Finally I am updating my blog. Friends and acquaintances often enquired why I had kept it frozen. Some speculated that I was not allowed in my current position. Others simply thought I had fallen into the consistent Bhutanese trap of being “inconsistent”. Actually the reason was simple – The past year has been crazy for me as far as writing was concerned and so the last thing I wanted to do was to “write” my blog. Unless, of course, I had a good reason. And I must say I have found one - here in the inner Kheng.
I am in Gongdu – an extraordinary place in every respect. For those of you who may not know where Gongdu is, it is the southern-most gewog under Monggar Dzongkhag. It is three days to Nganglam, three days to Pema Gatsel and three days to Monggar – basically in the middle of nowhere. Gongdu pampers you with breathtaking views, temperate climate and abundance of natural beauty. The people are exceedingly warm and speak a strange language that you are actually lost thinking if you were still in Bhutan – except that they wear gho and kira and enjoy listening to the jokes of Phurba Thinley and Gyem Dorji (who are with us on this trip).
But Gongdu is one of the poorest gewogs in Bhutan. People live in houses that, to me, either look like temporary dwellings or badly in need of some major repairs. Banana leaves are still used as roofing materials and bamboo extracts as walls and mats. Old people are weak and feeble and children are visibly malnourished. Although farm products are varied and every tropical fruits can grow here, the access to market is a major problem. Oranges that would fetch anything between 3 to 5 ngultrums a piece in Thimphu are left to rot on the trees. The people therefore live in poverty and hardship.
There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. The Gyalposhing – Nganglam highway, which is under construction, passes near the major settlements and the Kuri-Gongri hydropower project will be located on the edge of the gewog. These major development programs, if harnessed well, could bring unprecedented change and alleviate them from the vicious circle of poverty.
Still, these are projects that would take time. Hence the most immediate thing we could do is to support the local government officials and civil servants who are posted here and who are doing what they can to help our lesser compatriots. We could provide them free access to the Internet so that they can get more information, keep themselves connected with friends, family and colleagues at the headquarters and thereby carry out their assignments here with pride and without feeling left out. The fact that I could post this piece and update my FaceBook pictures with my B-Mobile data card means it is possible.
The journey through Monggar Kheng is tough and dangerous and passes through some of the most hostile environments. A sense of achievement grips my heart every time we reach the top of several mountain-passes after battling a baking Sun and a steep climb. But the journey to Kheng is more than reaching safely, enjoying the hospitality or pitying their conditions. It is a far greater journey – a journey within yourself and the realisation that we all have our humane side buried deep inside. It is a journey that makes you appreciate who you are, where you are and what you have and brings out the best part of all Bhutanese - compassion.
Farewell Kheng Gongdu!