Election journey took me to every nook and corner of Dagana. It was a very enriching experience of my life. My love for the people and passion to serve them grew even stronger. I would like to share with my fellow citizens the charm and beauty of one of the most isolated places that I got to visit.
Gata is a small village atop a mountain surrounded by deep gorges. It is richly wooded and cardamom grows in lush and healthy boughs. The village has eleven households. What is very interesting about Gata is that the village falls under Chukha’s Getena Gewog but the residents are all of Dagana’s Dorona Gewog. A river cuts a boundary between the two dzongkhags.
The entire village welcomed my visit. I happen to be the first among the NC aspirant’s to visit the village. I found that both Chukha and Dagana had neglected the village. None of the serving Parliamentarians and aspiring candidates for both the houses had ever visited their village. Even gups have not visited them once till date. A dzongdag of Chukha visited the village. That was a long time ago.
I believe this village has been living below poverty for quite a long time. It took me 10 hours to reach Dorona Chewa (Thulo Dorona) from Laptsakha on the first day. Next day was 6.5 hours hike to Dorona Chonga (Sano Dorona) via Susi-gaou and finally reached Gata on the third day after a five-hour hike crossing a river called Piping. The climb was not an easy one having to fight literally with no water source on the way in the deep forest full of wild animals and no local guide nor a map.
The first house offered me a cup of black tea. It was a great treat after a tiring journey. At the second house I was given some fresh honeycomb. The third house gave me a shelter for the night. It was cold. I went to bed quickly after dinner. My door-to-door campaign would start next morning.
As I started introducing myself, listening to them intently, my heart ached and eyes filled with tears. Most of the villagers had come to Gata because of unfertile land where they were before. Crop depredation due to attacks by wild animals and unstable land were among other reasons. Cardamom plants are dying.
People here grow lentils, spinach and potato. Large-scale cultivation of any crop is impossible in Gata due to lack of water. Staple food is maize but wild animals destroy crops and vegetables. Drinking water is a big issue. People depend largely on the monsoon rain for agriculture production. To light their homes, the government has provided 30Watt panel solar panels but it hardly lights two bulbs. My phone was dead for next couple of days.
Children have to walk long distances to school; it is neither a central school nor a well-equipped boarding school. It is something in between. People have to walk nearly eight hours to the nearest BHU. Mobile clinic has not reached this village. The people here have to contribute free labour contribution for both Chukha and Dagana because they have census with Dagana and are living at the boundary of Chukha.
It is as if our own people here are almost two decades behind. Many have never seen a television and do not know what a computer and Internet are. Gata is like forgotten part of Bhutan.
In summer, the village is totally cut-off from other villages. Crossing the swollen rivers – Piping Khola, Sano Dorona khola, and Susi khola – is a risky affair. If they go via Pangshalay crossing Piping khola and Sano Dorona khola, it takes one day to reach the Dorona Gewog. If one wants to avoid the monsoon-fed river, one has to travel via Tharphu, which takes two days to reach the gewog office.
My return journey was through a small path that was probably an animal track, which curved along dangerous precipices. One misstep and no one would find your body. I keep thinking about rising rural-to urban migration. If such are the conditions in many of our villages, of course rural-urban migration would happen, more so in the future.
Like in a dream I reached Gata and left with a heavy heart. The journey to this village gave me many reasons to stand for those our politicians do not represent. Smaller villagers are probably considered less important because of fewer voter numbers. But no Bhutanese should be left out no matter where they are located.
Our politicians and policy makers must know that even in this day and age there are villages like Gata in Bhutan. What led to their neglect?
Suraj Pradhan was one of the National Council candidates from Dagana