Merak is situated 3,500 metres above the sea level. Snow-capped mountains border the beautiful highland village in the north.
It is a bright and sunny day. Merak remains covered in thick fog for good part of the year. The village has homestay facilities for local and foreign visitors, not a bad idea for a short escapade for the adventurous.
Far away from the madding crowd, Merak is a close-knit community. The people here share a strong sense of attachment. For a villager here, the world constitutes cattle, land, and their fellow residents, nothing more.
The clustered community is made up mostly of double-storey houses that remain locked for almost nine months. But there is not a single abandoned household. Here in Merak, there is no Goongtong.
Trashigang has recorded the highest number of goongtong, 1,055, according to a latest finding. While the rest of the country is experiencing an increasing number of goongtong cases annually, Merak hasn’t registered a single case of goongtong so far.
Developmental activities have played a large part in preventing goongtong.
Phurba, who is the mangmi of Merak, said: “We now have electricity and telecommunication facilities, and safe drinking water. We have a road that connects the gewog to the dzongkhag. Why do we have to leave our village?”
Phurba said that if development had not come to Merak, people would have wanted to abandon the village. “In my view, goongtong happens because people look for improved living standards. We have no such problems here.”
And so it is. Merak today has more households than thram records.
The former gup Gayden said: “With the increasing number of people, there is not enough space for construction of new houses. We have families where three generations are living together because there is no land for new constructions,” adding that the number of households have increased from 260 in 2013 to 301 this year.
“There was a time when no goong was awarded and the number of households remained constant,” said Gayden. The issue was resolved and now the gewog is experiencing an increasing number of households.
Lifestyle is another factor that prevents gootong in Merak.
Ghayden said: “We are not prepared to work in a urban setting. If we leave our homes here, where will we go, and what would we be doing? We belong here in the mountains. There is no reason why we should leave our village.”
Sangay Wangmo, a resident of the village, said that when times were hard, they survived in the community together.
“We had no proper drinking water. For a bowl of rice, we had to travel days to exchange with the cheese and butter we produced,” said the 68-year-old. And she asked: “Now that we have everything we need at our doorstep, why must we leave our homes and go some place else?”
Sangay Wangmo has children living in Thimphu and Samdrupjongkhar. She said that although they have settled in the urban areas, her sons make a point to visit the village once a year with their children. “The children love the place. Except for the weather, Merak has everything that towns and cities offer. What we have more is beauty and space.”
Summer is a time when the herders return to the village from the pastureland high up. Students are on their vacation. This is the only time of the year when every house in Merak is opened. It is a time for reunion and gatherings. The annual community kurim is also observed during this time.
Tashi Tshewang is busy preparing a cultural show for the kurim along with his friends. A class X student of Dungtse Central School in Phongmay, Tashi Tshewang said that every vacation he comes back to Merak. “Most of my friends at school talk about going to Thimphu. I prefer coming to Merak. I can’t think of going anywhere.”
Younten Tshedup | Merak