In the footsteps of a King

Choki Wangmo 

Flashy cars, luxurious hotels, and foreigners were what Tshewang Dema knew about since she became a tour guide in 2019. She loved her job.  But it came to an abrupt end in early March 2020.

Like thousands of others, she became a beneficiary of the Royal kidu.  Tshewang Dema is grateful to His Majesty The King.  Young and full of energy, the 34-year-old, however, didn’t want to be a burden.  She joined Desuung. “I had availed kidu. Staying home idle wasn’t an option. I was ashamed,” says Tshewang.

After completing the Desuung course and a few weeks of patrolling the streets of Thimphu, Tshewang volunteered for the southern border duty (SBD) along with 80 men and 20 women. “If I don’t contribute when I’m able and young, I thought I won’t get another opportunity in the future,” she said.

Tshewang Dema was posted at Daragaon in Samtse for two months with five other desuups and a policewoman.  They slept inside a watchtower and took turns to guard the borders on a 12-hour shift at the outpost 15km away from Samtse town.

It was peak monsoon with the temperature sometimes touching 40 degrees Celsius.  Guarding the borders along the unforgiving sub-tropical forests at night became tiring.  The volunteers had to be wary of lurking venomous snakes, which Tshewang said sometimes entered their tower.  If it was not the snakes, it was the mosquitoes.

But Tshewang was ready to serve.

Two weeks after her posting to Daragaon, Tshewang Dema received an audience with His Majesty The King in Samtse, which, she says, rejuvenated her.

“His Majesty enquired about our family and showed appreciation for our service. I’ll cherish this audience for my life,” she said. “Leaving behind Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen, their Royal Highnesses The Gyalseys, the King’s worry was for the people. I saw that His Majesty had lost weight and looked weak, which made us sad, but fuelled our resolve to work harder,” recalls Tshewang Dema, her voice filled with emotions.

Along the porous borders in Samtse, the risks of illegal border crossings were rampant.  There was particular risk from a tunnel crossing across the border that had to be carefully monitored. “Although we struggled, at the end of the day, there was a joyful feeling,” she said.

“What we did was nothing compared to what His Majesty was doing for the people. I never thought of quitting.”

Tshewang is back in Thimphu today undergoing specialist refreshers course training in Dechencholing.  She is ready to go back anytime.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country, in the mountains, Tshewang’s desuup nyamrop (cohort), Sithup, inspired by His Majesty’s relentless effort to contain the virus, served 70 days from November last year till this month at Dolung pass in Sakteng, Trashigang on the international border between India and Bhutan.  This was on top of the 49 days he served in the south patrolling the border.

He was among the first batch of desuups from Thimphu to volunteer for northern border duty.  He received audiences with The Fourth King in Gelephu last year and His Majesty The King at the military training centre in Wangdue last year.  He got an audience with His Majesty at the specialist refreshers course in Thimphu recently.

He said that, being raised as an orphan, he did not have a role model to look up to, but His Majesty was a living example of a great human being, from whom he takes inspiration to be better every day. “I’m inspired to be a better citizen and a human being.”

He said that he was overwhelmed and it was hard to express his gratitude. “Upon seeing His Majesty, tired and restless from touring across the country, I couldn’t forgive myself. I strived to do better.”

“We are so lucky to have a compassionate King without having to face intense hardships.”

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