High above the villages in Lobesa, in the silent and pristine forest, a group of farmers are busy. While some scurry around carrying lopped branches of pine trees, some fill a freshly dug pond with water mixed with milk.

While some parts of the country is experiencing heavy rainfall leading to flash floods, farmers in Lobesa are preparing for a ritual to appease their local deity, Ap Darop.  It had not rained in Barp gewog, Punakha, for days. The brief showers are not what farmers want.

Their changla (paddy  transplantation) is getting delayed. It is end of June and if not done soon, it will hamper yield. They want rain, heavy enough to send water gushing down the irrigation channels and to the fields.

At Dapcheygang yesterday, the place of the ritual, Lopen Ugyen Jurmey a former in-charge of the village lhakhang presides over the ritual organised to invoke rain in Lobesa. The ritual starts with chanting jangnga lhabsang followed by saangchoe, a solicitation for rainfall.

Farmers called off the day. They are busy, not with changla, but burning incense, serving tea and snacks and chanting prayers.

Aum Pem, a village elder, fills a container with pieces of sikam and shakam on the top and places fruits alongside. 

Two men accompany her carrying a darshing (prayer flag) and a container filled with milk to offer the deity.

Pem is worried. “In the past, it used to rain after the community appeases their deity, performing lham tsoja on every 15th day of the Bhutanese fourth month,” she says. “It did not happen this year.”

The small flow of water from the mountain base above the villages has to be divided among four villages in upper Barp gewog.

Without rain, farmers said that the small water flowing through their irrigation channels is insufficient to complete their paddy cultivation.

Sharing the small flow, only about 50 percent of the cultivation was completed.

There is a sharing system that worked for generations. A few households get a day and night share of water. This year, that share is insufficient to irrigate their fields.

Scarcity of water for irrigation has forced farmers in the community to leave their fields fallow. At least 40 percent of the total wetland in the chiwog has been left fallow, said farmer Sangay Dorji.

Looking down from Dapcheygang, some of the cultivated paddy fields have dried up and seedlings are withering in the scorching sun.

Kinley, a young farmer said that sharing of the small flow of water is creating chaos among villagers.

He said that the plantation period is the hardest time for farmers since they have to guard the little share they get day and night. Kinley is wishing the government constructed a huge tank, as a reservoir, at the source to gather water like in Toeb gewog.

“I believe it will collect sufficient amount of water when released during our share”, he said.

According to farmer Sangay Dorji, the problem is that their water source is dependent on rain. “We have no other sources to irrigate the fields.”

The upper Barp gewog has more than 80 households today.

Meanwhile, farmers said that the expanding town below the village is eating into their share of limited water. “A portion of the water is diverted for drinking and commercial use in Missina town,” said a farmer. There are few automobile workshops, drayangs, hotels and several businesses below the village.

When there is no water and therefore, no work, farmers gather in the town selling vegetables. The discussion is always about the changla. The perceived relaxed life of the hoteliers and the shopkeepers often becomes the topic of discussion as they compare it to the drudgery of farming.

The national centre for hydrology and meteorology forecast a cloudy day in Punakha with possibility of rain.

If it rains, farmers would thank Lopon Ugyen Jurmey and their initiative to appease the local deities.

Chimi Dema  | Punakha


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