Villagers are selling off horses, a source of income once

Dechen Dolkar

For years, people in the five chiwogs at Tsento gewog, Paro, have depended on horses not only as a beast of burden but also for cash income. Villagers earned a good amount during tourist seasons as they hire out horses and mules to tour companies.

The business has come to an abrupt halt since the Covid-19 pandemic.  Today, even as the opening of borders to tourism is announced, villagers have sold almost all their horses and mules to highlanders of Laya, Soe, Lingzhi, and to people in other chiwogs.

For half the population of Tsento gewog, their livelihood depends on horses. The people of all the five chiwogs hired out their horses to trekking and hiking companies. There are more than 5,000 population of people in the gewog.

Out of five chiwogs, Shana-Mitsi, Chunjey-Zamtsa and Nyamjay-Phando chiwogs sold most of the horses. Each household had an average of 11 horses with some owning  20 to 30 horses.

Tsento Gup Chencho Gyeltshen said that people started selling their horses in 2020 because they could not afford to feed them since there was no income due to the pandemic.

The gup said that from last year, the price of horse feeds has increased drastically. “Almost all the horses in these three chiwogs were sold and they have kept only one or two for personal use,” the gup said.

Porterage was a good business and a lucrative source of income. During the peak tourist season, each household with a minimum of seven horses used to earn a minimum of Nu 100,000.

Shana-Mitsi was one of the chiwogs with the maximum number of horses in the gewog. Every household in the chiwog at least owned seven horses. 

Their main source of income was also from porterage since they cannot cultivate paddy.

Shana is 12km from the Drukgyel dzong.

Tshogpa of Shana-Mitsi chiwog, Tashi Lhamo, said that since the start of the pandemic villagers have sold 200 to 300 horses to highlanders in Laya, Soe and Lingzhi.

The Tshogpa said that without tourism, the beast of burden was becoming a burden to people.  If it was difficult to feed them, it became harder for villagers to take care of the idle horses. “Without income from horses, now people are growing potatoes and wheat,” the Tshogpa said.

Horses are sold at Nu 80,000 and mules for Nu 130,000

Chencho Dorji, from Shana chiwog, said that he did not sell his 30 horses for two years although he did not earn any income.

However, with the cost of feed becoming expensive from last year, he said he sold all his horses. “I have kept only seven horses and now they are also let loose in the forest,” Chencho Dorji said.

Chencho is now driving a taxi.

Lekey from Nyamjay chiwog sold seven horses and kept only four. He kept four horses after hearing that tourism would start next month and trekking could resume.

Lekey used to earn Nu 70,000 to 80,000  a year from hiring out his horses. “I am thinking of buying more horses since tourism is reopening soon.

Villagers in Yaksa-Nubri chiwog,  one of the remotest chiwogs, held onto their horses as the chiwog is not connected with a road. People in the chiwog bought additional horses from other chiwogs since they have to transport their rations and goods.

Gup said that people have also received Kidu from His Majesty the King since they could not earn income due to the pandemic.