Lockdown and movement restrictions impact highlanders

Phurpa Lhamo | Gasa 

Nomads of Laya and Lunana, who come and stay in Punakha every winter to beat the harsh weather, could not do so this year because of the lockdown and inter-dzongkhag movement restriction.

While layaps are waiting for the movement restrictions to be lifted, the route is closed for Lunaps, as the high mountain passes are covered under snow.

Some families from Laya are stuck in Gasa.

The barren paddy field of Dochu-Ritsa chiwog in Punakha is usually filled with the tents of the nomads. But this year, a lone tent is pitched with corrugated galvanized iron (CGI) sheets as a door. Four horses lazily graze in the field.

Two boys, 19-year-old Sangay Tshering and his 6-year-old younger brother stay in the tent.

They had to live by themselves until their grandmother joined on January 6.

“Our mother left home in Laya about three weeks ago to get some cash someone owed to her. It was the first time we lived on our own,” Sangay Tshering said.

After Damcho’s departure to Laya, the second nationwide-lockdown was announced on December 23.

Horses are left free to graze in empty fields

Horses are left free to graze in empty fields

“My initial plan was to be here for three days before returning to Punakha. But the lockdown was announced and I couldn’t do anything. I requested my mother to go to the children and support them,” Damcho said.

Damcho’s mother, 69-year-old Rinchen was in Paro when the lockdown was announced. She was there to sell incense collected from Laya.  “I tested there and with support from dzongkhag officials and my house owner, I was dropped here in Punakha,” she said.

Seki Dorji from Lunana is today at his house in Gum Kamu, Punakha. “We came before the lockdown. Now the roads are also closed due to snow,” he said.

The route to Lunana is blocked by November due to heavy snowfall. The route remains closed until late June.

Today, with at least 70 percent Lunana residents in the villages, they fear they would lose their horses to the harsh weather.

Dengo, 34, said that of around 80 households in Toencho and Thangza, only four families had moved to Gasa and Punakha.

“We usually move to the lower lands as there isn’t enough fodder for horses and buy our rations.”

Wangdue, Punakha and Gasa dzongkhag officials delivered rations to Lunana before the route closed in September last year.

Lunana Gup Kaka said that apart from supply delivered to the individual families, the shop in Lunana had also stored rations for the coming winter.

The highlanders are worried about their horses.

“Horses are an important source of income for us and each horse cost around Nu 100,000 and if the breed is good, the price would go up to Nu 150,000,” Dengo said.

Dengo said that firewood was also scarce in Lunana. “If we start our journey from around 9am to collect firewood, we wouldn’t be home until 5pm.”

Although the villagers use horses to fetch firewood, as winter approaches, they avoid doing so. “The horses are also weak. So we have to go carry it ourselves,” Dengo said. “We think our horses will die here. But we cannot even leave our horses down in Punakha and Wangdue without anyone to look over them.”

There were issues of illegal grazing in the Khotokha and Phobjikha in the past. Because of which, despite the snowfall, Lunaps were called to take their horses back home.

Meanwhile, some highlanders feel it is better to stay in the villages because of the Covid-19 risk in urban areas.

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