Dophuchen in Samtse has seen rapid development in the last decade. The blacktopped highway, farm roads, and government infrastructures prove the hill settlement has changed.

But there are two prominent features that describe Dophuchen’s road to development best. Horses. Boleros.

Horses were once the only means of transportation for the community. People from Dophuchen, Dumtey, Denchukha and Haa walked for days to Samtse and used horses to ferry home goods and commodities.

Mandarin was transported the most to Samtse. People would cross the same river, Dhamdumchhu, more than 20 times, hold nights in caves through jungles, sell mandarin in Samtse and return with rations they bought with the money earned from mandarin.

This practice is now unheard of and the horses are disappearing.

At the heart of Dophuchen, four stray horses graze at the Bazaar Dara today. Without any work to do, their owners have left them. One of them, the oldest in the lot, was used as Dophuchen drungkhag’s carrier.

A shopkeeper, Shera Dorji, said people chase these horses from one place to another.

“As dusk falls, the horses come to the town to rest,” he said. “It has been more than a month since the horses have been straying in the town.”

Shera Dorji said the four horses would become a menace during paddy season. They are even beaten up and chased, he added.

He fondly remembers his horses. But with the coming of the road, he saw no business in having them and sold them seven years ago.

Shera Dorji said bolero pick-ups have replaced horses.

“Boleros are everywhere today,” he said, adding it was a sign that Dophuchen has developed.

However, he said horses were more profitable than boleros. There are too many boleros and some don’t get business, he said.

Ugyen Tshering, another Dophuchen resident said few people, most from Haa, still use horses.

“Only five percent of those who used horses in the past still have horses,” he said, adding that the horses in Dophuchen drastically decreased after 2013.

Ugyen Tshering said he had 16 horses, which were sold to people at Sombaykha in Haa. Horses are mostly sold to Tsento and Shari in Paro and Laya and Lunana, he added.

“Without care and work, some just died,” he said.

Today, there are about 90 boleros in Dophuchen alone, according to gup Padam Bahadur Rai. Horses have no work now as every village is connected with farm and approach roads with people owning bolero pick-ups.

“It is a sign of change and development in Dophuchen,” the gup said.

Before the Samtse-Dophuchen road construction began in 2009, mandarin was transported to Samtse on horses, gup Padam Bahadur Rai said. People would buy their ration and return in four to five days, he added.

Dophuchen today is 90 percent connected with farm roads or other approach roads, the gup said. Other villages without roads would also get connected in the 12th Plan and budget has been accordingly proposed, he explained.

With the Haa-Samtse highway construction ongoing, road has also reached Dumtey and Denchukha. Dumtey has about 12 horses that remain idle and stray the fields, gup Damber Singh Rai said.

“The owners don’t want to sell them off as they have sentiments attached with these animals,” Dumtey gup said. “Many just died.”

Although the horses damage crops, farmers still tolerate them, the gup said. A case was also reported to the gewog office recently about crop damages but it was resolved.

Dumtey today has about 23 boleros and Denchukha has about 30.

Meanwhile, at Bazaar Dara, shopkeepers have called it a day. It’s 7pm and has begun to drizzle. The town is empty and silent. The four horses are back, walking along the parked boleros that made them redundant.

Rajesh Rai  | Dophuchen