Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Wise Man of the Village

Rukha Village, somewhere in Central Bhutan, 15 November 2015 – I am sitting on the deck of a house – seeping coffee and reading a book – and occasionally looking away towards the village – spread in front of me - as it slowly comes to life from the long Autumn night. From the horizon, the Sun is slowly climbing up from behind the Black Mountains throwing a sharp ray towards the valley. In the distance, farmer Sanga is harvesting his rice while another farmer, Bechu, is singing to his oxen as he ploughs the field for the next plantation. 

“Kuzu zangpola”, a voice comes from behind me. I turn around and see a face smiling at me. “Kuzu, Kuzu. You look familiar but what's your name?” I ask him. “I am Kado from Lamga,” he replies. “Oh, Lamga! Yeah! I am supposed to visit this afternoon. You have come up very early,” I tell him. “Daw Gyeltshen insisted that I reach here early,” he informs me. “I think he wants to make sure that I visit Lamga this time,” I tell him. We both laugh.

A hearty breakfast, with the American students I had brought along to Rukha, is followed by a visit to the Rukha temple where I am building a house for the monks. By mid-day we head for Lamga. Kado insists that he even carry my camera besides my bag.

The bridge built specifically for my visit
The path to Lamga is a vertical drop that I have to hold to shrubs and lemon grass plants every now and then lest I roll down to my destination. But I survive without a slip. Then at the foot of the mountain after an hour-long walk downhill where my knees were almost giving up we come across a reception party waiting for me in the forest. “There was no need for any mid-way snacks,” I tell Aap Naki and Gyeltshen whom I remember from my previous visits. “We were told to accompany you safely across the river,” they tell me – pointing to a temporary log bridge they made for me. "One man got washed away last year". The river is big and swift and enough to wash me away if I slipped into it. But I have done this before and I walk across without any help. 

Lamga is a new settlement at an hour walk from Rukha through the subtropical jungles filled with spiders, scorpions and snakes. The people here are of different ethnic group with distinct language of their own – Phojib. They shuttled between Phobjikha and Lamga until, in 2005, the government made them choose between the two places to settle them permanently. Strangely, they chose Lamga. “Why did you guys give up Phojikha,” I ask Kado. “It is warmer here and the land is more productive,” he replies. “But Phobjikha is more developed now,” I continue. “I don’t know. We followed our elders like Ap Mindu, who died last month,” he says with a little remorse. In fact Aap Mindu was the only sharp guy in Lamga. He passed away at 73 leaving the village without his wisdom and guidance. Because of inter-marriage within just four families, the people of Lamga are not the brightest. "We feel lost without him," Kado tells me sadly. I also feel their pain. I had known Ap Mindu too. He considered me his friend and mentor and often visited me in Thimphu. 

They offered me everything they had.
As we enter the village, I scan the place. The last time I visited was in 2008 with Sonam Pem, Pema and a Thai student. I was an active volunteer then for Tarayana Foundation that built them permanent houses, which has now become one of Foundations’s feathers in the cap. “You guys have done well,” I remark. “It is all thanks to you,” Kado replies. "Noooo! Not me. I was just a volunteer. You should thank Tarayana," I hit back. Kado continues, “The whole village has gathered in Daw Gyeltshen’s house. They are all very excited that you are visiting us.”

Yes, the village has not only gathered there but they have pitched a tent in the field, have prepared a grand feast and have lined-up to greet the guest of honour (me!). I wish each and everyone of them – by names of those who I remember. As is a tradition in Bhutan, the women welcome me with a heap of rice, eggs and incense stick in a basket containers – as gifts. I accept them and offer Nu. 100 each for every woman in return. Then I take my place inside the tent and ask them to join me. A small sacred marchang (wine ceremony) follows and then suja (butter tea) and dresi (rice with butter and saffron).

“Thank you all. I don’t know what I have done to deserve all these, but thank you,” I tell them. “Well, you have done so much for us and we were very sad that you stopped visiting us. We heard that you came to Rukha several times in the last few years but by the time we knew, you were already gone.” Daw Gyeltshen replies. Everyone nods with him. I feel a sense of guilt.

With my people - in my land
“Well, I know. The last time I was here was in 2008. But since Sonam and Passang were doing a great job I didn’t feel the need to visit the sites.” I reassure them. “Rukha was different. The Oleps didn’t want to work and someone also had to also supplement what Tarayana gave them to keep the project going. They were so poor. They couldn't even feed themselves. So I had to be with them through out. You guys were different. You were much better placed. Then in 2009 I was called to the service at the Palace from where actually I did help settle some land disputes you had with the government and the cases of people without land. So you see, I had not forgotten you at all.” “Yes, la. For what you did when you were at the Palace, the 25 families will never forget that. We even tell our children about how we got back our land,” Daw Gyeltshen goes on. The 25 families had lost their land to the State after they had left it fallow for over 20 years. I helped them to submit an appeal to the King who kindly granted the land back. "Don't thank me. You should thank our King," I remind them.

The Lamgaps now only have one dream. They don’t have a community hall or a temple. And with their wise man gone, they turn to me for help. I obilge. “Let’s do that! Together, we will build one. A small tshokhang (community hall). I will supply all the materials and you will put everything together,” I tell them. The village, I am told, hold their annual rituals under tarpaulin sheets. Lunch follows and dances and songs to celebrate my visit - and the project that we have agreed to do together.

As the Sun starts its descent towards the distant mountains I bid goodbye to the Lamgaps and make my way towards Rukha - promising to return to celebrate the Bhutanese New Year with them. I make the vertical climb uphill - looking back at the village from time to time, and some strange thoughts cross my mind. “Who am I? Why am I so happy, contented and satisfied when I am in this area? Why do I feel so close to these people?”.  Then I just conclude, philosophically, that maybe I was one of them in my previous life. In fact I feel so home out here. 

Now I am one of them. I feel that I am back to my people. This is my land. And with my friend, Ap Mindu, gone I am their leader. 

I feel like the new Wise Man of the village.

The village of Lamga - My new home


  1. I had a wonderful and emotional time reading your blog.
    You are their saviour. You gave them a life perhaps could have been neglected and they wouldn't have survived the loss they were going through at the end.

    I assume you were happy and contend because there is more happiness in giving than in receiving. You are giving your hand to them. For them, you are a SAVIOUR.

    Please do update on how the temple construction is going on Would love to read it. Something is better than nothing.

    Hats off to you for doing such a wonderful noble deed.


  2. Your post thrilled me right to my heart, i wish Bhutan has abundance of new Wise Man so that the GNH is practically realised. Keep visiting them and make them even more happier. Nice read.