The mountains in Bhutan have a bit of character to them. Apart from their ever-greenery and great height, they have withstood and acquired over the years, reliance and a certain disposition. One cannot easily imagine the virus making an enormous effortless leap over the mountains to reach this remote part of Bhutan. The mountains in Lhuentse continue to stand tall, and the virus remains at bay. Norbu has lived in the village of Khoma for the last 30 years. Now 64, he lives with his children and runs a homestay guest house. Without a single international tourist in the country, many hotels and farmhouses across Bhutan have temporarily closed. However, the guest room in Norbu’s farmhouse tells a different story.
“It’s been an unusual year. Normally, flocks of tourists come to our village or pass through our village to trek to the Singye Dzong. Tourist vehicles and buses would be riddled all over our small village. They’d halt here in Khoma and then begin their 3-day trek to Singye Dzong. But this year, we have had no tourists. Having said that, I have been receiving Bhutanese guests in my house over the past couple of months. There is an overwhelming increase in local tourists and pilgrims,” said Norbu.
“Initially I was convinced the guest room in my house would remain empty this year, but I was wrong. International or local tourists, they are all guests at the end of the day,” continued Norbu.
Houses in Khoma have seen a number of visitors recently, mostly pilgrims. In the wake of the pandemic, the domestic tourism sector in Bhutan has been on a steady rise. Perhaps an untapped market prior to 2020, this collective response and effort to promote domestic tourism has progressed and has been received quite well. A recent culinary training was conducted by Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) to provide traditional culinary skills to homestay and restaurant owners in Khoma. The training included preparing and cooking Bhutanese cuisines, chopping vegetables, presenting food and a crash-course in Driglam-namzha– proper etiquette and code of conduct.
“Such trainings don’t come often to our village. We were provided and equipped with all the cooking items during the training at no cost, all we had to do was register. Our country is giving us every opportunity in these difficult times, it is just a matter of whether we take it or not. We learned how to cook at least eight authentic Bhutanese dishes each day. As a homestay owner and having to prepare good food for guests, it helped us cook better meals, with more variety and taste,” said Norbu.
“I immediately decided to register for the training as soon as we were informed. Some still talk about how it is a woman’s role when it comes to the kitchen. But here in Khoma, we help each other, it is important that we support each other in every way we can,” added Norbu.
For the time being, the usual multi-coloured atmosphere in Khoma has somewhat been replaced by a foreign drift in the air. Khoma is silent these days, the sound of weaving is barely heard. The weaving of the famous Kishuthara, a kira design Khoma is well known for, has drastically reduced. Owing to the lack of resources which used to be purchased from the border markets in India, weavers in Khoma find other means to get by, farming and homestays being the top on the list.
“This virus has taken away our raw materials and textiles. At this time of the year, normally we would travel to the west to sell our finished textiles and products. Now even travelling is not so easy or safe. We grow more varieties of vegetables these days. At such a time, we must not count on others, travelling and transportation as it is, is a challenge. We must trust ourselves, this is the time to become self-reliant,” said Norbu.
Norbu often finds himself looking towards the mountains in the west with a rosary in his left hand, and perhaps hoping for the next batch of pilgrims. The mountains in Lhuentse represent a sense of faith, and many residents of Khoma rely on it.
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