Lobzang Jimba, 45, grew up in the mountains of Khiliphu in Merak, Trashigang. He wore the chupa, woven with yak hair and sheep wool and kango, woven with wool to beat the cold then.
He, however, had to start wearing imported attires once he moved to Lhamoizingkha in Dagana in 2009.
Lobzang said that it was not only the scorching heat that made his initial days in Lhamoizingkha difficult but also the shift of dress. “It was really uncomfortable to wear the thin clothes. I literally felt I was without clothes,” he said. “But wearing our chupa and kango was also not practical either.”
He is one of the 14 families who resettled in Kuendrelthang, formally known as Majhigaon, in Lhamoizingkhag gewog. But unlike other families, who resettled 15 years ago, he moved there only in 2009 after his wife’s parents gave them land.
He said he decided to leave Merak because his children had to travel long distance to school. “The school here is nearby.”
After selling his cattle herd in Merak, he constructed a house and planted about 500 areca nut trees. This year is the first harvest.
Located along the fertile embankments of Sunkosh river, growing areca nuts is the primary agricultural activity for the residents.
Almost everyone who resettled concentrated more on growing areca nut trees than paddy. They have used the wetlands (paddy fields) to grow areca nut trees.
“Our land is very close to the Sunkosh river bank,” Lobzang Jimba said, explaining that the swelling river was eventually eating up on the private lands. “The river is already eroding the land. If we cultivate paddy, it is risky.”
He said that they believe growing areca nut trees would hold the soil together and strengthen it.
Another resident, Phurba Wangdi, recently made an advance sale of areca nuts worth Nu 93,000. “I have been harvesting doma for the last four years,” he said. “Next three to four years would be good.”
He said there were not many Bhutanese buyers so he had sold to traders from across the border. Hauda, Kumargram, and Kulkuley Haat are three places across the border people in Lhamoizingkha do business with.
Phurba Wangdi said not many people at Kuendrelthang grew areca nut when he first came from Merak in 2004. “We started and others did the same,” he said. “Areca nuts can fetch good income and there is not much hard work required.”
Although it is evident that the highlanders adapted and earned a decent livelihood in Lhamoizingkha, there are other dearer sacrifices they may have experienced over the years.
After leaving Merak, Sangay Dema, 63, was able to visit her native place twice. She lives with her daughter today at Majhigaon.
“My mother is still there today,” she said, adding that she would love to visit again. “But it is expensive to go all the way.”
Opening up to a conversation hesitantly, Sangay Dema said she missed donning the colourful shingkha (thickly woven kira). “I wore my thick kira for two years after I came here,” she said. “I had to give up eventually due to the heat.”
She also said that she felt uncomfortable to wear thin clothes.
Sangay’s daughter, Lobzang Choden, also shared how she suffered from heat rashes when she first arrived in Lhamoizingkha. “But we have acclimatized now.”
Meanwhile, Lobzang Jimba is busy digging his backyard. Ripe areca nuts have been compactly buried in a plastic. “I want to see how well it ferments.”
Talking about the initial days in Lhamoizingkha, he said it is must to maintain cleanliness in hot places. “In the cold place of Merak, we did not bath for months but here we cannot do that.”
He said most people would not have their chupas, kangos and shingkha even in the closets now. “We speak out local dialect.”
Rajesh Rai | Lhamoizingkha