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I am good here. Its interesting living here, though conditions here are very basic and Spartan. Our school is located at a village called Menjiwoong or Menjwoong or Minjiwoong (‘a land of medicines’ in Dzongkha) under Serthi gewog (Hindi: Panch) in Jomotsangkha Dungkhag in Samdrup Jongkhar district of Eastern Bhutan. It’s almost a tiring 9 hrs walk from the border town of Jomotsangkha (Old Name: Diafam), through dense forests and precariously positioned cliffs and ridges that make your heart run fast. It’s an adrenaline rush to see yourself perched on the edge of a cliff and hundreds of feet below running the fast flowing Jomo Chhu or Dhansiri Chhu that goes and joins the Brahmaputra in Assam.
Ours is a Lower Secondary School (LSS) that started way back in the year 1989, the second oldest school in the district. Hence, it has got a very good infrastructure (only drawback is there is no electricity) and a nice sprawling, well-maintained green campus with separate hostels for boys and girls. It was upgraded from Primary to LSS in the year 2001. The whole school, however, is connected with solar supply, good way to use green power. At night, we are back at the mercy of kerosene-powered lanterns.
Life is slow and peaceful here. Democracy started in the year 2008 and all the ministers of the country are extremely devoted to make His Majesty the 4th King of Bhutan’s vision of Gross National Happiness (GNH) as the country’s motto for getting along the modern paced world in the twenty-first century. The 4th King’s son, the present king and the 5th King of Bhutan, H.M. Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, a very learned man from Oxford, is doing just what the doctor ordered, that is, making his father’s dream of a prosperous Bhutan transform into reality by the end of 2020.
People in Bhutan seem to have lots of time on ready disposal and they are very different from people in other parts of the world. They have kept their human values intact inspite of gradual degradation and erosion of human values. People here think that like us wild animals also have the same right to stay alive sharing the same land that the people here stay in. They do not kill or take other animal’s life and they believe and it’s a Buddhist virtue that taking one’s life is the sin of the highest order.
Minjiwoong is situated on a table top valley dotted by mountains from the Black Mountain Ranges on almost all sides. From Diafam, one needs to cross four villages, namely, Upper Diafam (Royal Bhutan Army Base Camp), Jampani, Gelonghar, Tokaphu and Fokchuri before reaching Minjiwoong. From Fokchuri there is a final ascent that takes you from a height of 2000mts to 2500mts, a dramatical rise that will leave you with a breathtaking view of the hamlet once you reach up. This particular part of the world is very much different from the usual tourist hotspots like Thimphu, Paro, Phuentsholing, Wangdue, Bumthang, Trashigang, Haa, and Gaza. Here you find three worlds meeting together and at the confluence there is an amazing diversity of wildlife, flora and fauna that is truly endemic to this region. The fauna, rare and believed-to-be-extinct amphibians like the Flying frog, reptiles like the great boa (the same like the Anacondas of South America) and flying lizards, avian species of hornbills and raptors, quite a few unidentified lepidopterans (butterflies) that are found only in this part of the world are quite unique. Again as you walk past the dense forests, you will notice some fauna resemblance with those of the Cretascean and Jurassic periods.
These inhabitants of the jungles will lead you to a Mogli experience that one is very lucky to experience in his/ her lifetime. You learn how to adapt to the environment where you are, how to lead life after coming from an IT rich experience in one of the leading cosmopolitans of the world (talking of my early education in Bangalore and my early part of my career in the same city) to one of the remotest areas on earth, how to adjust with the meager resources at your disposal, what things to eat to stay alive, to drink from the purest sources of water (mountain springs) and above all to learn to respect the flora and fauna around you and take them as your fellow beings – a philosophy I learned after my association with The Land of the Peaceful Dragon dominated with Buddhism running through her veins; unfortunate enough to be unaware of this great practice of mankind all through my life until this point though I originally hail from the Land of Lord Buddha. Through my countless hours of conversation with the proprietor of Hotel Shambala at Samdrup Jongkhar town and sipping at the tangy “lassi” that the hotel serves (a sweet thick mixture of curd and water generally drank after a meal to enable your digestion process), I was able to realize the latent Buddha in me. To tell you the truth now I have started to experiment with the thoughts of Buddha’s enlightment and the way of life defined with The Dalai Lama and some of the other great teachers of Buddhism. A brief period of experiment with the ciggarate also strangely ended for me after attending the ceremonial accession of the 4th Sermon of Lord Buddha that was celebrated at the Royal Bhutan Army Camp Lakhang (a Buddhist monastery) at upper Diafam one day in the month of June. Slowly the idea of a full elightment will come into thy where I will learn the real virtue of being alive.
The nine hours walk from Diafam to my school at Minjiwoong is one to remember in a lifetime that takes you through the heart of Bhutan’s sub-tropical forests. And if you are walking alone, the Jomo Chhu will give you a constant company all throughout your walk. This runs down straight from the head of Trashi Yangtsee district of Bhutan to the Brahmaputra in the south. The mountain road that we use to walk and travel is just only about 90cm. in width and at some places is just enough to let two horses walk through. Locals use horses and ponnies to carry loads from the plains of Assam to the interior maountain villages like ours (Minjiwoong), Monmola, Zamthari, Zangthri, Dungmanma, Serthi, and Shinga-Louri. You can take pride because the road that you are walking on has been used throughout the ages since the time of 1400’s dating back to the ancient Silk Route to China.
I feel at awe whenever I take to this road and think of the hardships that used to adorn the travelers those days.