Phub Dem | Paro
Nima Peldon, takes her first flight home to Lunana via helicopter which is often referred to as highlander’s cab last month. Nima is healthy and at home.
If Nima was born five years ago, her father Tandin said the family would not be at home today.
He said that the path towards Lunana was still blocked due to heavy snowfall and thick ice.
“It is a difficult journey, even for men. Young mothers and children won’t dare to take the risk.”
Residents of Lunana, especially men, take about a week to reach their destination from Punakha.
Besides delivering groceries and essential items to the highlanders, Tandin said that the helicopter services were most helpful during emergencies. “I have my family safe all because of this service.”
Like Tandin, the helicopter service which started in November 2015 has eased many highlanders’ life.
Starting January this year, highlanders booked 151 flights with the Royal Bhutan Helicopter Service Corporation.
Annually those from Lunana use 60 per cent of the helicopter services due to its sophisticated geographical location, according to Lunana gup Kaka.
The remote gewog, he said had to use the service whether one is rich or poor, as there was no option.“Highlanders are neither rich nor taking the flights for fun.”
He said that the chopper service has made it easier for women, children, and the elderly to travel. Men usually take the horses and make the journey on foot taking about a week.
With the onset of spring, the people of Lunana take flights home from their winter residence in Punakha to cultivate wheat and buckwheats.
They take another round of flight towards Autumn to stock up ration.
While some hire the helicopter to stock up, others still use horses and yaks which according to Kaka took five trips.
Before 2015, 10 per cent of the mortality in highland was due to inaccessibility to a referral hospital, said Kaka. “About nine highlanders died due to mountain sickness after crossing Gangjula during freezing winter.”
Laya gup Lhakpa Tshering said that other than emergency evacuations, people from Laya don’t usually hire a helicopter, as they live near Gasa and Punakha. “The whole expenditure is borne by the government when patients are airlifted.”
About 70 per cent of highlanders residing in Lunana can afford the ride, says Kaka. The remaining usually take loans or borrow from others.
He clarified that people rate highlanders rich, but they take the ride because there was no option.
Gasa’s NC member Dorji Khandu said that the gewogs such as Lunana was not accessible via foot until June due to ice and snow, but most people think highlanders were wealthy to travel by chopper.
He said that not everyone could afford the ride and some people stay back at the gewog during winter. “Others migrate to Punakha during winter with their horses to escape the cold and stock up.”
Sources said that there was peer pressure when it comes to taking the chopper ride.