Society: With motorable roads almost connecting the two gewogs of Merak and Sakteng in Trashigang, highlanders living in the two areas are replacing their mules with vehicles.

It is estimated that people from the two gewogs own around 40 vehicles today, mostly Bolero pickup trucks since it is best suited for the unpaved gewog roads. The Bolero is also considered the most convenient vehicle to use for transport of goods and rations.

Just two years ago, Merak had only one Bolero pickup truck while Sakteng did not even have a single vehicle.

Of the 40 vehicles, Merak has 25 including an Eicher truck and a pickup Toyota Hilux. Sakteng has around 15 Bolero pickups.

People claimed that many have started selling their mules to people from Paro and Haa to earn cash to purchase the vehicles.

A herder from Merak, Tashi Dorji, said mules and horses are sold since people use male yaks to ferry their belongings to the pasturelands.

A strong and healthy mule fetches about Nu 50,000 to 60,000 and a horse is sold  for Nu 25,000 to 30,000.

People also claim that some are selling their cattle to buy cars. “Some are selling it to slaughterhouses. But most people sell to the locals or across the border,” Tashi Dorji said. “Most of the cattle are sold within the community for preservation and continuity of the semi-nomadic culture.”

But unlike in Merak, most people owning vehicles in Sakteng are either taxi drivers or businesspeople.

“Except for two of three car owners, most of us are shopkeepers,” a shopkeeper from Sakteng, Dorji Khandu, said. “So I don’t think anyone sold their cattle or mules to buy cars.”

The change in trend, however, has made life easier for the highlanders.

Most of the vehicles from Sakteng fetch goods from Trashigang, and also carry travellers.

This has made travelling to Trashigang and back to the villages much easier for the herders compared to before. “Now with so many vehicles around, it has really become easy to travel to shop in Trashigang,” a herder from Merak, Tashi, said.

The herders today can come to Trashigang in the morning and return to their villages in Merak and Sakteng by nightfall.

The rising number of vehicles has also reduced the travel costs for the herders, as the herders no longer have to hire vehicles like before at an exorbitant cost of Nu 3,000-4,000 to travel to Merak.

“The fare for individuals has decreased to Nu 300 from Nu 450 before,” Tashi Dorji said.

Similarly, the hiring charge and individual cost of travelling in Sakteng has gone down from before. Today, hiring a vehicle till Thrakthri costs only Nu 2,800 from Nu 4,500 before.

But most the vehicles belonging to Sakteng are kept at Thrakthri since the road doesn’t reach the gewog centre.

The herders from Merak take their vehicles to the village since there is a road till the gewog centre.

Tempa Wangdi | Trashigang