On February 5, snow glistened on the roof of Punakha Dzong, located around 1,242 metres above sea level and a relatively warm place in winter, after more than six decades.
The event coincided with the 6th Birth Anniversary of His Royal Highness Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck which according to the Zhung Dratshang was unprecedented and auspicious.
According to Zhung Dratshang’s media spokesperson Thukten Jamtsho, the last snowfall was around 70 years ago during Je Ngawang Thinley’s time.
Even then, it was rare that snow accumulated on the sertog of the dzong. “And when it does, it is considered a very good sign.”
The significance of the snow on the sertog of the Punakha dzong also roots in an incident more than six decades ago.
Thukten Jamtsho said that much similar to today, there was an eye disease, which was infectious and fatal. After a snowfall that also covered the sertog of the dzong, the disease ended.
The significance of the snowfall has been further echoed by His Holiness the Je Khenpo’s poem released yesterday.
“In these times of pandemic, the best method of prevention is lockdown. The snowfall has come as a supporting companion in the most challenging times for the government,” the poem reads.
The poem concludes with, “How amazing is this auspicious Tendrel! Just as the entire mountains are clad by snow, so is the truth of genuine compassion of Their Majesties the Kings, for everlasting Peace and Happiness to prevail.”
Bhutanese have a belief that says snowfall is a good omen indicating an abundant agricultural yield, thereby amplifying prosperity and happiness for the times to come.
Like many Bhutanese across the country, residents of some gewogs in Dagana were left awestruck by the snowfall on February 5.
“This is a pure sign of having an everlasting peace and prosperity in the country under the benevolent leadership of the dynamic Wangchuck Dynasty,” the dzongkhag’s Facebook page stated.
Some parts of Tseza, Larjab, Drujeygang, Khebisa, and Tsangkha gewogs received light to moderate snowfalls.
Residents said that Tseza gewog received the snow after 16 years. Some say that the gewog received snowfall once in 1990 and 2005.
A resident said that upper Phuensumgang chiwog in Gesarling also received about three inches of snow.
Larjab Gup Dhan Bdr Gurung said that the gewog’s last snowfall was 25 years and residents are rejoicing the current snowfall, saying that good things are on the way for the country.
“The gewog received two inches of snowfall. However, there were some damage to cardamom and vegetables,” he said.
Some residents said that the snowfall symbolises the end to the pandemic and the related challenges faced by people from lockdowns. “We are hopeful,” one said.
High places of Tsirang received light snowfall but in the last few days, there were heavy rain, hailstorm, and windstorms.
A resident said that a place called Rakshidangra received its first snowfall and could be the first account in history.
While some attributed the snowfall to climate change and the recent volcano eruption in Tonga, the National Centre for Hydrology and Meteorology (NCHM) stated that the snowfall was caused by western disturbance and a low-pressure system in the North-East of India.
Western disturbance is the moist warm air blowing from the Mediterranean and to some extent from the Arabian Sea. The low-pressure system is associated with clouds and precipitation that decreases temperature.
According to NCHM’s report, the active phase of the western disturbance and the low-pressure system intensified the moisture movement–moisture coming from the Mediterranean Sea and the Bay of Bengal–in the country.
NCHM also recorded that in the past few days, the temperature dropped in the western and central parts of Bhutan owing to continuous snowfall in the high-altitude areas.
Temperature records from the automatic station in Punakha shows that from February 3 with 10 degrees Celsius, the temperature continued to drop to zero degree Celsius until February 5.
“The drop in temperature in the lower valleys and presence of moisture in the atmosphere have favoured the extent of snowfall in dzongkhags that normally do not receive snow,” the NCHM report stated, adding that the snowfall could also be due to inter-seasonal and inter-annual variability.
Fifteen dzongkhags experienced varying intensities of snowfall. Gasa and Shemagangkha in Chukha, experienced the highest snow-depth with 50 centimetres (cm) in two days (February 4 and 5).
Wangdue experienced a snow-depth of 7cm and recorded the lowest minimum temperature at two degrees Celsius to date.
NCHM has records of hydro-meteorological data since 1990 and it does not have records of snowfall experienced in Punakha, Wangdue, Dagana, and Zhemgang.
As much as individuals rejoiced the first snowfall, farmers in some low-laying areas woke up to find their vegetables, fruit trees, and bamboos damaged under snowcover.
The recent snowfall damaged 20 of the 54 prefabricated greenhouses of Farm Machinery Corporation Limited’s (FMCL) farm in Phebthang in Trongsa. Deputy General Manager of FMCL Jitshen Wangchuk said that the company has incurred a loss of more than Nu 1 million and replacement would cost about Nu 150,000. It is discounting the crop damage and other operational costs.
He said that learning from such disasters, although it is expensive, the future greenhouse designs should consider natural disasters. “None of us thought that Trongsa would receive 2-3 inches of snowfall.”
Since its first installation two years ago, the 50-acre farm has been producing tomatoes throughout the year.
Worried for his harvest, a farmer in Barp gewog of Punakha, Kinley visited his field of cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, onions and potatoes.
While he removed the snow settled on his vegetables, he is yet to know if it has been damaged.
“Yes, I am worried about it. I can know after a few days if the vegetables have been damaged by frostbite.”
However, Kinley said that despite his concern, snowfall was much welcomed. “It is first time that I have witnessed snow in Punakha. And it is because of the numerous kurims held. So I am happy about it.”
In Punakha, several villagers have reported damage due to snowfall. The dzongkhag agriculture officials are yet to complete compiling the damage report. Many farmers in Punakha have currently planted broccoli, cabbage, chilli saplings, and spring onions among others.
Changyul-Tashijong Tshogpa Namgay Bidha said that the snowfall was the first for many elderlies as well. “Many were out by midnight experiencing the snowfall. And having snowfall on the sertog is also believed to bring good harvest. So many were really happy.”
Reporting by Chhimi Dema, Choki Wangmo, and Phurpa Lhamo