Friendship: The weeklong 6th Indo-Bhutan Friendship Mela (fair) began on January 27 in Subankhata, Assam, India to celebrate the close bond that India and Bhutan have fostered over the years.
And that the fair is held at Subankhata has special significance. Subankhata used to be the place where Bhutanese merchants from Pemagatshel and Samdrupjongkhar would go to trade mandarin, ginger, soya bean and potatoes, among others.
Bhutanese merchants used to camp at Subankhata for months and witness the mela and recount the fun and wonders they saw to their friends and family back home.
That tradition of Bhutanese going down to Subankhata continued well until 1990s. But security issues along the border changed all that. And with it died the age-old tradition although Magh mela continued to be organised on the other side of the border.
Six years ago, Magh mela committee and members of Bhutan-India Friendship Association (BIFA) met to revive this old tradition. Bhutanese were encouraged to put up stall to showcase Bhutanese tradition and cultural programmes. And thus Magh mela became Indo-Bhutan Friendship Mela.
Genaral Secretary of BIFA, Norbu Wangdi, said that organising this kind of mela will help revive and strengthen relation between the people of the two countries.
“We’ve been successful. People to people contact has increased over the years. It is heartening to see long-lost friends meet again and share their memories,” said Norbu Wangdi. “People from other parts too want us to organise such mela. But that will depend on availability of fund.”
APS Mojibur Rehman, superintendent of police (SP), Baksa district, said that the mela symbolizes much more than friendship between people of two districts of the two countries and that it is important to maintain security along the borders. He added that organizing such mela is important, especially along the borders as a way to facilitate greater interaction and to help build peaceful environment.
“Concerning security, it has been very peaceful lately and Bhutanese travelling on the Assam highway have had no problem except with some occasional strikes. We would like to request Bhutanese not to travel both the highway and Subankhata route because it’s risky, especially the short route as the place was heavily infected with insurgents before.”
Mojibur Rehman added that most Bhutanese prefer short or internal routes and it is difficult to provide security because the place is isolated when there is no mela happening. If anything happens it will be hard to call for help.
“But we’re always there to help Bhutanese travellers. We expect the Bhutanese government to inform us how many vehicles are travelling via Assam highway so that we can prepare ourselves,” said Mojibur Rehman.
Deputy Commissioner of Baksa, Mahadananda Hazarika, said Baksa police would like to urge members to form “structured committee” to host this kind of mela in the future in other places along India-Bhutan borders.
Yangchen C Rinzin, Samdrupjongkhar