Country roads

Ancestral road

I am in Dorikha. I got here this evening having walked up from Dorithasa.

My ancestors did this journey every year, at this time of the year, over the course of many centuries. They migrated to escape the oppressive summer heat of Dorithasa in favor of the much cooler Dorikha. And in the winter, they moved right back to Dorithasa to enjoy the mild weather there.

Most of my relatives no longer migrate between two farms. They now live, throughout the year, in one of the two villages. But the two villages are closely related. So our people still make the arduous journey between Dorithasa and Dorikha frequently.

During the last five years, I too have had the occasion to travel between my two villages frequently. My job, as a politician and a member of parliament, requires me to visit my constituency and, as such, to make the journey between Dorithasa and Dorikha at least twice each year. I enjoy this aspect of my job thoroughly. Walking through the immense rhododendron forest, punctuated by tsamdro meadows, is in itself a wonderful experience. But what is truly awe-inspiring is the knowledge that I am tracing the footsteps of my ancestors; and the powerful feeling that, somehow, I am connecting with them.

Today, as always, I enjoyed my trek up from Dorithasa. But today I made sure to walk slowly. I walked slowly, and I paused frequently, to capture the beautiful sights, to absorb the enchanting sounds, and to take in the rich air of the still pristine forests.

I walked slowly, because from the next time on, I’ll be driving! The farm road being built has almost reached Dorithasa. And from there it will continue to Sombaykha and Gakiling gewog centers.

Once the road is ready, our people will no longer have to make the difficult journey over the mighty Tergola on foot. I won’t have to either. We’ll be able to drive.

Will our ancestors approve? I know they will. The road, after all, heralds a new and exciting chapter to a hitherto forgotten part of our country.

Happiness without kerosene

Happiness is ...

Today is the 24th of March. So it’s exactly three years since PDP got clobbered in the kingdom’s first general elections. Actually it wasn’t that bad – 33% of the voters had supported us. It’s just that that, unfortunately, translated to only two of the 47 seats in the National Assembly.

Anyhow, it’s now three years since that fateful day. And I’ve decided to commemorate the general elections by going to the people. I’m in Dorikha, at my indulgent aunt’s farmhouse, on my way to Gakiling gewog.

I’m taking along two important items for this trip. The first is a book: “Happiness – Lessons from a New Science” by Richard Layard, an economist who challenges that contemporary economic theory does not favour the pursuit of happiness.

The second item is a “solar light bulb” manufactured by Nokero (as in “no kerosene” – their idea is to replace the use of kerosene for illuminating homes). Nokero’s bulb is the size of a regular incandescent bulb, but carries a complete system to convert sunlight into electricity – solar panel, rechargeable battery, and light emitting diodes.

The Nokero bulb I’m carrying is a sample. Several villages in Gakiling don’t have electrical light, so I’ll use it to read “Happiness” at night. If the bulb survives my week-long tour, it would be ample proof that Nokero would make a worthy gift to our remote farmers.

Photos from home

All our members of parliament would consider visiting their respective constituencies to be one of their most important duties. And I’m sure that they visit their constituencies as often as possible. I certainly do.

So when I wrote “Happily exhausted” I didn’t mean to sound like having done anything extraordinary. But, somehow, I had ticked off “Toula” who commented:

You made this trip of yours to your own constituency where you made all the promises sound like you were traveling to the end of the world where no one else ever dared to do. Wow! wow! wow!

I obviously didn’t travel to the “end of the world”. And I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary. I was just doing my job, visiting my constituents to brief them on the proceedings of the parliament, to talk about development issues, and generally make myself available to discuss anything else. No big deal.

For those of you who may be interested in visiting Sombaykha and Gakiling, I’ve posted some pictures, from my last trip there, in the Gallery.

Happily exhausted

Very big perk!

I’m in Dorikha, totally exhausted. But I’ve had a hot stone bath, an extra large bowl of buckwheat noodle soup, copious amounts of o-ja (milk-sweetened tea), and a glass of Ani Gaki’s stiff ara. I’m sitting near a bukhari, typing, under the watchful gaze of three inquisitive nieces. And I’m already forgetting the pain of the last two days.

Yesterday, after meeting the people and touring the village of Thangdokha, we decided to take a shortcut down from the remote village to Somchu, a tributary of Amochu. The “shortcut” isn’t a path; it’s lunging in an approximate direction downhill, while hacking through undergrowth and nettle. My arms still feel sore and numb thanks to the thorns and stinging nettle.

After we finally made to Somchu, we waded across its icy waters, and climbed to Gongthangka and then to Sektena, both villages populated by Lhotshampa Rais. By then I felt literally drained out, as I had developed a diarrhea.

Last night, as I dozed off on Ap Gharay’s shikua (a porch) I remembered how, almost two years ago, my wife and I waded across the Somchu and took the same “shortcut” up to Thangdokha. The urgency of the impending elections drove me uphill. But, I still don’t know where Tashi’s strength and determination came from. If I was thankful for her support then, I’m now eternally grateful.

Incidentally, Ap Gharay’s real name is Dhan Bir Rai. His nickname comes from ghar meaning house. About 30 years ago, after Dhan Bir built his house, his neighbors started calling him “Gharay” as his was the only house that had been properly constructed. Dhan Bir’s sobriquet continues to be relevant: his is still the only proper house in the neighborhood of 29 households.

Today, we walked 12 hours. Most of it was uphill, from Sektena (at about 1500 meters) to Sel-la (about 3800 meters). And I almost couldn’t make it. Two magic potions helped me: ORS and Red Bull.

The oral rehydration salts replenished water and restored minerals and salts in my body that I would lose continuously to heavy sweating and the many trips to the bushes. The Red Bull simply pushed me uphill when my legs wouldn’t.

I may have been struggling, but the beauty of the trail wasn’t lost on me – the crisp predawn air, the warmth of the morning sun, the shade from the broadleaf forests, relatively flat meadows, real shortcuts, the season’s first primulas, the sweet scent of daphne flowers, rhododendron trees preparing to blossom, the 360-degree view from Ayto Pcheku, farmers returning from shopping in Haa, and the distant view of the new road being built to Sombaykha.

And, at Sel-la, just as I crossed the pass, gasping for air, nature gifted me with a rare sight – the sun offering its final rays for the day to the sacred Mt Jumolhari.

I’m in Dorikha, exhausted, but totally satisfied.

Walking tall

Record setter

Dramekha, Ngatsena and Thangdokha are three villages perched precariously on the steep slopes of a mountain opposite Dorokha, Denchukha and Dumtoe.

Dramekha, Ngatsena and Thangdokha were, until recently, part of Mayona Gewog under Samtse. In 2007, these three villages and several equally remote villages of Dumtoe (Samtse) and Samar (Haa) were combined to form the kingdom’s newest gewog, Gakiling.

Dramekha, Ngatsena and Thangdokha hold the disagreeable distinction of being among the poorest villages in Bhutan.

They also hold the most unfortunate record of never having had a dzongdag visit them. That’s correct: no dzongdag has ever visited these villages, never when they were part of Samtse, and not since they became part of Haa. That is, not till today. Earlier today, Dasho Karma Weezir, the Haa Dzongdag, crossed a make-shift cane bridge over the Amochu, completed an arduous trek uphill, and, just as dusk was settling in, became the first dzongdag to ever visit the three forgotten villages.

The simple residents of Dramekha, Ngatsena and Thangdokha are overjoyed that their dzongdag has finally visited them. I joined them in welcoming the CEO of our dzongkhag. And in congratulating him.

Dasho Karma Weezir became Haa Dzongdag in May 2009.

To Gakiling and beyond

I begin another visit to my constituency today. In particular, I’ll visit Gakiling. And from there head to Dumtoe and Dorokha in Samtse. Most families from Samar gewog, including mine, make this journey every year, moving their cattle from the high mountains in Haa to the lowlands in Samtse each winter. This difficult journey has been undertaken by many, many generations at almost the same time each year, along exactly the same path, and to the same pastures. Our people continue this tradition. We have to: we are semi-nomadic people.

So, naturally, I’m excited.

I won’t be able to access the internet, and this blog, for the next 8 days. But, be warned, I’ve already posted a few entries that are scheduled to be published while I’m away, enjoying the beauty of our countryside and its people.

Pictured is part of Sombaykha and Gakiling gewogs courtesy Google Earth. If you enlarge the picture (by “clicking” on it) you’ll see the main parts of Sombaykha and Gakiling. These are some of most rural parts of our country. The river you see running through the middle is Amochu, what most of us know as the Toorsa as it enters Phuentsholing.