Neten Dorji | Kanglung

Nestled below the Udzorong GC road, the mystical lake of Chhiya village in Trashigang is shrinking. It has picked pace recently.

Located around 7km south of Khenthongmani and north of Udzorong gewog centre, it is serene around the lake.

Locals say it used to be a huge water body and they took more than 15 minutes to do a round. They say that it used to be full round the year. Today, it has come far below the level it used to be in winter.

The deep green lake becomes smaller by the year, worrying the residents of Chhiya who believe that the lake is a neighbour of Meme Dangling, a powerful deity of the region.

Locals say that over the decades the water level has been dropping. They believe that maybe the lake is leaving for some other place for good.

An elderly resident, Tshering Namgay from Chhiya said that the lake was sacred to the community.

“This whole area used to be filled with water then,” he recalled, pointing to a large bowl-like depression etched to the gentle slope that descends to the main Udzorong village and drops to the Drangmechhu. “There were migratory birds visiting annually.”

He said that considering the significance of the lake, most people clean the lake every year.

Villagers said that the lake began drying soon after the locals fenced the lake to protect it from being polluted.

“We are worried if it is an indication of ill fortune in the community,” a villager, Dendup. “There was nothing much we could do to revive it rather than keeping clean.”

He said that no one knew what caused the lake to dry up. Some residents attribute it to the rising temperature and impact of climate change in the locality.

Residents of Chhiya seek blessing from the lake and the deity grants them bountiful harvest and healthy livestock. “We had been conducting a ritual to appease the tshomen to bring timely rain and also a bountiful harvest,” said a farmer, Jigme Wangchuk.

He said a few years ago, forest officials and residents of Chhiya planted trees around the lake to revive it. “Migratory birds used to come. I do not see them anymore.”

Locals say tourists also visit the lake and the place is a popular picnic spot for students and locals. There were three lakes in the area. However, two dried up. People are worried that the current lake might dry up like them.

According to Udzorong Gup Dorji Tshering the gewog administration and forest officials have attempted to revive the lake.

“I proposed a budget and got about Nu 1.2 million from the European Union funding agency to reclaim the lake around 2018. But the community has rejected the proposal to fence and make a recreation centre,” said the gup.

He said the lake could be drying like any water source due to climate change.