Stories of indigenous community still upholding the ancient emphasis on protecting the environment, natural and sacred places by worshipping the mighty Black Mountains in Trongsa.

Located at the heart of the country, Trongsa dzongkhag is construed as a transitory path to another dzongkhags. Travelers rarely take interest in knowing what lies beyond the majestic Trongsa Dzong and Ta-dzong Museum. Trongsa is a socio-culturally diverse district where socio-cultural lifestyles are fundamentally shaped by the geographical landscape, separated by the rugged mountains and the Mangdechhu river. Each community has its own beliefs, customs, and dialects. More so, here is why one should come and explore Trongsa. 

The mighty Black Mountain (Jowo Durshing)

The Black Mountain ranges are a sub-range of the Himalayan range in central Bhutan. Locals call the Black Mountain Range as Dungshing Gang, which means “fir peaks’ ‘. Durshingla peak, at 15,145 feet (4,616 meters) is the range’s highest point and falls geographically in the Trongsa district. The Black Mountain area, located in the heart of Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, is renowned for its breathtaking alpine scenery and fascinating ancient history. 

The black mountain range is home to some of the beautiful alpine lakes which are the source of some rivers. The lakes are (Gesa Tsho, Sertsho, Yumtsho, Tsho Lumoed, and Tsho zhaw) which adds more glamor and beauty to the landscape.  The majestic Dungshinggho (perforated mountain) is a distinctive topography related to the histories of war between the Trongsa and Jowo durshingang Deities. Aside from its scenic and panoramic beauty, the Black Mountain region is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna, including charismatic keystone species such as the Tiger (Panthera tigris), Himalayan Musk deer (Moschus leucogaster), Himalayan Black Bear (Ursus Thibeticanus), and Himalayan Monal (Ursus monal) (Lophophorus impejanus). 

Apart from animals, it is home to a diverse range of floral species and medicinal herbs, including the rare orchid Primula Chasmophilia, which can only be found in this region. Many religious sites may be found along the trails in the Black Mountain area, all of which are linked to the rich history of the people who once lived there.

This mountain is one of the unclimbed mountains in Bhutan. No men have stepped on it except the foresters reaching the base or the mid-way for the patrolling purpose. With the Black Mountain Festival recently conducted, the dzongkhag is now looking forward to exploring the most comfortable trail to black mountain peak. It has potential of becoming the most adventurous trail in the country.

Monpas: the indigenous people of the Black Mountain 

The Monpas are considered to be the first inhabitants of Bhutan. They are often mistaken for the “Doyaps”, the native people from Dorokha. They are indigenous people living in the buffer zone of the Black Mountain National Park. They speak a very different dialect known as Monkha, a distinct dialect of Tibeto-Burman origin. The Bon value system, which the Monpas still uphold, places a strong emphasis on protecting the environment and culturally significant natural and sacred locations.

The Monpas had lived in the hinterland of the isolated Black Mountain forests and they were here before the founders of modern Bhutan built dzongs in the country. The Monpa kept themselves uninfluenced by the 2000 years old the mainstream culture of Bhutan. Today, the Monpas occupy Wangling, Jangbi, and Phumzur villages under Langthil Gewog in Trongsa Dzongkhag. Monpas have a single place of worship, Jho-dushingphu, the Black Mountain, they consider it to be the center of the earth and the source of all their material needs and everything they want in their lives. 

Pagay the Monpa Dress 

The traditional dress of the Monpa is called Pagay. It is woven with fibers from the gigantic nettle plant locally known as kulima. It is a white color wrap-around dress that is tied in the neck with a knot and at the waist with a belt forming a large pouch above the waist.  Phagay is worn like Kira without tego by women, keeping the arms naked. Pagay when worn, stretches down to the knees for men and up to the toes for women. The dress is known for rough texture but once it’s worn, it becomes comfortable and last for several years. The traditional dress usually accompanied a bamboo woven hat called the Chok Turkhumung. The culture of wearing Pagay is now on the verge of disappearing owing to the easier, more convenient garments from the nearby market. Nevertheless, the dialect they speak still remains the main mode of communication within the community.

Arts and Crafts 

Trongsa, which is centrally placed, has a wealth of traditional arts and crafts dating back to the early and medieval periods. Without mentioning the district’s historical significance, each village has its own unique arts of various crafts practices that have served as the communities’ identity and, on other occasions, have been exchanged and practiced as a source of household income. 

Tsharzow (cane/bamboo products) and pottery from Langthel Gewog

People of this gewog, especially the native black mountain people are skilled at weaving basket out of cane and bamboo and making earthen pots. It is their main household item. The items are used for their daily household activities. Several bamboo products include cane basket, cane carpet, winnow, hats, and container amongst many. Bamboo products are usually known for its multipurpose usage, appeal, and durability. 

Likewise, making an earthen pot in the village has been an age-old practice. The support from the Tarayana foundation has helped them reskill and upscale their production at the commercial level. Today it is one of the most successful businesses in the locality. The product is recognized for its quality and design. Many travelers and visitors take these products for themselves and as a souvenir.

Textile from the nettle plant 

The fact that cloth fiber is extracted from plants, nettle is one plant species that were used by our ancestors to extract fibres for making cloths. The textile from the nettle plant is durable, heavy, and warm. Women’s group in langthel gewog is still running this textile cottage industry through support from Tarayana Foundation. Different cloth piece like scarf, pagay, pouch and bags etc., are produced from the plant’s fiber. The place offers myriad of experiences starting from collecting nettle plants, grading, dying, weaving, and stitching in their own natural ways.

Shagzow the Art of Wood turning (Drakteng gewog)

It is one of the vibrant crafts among wood-work practiced by the people of eastern Bhutan. Woodturning produces wood utensils used by our ancestors. Shagzow has been one of the prevalent practices in the gewog but it dwindled with time.  With the fund support from the Agency for the promotion of Indigenous Craft, a group of interested participants from the gewog has now ventured into the wood-turning work. They now produce different wood products with modern shapes and designs.

Samcholing Green tea, a gift 

Trongsa specializes in making some of the finest organic green tea. Samcholing Green tea is a well-known brand and a highly sought-after good. The history of green tea, which is made from Camellia sinensis, an evergreen shrub native to Trongsa, dates back to the 1920s to 1950s, during the reign of Bhutan’s second king. These plants were planted in and around Samcholing and Kuengarabten palace, from which it is thought to have come from Kalimpong. The Second King gave the community his finest gift with it. Since then, the locals of Samcholing have begun to grow tea from the original plant and have created saplings. Samcholing green tea is known for its taste and the natural process involved in its production. Currently, 34 women are part of this production, and are working on the tea plantation which is spread out across about 47 acres among the communities. This product is gaining popularity among health enthusiasts and organic tea lovers.

We will bring you more exclusive stories from Trongsa dzongkhag in the following weeks. 

Article contributed by Sonam Dema. Sonam is Asst. Economic Development Officer in Trongsa. She completed her post-graduate diploma In Public Administration from Royal Institute of Management. She believes in working closely with the community for betterment and growth. Sonam loves hiking, traveling and reading inspirational books.

This series is sponsored by Ecotourism Project “Mainstreaming Biodiversity Conservation into the Tourism Sector in Bhutan” funded by GEF-UNDP through Tourism Council of Bhutan, RGoB.