And it’s not just the number of visitors, local attendance has also gone down

Festival: More than 300 visitors from Tawang, popularly known as dhaps, thronged the Gomphu Kora tshechu in Trashiyangtse, which ended on March 30.

The tradition of dhaps attending the popular Gomphu Kora tshechu dates back to the 8th century, and every year, hundreds of them, from places like How, Loomla, Dongmareng, and Khobleyteng in Tawang, attend the three-day tshechu.

The nearest road point from Tawang is about a kilometre away from the bordering village of Jangphutse in Bhutan.

From Jangphutse, the visitors have to walk for another 5km to Toedtsho gewog centre road and then hitch a ride to reach Gomphu Kora.

Although Dukti village in Yallang gewog also shares a border with Tawang, not many use the route because of the distance.  Today, Tawangpas from the farthest of the villages can make it to Gomphu Kora within a day.

Dorji Sonam from Jimithang in Tawang came on a pilgrimage to Gomphu Kora.  At 30, this was his first visit.

“In the past, people from my village had to travel for almost two days to reach Gomphu Kora,” he said. “The long journey had discouraged me to come here earlier.”

The kudrung of Trashigang dratshang, Sangay Drakpa, said that only a few Tawangpas came for the tshechu last year, since it coincided with the general elections in India.

“Those, who visited, stayed only for a day or two,” he said.

Meanwhile, Toedtsho gup, Dechen Wangdi, said that, compared to the ‘80s and ‘90s, the number of people attending tshechus has dropped drastically.

Back then people pitched tents from the vast fields of Tserigom until Doksum.  Tawangpas would bring their own mask dances, like the Yak cham and other native chams, to perform at the -.  Nyagoe or strongman competitions were also held between the Bhutanese and Tawangpas.

“People were seen circumambulating the temple late in the night, and men would court women, and  people returned as married couples after the tshechu,” Dechen Wangdi said.

However, the number of visitors started declining with time.  Tawangpas started migrating out of their villages and the younger generations were not keen.

Today, observers say that the charm of Gomphu Kora has waned.  As the clock strikes 10pm, the place settles for the night, and cases of men courting women are hardly heard of.

“Even Bhutanese people visiting from other dzongkhags seems to have started decreasing,” Dechen Wangdi said.

Tashi, 65, another visitor from Tawang, said he was visiting Gomphu Kora after five years.  During his younger days, he dropped by the Gomphu Kora almost every year.

“Those were wonderful days,” he said. “With age, it becomes difficult to travel, but coming of the roads does make a lot of difference.”

By Tshering Wangdi,  Trashiyangtse