You ask a friend of yours. And the question is, “How many dzongkhags have you visited?”
He or she says, “All the dzongkhags, except Lhuentse, Gasa and …and Samtse.”
Not many Bhutanese have travelled to this low-lying land, hot and humid in the summer and pleasant and dry in the winter. It’s because of its geographical location. An area of approximately 1309.1 square kilometers and located at the extreme southwestern foothill of Bhutan, people hardly have to travel to this isolated dzongkhag.
In the last two years, I’ve visited Samtse several times. And I must tell you that I’m in love with this humble place. I’ve found this sparsely populated place simply humble, kind, and enchanting. It’s considered as a poor, remote, and backward dzongkhag. Yet, to me, Samtse is absolutely vibrant, rich, and affectionate. It’s the land of different cultures and different ethnic groups such as Lhotshampas, Doyap, Adibashi, and Drukpas, and different languages.
What fascinates me the most is its history of Dewan and Kazi (Landlords) and Mandals, and how they used to rule the place. In actuality, it’s the land of diversity.
Now Samtse is growing – bigger, larger, and richer. The Samtse town, otherwise a shanty and deserted throm, is now getting a new facelift. Today many new concrete buildings are being constructed, as more and more businessmen see some possible prospects. There’s already a new shopping complex and some good hotels and restaurants.
The Samtse College of Education and other schools in the dzongkhag have undergone a major uplift . The dzongkhag has got its own economic real estate at Dam Dum and a hydropower substation. And I’ve seen all this growth within the last two years.
Finally, Samtse could dispel itself from its curse of being “poor, remote, and backward.” Education and income level of its people is improving annually, as mobility of its people is more and the people are working harder and growing cash crops.
I have visited many pockets of this dzongkhag.
Diana Bridge is undoubtedly the longest motorable bridge in the country spanning over the Diana River between the Samtse town and Chengmari. A pleasant site to visit and you can also walk across it.
Samtse offers you with splendid sunsets in the evening. It’s always awe-inspiring to sit and watch the sun turning into a marmalade glow, pink and ember, and then slowing disappearing behind the infinite landscape. In fact, it’s my favourite thing to do in Samtse.
Mr. Binod, a young man, runs a good bakery at Chengmari in Samtse. He told me that he got training in baking from Thimphu and after that he opened the shop at his own hometown. I liked his cakes and cookies so much. They are delicious.
The Shivalya Mandir was rebuilt upon the command of His Majesty the King as a gift to the people of Samtse to commemorate the Royal Wedding and the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. It is such a beautiful religious site, as the mandir houses one of the finest and expensive statues of Lord Shiva imported from Rajasthan.
Samtse is also home to about 2,500 Lhops (Doya). They are a little-studied ethnic group that resides at Lotokochu in Dorokha, about 50 km away from Samtse town. We believe them to be the aboriginals and they are known for their unique culture and tradition practices.
One sport that the people of Samtse love is volleyball. Whenever I visit the place, I always come across men of all ages playing the game and I noticed they are really good at it. So when I have time I always join them. It’s so much of fun.
There are a couple of rivers – Budhuney and Diana – I’ve discovered that we can go throw ourselves to beat the monsoon heat. With an average temperature of 26.6 °C, the people definitely have to find a place for swimming.
By Riku Dhan Subba
The writer is a blogger, social worker and currently works in the MoIC