The annual local tshechu has begun in Bunorkha, Chukha. Around 20 villagers gather around the Dargaycholing Lhakhang for a quiet lunch.
Bunorkha, also known as Bunakha, is a hamlet in Chapcha gewog in Chukha, located about a five minute drive below the Thimphu-Phuentsholing highway between Bunagu and Tanalung.
Many travelers would not have given the clustered village a second glance as they passed by on the highway.
But the community is unique. It is almost fully self-sufficient. Except for oil and salt, Bunorkha produces all the agricultural products that it needs.
However, the residents of Bunorkha are not at peace. Most of the community’s young have left for the towns and cities and only a few remain to carry out the manual work required in the fields.
The majority of residents are elderly or almost, and there is concern that their lush fields could in a few years turn fallow without the required labour being available.
Ap Chethay, 69, a businessman, said the soil in Bunorkha is fertile. “All kinds of vegetables, paddy and cereals grow well in our fields,” he said. “But there are no people to work the fields.”
To prove his point, Ap Chethay pointed to those eating lunch around Dargaycholing Lhakhang. The majority are elderly.
Aum Mindru, 78, is one of them. “I still work at this age,” she said. “I’m old and still working in the fields.”
But aum Mindru is one of the luckier ones. Her daughter and son-in-law help her. Most in the village do not have such support.
Another farmer, Wangdi has three children who have moved out of the village. “They are all grown ups and they don’t come home,” he said.
While he can still work in the fields, he said that in a few years that may not be possible anymore. However, Wangdi is more worried for those older than him.
But the young are not enthusiastic about returning.
A class XII graduate Phurba Dorji, 35, is one of the few young people attending the annual tshechu. He works in Thimphu and has only returned for the tshechu.
Phurba Dorji said his ageing parents and sister managed to cultivate three acres this year. He said they are unlikely to manage cultivating more in the coming years.
“But I have no plans to return home to the fields soon,” he said.
Bunakha’s rural to urban migration is aggravated by its small population. Tshogpa Yangki said the village is composed of 22 households and has a population of around 200. “But there are many who live in the towns and cities,” she said, adding that the exact number is not known.
Chapcha gup, Tobgay, said that while the village is self-sufficient, its full potential has not been reached as a result of the migration problem.
This is also because unlike most other villages in Chapcha, the majority of farmers in Bunorkha own large expanses of cultivable land. Each farmer owns at least 10 acres with many having more than 20 acres. Their fields are located in good locations below the Phuentsholing-Thimphu highway and the upcoming Damchhu bypass.
As a result of the size and scattered nature of their fields, some farmers are already choosing to leave some portions fallow.
Meanwhile, lunch time at the Dargaycholing Lhakhang is drawing to a close and aum Mindru says that she would be willing to lease her land to anyone willing to cultivate it.
The lhakhang’s bell sounds announcing that the tsechu has recommenced.
Aum Mindru will enjoy the rest of the day, her concerns about the future temporarily forgotten.
Rajesh Rai | Chukha