Phub Dem | Paro

At the break of dawn, four yak herders of Chendugoenpa dashed down the long slippery mountain path to Paro for their second Covid-19 dose on July 27.

There was no time even to break for a quick meal for they feared missing the jab. The three women, 64-year-old Deki Pem and her two relatives walked almost 24 hours in the rain without food.

They walked through the thick forest, drenched in rain and sweat, and struggled on the slippery narrow trail.

However, 76-year-old Rinzin decided to seek shelter in a cave after failing to keep pace with the younger ones. He reached Doteng at 3pm the following day.

Deki Pem was bed-ridden the next day. Others attended a relative’s funeral. Four of them took the jab at the hospital yesterday.

The 13 yak herders of Chendugoenpa are currently dwelling at their summer grazing land at Tshodinkha, which is a three-day walk from Doteng in Paro.

The herders took turns to travel to Paro for the second dose. Earlier last week, eight herders received the vaccine and returned home so that other members could take their turn.

According to Deki Pem, it was sad to leave her husband, Rinzin, behind all alone in the jungle. “But we had to rush so that we don’t miss the vaccine.”

Deki and her husband decided to take the journey because it would be a burden on the health team to walk for days just to vaccinate the two of them.

However, given their age, the journey wasn’t easy. “My grandson suggested making Rinzin ride a horse, but it is too risky as the trails are steep and slippery in summer,” she said.

The herders learnt about the second nationwide vaccine rollout over the radio. They could not come for vaccination earlier as they were migrating to their summer pastureland.

If it wasn’t a downhill journey, they would not have made it, Tshering Lham said. “It is bearable for us, but the old ones suffered a lot.”

Deki Pem said that she was unaware of the door-to-door vaccination service. “If we had known of such services before, it would be convenient for us.”

“Our journey is nothing compared to what His Majesty The King does for us every day,” she said.

Chencho Zam said that they had to rush because they did not get clear information regarding vaccine availability after the vaccination period. “That’s why we took a three-day journey in one.”

While the herders have limited contact with outsiders, Chencho Zam said that it was essential to get the jab to avoid restrictions and protect themselves.

Some locals said it would be convenient if the health team visiting Yaktsa could vaccinate the herders on their way, adding that they were not aware of such facilities.

Others said that it was unrealistic to ask for such facilities considering the small population and substantial financial burden to the government. It is an opportunity for the herders to meet their school-going children and stock up essential items.

Phooshar Tshogpa Tshering said that the herders were given options, but some chose to come down for the vaccination insisting that they have work in the village.

In the meantime, the vaccination of far-flung highlanders is underway, and it is expected to complete on August 2.

Edited by Tshering Palden