Dirty old town

Under the warm setting sun, Sarpang town, located about 32kms away from Gelephu, remains a busy hub where travellers rest before heading to Gelephu.

Some stop to eat at restaurants while others stretch for a breath of fresh air.

What was once a thriving and oldest town is today nothing but a dusty place made up of temporary shelters.

Every few minutes a car zooms and dust envelops the shops located right next to the road. Shopkeepers wave off the dust with sad faces and wait for a change to come to this town.

Sarpang town was not the same two decades ago. It was a thriving town and was a pride of people who lived here. Businesses boomed with the sale of mandarin and cardamom. The place was at a crossroads between Tsirang and Dagana.  Trade was rampant.

On a fateful day of July 13, 1996, everything changed. A major flood swept the town and everything was destroyed. What residents and shopkeepers managed to save was further destroyed by another flood that occurred in August 3, 2000.

One of the oldest shopkeepers in Sarpang is CB Panda, 65, who recalls the events vividly. A former secretary of the town, CB Panda has been running a stationary and photocopy shop for more than 20 years.

Development has been slow for the town and we are yet to see some changes, CB Panda said.

“We feel neglected since there is a lack of help for people who have been living here,” he said. CB Panda fears that the river, Sarpang khola, might wash the town again.

“The khola is slowly encroaching towards the banks near the town during summer,” he said. “I hope that help will reach us on time before anything happens.”

Of late, the kidnapping cases that have been occurring in the town have also placed a fear among the residents. The shops remains closed after 8PM and people stay inside their homes.

One of the shopkeepers, Sukh Maya, 37, said it is not safe even in the broad daylight.

“Due to the porous border, we can’t say who the kidnappers or abductors are. It’s hard to trust anyone anymore,” she said.

And besides safety issues, transportation and waste management remains one of the biggest challenges for residents and shopkeepers of Sarpang.

The shopkeepers have to travel to Gelephu and Phuentsholing to bring their goods. The transportation charges are high and it is difficult for them, shopkeepers said.

“If we don’t get things from Gelephu, we have to travel all the way to Phuentsholing and beyond,” Sukh Maya said.

However, there is a plan to develop the town and people are optimistic.

By Thinley Zangmo, Sarpang

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