Still life

The picture of the pandemic through public places

Chhimi Dema

The National Memorial Choeten in Thimphu is a sanctuary for senior citizens of the country. Built in 1974 in the honour of His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo, the choeten is also a major tourist site in the country.

But this national monument wears a desolate look today. The lawns are green but unkempt. And likewise, in the small parks in the city, the story is the same.

The Covid-19 and the health protocols are to blame.

The National Memorial Choeten is the favourite of the tourists. But there have not been tourists in the country for more than a year. And, in the parks, because of the ever-present threats of the pandemic, parents and children do not come.

The common sight in the National Memorial Choeten would be of Bhutanese young and old, doing the rounds with rosary in hand. Proverbially, the choeten is a place where sincere prayers are offered, lovers meet and romance is found.  Where are these pilgrims today?

But there is a unique charm to these places even as they are deserted, as they say of songs of silence that can hit the hearts straight and hard. You don’t hear the giant prayers wheels turning and children’s shrieks and laughter, but they are there all the same, as if to remind us that life’s journey can have us stand alone sometimes.

Tshering, 74, from Wangdue, was a regular visitor to the choeten before the pandemic. He sorely misses going to the choeten.

“I would get to met old friends and relations. New friends also,” says Tshering, who now wakes up to the sun and waits for it to go down the mountains. Health experts say that elderlies are more vulnerable to the pandemic. Tshering can’t go far beyond the apartment where he lives with his daughter.

The numbers of positive Covid-19 cases are increasing worldwide, especially in the neighbouring countries. The danger is coming nearer towards home every day.

And so like the situation with many public places in the country today. Even the lhakhangs in the country do not see many visitors.

Lam Namgay of Changangkha Lhakhang in Thimphu said that the number of visitors had decreased from 200 people a day before to a mere 20. “Only during auspicious days, we get more visitors.”

The Royal Botanical Park in Thimphu saw a drastic drop in the number of visitors since March last year. According to the park’s visitor record, less than five visitors come to the park in a day.  More than 500 used to visit the park in a month before the pandemic.

The Royal Takin Preserve in Thimphu is closed, as are many public places such as handicraft shops and swimming pools.

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