Rural: Gungtong may be a rising issue in the east of the country but exactly opposite is the reality in the south. People who abandoned their ancestral homes in the past are now returning from the urban centres where they have been scraping a living for a good many years.

Many factors seem to play a part in luring the people back to the land they belong to, but it is chiefly development that has now come to the once vastly disturbed places south of the country. There is now peace, and roads and electricity have come. Cardamom business is growing more lucrative by the day.

Uma Kant Suberi, 57, left Lhayul (Maugaon) in Sarpang for Thimphu a decade ago to work as a mason. Life in the capital wasn’t easy as he thought it would be. He made Nu 10,000 a month, which was barely enough to keep the household running.

“There was no school, neither a health facility hospital in my village then,” remembers Uma. “There were no economic opportunities to speak of. So I decided to leave. But now development has come and life here is much easier.”

It’s been two years since Uma returned to Lhayul. The journey to his village took almost two days from Gelephu then. Now it’s just a matter of a few hours. A farm road snakes just past Uma’s house.

In the land that measures about two acres, Uma has planted cardamom.

Ram Chandra Bhattarai’s story is not much different from Uma’s. He left Chudzom for Gelephu about the same time as Uma left for Thimphu because he has to admit his five children to school. At Pelrithang in Gelephu, he worked on somebody’s land. Now that his children are in Norbuling Middle Secondary School, Ram has returned to his fertile land.

“Cardamom is a blessing for the farmers here. It requires hard work, but the return is good,” said Ram.

Jigmechholing and Chudzom in Sarpang and Dorona in Dagana are the main cardamom growing gewogs in the south.

Chudzom Gup Mon Bdr Ghalley said that until a few years back, before cardamom cultivation flourished, almost 60 percent of the 820 houses were empty (gungtong). Most of the people have now returned.  Only those who have bought land elsewhere have not come back.

“Besides roaring cardamom business, opening of schools and coming of electricity and road networks are the main factors luring the people back,” said Mon Bdr Ghalley.

Almost all the villagers of Dorona gewog in Dagana are engaged in growing cardamom. Of the 230 households, almost 180 rely on cardamom as main source of cash income.

About 40kg of cardamom, which is worth Nu 50,000, can be harvested from one-acre of land, said Gup Bikash Gurung. “Here, cardamom is gold.”

Far down south, in Jigmechholing, farmers used to grow paddy, maize, millet, mustard and wheat until recently. Livestock products were the main source of income in the gewog. Here too now the people are all into growing cardamom.

It’s been just over two months since Indra Prasad Dhimal and his family returned to their village, Dhungay. His wife and mother could not cope with urban lifestyle in Gelephu.

“Village is where we belong. Everything we need is here now. Life has become easy,” said Indra Prasad. He is busy preparing a plot for cardamom as yhe season sets in.

Jigmechholing’s Gup Sherab Jamtsho said that at least 40 households have returned to their village. “It’s a good thing that they are coming back. It is as life has returned to the village.”

Nirmala Pokhrel