Village returns to jungle

Finding life difficult in Khalatsho, once famed for paddy, villagers abandon their homes

Villagers have to take a treacherous path to Dewathang in the winter months

28 November, 2009 – Once famous for paddy, the remote village of Khalatsho in Nganglam, Pemagatshel, is on the verge of being submerged by thickets and reverting into jungle once more.

Of its twelve households, only five remain. It has 15 residents, mostly in their forties, including two children, who will be joining school next year.

Thick overgrown bushes covering fallow paddy land, uncultivated for years, are drawing ever closer to the settlements.

Tigers get as close as to their animal sheds and have eaten up seven of their cattle this year alone. Elephants make loud noises at night and devour their maize, the village staple, which is grown twice a year.

The village has seen better days, according to elders. It was once famous for paddy. “We made paddy fields out of the thick forest when we first came here,” said Chana Lhamo, one of the first settlers in the village. “People are now turning their backs on the land, letting their field become forest again,” said the 83-year-old woman. “It’s so sad.”

Villagers said that wild animals, mainly elephants, pose a serious threat to their crops and lives. “They live very close to our fields and village. So movement and farming has both become difficult and worthless,” said Sangay Dorji.

A little below Khalatsho is Adran village. It is now empty and fully covered by forests. Ten houses moved from this village. Samten, a father of three, was the last to leave. “It became very difficult to live there alone,” he said. “We couldn’t even harvest half the crops we cultivated.”

The villagers collect and store rations and essential commodities during the winter to last about five months in summer, when the path to Nganglam, a day’s walk away, gets infested with wild animals, making it extremely dangerous to travel.

Dewathang, in Samdrupjongkhar dzongkhag, is closer, a five hour walk but, to get there, villagers have to cross streams that swell in monsoon, blocking the route starting early May. For the next five months, the only route left is to Nganglam, a nine-hour walk through dense forest.

“Under such circumstances, our lives became worse. We’d no option but to leave the village,” said Samten. “If things improve I’d definitely like to return.”

Samten and his family today live in Rishore near Dewathang. There are five others from his village, living mostly on others’ land. Most have even shifted their census to Samdrupjongkhar.

Repeated damage by landslides to the only irrigation canal added to the frustration of the villagers, according to him. It has been more than five years now since the villagers cultivated paddy, according to the tshogpa. The irrigation channel built in 1984 was repaired thrice, most recently last year.

Cheda, who owns more than 70 decimals of paddy fields, uses only a part of it to cultivate maize. “Since the irrigation channel broke down, we’ve been cultivating maize only,” he said. “We remained behind, bearing all the difficulties, because we have to give the land given to us by our parents to our children, so that they can live well,” said Cheda, the village tshogpa.

The village does not have electricity and road. It has a villager trained in basic health care. Some parts of the village receive the cellular network signal, which, according to the villagers, has helped ease their life.

Farmer Thukten, 67, has 150 betel nut trees and more than 300 mandarin trees. More than half his harvest remains unsold. He is planning to move away if the gewog does not get a road connection in a couple of months. “Finding people to carry the produce is difficult, since there are only a few of us here,” he said. Secondly, the profit margin is not worth the hardship of taking the produce to market.”

Gup Zepa Thrinley said that, since the gewog was new, development activities took time. “We’re starting with basic needs first,” he said, adding that a BHU and gup’s office would come up first. “We’re to get a farm road possibly next year, hopefully things would improve then.”

By Tshering Palden
Source: Kuenselonline

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