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COVER STORY: The fields were vast and fertile, land was plenty, so was water, and farmers cultivated both paddy and winter crops.  They owned much of what today is Changzamtog.

The Changzamtog that once was

In the space of fifty years, a bucolic village has changed utterly into a bustling urban neighbourhood

COVER STORY: The fields were vast and fertile, land was plenty, so was water, and farmers cultivated both paddy and winter crops.  They owned much of what today is Changzamtog.

Cultivated fields started from the flyover near the truck parking to Lungtenzama bridge.  The Druk School area was a tsamdro (grazing land), and above that not many would venture for the fear of losing cattle or herders to leopards and bears.  Kuensel colony and the Damchen fuel station was a leh (field for winter crops).  A pair of strong bulls would be ploughing the area at this time of year.  Further north, Changlimithang was just a marshy area.

There were not many trees.  Most of Changzamtog was covered with thicket.  The zhuglam (main road) passed below, what is today, the Food Corporation of Bhutan office and the Bhutan Power Corporation substation.  Beehives were plenty in the thicket and a nuisance, if disturbed, to travellers.  The area near the fire division of the royal Bhutan police, KD sawmill and the Changzamtog school was tseris (dry land), where wheat, barley and millet were cultivated.

That was not long ago.  Tshoki Dorji, 64, vividly remembers herding cattle above his wife’s ancestral house, one of the few standing traditional houses in Changzamtog today.  He was a student at the Desiphakha school, near the Parliament building.  As a boy of about nine years when he joined school in 1962, he would get scared by the bears that would compete for the pears and peaches in his garden.

Tshoki Dorji, a former employee of Chukha hydropower corporation, witnessed, right under his nose, how Changzamtog turned from a village to a town in just over a decade. “There are about a thousands buildings now,” he says.

There were only seven houses in Changzamtog village, as far as Tshoki could remember.  Three still proudly stand today, full of stories of a bygone era.

The biggest and tallest is the one his family is still occupying.  His ancestral house is a stone throw’s away from his wife’s.  It is standing the test of time and modernisation below the Changzamtog road.  The Ha zimpon, Chang Choelo, built the three-storied house, Tshoki recalls.  He guestimates the building to be more than 150 years old.

Not far from his is the second building belonging to the former Chang gup and chimi (people’s representative to the National Assembly before 2008), Dago.  From the outside, it is evident that the buildings had been around for long.  The wood, rammed earth wall, shapes and sizes of windows have resisted weathering and forces of change.

A look a the materials used – solid tree trunks as pillars, thick planks, each more than 20 feet in length – is like stepping in the past.  Tshoki’s house has doors and bolts that are still in good use.  In the attic, facing visitors are the skull of two bulls, which, Tshoki said, ploughed the paddy fields and the tseris.

The third belongs to another former gup, Ugyen Thering.  Sandwiched between two concrete buildings, the only new thing on this old building, at a glance, is the house number the thromde issued.  The former gup has locked the choesum (altar room), while the rest is rented out, says Tshoki, who is the former gup’s brother.

changzamtok
Dump yard: Changzamtog residents have found a secure place to dump their trash

Two buildings were demolished.  One is in ruins and used as a dumping ground.  Another is turning to ruins.  These two had changed ownership and are waiting to be replaced by concrete buildings.

At least, there will be one to remind Changzamtog of what it was like in the past.

Tshoki will convert his building into a farmhouse.  A lot of originality will be brought back.  The interiors today are different, with plywood covering the original rough walls. “If my plans materialise, we’ll undo the changes made, keeping in mind our plan,” says Tshoki.

Former gup Dago has retired to a life of prayer.  From the verandah of his new house in Samarzingkha, he points out where the irrigation channel used to be. “A lot has changed,” he rues.

Changzamtog changed after it became a part of the Thimphu thromde in 1994, when Dago was the gup. “Way before that, when the city was expanding, people didn’t know how to value land, and they readily agreed for cash compensation,” he says.  Dago recalls getting paid Nu 300 for about two acres of dry land.

From his new house, the gup counts what remains of the old Changzamtog.  There are only a few things – the cypress tree, which was the Guru’s walking staff, the Jashi Mem chorten, and the few buildings from the past. “It’s sad to see the changes, but they’re inevitable. Changes that benefits all are good,” says Dago, 72.

A retired soldier, who settled in Changzamtog about 20 years ago, is surprised at the pace of development. “I wouldn’t believe if I was told this will be Changzamtog when I first came here,” he says. “There were paddy fields all over.”

What is in a name?

Changzamtog has grown.  All the places that today fall in the Changzamtog area are known by different names, elders recall.  The small village made up of seven houses was Changzamtog.  The rest had different names.

The army sawmill area was known as Omkha.  The regional trade office area was Do Kabu, Changzamtog school area was Gaydha, Kuensel area was Phenkhi lekha, and the FCB area was known as Lumina, according to Dago.

Changzamtog was one of many villages with the name Chang.  Present day Kala Bazaar was Chang Ziri or Chang Gedaphu, the swimming pool area and below was Chang Gayney, Norizin lam was Chang Jhansa, and the area above the YDF youth hostel was called Chang Gumji.

By Ugyen Penjor

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