Gangzur, Dagana—It is very hot. But the heat does not bother Jangalal Biswa, who is busy working by the fire. He is probably the last craftsman who works with metals.
The 68-year-old does not care about the stigma either. Jangalal is a proud owner of the only smithery in the dzongkhag.
At 10, he apprenticed under his father. His stint in the army and as a labour supervisor in Haa, Paro, and Wangdue, did not last long. After training for a while at Woochu in Paro, he returned home.
Friends came with support. He set up the forge.
In a day, Jangalal gets at least 15 customers. Many come to just watch him work.
With his experience as a skilled craftsman for the last four decades, he is one of the highly sought-after blacksmiths in the country today. Most of his customers are from Bumthang, Wangdue, and Punakha.
“People look down on the profession but everyone wants to have well-designed tools and utensils,” Jangalal said in his thick western accent. “I even make offering bowls and swords for officials.”
His work sells for Nu 500 and more and makes a daily income of about Nu 6,000.
What he does still is looked down upon by the people in his community. “But this doesn’t bother me. I earn my keep. I don’t beg on the streets,” said Jangalal. Even the “high caste” people come to him for tools.
“My only worry is that after I am gone, there won’t be anybody doing this work,” said Jangalal. “I want to teach the young ones and have a plan to retire soon.”
All is not gone yet. Jangalal has five students with him.
Before beginning his work, he offers prayers to the forging power hammer machine he got recently. “With the traditional system, we could forge only about three sickles a day. Now, we can make around 10. I’m thankful to Dagana’s National Council representative Surjaman Thapa for donating the machine.”
For charcoal, he needs a special wood for which the permit process is tedious.
One of Jangalal’s trainees, Lal Bdhr Biswa, returned to his village from Thimphu to learn the skills.
“The income is better and I am excited to learn,” said the former sculptor.
Tashi from Gozhi is a daily visitor at the forge. He has a deep appreciation for his friend, Jangalal.
He said: “He is skilled and makes awesome tools. He is Dagana’s pride,”
Jangalal is an efficient master. He forges the tools of people who came from far-flung regions first.
His brother-in-law, Ratna Bdhr, agrees: “He is a towering figure in the dzongkhag’s blacksmithing history.”