Tuesday, February 25, 2014

An expedition to Merak and Sakten

Sometimes you look back in life and realize that that one choice was one of the best things that ever happened to you. 

During my sophomore year in college, we took this expedition for 16 days to the then virgin nomadic community of Brokpas in Merak and Sakteng. 

The Brokpas are a very important and celebrated tribe of Tibetan stock in Bhutan, one of the most spectacular semi nomadic people, a very mysterious and elusive people billed as primitive, unchanged, isolated and remote. 

The Brokpas in their beautiful attire

April 28, 2007: A class of 24 students with their Lecturer/course In-charge Mr. Jigme Nidup left for the expedition to break fresh ground pertaining to the studies on Brokpas as a partial fulfillment of the paper VIII course.(Guys what was the name of the paper VIII course? :P, sorry Jigme sir).

Clad in sunscreen looking like white monkeys with sun cap, umbrella, backpack and our supplies for 16 days, we started from the nearest road point, Phongmey in Trashigang and walked for 5 hours and reached Joenkhar, the nearest village from the road. 

After a night there, starting early morning the next day, we crossed numerous suspension bridges, climbed the cliffs, and crossed the valleys sometimes crawling literarily, cried and reached the most spectacularly beautiful place Sakteng after 8 tedious hours. 
Merak Settlement
Class of 2008 with Jigme Sir

At Nyakchungla, 4140 meters. From left : I, Kunga & Tshomo
With a clustered settlement, all surrounded by beautiful valleys among the Juniper and Rhododendron shrubs and a quaint river flowing between the valleys, it reminds one of an old scene from the medieval English settlement in a movie.

Merak and Sakteng ranges from an elevation of 2,500 meters to 5,000 meters amidst the sublime starkness of alpine grandeur. The Brokpas are known to tend their herds in pastures as high up as 5,000 meters during the summer months, moving to lower regions for part of the winter when a frigid reign is ushered in, accompanied by freezing temperatures, snow and ice and bone chilling wind. 

Polygamy and barter system is part of everyday life here in the mountains. When one wife stays at home and weaves, the other goes herding. 
The men conduct a brisk trade of bartering their milk and woolen products against essential commodities. Interestingly, when the whole country was suffering from Rupee crisis, these breed of people were not affected. 

After living in the tents for a week, interacting with the locals, working on the data collection with them and merrymaking in the evenings, we had to descend towards Merak, climbing Nyakchungla at 4140 meters. It took us approximately 8 and half hours to reach Merak. 
The study being socioeconomic in nature, we could get deeper insight into the lifestyle of the Brokpa community through different demographic attributes. 

Today, things are changing for these nomads. They’ve been connected with cellular phones, roads and electricity and students from this community are participating in mainstream development. 

My heart swells with pride whenever I see or hear or read about them on televisions, radios and papers respectively. 
I always seem to brag about this expedition we took. 
There’s so much to write about it. I just don’t know where to start and how to end it. It has definitely been one of the most interesting and memorable experience of my life and I’m grateful to my friends of Geography Honors, Batch 2008 and the most interesting and kind soul, our Jigme Sir for this beautiful memory.  

When I look back now, I'm super glad I went through this trip.

P.S: I had been meaning to write this post for the longest time, finally it saw the daylight today. Dates and facts have been extracted from our field survey report, Geographers, how many of you still have those reports? Also some particulars are from the excerpts of my journal which I carried with me during that expedition. I hope this refreshes your memory. When I look back, I miss those days tremendously. 

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  1. It sounds like an awesome experience! The polygamy culture is quite interesting... In my country we also have similar isolated community, and they still hold on to their traditional beliefs -- for example they still don't take public transportation, wear black clothes, etc.

    1. Yes it indeed was an awesome experience.

      Even in Indonesia you have such community who still do not take public transportation and black clothes? Intriguing.
      But these are the people we are proud of and the government of Bhutan is quite reserved on preserving them since we believe on preservation of our culture so much.

  2. Looks like this was an amazing experience! I love experience different cultures and getting insight into the world outside of our own reality. Thanks for sharing!

    1. It was an amazing experience.
      It's my pleasure to share this on the blog :).

      Thank you for dropping by.

  3. i never thought that you would captured all the moments you had in Marek and Sakteng. Anyways, i enjoyed detailing all the stories. Keep posting...trashi delek..


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