Choki Wangmo | Tsirang

For Tsirang residents, it is normal to see Lal Bahadur Tamang in Dzamlingzor, Tsirang, wandering from place to place and slowly walking along the road.

Many say that he has been wandering around places including Gelephu for the past 30 years after he showed signs of mental illness.

When he is not walking around, he lies down in his one-roomed CGI sheet hut among mandarin orchards just above Gosarling gewog centre road.

The old shed, which is in need of maintenance, doesn’t have any basic amenities such as electricity and water. The room is filled with strewn old clothes and shoes.

Without firewood, there is a visible mark that he cooks his meals with fire made from dried plant stalks outside his shed.

He is identified with his deep wrinkles, shabby gray hair, and his old walking stick. Although villagers say that he could be in his late 60s, Lal Bahadur believes he is 45 years old.

He has a clear voice and good oratory skills.

A neighbour said that he reads well too. “His shed needs maintenance.”

Sources said his is a case of untreated mental illness and neglect.

Lal Bahadur’s 33-year-old son, Karna Bahadur Tamang, who currently lives in Mongar, said that his father worked as a health assistant in Daifam, Samdrupjongkhar. “After he started showing signs of mental illness that led to domestic violence, his mother left the family and resettled in Lhamoidzingkha. I couldn’t continue my studies after class I and our family situation worsened.”

He said that his father is a recluse and listens to no one. “His state worsens during the lunar phase.”

Lal Bahadur said he has relatives in Damphu and nearby areas but he likes living alone.

When asked if he was happy, he smiles.

Lal Bahadur’s nephew, who lives below the shed, said that his family tried to take care of him but it was challenging and risky as he likes to build fires inside the house. “We provide him with food and clothes but treating him could be difficult.”

He said that his uncle has become less violent in recent years.

Lal Bahadur’s younger brother said that the family tried to treat him through various means but was unsuccessful.

He said that after he resigned from his job in 1981, the family sought treatment for him but due to lack of psychiatric facilities in the country, they couldn’t help him further. 

“He refuses to live with us,” he said.

An official of Gosarling gewog said that they supported Lal Bahadur with food and clothing through kidu until October last year but they couldn’t refer him for treatment.

He alleged that there was no support from family members and the gewog couldn’t help without family consent.

He said that Lal Bahadur was vulnerable during lockdown. “We tried to inform his son but couldn’t get support.”

The official said if there was proper support from the family members, the gewog administration might be able to make an impact together.

Karna Bahadur Tamang, however, said that he sends money to his uncle to support his father and plans to take him for treatment in Sikkim in the future. “I am planning to build a house and start living with him this winter.”