Undiscovered Zhemgang


It is a bit of irony to discover that, Zhemgang the central district of Bhutan was regarded as the least developed and poorest district among all twenty districts. With regard to her location, Zhemgang is not far from the capital city Thimphu, unlike many other eastern districts. The forbidden district shares her southern border with neighboring state of India, an inevitable developing partner of Bhutan. With India’s kind, generous and indispensible support, Bhutan has made much progress on her economy, telecommunication and education within short span of time.

Geographically the district stretches from southern foothills to inner Himalayan zone ranging from an altitude of 100m to 4520m above sea level. Towards north, she shares common border with Bumthang and Trongsa district. One can see angelic young mountains, passes, hills overlooking the deep river valleys. The stunning landscapes were covered with thick vegetation making homes for thousands of different species of flora and fauna. The region is blessed with incredibly rich biodiversity. Its lush forests are home to 22 endangered animal species including the Golden Langur. The famous Royal Manas National Park is located in lower part of Zhemgang, where one can spot the world’s endangered species Golden langur, Gangetic Dolphins and the Asian One-horned Rhinoceros that cannot be seen anywhere else in the world. The park is the most biologically diverse protected area in the kingdom as well as one of the most outstanding nature preserves worldwide. The gorgeous Chamkharchu and Mangdechu flows through the middle of Kheng region and confluence with Drangmechu and Kurichu at Royal Manas National Park. Indeed the downtrodden Kheng region has huge potential for exploring tourism industry on an account of her rich biodiversity, wide range of culture in practiced and suitable weather condition in all four seasons of Bhutan.

Politically the district is divided in to two constituencies, constituting four gewogs(blocks) in each constituency. Since the central district administration is located in upper part of the district, the four lower gewogs were administered by Panbang Dungkhag (sub-district) located in Panbang. In terms of her population, she will outnumber the population of many other districts and if we can rank the population of all twenty districts of Bhutan, Zhemgang will never be in the bottom ten lists. However, with the speeding of modernization at the speed of light in other districts, people of Kheng have started to migrate to other districts in pursuit of leading a comfortable and happier life, and as a result numbers of empty houses in Zhemgang are alarming year by year.

The pace of modern development in Zhemgang was never a progressive one; in fact her progress of development was equivalent to the speed of an old tortoise. I am pretty sure that my fellow citizens will accept the reality without a tiny hesitation and further debate, because Zhemgang has always topped the highest poverty rate, ever since the survey was conducted by GNH commission. Believe it or not, even today in 2014, the largest two gewogs (block) of the district, Shingkhar and Bardho do not have motorable road connection with other parts of the country, consequently a huge number of humble and innocent people were forced to live in abominable conditions as if they do not equal right to fund of the state. People of these two gewogs uses fuel wood to cook their foods, warm their houses and to light their rooms when the night falls. Mules and horses are the only mode of transportation even today.  There are many elderly citizens from these two gewogs, who had never heard a car hooting and the driver tooting, and their whole life was just ruined like Drugyal Dzong, without being seen the tall buildings, nice cars, shopping plazas, super markets, cinema halls, discotheques, and no point of mentioning, the great wall of china, the White House in Washington D.C, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and etc.

Khengpas are hardworking human race ever to be on this earth. Without any modern agriculture equipments in place, they practice intensive agriculture farming using their own locally invented tools like spades, sickles, peak axes, axes, knives etc to promise their livelihood. On an average each family owns more than two to three acres of farm land and few numbers of livestock to provide them with a cheese, butter and curd. A pair of oxen is must for plouging their field and a horse or a mule to transport the imported goods, which cannot be produce locally. Like in any other districts, Khengpas used to start their farming in spring season. The rich fertile soil of Kheng allows to grow varieties of vegetables, crops, fruits, cash crops that are cultivated in other 19 districts, and in addition Khengpas are bestowed with not less than 20 species of edible mushroom available in our forest. Our forest also provides hundreds of edible wild fruits, vegetables, medicinal herbs for direct consumption and for the reason Khengpas are commonly known as Prakheng (Pra means monkey in Khengkha, the spoken dialect of Khengpas). The prominent food crops cultivated by Khengpas are maize and rice which are harvested in autumn season. It was during harvesting season; Khengpas used to shed lots of tears when the lion’s share of product was pre harvested by the wild animals, regardless of their tremendous effort made in  trying to guard their crops, without closing their eyes for days and nights for almost a half dozen of year.  Innocent Khengpas cry for the concern authority to seriously look in to the matter, yet their concerns were never credited with due attention by the concern stakeholders and authorities.  But still they are contemplating for the positive reaction from the government and quite optimistic about it.

Culturally Zhemgang has ample of festivals deeply entrenched in her culture and celebrated throughout the year starting form 1st month of the Bhutanese calendar to the last month. The Dawa Dangpa will ignite the long list of festivals, followed by Nanpola( local name) in 4th month, Bumchula and Dutpola (local name) one day religious ceremony, in 5th month, Drukpai Tsezhi , another religious ceremony in local monastery,in 6th month,  Tageyla in 7th month, Dawa gyapa in 8th month and popular Kharpo in 9th month and Chotpa in 10th month of Bhutanese calendar. Although the timing of festival for each gewog and village may differ, the Kharpo in Shingkhar gewog falls on the same time in all the villages. The kharpo is celebrated for five days, with different programmes and celebrations for each day. It is not a monotonous celebration unlike Tshechus of the Dzongs, but shamelessly we don’t have any foreign spectators and I am sure the tourist would cry for the miss. There are also a number of famous Buddhist temples in the region such as Buli Lhakhang, Tharpa Choeling Lhakhang in Tama and Berty Lhakhang in Berti Village. These ancient temples were built by the Terton Pema Lingpa, a famous revealer of the lost religious treasures of Guru Rimpoche. An equivalent to Paro Takstang, we have Shingkhar Kurjey, and the significance of Shingkhar Tingkaroth Ney is as same of Bumtang Kurjey Nye. The local deity of Radhi Sepong lhakhang bestows the blessings as per ones wishes and prayers, like Dechenphug lhakahng in Thimphu. According to Memey Tawla, the eldest citizen of the village who is in early nineties said, “I have never heard a word on the history of Radhi Lhakhang from my great grandparents since I am a little boy, they just me told me that there was none of the villagers who can orally narrate the story of Radhi Sepong Lhakahng since their grandpas time”. Another special jewel of Khengpa is Buli Mathmoi Tsho, significantly equivalent to Tang Membar tsho, which has huge potential to attack tourist and pilgrimages. The crafting of Bangchung and other attractive bamboo containers in Bjoka Geowg will definitely boost the economy of Kheng region, if government shoulders the direct responsibility of exploring the market domestically and abroad too. Only a few are listed above and we have many more historic, wonderful and unique places and festivals to be explored.

Should Khengpas preserve these treasures forever or should we discover the hidden treasures and explore it? Why our jewels are never explored, do we lack any expertise? We heard and saw many Khengpa Lyonpos, Dashos, MPs, directors, engineers, pilots, industrialists, businessman, doctors, teachers, hoteliers, agriculturalist, mechanics, archeologist etc.  Khengpas assume that they are never turning their faces again one they turned their faces away from the villages. But Khengpas will always remain indefatigably towards their right. As Sir Winston Churchill said to his army, “Never never give up” during Second World War, and with these three words, determinations were built, confidence  were showered and motivations were ensured among his armies, leading to England’s victory against Germany. Like an English army, Khengpas will keep on envisaging and crying until their treasures were discovered.

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