The tales of Meretsemo’s rubber tree

Folklore: There is a story in Meretsemo that every resident shares to a visitor. It’s about a tree, a tall rubber tree that has for decades triggered the attention of strangers and one, which residents say is significant to their lives.

Meretsemo is a hamlet about 20 km downhill from Gedu in Chukha. Going by the details the residents are handy in educating the visitors, there are stories that stretches just like the tree’s ceaseless trunks.

Aap Paley is the first person rejoicing a calm shade under the tree, one, which the 55-year-old cues, was planted by a British.  “But I am not sure,” he said, timidly opening up to a conversation. “As far as I can remember, the size of this tree had remained the same.”

Sharing sketchy details of its history, Aap Paley said the tree used to have a hollow space at its base where travellers used to rest for the night. “I heard that seven adults could fit in,” he said.

There are hundreds of rubber stems hanging from the tree, which according to Aap Paley eventually thrust to the earth and mature like roots. Such trunks have today closed the hollow space and nobody can stay the night.

As temperature picks pace, the oldest person in Meretsemo also comes for a shade under the rubber tree, bringing with her the same tales.

“This tree remained the same during my grandfather’s time,” the 88-year-old Sonam Wangmo said. She guesses the tree must be about a 1,000-years-old, only to get interrupted by another familiar face from the village, Phub Dorji, 59.

Bearing in mind his own age and Sonam Wangmo’s four generations, Phub Dorji calculates the tree must be around 300-years-old.

He said the tree is unique as it paints those times when Bhutanese travelled to Rangamati, India via Meretsemo for trade and business. Meretsemo connected six villages and led to Rangamati and Buxa Duar.

“People those days collected tax from traders under this tree,” Phub Dorji said, elaborating that one such popular person was Sonam Wangmo’s paternal uncle.

“We heard he used to stop people and ask for something to avail travel permission through the route.”

Those who did not agree to this taxing term were stopped from passing through, Phub Dorji said

Villagers say the track was then the main route for business, when Phuentsholing had not been established as a trading town. Rangamati was the main hub of business then.

While stories abound,  the Meretsemo locals believe it was George Bogle who planted the rubber tree.

Aap Paley and Sonam Wangmo said the tree was not planted as a sapling. They said one foreigner had left a rubber plant staff somehow involuntarily speared into the soil, while journeying to Thimphu on a mission.

George Bogle is the only person that comes to the locals’ mind. It dates back to 1774, where a special mission had come to Bhutan through Buxa Duar led by George Bogle.

History books reveal he had travelled to Trashichhoedzong during Desi Kuenga Rinchen’s time to establish trading relations with British India. The peace treaty signed then is the Anglo-Bhutanese Treaty.

Today the Meretsemo residents boast of the tree and heartily express their attachment. Except for incidences of natural calamities that may destroy the tree, they do not cut the tree.

The strong windstorm in April this year had left some branches fragmented when a roof of a house had struck it. People also recalled a fire that spread from a makeshift house below the tree had burnt one-third of the tree four years ago.

As the tree survived and recovered, the locals believe the tree could be mystical. Some months ago, a local pow has also said the tree is a “nye.”

Locals shared that an old foreigner lady visited the site four years ago. The lady, according to Phub Dorji and others had actually come to visit an accident site at Ketokha, another village in Bongo, where a plane had crashed several decades ago.

“Her parents had died in that crash,” Phub Dorji said, adding it was a story he heard from his ancestors. “She came to pay a tribute.”

Meretsemo folks said the lady had also communicated to the locals about her parents’ connections to the rubber plant. However, nobody is certain.

One record of rubber plantation in the country dates back to 1979 where a rubber plantation had begun on an experimental basis covering 4.8 acres of the Experimental Unit Farm in Gelephu.

Meanwhile in Meretsemo, children start to soar around the tree’s vicinity eyeing visitors. A newly constructed choeten lies concealed in the shades of the huge tree and as sunbeams escape through the thick leaves, the old and the young scatter around the choeten unsure of who had planted a rubber plant in their homeland.

Rajesh Rai, Gedu

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