We moved stealthily into a small town built of woods, roofed with black slates and planks. This town was encircled by a small collection of farms and scattered houses occupying a lush valley. Lakhangs and dratshangs were perched on the mountain cliffs which beautify spiritual valley and the serene town. Only a few buildings were concrete. Evening, I called it, as the Sun sat atop mountain in the west. It was March 9, 2001.
Unbearable cold outside and snow clad grounds and house roofs held me inside the car. Frozen to numbness, I was lost in a sheer oblivion and amazement until my uncle shouted at me, “Hello! We reached Chamkhar town, Bumthang! Come out for tea and momo before I drop you at your hostel.” Tomorrow, then, March 10, was I to admit at Jakar HSS.
First time, in my life, I traveled all the way from hot Gelephu to cold Bumthang as a school placement. Thus, first time in my life was I seeing the wonderful snow fall and had experienced the minus temperature.
I moved out of the car lazily and went to a restaurant to have tea and momo with my uncle. A hard wood hit on my forehead from the top of the entrance door as I was entering the restaurant. A blessing! I looked up in a bursting anger. I found it that hit my forehead, a wooden crafted phallus hanging atop the restaurant’s entrance door.
Embarrassment slugged me. However, to avoid my inevitable blush, I turned back and looked around the town but shocked to death, again, to have found that thing everywhere-every shop and building at the town has wooden phallus dangling from its entrance door top-some painted red, some brown varying in sizes.
Even more shocking was that extremely big dicks were furtively painted on the walls of each house. I only read about the significance of the phallus and Lam Drukpa Kuenley, the ‘Divine Madman’ in the Bhutan history text books but seriously I have never seen these things in my life. Mind you, not a single house was then in Gelephu had such things.
The restaurant cozy and bhukari heated, was ran by a Tibetan family. My uncle handed me Nu 5 note and asked me to buy doma from the shop. I went to a shop and asked for the doma of Nu 5. The shopkeeper told me, “We don’t sell doma for Nu 5. You can take this packet of Nu 10 doma.” But my uncle gave me only Nu 5 and I thought I would try another shop. I asked the next shop only to receive the same reply. After trying the fifth shop I realized that no shop at Chamkhar town sells doma for below Nu 10.
My uncle dropped me at the school hostel, then.
October 26, 2011 at 1:45 am, two days ago: The Chamkhar town was razed down to ashes by a dreadful fire. More than 66 houses and shops were burned down. The disaster killed two people and left 266 inhabitants homeless.
During four years of my school education at Jakar HSS, the Chamkhar town became very familiar to me; I knew each and every shop and the shopkeeper.
Every weekend or sometimes right after the class, I used to flee to the town with my bunch of troublesome yet can’t-do-without friends despite repeated beatings from the hostel warden and have written several statement letters to the principal. As usual, it was to drink alcohols or play snookers.
Another funny reason we used to frequent the town was that one of my friends, the best looking among us, had a girlfriend at the market. She has a shop at Chamkhar town. Real intention of this love story-was for materialistic gain only. It was not him who wrote the chit to this shopkeeper girl, but we “proxy” his name and sent the epistle without his knowledge. Immediately, she accepted it. Since then she became our “sponsor”, who had fed us with pocket money, foods and sometimes garments too.
But a bad luck has been awaiting for us, sooner. A dratshang monk has also been trying on her for the past several years. When we were drinking at a hotel bar of Sonam Hotel, we encountered this monk who was drunk too. He was with his five other monk friends. We had a dreadful fight. We were beaten mercilessly and thrown out bruised and hurt. At Chamkhar town, you know, monks are very much feared gang fighters and they are also snooker “champs”.
Later on I made friends with many boys and girls from this town. Some, still, I have good contacts. After the disastrous night of October 26, I phoned them and found them down and in grief. Some of them are planning to discontinue their studies from abroad after hearing the bad news.
There was a divorcee woman from Samtse who ran a small pan shop in the middle of the Chamkhar town. When I was preparing for the Civil Service exam last year, I used to visit her shop to buy newspapers and packet of doma for my sister. She used to tell me that she came all the way from Samtse, the poorest dzongkhag, to earn little here and give her three children good education.
Now I look at the wretched pictures of Chamkar town, rubble, the only remaining of the town disheartens me. Though the town was razed down to ashes, I still have the rich memories of the otherwise lively town. I still recall the moment vividly when I was hit with a hard phallus at the restaurant’s entrance door, the shop of our “sponsor” girl, and the divorcee selling doma and newspapers. The same Sonam Hotel where we fought with the drunken monks was the hotel where a man traveling from Thimphu to Trashigang was burnt to death. Alas! They all went into ashes.