Rajesh Rai | Sipsu

Nothing of the past has remained in Gola Bazaar in Tashichholing (Sipsu), Samtse. It is now a different town with more concrete buildings mushrooming by the day.

In December 2015, after decades of wait, Gola Bazaar’s 52 plot owners received lagthrams (5.5 decimal land each) with the go-ahead to construct their own buildings. Plot owners were given five years to complete the construction, which will exhaust in 2020. An extension until 2021 has been approved.

More than 16 plot owners have constructed two-storey buildings.

But Gola has lost its economic glory. While the size of the town has grown, business has been sluggish.

Of the several factors that contribute to this town’s economic downfall, cardamom, Tashichholing’s magical spice is the top reason. The spice business has not been good.

“Cardamom price and production are both down,” the town secretary, Namgay, said.  Farmers’ income has dried.

One of the building owners, Nar Bahadur Rai, said Gola was a town, especially for the villagers in Tashichholing. The town was vibrant when cardamom prices were high.

“People now have started to go to other places for livelihood,” the businessman said.

Nar Bahadur said the trading of 50 bags of cardamom a farmer used to have some years ago has now fallen to just two to three bags. Farmers don’t have money and they don’t visit the town anymore.

Gola Bazaar is centre for several gewogs such as Tashichholing, Namgaychholing (Laureni), Sangachholing (Chargharay), and Pemaling (Biru). The town also caters to Norgaygang (Bara) and Tenduk. Gola’s business community say their town is at the verge of becoming a “bypass town.”

They also see the Jitti border, about 12km away from Gola town, as a growing threat. With the open and free entry and exit, villagers go to Jitti for shopping. Goods and commodities are cheaper.

Number of shops in the villages have also increased now, many plot owners said, explaining this caused distress in their business.

Village to village connectivity has increased in the last few years with farm roads reaching everywhere, one shopkeeper said.

“Many also invested in Boleros. The little they earn from cardamom goes in loan repayments,” he said.

All the government and financial institutions are also located at Belbotay, away from Gola Bazaar. Those in the town have also shifted and took the people away from the town.

Shivaraj Ghalley said that number of people would automatically increase if the banks brought their shops in the town.

“We have nothing here,” he said. “Several buildings that have been completed some time ago still have empty spaces.”

Shivaraj Ghalley said it was an irony that infrastructure development was coming in Gola and the service facilities were going farther from the town. He said that all the 52 buildings have to be erected first so that the town would get the new look and attract people.

Plot owners expect that a bank office shifts to Gola. The vegetable market, which is in Belbotay, also must shift to Gola, plot owners said.

In a secluded new building, Gajraj Rai runs Gola’s only electronic repair shop. The 49-year-old also stresses the downfall of cardamom as the economic downfall of Gola Bazaar.

“I remember people used to spend a lot when cardamom prices and generations were high,” the repairs entrepreneur said, adding everything has changed today.

Gajraj has many television sets and other electronic items that have been repaired. But villagers have not turned up for a long time now, he said, explaining they may not have money to pay for such bills anymore.

Gajraj also said that one farmer had recently offered him a gourd for Nu 350 he was charged for a repair.

“In another occasion, one farmer brought me a kilogram of black lentils as he did not have cash,” Gajraj said.

When the town development started in 2016, Gajraj said many villagers had come to book the buildings on priority. They have not returned, he said, adding cardamom has changed everything for Gola Bazaar.

Other than the ongoing construction activities, the town looks deserted most of the time these days. There are not many people. The roads maintenance and other facilities are expected to come once all 52 buildings are raised in 2021.