tashigang District. Besides coming home to my parents with a head full of fleece, I recall my grandparents hosting highlanders from Chaling, Merak, and Sakteng. 

The highlander would come down south to sell their dairy products and would seek refuge at my grandparent’s place. My grandfather a very tall and generous man in his village. In his community, he was the only person who knew the demarcation of every household land. Later on, after his demise, many households faced an issue with the land demarcation. 

My grandfather would hosts every guest and stranger for a sleepover. He was a much loved and respected man in the community. When Meymey passed away in the year 2008, during his funeral in Ranjung, hundreds of people including those highlanders turned up to bid him farewell for the last time. The locals and the monks were in shock to see that many crowds. That moment validated what kind of man he was. 

Similarly, the practice of hosting guests was very common in other parts of the region. Bhutanese  are not only hospitable to local but serve  the best even to outsiders. In a place like Tashi Yangtse, many local people have befriended people from Tawang. During Chorten Kora, people from Tawang stay with the local hosts and I heard vice versa. Bhutanese host can consider having guests at home for weeks and weeks unlike rest of the world.

Until my college days, I was someone who would stay with relatives when I was traveling around or even when I came to Thimphu because, like any typical Asian mother, my mother would have announced my itinerary to all the relatives residing in the place of my travels. Such practice I feel falls under couch surfing. 

THE BITTER TRUTH

Coming back to the present days, despite the booming number of accommodation services like homestays, hotels, resorts, etc, many Bhutanese choose to seek refuge at their relative’s or friends’ place. However, the trend seems to be changing because the millennials now prefer to spend  penny on homestays, hotels, resorts over seeking refuge at their relatives because they know the treat of luxury and peace.  

However many of us, when we to travel to new places , if there is no one we know who live in the place , we usually channel for friends friend or relatives relative. Although these practices bring friends and relatives together and save your money, they bring in negative repercussions to the businesses. 

But in positive note, the pattern of experiencing hospitality industry is changing in Bhutan.

BIG NO TO ‘COUCH SURFING’ 

When I lived in Thailand for almost half a decade, I have traveled with my Thai friends to their friends and relatives’ places. To my astonishment, they would never sleep at their host’s place even if the host’s house was mansion like and closest kin. I would tell them that in my country I would choose to stay with my relatives and friends over hotels. 

They would respond “ if we don’t stay in hotels, how will the business thrive? We support locals so that our economy boosts. Well, that made sense to me. 

The reason why hoteliers and resorts in Bhutan do not capture the local market segments is probably because of the market behavior and vice versa. As the repercussion of a false assumption, the hoteliers do not promote their hotels for local travelers and during a crisis like COVID19 when the country remains free of tourists, they suffer because the local guest was never their priority. Hence this pattern only promotes the culture of couch surfing only thrives.

In the western part of Bhutan the culture of “ Nyeyep- Goem” is on the verge of dying and at some sadly the culture is death. According to a fellow blogger friend Passu Diary , he shares “No more goem visit the villages, if any one approaches the house the hosts will be taken by surprise. Now a days strangers in villages are often classified as suspicious ones. One should not be surprised if the host slams the door on the face denying overnight halt no matter how genuine your intention would be. The culture once cherished by both the guest and the hosts by our forefather are now perishing in some nook and canny of the country,  

DENKARS GETAWAY & COUCH SURFING

Unlike rest of the travel trend in the world, Bhutan do not entertain Couch Surfing for the travelers. However being a local traveler I have reaped the best benefit out of travelling. One of the first couch surfing experience was when I decided to seek refuge at the nomads hut. I had the choice to take my own tent but I chose to delve into local community  by spending couple of night along with 4 other male nomads. Besides I have also crashed at some local people house without prior notice.  

As a solo traveler, many ask me of how I go about crashing at strangers place. 

I tell them, all we need is leap of faith in humanity and trust ones own intuition. Of course you can’t be over confident  but sleeping with pepper spy underneath your pillow sought the best goodnight sleep! 

No matter where I put up , I sleep at Peace knowing I lived the life to fullest.

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