Articles by: ugeent
“If wishes are horses, every beggar would ride it,” and if cordyceps are wishes, every highlanders would collect it as much as they want. But sadly though, wishes merely remain wishes. Given the availability, every highland nomads vies for as much collection in every season as they can because every piece of cordyceps collected is a 'midas' collection when it can bring lots of money. But like economist puts it, all resources are limited and one day must exhaust. This is exactly what seems to be happening even to the cordyceps in northern fringes of Laya gewog of the Gasa Dzongkhag as vindicated by Aum Om of Laya. “In five days of literal hunting for the worms, I could manage only 100 pieces,” unveiled Om. She added, “Last year I collected almost quadrupled the number in the same period of time. This year the yield is unusually very low.” Before they head north, towards the ice capped mountain, they've to avail government permit (GPT) for which each pay nominal fee of Nu. 260/-. Maximum permits for the three members of the each household are granted in one season. This is supposed to check overexploitation of the resources plus the stern monitoring in the collection spots. Reports say that foresters in Bumthang have left a month ago to carryout monitoring at the cordyceps collections site in mountains. That's not done yet. Preparations are hefty when it involves trudging folds of mountains and vales before reaching the cordyceps spot. With their mission destinations such as Sinchilakha, Butsulakha, Japhukab and Rodo some of which are many thousands of feet above sea level, it's like going to a war. Few un-providential ones may not make back home becoming a sacrificial lamb in return for the nature's costly gift.
“If wishes are horses, every beggar would ride it,” and if cordyceps are wishes, every highlanders would collect it as much as they want. But sadly though, wishes merely remain wishes.
Given the availability, every highland nomads vies for as much collection in every season as they can because every piece of cordyceps collected is a 'midas' collection when it can bring lots of money. But like economist puts it, all resources are limited and one day must exhaust. This is exactly what seems to be happening even to the cordyceps in northern fringes of Laya gewog of the Gasa Dzongkhag as vindicated by Aum Om of Laya.
“In five days of literal hunting for the worms, I could manage only 100 pieces,” unveiled Om. She added, “Last year I collected almost quadrupled the number in the same period of time. This year the yield is unusually very low.”
Before they head north, towards the ice capped mountain, they've to avail government permit (GPT) for which each pay nominal fee of Nu. 260/-. Maximum permits for the three members of the each household are granted in one season. This is supposed to check overexploitation of the resources plus the stern monitoring in the collection spots. Reports say that foresters in Bumthang have left a month ago to carryout monitoring at the cordyceps collections site in mountains.
That's not done yet. Preparations are hefty when it involves trudging folds of mountains and vales before reaching the cordyceps spot. With their mission destinations such as Sinchilakha, Butsulakha, Japhukab and Rodo some of which are many thousands of feet above sea level, it's like going to a war. Few un-providential ones may not make back home becoming a sacrificial lamb in return for the nature's costly gift.
This is the story of one Mr. John Wehrein from Hawaii in United States of America who was recently in Laya attending the Takin Festival 2011. It was the twist in his trip that landed him in the festival where tourist and foreigners alike were meant to be the main visitors. And he has no regrets having manipulated his travel itinerary for good. Neither he planned to be in Laya nor did anyone inform him. It was his sheer luck that he chanced upon such happening en route to Lingzhi.
Mr. John was in Bhutan to do a research on Buddhist greatest Masters. Buddhism being our state religion with many eminent religious personalities, this is what encouraged him to come half the globe to the other side of the world. And this isn't his first time in the Country and even to Laya and Lingzhi as well. After having fulfilled all the state requirements, he initially planned to head to Lingzhi and interact and interview the monks of the Lingzhi Dratshang. He tried confirming his coming through the telephone. But he couldn't do it. Whatever, setting all odds aside, he headed to Lingzhi oblivious and least expecting that he'd be in the right place at the right time. Just when he was approaching the junction that bifurcate the Laya – Lingzhi foothpath, he met his old acquaintance from Laya. Taking himself a brief respite, catching some air after having conquered folds of mountains, he was casually conversing with this man expecting nothing new than usual. But the brief mention of some vague story about the Takin festival being held at Laya cropped up which fascinated him. Like the diversion of the footpath, he also diverted his journey and headed straight to Laya. I met Mr. John at Gasa hotspring on our return journey. Sharing the Tshachu pond together, we casually conversed through the dipping perspirations like he did with Layap he met at the junction. This time it was me on the receiving end when I could get all the pchillip's perspective of Takin festival. He was among the foreigners and not necessarily the tourists congregated at Takin festival, despites being held at Lunguthang in Laya, which is days away from nearest roadhead. More Mr. John and tourists are expected in the next festival in the series.
Mr. John was in Bhutan to do a research on Buddhist greatest Masters. Buddhism being our state religion with many eminent religious personalities, this is what encouraged him to come half the globe to the other side of the world. And this isn't his first time in the Country and even to Laya and Lingzhi as well.
After having fulfilled all the state requirements, he initially planned to head to Lingzhi and interact and interview the monks of the Lingzhi Dratshang. He tried confirming his coming through the telephone. But he couldn't do it. Whatever, setting all odds aside, he headed to Lingzhi oblivious and least expecting that he'd be in the right place at the right time.
Just when he was approaching the junction that bifurcate the Laya – Lingzhi foothpath, he met his old acquaintance from Laya. Taking himself a brief respite, catching some air after having conquered folds of mountains, he was casually conversing with this man expecting nothing new than usual. But the brief mention of some vague story about the Takin festival being held at Laya cropped up which fascinated him. Like the diversion of the footpath, he also diverted his journey and headed straight to Laya.He shared, “I enjoyed the festival a lot and was truly worth diverting my destination.” Asked what needs to be done to attract more tourists next time, he unveiled that there is certainly the need to have more and better camping facilities en route. Scratching insect bites on his body, he added, “With insects bothering you all the way, hardly any tourists would prefer to endure such menace.” He expressed, 'Chapchi'(goodness he even knows the local name) tiny insects that give you all the nuisances in the world, something sure needs to be done. He referred to his early journey through the same route in the months of May, August and November, “I didn't come across anything like this.”
I met Mr. John at Gasa hotspring on our return journey. Sharing the Tshachu pond together, we casually conversed through the dipping perspirations like he did with Layap he met at the junction. This time it was me on the receiving end when I could get all the pchillip's perspective of Takin festival.
He was among the foreigners and not necessarily the tourists congregated at Takin festival, despites being held at Lunguthang in Laya, which is days away from nearest roadhead. More Mr. John and tourists are expected in the next festival in the series.
I've had enough of all those jungle experiences – running after trees, that 'Tarzan thing' of clinging by the climbers while jumping from tree to tree. Having convinced myself of it, I've long quit it to be here in Thimphu – the capital city. I'm only surprised that it is no better here.
I've had all these opportunities of a jungle experience by default. This is because it has been in line with the call of my duty to be there in the forests. I didn't regret it either. My landing in the forests provided me enough of all salient features such as sniffing the scents of all exotic blooms and blossoms. Taste of purest of the air with rich oxygen content was unique and a privilege few enjoyed. Conquering the all egoistic tallest mountain of the area was an achievement in its own standard.
I've been accustomed to the surrounding of trees, wild flowers and animals and the creepy crawlies for that matter the pure wilderness in its rawest form. And I thought I'm almost becoming one of them until…
I proposed a change and alas it came through. Direct from the deepest of jungle, I got relocated to Thimphu. And to my surprise, it is no better than the world I came from. There's no seeing of poisonous snakes, leeches, bears, monstrous tigers and elephants. Yet the City is a jungle. A jungle inhabited by people who are on a constant race to climb up the social ladder and accumulate as much wealth as possible. I don't see leeches that suck blood, but someone no better in the form of close friends, relatives and lovers who inexorably suck all little money and wealth you've, for their pleasure and advantage.
It is only right to reproduce an excerpt of what someone wrote in Bhutan Times, “Venomous snakes in Thimphu are in galore. Many frustrated youth roam freely who are more dangerous and poisonous than the deadly snakes. There is no need to provoke them. They attack at you brutally for no reason. Here are also many beautiful women who are often deadlier than the witches. These gorgeous women cast a spell and hex men using their sorcery of hypnotizing beauty. She sucks blood, eats his peace and robbed properties and ruins all his life. There isn't any jumbo elephant rampaging your homes and crops, but enough are those people who sabotage and raid others' homes and properties. Alas! Humans have become more callous and heartless than most beastly wild animals. I screamed at the Thimphu City, “I will not return to you. Never! You have accumulated and favored the most hypocrite living beings. They are worst than most hostile wild animals. They are insane. I love to stay here in the company of the wild.”
Mr. Sonam Phuntsho or he is popularly known as Ata Sonam – does it neither out of his professional obligations nor for any personal gain. It's his typical instinct and the insatiable passion that drives him into the bare face of the mountain to get drenched by rain or scorched by sweltering sun. He is out there with a mission -to repay back what Mother earth gives him by planting trees and helping replenish those hundreds of acres of lands. This is something very unnatural by individual to the natural world. On any other normal day in office, he is no extraordinary human being, faithfully performing his assigned job in perfect cut. But deep inside, in his core of heart is that sense of engraved volunteerism of trying to bring deserted land into greener arena by planting of thousands of trees.
He is committed towards nurturing nature with no-look back. He tried his luck in becoming a forester because he believed he will be able to cater himself more to the environmental needs by being in the department. Unfortunately both for the department and for himself, he could never make through the interview. “I tried for the training at Taba but didn't get selected,” revealed Ata Sonam. But that didn't end his love for environment – if the blisters he wears in his weary palms from recent work are of any indication. Sonam Phuntsho is in his 50s. His old flesh and bone may refuse to cooperate but not his determination. The mind being the superior element of human being, he is willing to give his age a run uphill.
Tracking back his records of some of the efforts for environmental care – Ata Sonam initiated one of the several cleaning campaigns in Thimphu way back in 1996. Later that year, he went on with other volunteers planting trees along the Changlam. Had it not been for the wild fire and the indiscriminate destruction by other people, Sangaygang and the Changedaphu would have been grown to become one serene green area since he mass planted 10,000 saplings of cypress, bluepine, maple and oak with students of Thimphu valley. “The adjoining residents cut the young poles for their domestic use without even contemplating its negative impacts and what little left behind was constantly wiped out by forest fire. Such are the challenges,” shared Ata Sonam. The contributions he made in the past in environmental conservation are too many to mention here in this short article.
His latest project included mass plantation of oak (Quercus griffithi) on the barren slope of Lungtenphu and above Tandin Nye. In collaboration with Karma Wangdi passionately known by all as Asha Karma, the founder of VAST studio in Thimphu, they've sowed 160 kgs of oak seeding on at least 20 acres land with lending of helping hand by the odd 40 VAST student volunteers. The plan is also in the offing to usher a radical transition of the particular landscape whereby the bird eye view will feature Green Mountain with mantra word “thri” perfectly engraved. Such facelift on the barren Mountain will also be the first of its kind in the history of Forest of Bhutan.
Although appreciations have been endowed to Ata Sonam, Asha Karma and the volunteers, we've yet to follow the footstep of these enthusiastic environmentalists. Make no mistake – next time you see a man with a bag-full of oak seeds with a spade by the shoulder – the man will be Ata Sonam.
It's said that every cypress tree in Bhutan tells a tale. And indeed each one has a story. It just takes going around asking about the tree to unveil it. Besides being the national tree of Bhutan the cypress is associated with diverse myths and beliefs. Every grain of the cypress tree seen majestically towering over the dzongs, temples and stupas is imbued with intricate stories. Such stories are the greatest surprise surrounding the cypress.
The two formidable trees at Baylangdra in Wangdue and at Kurjey in Bumthang are no exception to this. Their origin can be traced to the walking stick of the great Indian saint who visited Bhutan in 8th century. When such trees are planted, they're done to serve as the 'standing proof' of the flourishing dharma. Often it is said that the trees will grow only if there is a prophecy that Buddhism will exist without waning. The trees cater to the locality as symbol of worship and blessings.
The giant cypress tree growing near the Kurjey Lhakahng is believed to have been planted upside down to the incredulity of science, and if the deformation still seen among the branches is anything to believe. The guarding of the tree is also believed to have been entrusted to Shelging Karpo – the local deity subdued by Guru Rinpoche. Hence, for anything to do with trees, special permission needs to be sought from the clay idol of the deity in the sanctum by rolling a pair of dice. To film the tree, our team had to roll the dice several times until we received the auspicious number.
If you need validation of how fiercely the tree is protected by the local deity, you only need to listen to Lam Wangchuk of Kurjey Lhakhang. He narrates an incident where the preceding Lam after performing special 'soelkha' (offering) instructed a monk to cut a small branch to be used as 'Zung' (inner relics) for newly built stupa. As the monk started sawing the branch, from beneath the bark, instead of the tree sap, red blood oozed out. The monk survived for another three years after this incident. Lam Wangchuk calculated that the tree is 1201 years old and every attempt by monks to propagate the tree has been futile.
The cypress story of Baylangdra is equally fascinating and surprising. Proof that the tree grew from Guru's walking stick is prominent and visible from one vantage point which gives you a clear view of the fork at the top which represents the point for resting the palm against the walking stick. The tree is also believed to house relics and confer blessings equivalent to five monasteries.
Every year the tree is revered on the 15th day of 8th month of the Bhutanese calendar, a day known as 'Tsenden tsechu'. Come the day, all 35 households of Bay chiwog congregate in the small flat area around the tree and circumambulate the prayer-wheels surrounding the majestic tree. During the day-long ritual, the community can relish and relax in the tsechu atmosphere the entire day. The sponsor for the festival is rotated among community members on an annual basis.
From the porridge served at day-break, the repast continues far past dawn. However, respecting the sanctity of the day, no meat of any kind is included in the menu, according to Daw Penjor, resident of Bay Village.
Many visitors from faraway places visit holy cypress trees such as those at Bay Langra and at Kurjey Lakhang. But while the holy trees are a boon to the visitors, the visitors are a bane to the trees. They collect the bark, branches, twigs, leaves, cones and all parts of the tree to be used as materials for blessings
Such are the wonders of the cypress in Bhutan.
I honestly want to divulge here that I've not been after the greener pasture albeit I'm presented with an opportunity to work in Capital city for that matter at the HQ of the parent Ministry. I know many – atleast those who know all about my professional background would have concluded the way I fear they'd have. This is because after serious and exhaustive contemplation, my change of workplace has even resulted in change of the major occupational group (MOG). And not necessarily hindsight of such change, it is also to do with clothes I wear.
I was working with the Department of Forests & Park Services in one of its field offices spread across the Country. For the services I rendered, I was endowed with forest uniforms which includes cloth piece, jersey, jacket, shoe, beret cap and almost all that is needed to work in the hostile environment. On the lighter side, all I needed to buy was the underwear and few other undergarments. I mention this with my earnest gratitude to what I've received from the government.
I first became the beneficiary of such assortment in 2002 when after I completed my formal training was fully endorsed as one of the family in RNR sector. From then on, I've benefitted from such 'soelra' almost every year with its own modality of issues. However, from my last eight years of its receipts, today I've not a single piece of fresh assortment. This is vindicative of how judiciously I've used them.
Today, after my relocation to the information and communication wing of the Ministry, I am delisted by the benefactor. This is because I'm no longer under the lots that are entitled too. Is this regretful? Did I leave behind my belongings in pursuit of greener field?
It's almost a source of remorse when digging my wardrobe; I come across only number of ghos. It's even worst when I've to relearn how to wear gho, not that I do not know how to do it altogether but it has been last many years I wore one. But it's only justifiable to concentrate more on works than the clothes I wear. And for sure since writing is my in-born zest & enthusiasm, (I leave for readers to see whether I'm an amateur or an ace at it), I'm definitely having a gala time savouring it full time. This is because my current job entails running after people to interview and coming up with a report – close to saying I'm a reporter.
Not to forget that I'm one more contributor to already overfilling Memelakha landfill, polluter to already blanketed Thimphu atmosphere and addition of a family to already populated city.
It was never in his wildest dream – the coveted opportunity to fly in the plane and explore the land beyond his imagination. He possessed no pre-requisition of availing such prospects of travelling on the metal bird. All he has is seen and heard others speaks of exhilaration of such journey overseas. He vied for the journey but chances stood ever slim. But it was piously nullified when he was nominated as one member for the CFMG study tour/visit to Nepal.
Mr. Sonam Norbu, Chairman of Zhasela Community Forest in Minjay under Lhuentse Dzongkhag has spent past 37 years of his life languishing within four horizons in his farmland. He has rarely strayed beyond the confinement of his village minus occasional visit to the Dzongkhag. The acute shortage of working hand in his farm land permitted few of such travel and herded him selfishly in his own Community.
This is to prove wrong when under the sponsorship of Participatory Forest Management project (PFMP), the Social Forestry Division of the Department of Forests & Park Services organized CFMG study tour/visit to Nepal. Representing the Community Forest he headed, he embarked on the tour/visit to Nepal from 13 – 22 March 2011 for the duration of little less than a couple of week. The visit enabled him to visit many successful CF program and gather numerous knowledge on effectively managing the chunk of Government Reserved Forests handed over to the Community with ownership rights for sustainable utilization and Management.
Still reeling in disbelief in the first day after his return, Sonam confided, “I never believed there are world outside our Country. My journey not only exposed me to such outside world, it also enriched me with tactics of governing CF successfully”. Still thrilled by his buoyant journey on plane, he excessively thanked the sponsor and organizer for realizing undreamt dream of a humble farmer.
For the last 10 days, they were guided to different locations in Nepal introducing and familiarizing them on success stories of CF. “Nepal is far more advanced in terms of Community Forests and no other destination would have been appropriate,” chipped Sonam. He added that Nepalese strength of being able to derive maximum avenues for income generation and managing forests as pro-poor resource convinced him of replicating same here in Bhutan.
Among the loads of knowledge and experiences he has imported, he is seriously contemplating embracing briquette making techniques. He divulged that it is simple method and has lots of benefits in the way that tree branches, lops & tops, off cuts and other debris from tending operations serve as raw materials. “Conventionally, such resources are wasted when they can be put into judicious use,” he concluded before taking leave to attend presentation on their trips to sponsor and organizer at Hotel Dragon roots in Thimphu. But certainly not forgetting to emphatically thank the sponsor and the organizer.
Most of the people in Lhuentse Dzongkhag are predominantly of agriculturalist by nature. The Dzongkhag has the suitable climatic condition for practicing the farming of of all “Dru-na-gu”. However, encouraged by the fertile land with good irrigation facilities, most of the people are into wetland cultivations which make Lhuentse an envied Dzongkhag for producing rice. Lhuentse as one of the rice producing district in the Country contributes unprecedentedly towards realizing the food self-sufficiency of the Country. However, these agriculture farming keeps them bogged down only in summer during the time when water for that matters rains are aplenty.
Come winter, there is not much works around. Contrarily when farmers in other parts of the Country are relaxing, farmers in Lhuentse have always kept themselves productively engaged. They busy themselves in winter involving themselves full heartedly in off-farm activities which mainly focuses on weaving by women of all ages.
The principle source of the Kushuthara is Lhuentse Dzongkhag. While Khoma geog is considered as production hotspots of the cloth every woman vies for, women in atleast three other geogs are involved in weaving of the Kushuthara. The primary raw material for the cloth is the brocades which are now available in retail markets. But it is from Samdrup Jongkhar that people mostly buy the threads in large quantities. Having the raw material at easy disposal, it takes all the experienced hands to finally bring the most prized kira into shape.
So, why is it so costly? The cheapest of the brand would atleast cost Nu. 30,000 at Thimphu and the cost don't vary much even in Lhuentse – the source either. The best design fetches more than one hundred thousand. The clothes become considerably expensive due to huge investment of time and energy it demands for as validated by Kinzang Lhamo, a resident of Wangshing in Minjay. The most intricately designed takes on an average of six months to complete weaving one kira. One kira is the total of three pieces that would make the standard sized kira when stitched.
Whatever, weaving Kushuthara is one potential alternative source of incomes for people in Lhuentse. Women in Lhuentse are fully engrossed in the trade from the time immemorial. There are no females in Lhuentse who aren't introduced to the handling the loom. Girl students contribute immensely during winter vacation. It is also a established fact that some students can make enough to finance their education solely from weaving.
The income generated through such source is considered as main finance for construction of new house, buy agricultural machineries, household appliances and other costly items. Weaving is also a principle source for financing education for their children.
The weaving culture is finely integrated with the agriculture farming in a sense that the trades are performed in a perfect arrangement not to contradict each others. The looms are hanged up in summer when the farming season picks up. Although weaving can still be practiced in summer, there is honestly not enough labour to be spared. Come winter, finally shuddering the dust off, the looms are lowered and put to action. The girl students on winter break help add up few pairs of hands for weaving.
However, the absence of a functioning weavers' association is known as one impediment in sustainably maintaining the weaving culture in the Dzongkhag. The normal practice is that the job is given in the contract basis by the broker who may be claiming lion-share of the profit margin. Therefore, need is urgently felt to institute a weavers' group or association whereby the marketing aspect is properly handled. Whether there is association or not, weaving in Lhuentse will remain one potential alternative source of income perfectly blended with the agriculture farming system.
Contradictorily, I had a cold welcome to my new place of work. Everyone on a change of their workplace would expect a warm welcome where your new boss and colleagues receives you with a broad smile. This is important when you are introduced to the world you've not experienced before, where your new boss and the colleagues are all strangers for atleast now.
With excitement brimming in my heart, I ventured to the capital city – Thimphu from my remote place in Lhuentse – my previous station. This is supposed to be a major change in my career since it is a complete change from running after trees to running after people. Journey itself was full of challenges when I had to cross many passes – the highest mountain point. Youngkola, Thrumshingla, Kikila, Yotongla, Pelela, Dochula and after sometime I even lost the count of these so-called “la” crossings. But I am glad I could make in one big piece.
February the 17th of 2011, I was all prepared to join my new office. The other day, the weather started getting unexpectedly wild. To everyone's surprise, the thunder started rumbling from the winter sky. There was a slight drizzle and oblivious of what was impending, I retreated into my bed. I was preoccupied with overpowering exhilaration of starting my yet another new work.
I was woken up early in the morning by the chilling wind seeping through my bedroom window. I slowly opened up my reluctant eyes. I stretched my body to add half an inch to my height. My reluctant eyes widened instantly when I saw the whole Thimphu ground carpeted in the white sheet. What a cold welcome indeed!
I made my journey to the office ever expectant of a broad smile. And the warm greetings from the boss and the colleagues neutralized the cold weather. I was immediately made to feel at ease when everyone welcomed me with open hearts.
Snowfall is considered lucky in the Country. It is vital for the bountiful harvest needless to mention about the scenic beauty it presents when blue pine trees are fully laden with flakes. Whether it is lucky or not, I've many years ahead to prove.
Ever tried looking a single grain inside that giant heap of hay? I personally cannot imagine even thinking of the job. I would rather opt to dig a whole field than doing that. Finding rental apartments in Thimphu is no better.
Climb to the strategic point of the capital city and scan the horizon, you'll see that the city is the concrete jungle. The buildings of different makes and models remain crammed within the permitted space of the area. Going by such deceptive look of the town, any first timers would think there are enough space for people of whole Bhutan. Bhutan has a mere population of the little less than 700,000.
But the reality in Thimphu is much harsher than it looks. A decent roof over head to shield from sun and rain is every human's necessity. I would choose pitching a tent or putting up in a temporary makeshift if permitted by the nature's law. But there is not much of choice offered around.
Thimphu is gateway to bliss. Is it? With my coming to Thimphu on transfer, the first thing that worried me to death is a decent apartment for a rent. For last many days, I've been trying to look for a shelter and I still cannot claim I've won the war. From Babesa in the South to Dechenchling in the north, I more of wasted my car fuel than being able to find a place.
Those apartments in proximity charges exorbitant rents irrespective of the quality while those further away are still not free of limitations. I've tried my hand with those around in the proximity but if I've to invest everything for rental, what is left for feeding? Those offering a negotiable one are hardly habitable. I won't deny divulging that houses located beyond the municipal jurisdiction are offering better apartments for cheaper rents. But what about the expenditures that will incur for car fuels? Do I've to do an economical analysis here?
Why didn't my great grandfather own a land here. Why can't you carry your own home like tortoise does? Why does government do nothing with sky rocketing rents? Why is tenancy act merely collecting dusts than getting implemented? Whatever, fact is, Finding apartment in Thimphu is looking for a grain inside the heap of hay. I don't know if I will succeed to find one?
“Every Meeting must end in Departure” there is no denying of the statement. Just when I'm getting to know the people around and put myself in their shoes, here is another call from the destiny – that I must again venture into the destiny yet unknown. Perhaps this time around, it is in my favour. I won't say I am after the greener pasture but it is too good an opportunity to deny for me. Moreover, the mandate is more into tune of my interest and potential. Nonetheless, bidding adieu is one tough job for everyone when the moment is flooded with emotions. But 'I am turning my heels to the place' is the truth an undeniable one.
The first time I was transferred to Lhuentse, I was trounced by the strange feeling of being banished to exile. This is because the place to me merely denoted of remoteness, some odd five hundred kilometers east of the Capital city – Thimphu. It proved right when I confronted 2 days strenuous drive to reach the place. The road got narrower, the mountain higher and the jungles thicker from what I know during my earlier stint at Chukha. Every crossing of the passes (which I lost count of after sometime) took me further away and deeper into the place I've never known. As a matter of fact, the time I passed along Thimphu en route, I asked myself, “when will be the next time I will be coming here?”
But after reaching Lhuentse, it proved me wrong. The journey towards it, the place unexpectedly opened up to reveal its supreme beauty and charm. The historical fortress – Lhuendrup Rinchen Tse Dzong perched on the top of a small ridge resembled the seated pigeon while the villages remained spread and dotted on the lap of the mountains within the thickets of the pine trees. Minjay gewog, the place I'll be working for next few years is even more beautiful. The 9 kilometres journey by the snaky and winding dusty farm road along the waist of the ridge took me to the RNR-Centre. “This is the place I will be calling my second home for next few years,” I admitted myself.
Next few days on my familiarization tour of the gewog, it unveiled more revelations. Like the bride inside the weeding gown, the place remained etched within the rural glory. Living in the environment for next few more years, where time is dictated by the cock-a-doodle-do from the farm household in proximity, I have seriously relished the rural settings.
It has its own charm of cows mooing to alert their owner of the time for milking, dogs barking at the strangers, hen flying right out of local layer basket clucking in its loudest while the mother with her babies on the back is winnowing outside. As the winter sun warms up, the male member of the household is seen exiting the house with an axe on his shoulder and the rope around his waist most probably heading to collect firewood. All day the household chore keeps the mother busy while the distant sound of the father splitting the woods can be heard from the nearby forest. Such is the life I'm familiar with.
On the professional font, my call of duty is that of need based rather than time bound. I would find most of the days out in the field working with the ultimate clientele – farmers. Its timing is not confined to the 9 AM to 5 PM when the free time for farmers is early the morning before the start of the farm-works or late in the even after retreating home. Those are times when farmer comes knocking your bedroom door seeking technical supports. Farmers nag for services irrespective of weekends, government holidays and off hours.
Now with my transfer to Thimphu, all these will be the thing of the past. Looking back on my journey from the imposing ridge which offers sweeping view of the place I worked in, Lhuentse will remain engraved in my memory.
The caught insects are taken home where in a bowl of water, the insects still alive are properly rinsed. Here, the segregation of those edible and opposite is being done. The one with red chest are cautiously avoided since it is known to inflict sickness among the eaters. If one is not careful and carelessly happen to eat even one of these red-chested monsters among the delicacy, the victim will be bed ridden for not less than a week.
The acute vomiting till your puke comes out pure yellow, after all that's in the stomach is got rid off, is experienced and but no modern drugs can be taken which will react and trigger more vomiting, as this is how people narrates. The giddiness would be so strong that one cannot literally looks at swirling objects in the eyes. The victim would appear like he/she is in over drugs. Yet, elder advise to keep the eyes closed and sleep as long as giddiness leaves. The illness is normally said to recover on its own requiring no medication.
The segregated insects are then boiled thoroughly to get rid of its stinging smell after which the head of individual insects are removed. Now, the curry can be prepared. The insects are mixed with 'bunchunpa' made from bamboo shoots and adding some cheese, the curry is ready. 'Very simple to cook but hey this is real tasty, want to join over?'
The insects can also be consumed by roasting. The excess insects are dried in the sun and stored for consumption when vegetables in the garden dry out. Here is then the fleshy menu.
It would be the first preference to offer for the highly esteemed guest among the village folks and then the guest would leave behind more 'soelra'.
I am pretty sure that the readers would definitely wonder as to why they consume such insects. They would certainly consider it most dirty and orthodox of people to take such insects, yet, its just the first taste you have to make and you will find yourself addicted with it. And wonder not, as people in some countries eat carcass of dogs, snakes and horses, which in Bhutan is considered non-consumable, it is the rare source of energy for them. And for sure, the 'knabhu' is for khengpas.
For instances the pig eats our own faeces and many other dirty residues yet, people rush for the first kg of pork in the meat shop. But certainly, this insect is much cleaner living near the river. Yet, I am justifying that it is just the people's attitude. Yet, I write this to bring to the attention of those interested in making a research in nature and social feeding habits. If one of you are interested, here certainly is a topic to further probe in and make comprehensive study.
'Knabhu' is a six legged insect with double folded wings that it uses to freely fly down from the sky. It is grayish in colour and has similarities with beetles, with dozer like head. But as far as my observation is concerned, it is an insect who is the close cousin of common house cockroach. It is of same size and emanates strong head turning smell. Comparing to common cockroach, it is bit round in shape, more fleshy and appears to live under the well weathered stones in the river bank in winter. And the insect is eaten by the people of the kheng.
In the 1st and 2nd Month of the Bhutanese calendar, the supply goes low in the village, when single maize grain in their store room threatens to run out despite many hungry mouths. The cultivation of finger millet would have started, yet they have very less to eat back home despite the back aching work in the field. The 'nangi aum' would turn greedy and miser that time of the year, trying to conserve all little she have until after few months the finger millets mature in the field.
But among this famine in the village, the wintry sky would suddenly go reddish yellow. On the bright winter day, the sky would feign the sun setting scene and the nearest horizon to river would be seen grow more darker. And for khengpas, the god is on their rescue raining and showering them with their delicacy, the fleshy food to supplement their last few 'bre' of maize. It is the 'knabhu' falling down freely from the sky and get under every stones near these river banks which in the past have acted as their barrier to them. The men, women and children would get ready themselves with no tools required. All they have to carry is the bag in which the collected insects can be stored to carry home. The families will embark on trapping tour in queue, each carrying 'ghala' a hand woven bag.
Once near the river, they would instantly start their business each knocking over and dislodging the stones in the river bank. Every stone, they capsize would expose handful of the insects which are hoarding inside protecting from the cold winter, which are skillfully picked up, hurdled into the bag to carry home. The scene near the river bank would look like the pack of monkeys into their business of digging up the earthworms near the river bank to eat. But the closer probe would reveal khengpas doing no better job.
The sun is bright and hot directly above the head, high in the sky. The cool river breeze has slowly started blowing barely fanning the cheeks. The children would have picked half bag full of the insects while the elders would be half with the second bag. And it is noon, they break for the lunch, brought packed neatly from the home. The smell of fresh fish from the river would help forcing the poor quality down the throat. Their hands are all painted yellow by the spray of the insects, their only mechanism to protect themselves but no match for the greedy humans. But, sometime when the spray makes its target to the eye, it can be pretty bad, blinding for the life and the children are well warned prior to marching for the business.
Its almost getting dark in the evening and they must now retreat back to their home. Looking back after a half kilometer stride, the river bank would look like a fresh quarry has been completed or the two giant elephants has a fight each threatening by overturning the stones. The stretch of river bank has been all manipulated and they won't visit it again until next time the sky go reddish yellow again.
Bhutan has remained inaccessible until recent years. The rugged terrain, torrential rivers, thick, virgin and unexplored jungles often plague-ridden by fiercest wild animals and other hostile landscape barely permitted any interaction within the people of different neighborhood. This resulted in people living confined to one community. Whatsoever, this offered them little choices of what to eat and what not to. Then they are compelled to survive with what is available in their locality crafting their own survival technique. Hence, they carefully made a selection between what is palatable or not among the varieties of plants and animals found in and around their secluded village. As a result of this isolation, each village inculcated up their own custom, tradition, dialects and of all the eating habits.
The cuisine that is laid in the dinning table of one community considering its delicacy is often referred non-palatable and unfit for consumption in other locality. This is mainly because they have different taste for different dishes mainly developed due to their secluded living phenomenon without interaction to any other communities. Yet, it just matters what your forefathers used to eat and since they taught that it is not poisonous atleast to consume certain vegetation and flesh irrespective of nutrition, the line generation keeps blindly following the habit.
Kheng Goshing in lower kheng region of Zhemgang Dzongkhag is located among the jungles. In the past, it has never been an exception of the seclusion ethics and remained its door locked to outside world until a decade ago. Until the developments started coming in reluctantly to the community, they have been living all within themselves. The Mangdechu in the Northwest and the Darangchu in the Southeast fenced them without any compromization and always herded them and reserved them together. These giant rivers barred them from intermixing with their neighbouring communities until the government intervened and the bridge was finally constructed allowing the free passage. Hence, to supplement the food shortage in the lean season, people in this region have picked up the habit of eating certain creatures.
In the past, prior to construction of the bridge over these rivers, every winter, almost every villager would be seen loitering freely near the river banks each with a hand-oven bag over their waist. Perhaps fishing but no, they are involved in collecting the insects. The first passerby would say “the dry season have dwindled the river and these people are trying to negotiate the river”. Yet, in truth, it is not that they wanted to cross the river to set off to other places but because the river banks endowed the khengpas with their exclusive delicacy, the “Knabhu”.
I am never sure of English or the zoological or even Dzongkha name of the creature but I know it is labeled “Knabhu” in the local language. I chose to call it 'river bug' nothing of accepted English name yet since it shares so much of proximate appearance to that of a bug and lives in the river bank, I prefer to call it that way. I have never heard of its presence in any other parts of the country except in the kheng region that too in lower kheng only. This can be mainly because of the favourable climate that the place offers. The village experiences the warm and humid summer with warm and dry winter. And perhaps this is type of climate the bug prefers for its livelihood. But unreliable sources say, it is also found in few numbers in Mochu river bank in Punakha and heard that sharchops in the east also do enjoy its unique taste.
'To meet, to know, to love and to depart is the law of life' someone has said it.
We rally with strangers and people we have never known before in homes, schools, institutions and other public gatherings because we are born in different places. When we meet the strangers, we make friends with some of them and sometime we fall in love with few of them especially the young guys and ladies. We remains committed and dedicated to friendship or loveship, whatever the relationship you are sharing. But for how long? You got to ask yourself.
One fateful day, you find that you are departing from your friend or lover going away to find your own friend, your own lover and your own foes. Ofcourse, it hurts so much but it is a law the life has framed and you ought to obey it. And if you don't keep in contact through all possible means, it is much easier to forget.
While traveling in the bus, you share the seats with someone especially with spinsters and you introduce, talk and become friend and sometime lovers, will you believe me?
I was coming back from Trongsa to Lhuentse with farmer participants on the farmers' study tour. We made ourselves ready to leave early morning because the journey demands us lot of time. A young lady wearing a Sethra Kira and Green Wonju stopped me at the bus door and asked for a lift upto Thimphu. I offered her the seat beside me because that was the only empty seat we had.
For the first half an hour of journey we remained silent and I thought I should break the ice. I introduced her as Ugyen Tshering, presently working in Lhuentse. She too did the same introducing herself as Ugyen Zangmo working in Trongsa. We now knew each other. I offered her a Center Shock Sweet that sets you right for anything, I mean the chewing gum that bring back your life, if you are half dead.
As the journey proceeded, we came closer spiritually and even bodily. When we reached at Wangdue we were kidding each other. I asked her whether she is married to which her answer was no. But she didn't spare me for I was also asked with same question and I told her frankly that I am not married.
We proposed our love at Dochula, a love place of Jigdrel and Yuden in film Jigdrel. We now accepted ourselves as lovers. How fast, is it?
The journey seems to take shorter time than the usual. I was wishing if driver could take slowly so that I get longer time to talk with her. Within few minutes, I bid her good bye at Thimphu and she is never heard of. How fast, is it?
She never gave me her number nor could I give her and we could not even note our actual address. Therefore, we could not exchange calls or letters. We were back to strangers again. So, that was all, we were lovers for a trip only.
Of all the creatures, dogs are very certain about their territory. Others dare not trespass one's specified boundary, which otherwise would face the brutal fate. Even in the place where I live, there are two canine groups who respect their territory. The group living at the building next to won't dare cross half the path connecting two buildings and same unwritten regulation must be complied by the group in the building I live.
If one has mistaken the boundary and wanders in others, the fight explodes. The snarling fills the atmosphere; everyone exhibits their long fangs. Soon, the dust smokes up and the lone wanderer is put in the middle of the group. When finally the fight is over, the lone wanderer is either dead or if not, he is limping for the life.
This only helps me take back to the time when our country was ruled by many petty powers. The packs ruling small territories and the frequent burst of fights explains me why our Country had little peace during those time. It also injects me the indepth faith for our beloved monarchs who in last hundred years have sacrificed all they could for the peace and happiness of the Countrymen. This certainly is the reason why we must work harder not just leaving everything for the kings to do for us. And introduction of parliamentary democracy is the right opportunity.
I tried to give the serious thought into it and came up with following conclusions. I may be wrong and you have the right to correct me. Foods for dogs are hard to come by and if everyone messes together, there is little chance of getting the morsel. Hence, every morsel of food discarded in their owned boundary belongs to them. Of all, dogs are serious about the food. Who is not serious about food afterall???
The mating right is another reason for ruling the certain part of area for the dogs. When it is time for dogs to breed, time is no better for the males and humans too. Males have to fight to connect themselves with few females. And humans do face the bad time when the scene is unfolded sometime in front of group of relatives. The enjoined dogs just drag themselves in front and the brunt have to be confronted. Why does dog remain wedged when mating? Did anyone curse them to suffer which otherwise the sex is supposed to be enjoyable?
This is not the end of wonder for me. The more I try to understand them, the more I happen to wonder. But not to forget ofcourse the Evolutionary Tree.
They toiled hard in shine and shower to survive and barely keep breathing going on but the inexperienced pair of soul in form of minors was slowly giving away to destiny and heading to diminishment. But the last stock of luck played a trick on them when her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, the patron of Tarayana Foundation adopted them as beneficiary. Now if they are still living, HM is their sole divine rescuer.
She lives with her elder brother Tashi Choki, who is barely 16 in remote village of Metakha – one remote corner of the Country. They are the family of the households as well the children of a household holding the House No. 91 with both their parents almost equals to have dead. Though like the chicks with their mother hen succumbed to the dead-net of predator, they put everything but for running house of their own. But the fragile and inexperienced brother-sister combination could hardly make it because they are not even at the minimum age of shouldering just huge responsibilities.
Farming is strenuous job demanding for inexhaustible energy, unending determination; no complain to shine or shower and ofcourse strong bones and flesh. They possessed all except strong bone and flesh which they are not at all at fault. However, no matter, together they put on all their efforts overcoming all negatives to make sure they have two square meals to eat at home. They rear 2 cows, 3 pigs, 5 chickens and 1 cock. They have a land holding of 3 acres where they grow maize, paddy and cardamom.
Tashi Yangzo, has just completed her 13th birth anniversary during the writing of this article. The brother and the sister were born to father Pao Gaytse, 30 and mother Samten, 28 at Geompa village, Metekha geog. But they ran out of last once of luck when their mother expired leaving them behind in the challenging world. Yet, they trusted their surviving father to take them through the life
But to surprise of them, their father died with their mother when he started going after other women finally to get married at Medingkha, approximately 10 kms away from them. With time, the father had to raise another set of his families. When he couldn't divide his time and love with two families, he took part of his latter families and totally discarded them. Their last fiber of hope broke when they were left to wander in the turbulent voyage with the captain of the ship gone.
Not everything came to an end abruptly because until then their living grandpa was their benefactor. He did all he could to leave behind his two grandchildren stable. He knew his time is coming and it could have been most difficult to breathe his last when he knew he is leaving behind two minor to live on their own. Yet, time and tides wait for none. He had no option than to breathe his final air out. On his death bed, he assured that they are strong and advised them to live adamantly.
Tashi Yangzo, in her rag, is too diminutive and vulnerable when talking about taking care of the domestic chores. Her brother is out in the field harvesting cardamom. He will before long, return famished and worn-out. She ought to cook him the meals with what little stock they have. She has just fed the pigs and towards the late day, she has to go and collect their cattle from the forest.
Going around in the rooms, very few clothes are hanging by the old black plank boxes. On the ceiling is some maize corns hanging, a community's fashion of seed storage. In the kitchen, they have few pots, 4 plates and two mugs, the kitchen utensils just enough for two of them.
“As a child,” she tells a tale, “I always wanted to go to school like other children. But due to financial problems, I couldn't attend the formal education”. “But,” she continues, “I am enrolled to the Non-formal Education and I now can read Dzongkha alphabets”. That very obvious, from the lots of Dzongkha alphabets scribbling they have done on the plank walls. The door reads, “Goenpa Legso” in jagged Dzongkha hand-writing.
“What about the Community work? Are you exempted from it”, I asked. Yangzo, with her head low in her shyness mumbled, “Once my brother was called for the lifting of the 'dho' (school load) representing his house. He was loaded 40 kgs since that's the minimum luggage they must carry to get his name listed. Soon, he sweated profusely from the weight, when he had to walk at par with other grown-up and senior mates. His frail and tender legs started trembling and when this could go on no more, he fell on the ground rather kept crying”.
Yet, they couldn't stop but slowly fell victim to poverty. Their stock diminished when one small boy labour could not refill the maize container storage. The stuffs basic stuffs like rice, salt, chilies, kerosene and other necessities ever ran low. They wore rags just enough to keep their body covered, ate just enough to keep breath going on, house almost went in dilapidated condition when roof leaked.
Through these hard times came the lights at the end of the tunnel. Ashi Dorji Wangmo, the founder of the Tarayana Foundation, while on her tour, looking for the disadvantages lots in the villages found them. “It was like a god in the form of Ashi and I pray in deep respect and gratitude” said Tashi Yangzo. Knowing how destitute and vulnerable they are, Her Majesty adopted them as the beneficiary of the Foundation. Now, they receive a monthly remuneration of Nu. 700/- (Nu. 350/-) each. “This helps us a lot”, Tashi beams with a light smile on her and continued, “When we run short of salt, Kerosene and other basic needs, we use the money to procure these things”.
She wished to convey her deep thanks and gratitude to Her Majesty for saving the poor soul. She is also indebted to Ashi for exempting them from the community work until he attains the age of 18. “He now doesn't have to suffer and cry as he did before,” she sighs out with relief. “This is divine rescuer from heaven above,” she concluded.
She remained defeated to what fate decided for her when she got pregnant. The fact that she was studying in school made it even worse. She was choked out from the school and was at home devoting her time to the kid. However, all flames of hope were not extinguished when the Principal in other school stood up strong and supportive to her. She was granted admission and rights to continue her studies.
Sonam was studying in her secondary school when the suitor approached her with promises in life. She showed no sign of interest in him. She believed she will have time for that later. But now she cared more of studies than getting stuck. Her beau who also of same class but in different section kept insisting that his love for her is genuine and will die to win her heart. He promised her both his present and future.
She remained adamant of her singular decision. She kept defending that, love doesn't include the school syllabus and there is time for it. But as Bhutanese adage explains, “there is no example of why a horse won't let ride” she somehow got loose with her decision. When the pressure from peers and boy got intense, she accepted it for the sake. Was it for the sake? Only the time will tell.
With time the relationship got more serious. Every time he proposed dating, she would find an excuse only to relent to his desire. Within few weeks of their relationship, they became a lover bird in the campus. She forgot all her previous resolutions. She became obsessed by the sweetness of deceptive nectar of love and infatuations.
When she realized she has strayed, she has already wronged herself. She was already carrying his baby. She dropped the bombshell to him but being the boy himself a helpless figure for now, she couldn't expect much from him. She rather blamed herself for the mistake in her life. She resented, “that's what was written on my forehead. I must endure it myself”. Was that what was written on her forehead? Only time will tell.
She tried all she could to hide her ever protruding stomach. The tightening of the belt helped but not for long. With days adding with day, the nature could not be defied. She frequently felt sick with nausea, she lost all appetite, and she lost her weight in pounds. People near her smelt fishy and slowly the truth came out.
Soon, the news spread like a wild fire in the school camp. Despite all her efforts to cling on till that winter break, it reached the school authorities. She was handed with expel letter that afternoon. Repentant of her own doing, she lived at home. That's time when this Principal of another school happened to know of her state. She was granted admission to his school next academic session despite going against the school codes of conducts. “She is now proud Civil servant in one of the Ministry” said the Principal to me.
All are not born equal. It is rightly said that being even able to be born as human is like a blind tortoise hitting the hole of the yoke in floating ocean, a tortoise that emerges once to the surface in million years. And sometime that too happens to be one bad hit.
This is about the man who is in late thirties yet crawling like a few months old baby. Goshing, is a fairly remote place, a day walk from Panbang in Zhemgang. In the heart of the village is a family who's first born came out surprisingly as a handicapped boy. In the words of his parents, he was born in a hut which served as farm guard house. In one summer night, the couple was out in the field guarding their field from the wild animals. Amongst the shouting and cries to drive out the attackers, a couple gave birth to a baby boy who turned out to be abnormal.
Now many people in the village pay respect and revere him more as a lama. “Whenever I fall sick, it is to him I go to seek help first”, said a villager who is on his way to pay him a visit. Ap Tashi from Limapong village said that the words of his power have spread and people from many other villages visits to pay respect and seek his help.
He receives many parcels from the civil servant believers. One parcel he was presented included clothing monetary and a radio by one civil servant who happened to visit him and believed what he predicted of him.
He still crawls but now ordained in the monks robe, he really looks like the genuine reincarnation of someone elite person. He is an asset to the village than the burden.
Anyone heading to remote Getena, four days arduous foot-walk through the immaculate and virgin forest, plague-ridden with ferocious beasts and the creature crawlies (leeches) will find themselves en route a village.