How Wechat Is Gradually Changing Lives In The Remote Yak Herding Village Of Soe In Bhutan

Email

Far removed from the towns characterised by concrete cubicles, Soe is among the last villages yet to catch up with a modernising country.

(Source: Panoramic Journey)

 

By Needrup Zangpo | Bhutan Media Foundation 

On a clear morning, the sharp tip of Mount Jichu Drakay resembles a crystal dagger piercing the sky while the ancient ruins of Jangothang Dzong (Monastery) look dark and crumbling against the shiny face of the rugged Mount Jomolhari.

An imposing rocky structure rising sharply from the banks of the Pachu River is the citadel of Ap Chundu, the guardian deity of Haa.

Down in the valley bestrewn with colourful flowers, the Pachu is a noisy band of silver stretching across the length of the valley. At a cursory glance, nothing seems to stir amongst these giant monuments of nature. 

But by the Pachu lies the small, ancient hamlets of Soe which are populated by a group of sturdy nomadic people.

 

Dangojang hamlet in Soe, Bhutan.

Photo: Kuensel

 

It is also home to Ap Chonyi Dorji, the composer and singer of many celebrated songs in Bhutan - one of which is a haunting song dedicated to a handsome yak that was identified for slaughter. This particular song touches a special chord to the folks living in the mountains of Soe.

About Soe, untouched by modernisation before but things are changing now

Far removed from the towns characterised by concrete cubicles and noisy arguments, Soe is among the last villages yet to catch up with a modernising country.   

Two days’ of hard trek from Shana in the district of Paro, Soe is among the villages farthest from a roadhead. It is home to just 200 people living in 28 households, and is the smallest gewog (village) in Bhutan.

 

Map: Druk Asia

 

For a long time, Soe had no access to television, radio, and newspapers. In fact, most people have not even seen any form of traditional media. Village leaders and horsemen who occasionally travel to Paro and Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan, bring home some news from the rest of the country.  

Yet, things are changing, albeit slowly. Electricity reached the gewog in 2016 and just three months ago, Soe was connected to B-Mobile’s 3G network. TashiCell is transporting cellular equipment to Soe for installation while some of the 14 rickety log bridges between Shana and Soe have been replaced by Bailey bridges.

Every year in October, Soe attracts around 400 people, including some 60 government officials to its Mountain Festival which has been running for six years.

 

Source: Youtube/SluggerKostya

 

Bhutan’s most popular trekking routes – the Snowman Trek, Laya-Lingzhi Trek, Jomolhari Trek, and Soe-Yaksa Trek, also pass through the gewog. 

Among the new developments in Soe, the 3G cellular service is the one which has caught the imagination of the villagers the most. In fact, most of them are already using WeChat, touching base and forming groups to discuss community issues.

43-year-old Gup (Head of the gewog) Kencho Dorji, who has been Soe’s Gup for 20 years said that WeChat has brought the community together. For example, the yak herders use the voice messaging app to bring missing yaks home collaboratively.

As for 32-year-old Wangmo from Dangojang hamlet, WeChat has definitely made yak herding much easier. The whole community of herders is now on WeChat, sharing real time information on the whereabouts of the gewog’s 1,461 yaks. 

School Among Snow Leopards – the only school in Soe

Perhaps the most endearing feature of Soe’s changing landscape is its only school, aptly named ‘School Among Snow Leopards’. The region of Soe is home to eight elusive snow leopards and many other endangered animals such as the tiger, musk deer, takin, Asiatic wild dog, Asiatic black bear, and sambar.

 

Photo: Kuensel

 

Established in 2009 by the Bhutan Foundation, the school which some people call the ‘cutest’ school, has eight students - six girls and two boys studying in classes ranging from PP to IV. Getting to school is a challenge and for six-year-old Tandin Lham, one of the two class PP children, who walks two hours between home and school every day.

Along with two teachers, Principal Tshering Dorji, 38, an affectionate figure to the children, volunteered to teach at the school three years ago. He also earned the nickname ‘Bear Grylls’ of Soe for his dogged endurance to swim in a glacial lake at an altitude of 4,300 metres at least once every weekend.

Due to its humble size, the school mostly goes unnoticed to most visiting officials but gewog officials more than make up for this with the attention they shower on the children.

For instance, Gewog Administrative Officer Galay Phuntsho, 48, a jovial man with a receding hairline, regularly goes to the school to exchange high fives and high tens with the children. His friendly gestures kept them feeling loved and uplifted. 

While the children of remote schools in Bhutan would typically want to become teachers, the only profession they can relate to, the students of tiny Soe have much loftier ambitions.  

 

Children from the 'School Among Snow Leopards' performed a dance for festival goers at the 2014 Jomolhari Mountain Festival.

Source: Youtube/Snow Leopard Conservancy

 

Four of the students at ‘School Among Snow Leopards’ want to become teachers, three of them doctors while the six-year-old classmate of Tandin Lham, Jigme Tenzin, wants to be a pilot because he has seen a helicopter land near his school. He wishes to fly beyond Soe as his grandfather thinks that it is better than beautiful Soe. 

Tackling waste issues in Soe

In recent years, Jigme has seen hundreds of tourists and their Bhutanese guides pass through his village. They brought with them horse-loads of foodstuff, including packaged food. These tourists came to appreciate the mountains but unfortunately, some unscrupulous ones left waste along the pristine trails.

Echoing the same view, Gup Kencho Dorji agreed that regulations against waste are unequivocal. However, tackling the waste issue remains a mounting challenge as more PET bottles and other plastic waste can be seen along these trails.

Now that the villagers have heard that the media can be a tool of empowerment, they hope that by using WeChat, it will not only bring home their missing yaks but also drive home the message against wanton waste disposal in their village.  

 

This article first appeared in Kuensel and has been edited for Daily Bhutan.

 


Related Posts

Austria-Bhutan Society Helps Build Schools In Remote Villages Of...

The ABS also provides scholarships, sports coaches and exchange of medical doctors.

Jun 10, 2019 19:38

How Radio Has Informed And Entertained The Remote District Of...

Since the KYD community radio went on air in 2016, it has brought about immense benefits to the remote community of...

May 14, 2019 20:28

UNICEF Set Up First Ever Early Childhood Care and Development...

UNICEF and Bhutan’s Education Ministry inaugurated the Early Childhood Care and Development Centre on April 10 this...

Apr 27, 2019 19:38

Students From Remote Lunana Learned Skills Such As Aikido,...

The winter camp included educational programs, arts and crafts, games and sports events.

Jan 20, 2019 07:44

Global Warming And Its Adverse Impact On Yak Herders In Bhutan

The study seeks to evaluate the vulnerabilities of yak herding in Bhutan due to climate change.

Apr 01, 2019 15:38

Yak Farming In Haa, Bhutan Is Becoming A Vanishing Trade

Once an important source of livelihood for the people in Uesu Gewog, yak farming has seen its popularity wane over the...

Nov 12, 2018 16:19

Latest

News

Canada Offers Scholarships For Students In Bhutan, Aims To Enhance Bilateral Ties

Through the programme starting in the 2020/2021 academic year, scholarship recipients will receive Nu 3,256,029 (about USD 45,600) a year to...

Sep 16, 2019 13:08

Delegation From Bhutan Attended UNCCD COP14 In India

Minister of Agriculture and Forests, Yeshey Penjor led a delegation to the high-level segment of the UNCCD COP14, which was held from...

Sep 12, 2019 23:58

Features

Reconstruction of Lingzhi Dzong – Built To Commemorate Bhutan’s Victory Over A Tibetan Invasion In 1668

To date, about Nu 13 million has been spent since preparatory works for the Lingzhi Dzong construction which began 15 months ago.

Sep 14, 2019 23:58

True Purpose of Rituals And Their Importance In Buddhism

Rituals are an indispensable way of life for a Bhutanese household and families are known to spend a fortune on them.

Sep 13, 2019 12:11

Sports

Bhutan’s Pelden Wangchuk Wins 10th Edition Of Tour 0f Dragon Mountain Bike Race

This year, the race also saw the highest number of female participants compared to past years.

Sep 10, 2019 01:08

Tour Of The Dragon – Toughest One Day Bike Race Starts On 7 September In Bhutan

It takes sheer toil and stamina for the top riders to complete the 268 km race which finishes at the capital, Thimphu.

Sep 06, 2019 23:58

Business

Sherza Ventures Limited Launched IPO, Aims To Establish Brand Bhutan Products Globally And More

Sherza Ventures Limited aims to be a hyper retail and wholesale trading venture using e-commerce.

Sep 09, 2019 10:58

iMerit Bhutan Launched, Hopes To Create Far-Reaching Socio-Economic Impact

iMerit strives to drive social and economic change by tapping into an under-resourced talent pool, thereby creating digital inclusion.

Sep 04, 2019 10:58

Travel

Plans In The Pipeline To Develop Trongsa For Tourism

“The people of Trongsa were very supportive of the tourism development concept for the locality.”

Sep 05, 2019 14:48

7 Facts You Never Knew About Flying Into Bhutan

Druk Asia interviewed Namgyal Wangchuk, Senior First Officer with Drukair to find out what it's like to fly into Paro International Airport.

Aug 07, 2019 23:18

Lifestyle

7 Vegetables You Must Try While Visiting Bhutan

Read Tashi Choden's blog on the vegetables to try if you ever visit Bhutan.

Aug 31, 2019 16:43

Many Lives, Many Stories - 10th Edition of Bhutan’s Mountain Echoes Literary Festival Underway

About 80 speakers and performers came from different parts of the world with different stories to narrate.

Aug 25, 2019 22:42

Subscribe to our newsletter

Never miss out on new happenings and news stories!