From the window of Boje’s two-storey traditional house, Momring is a beautiful typical Bhutanese village. The fields, the lush green forest surrounding it, even in winter, and the tranquility is broken only by the sound of cowbells.
At a closer look, though, Momring is not all what it looks like. Many houses are locked, some are dilapidated with yard overgrown with weeds and creepers. Many people have left the village looking for opportunities elsewhere.
But not 62-year-old Boje.
“I am happy here,” he said. Like most of his neighbours, Boje was also offered a chance to move to Thimphu where his children work. “I refused,” he said. “How can I leave my house and my village?”
Boje cannot work like he used to anymore, but as long as his old legs can carry him he will live in his village. Out of his eight children, seven are either working or are in school. The only one helping Boje in his potato fields is his speech-impaired son. They look happy.
Momring has the highest number of abandoned households or gungtong. But that has not deterred some villagers from staying back. Out of more than 70 houses, about 30 are locked. Boje said some of the houses were abandoned for almost two decades.
Boje’s neighbour Karma Wangzom is a strong woman at 39. She likes working in her village although she is feeling the pressure of gungtong. Her parents have left the village. “I am happy in my village because we support each other in times of need,” she said. “We will never go hungry if we work in our fields. I don’t know if they have this safety net in the cities.”
The mother of six is more concerned about development activities. “It affects while planning developmental activities in chiwog,” she said.
About 20 houses were abandoned in the last few years.
Karma Wangzom said that while they cannot stop children taking their parents along, gungtong is becoming a burden to those staying back. “As more fields are left fallow, cases of wildlife predation on crops and animal is increasing,” she said. The pressure of having to contribute to village activities is also increasing because of fewer people in the village.
Despite challenges, Karma Wangzom wants her children to not abandon their village. Her elder daughter is studying in college of education in Paro; others are in school. “They should remember their village and come home frequently,” she said.
The reasons for the increasing gungtong in Momring are no different from other villages around the country. Boje said that those with jobs in the towns are coming to their parents, as they do not want to abandon them. “Some are baby sitting their grandchildren, I heard.”
The rate of gungtong is increasing despite interventions from the government. Lauri Gewog’s mangmi, Tenzin, said that although many programmes under agriculture and livestock sectors were initiated to help farmers get involved and stay back in the village, the rate of gungtong has been increasing. “Gungtong is a major concern for the gewog today,” he said.
He said that when the owners of the empty houses did not live in the village, gewog plans and their demand contradicted. “The owners rarely visit the village, it’s also difficult to trace them. Besides the issue of collecting taxes, the community vitality is also affected,” the mangmi said.
Lauri is among the most far-flung gewogs in the country. The gewog today has electricity and most houses have piped drinking water. “Despite all these facilities, people still migrate to the urban areas; it’s challenging for the gewog,” the mangmi said.
But there is hope for Tenzin and rest of the villagers. Tenzin feels that people are leaving because Lauri is remote. The villages in the gewog will soon be connected with farm roads, which Tenzin thinks will encourage people to stay back.
Kelzang Wangchuk | Lauri