Towards making Bhutan a rafting destination

A first batch of eight rafting instructors were trained to provide worldclass rafting services.

March 15, 2024

Ten rafting guides attended the two-week training


It’s a big day for Thinley Tobden. A decade-and-a-half after he became a river rafting guide, Thinley is finally an internationally certified rafting instructor. This professional milestone came following a two-week rigorous training and assessment. 

“I started working as a river rafting guide in 2006. Over the years, I have had opportunities to attend several trainings. With this training, I am now certified to train local rafting guides for international certification,” said Thinley Tobden. 


Thinley Tobden

UNDP Bhutan/Karma Jamtsho

Thinley was among the ten local rafting guides who attended the intensive training held in Punakha from 4th to 15th of March 2024. Of the ten, eight of them received international certification with International River Guide Training (IRGT) and Rescue 3 International. 

The training program was led by the Department of Tourism and UNDP in partnership with XPLORE Bhutan, Lotus Rafting Company, and Adventure Consultancy, a UK-based firm that specializes in professional adventure training.

Rafting instructors with trainers

The training is part of efforts to boost eco-tourism in Bhutan. The country’s pristine rivers offer one of the best white river rafting experiences in the world. Thinley and his peers will now train local river guides in Panbang, Trashigang, and Pema Gatshel and help them provide safe and quality rafting services to locals and tourists alike. 

It aligns with one of Bhutan’s four BIOFIN Finance Solutions (FS) launched in 2023 in partnership with UNDP. The solution, implemented in partnership with the Department of Tourism and Department of Forests and Park Services, seeks to increase revenues from ecotourism fees from protected areas and outside protected areas.

The long-term goal is to institutionalize global certification for the river ecotourism industry at the national level.

Rafting instructors with trainers

UNDP Bhutan/Karma Jamtsho

An integral part of this training included strengthening the role of rafting instructors as custodians of the river ecosystem. 

“The participants were trained to Leave No Trace, which is all about ensuring zero or minimal disturbances to biodiversity from outdoor activities,” said Anthony Eddies-Davies, trainer from Adventure Consultancy. 

The Dzongda (Governor) of Punakha district, Thuji Tshering said initiatives like this will go a long way in attracting more tourists. “Punakha is a popular tourist destination and rafting remains among the key attractions. This initiative will no doubt help boost tourism and benefit local businesses.”

The certified rafting instructors will help train local river guides in the country.

The instructors were also trained on how to carry out search and rescue operations. “We are equipped with skills and knowledge to rescue wildlife trapped in snares or report to relevant authorities depending on the situation,” said Chencho, another rafting instructor. 

The initiative will explore collaborations with stakeholders, such as Desung, the Department of Local Governance and Disaster Management, Royal Bhutan Police, and the Department of Forest and Park Services, to build capacity in disaster management.