- Ethnic Groups & People
||Onward ho ! Ugyen Tenzin and Norbu arrive at Dodena (start point of the
trail) from Thimphu
first glance 50 year old Lingzhip Ugyen Tenzin looks like any other man
from the mountains - ruddy-cheeked, craggy and weather-beaten. He is not
generously built though and appears rather frail. But he has a bustling
energy about him that belies his years and frugal frame. And he certainly
treads on a mean pair of legs. The man with the dual job - yak herder and
Bhutan Post mailman - has been walking between Thimphu and Lingzhi for the last 27 years.
it shines, rains, or snows, he is dutifully on the road for at least 96
days in a year, about 2,600 days so far and still clocking. He makes the
trip between the general post office in Thimphu and the community mail
office in Lingzhi dungkhag once a month, and some times more, ferrying
letters, official documents, newspapers, and small parcels or packages.
It takes him eight days of trekking, both ways, over narrow rock-strewn
mountain trails - slushy and tricky in summer and slippery and hostile
a mail bag, a horse ... and some rum
winter, on his way back to Lingzhi, he was caught up in a blizzard. He
thought the blizzard would wane in a couple of days and camped in a small
roadside cave. But it went on for almost nine days. And he was carrying
food to last for only four days. He had to cut down to a meal in two days.
"A few more days of the blizzard and I would have died of cold and hunger,"
had yet another close shave. During a foul monsoon he was attempting to
cross the Thim Chhu, which crisscrosses the trail to Lingzhi more than
a dozen times, over a make-shift log bridge.
lost foothold and fell into the river. The river, raging with dare-devil
ferocity, swallowed him up. "I thought that was it for me," recollects
Ugyen with a bewildered smile. "I thrashed about with one hand for something
to hold on and clutched the mail bag with the other. Even if I was going
to die I wanted to do so holding the mail bag." After being swept away
for some 200 metres downstream, he managed to latch on to the branch of
a tree and hoist himself out of the jaws of death.
to these are the other potential dangers of the wild. He often comes across
fresh tiger paw-prints although he has never met one until now. "But bears
plenty," he says with a deadpan nonchalance. "Brown, black, big and small
- all kinds." Once, at a sharp bend, he found himself face to face with
a huge menacing looking one. "Both of us stopped dead in our tracks," he
recalls. "He seemed as surprised to see me as I was to see him. He sized
me up for a moment and must have sensed I was harmless because he walked
away into the thickets above the road."
these occupational hazards that often dangle his life to the razor's edge,
Ugyen is not complaining about his job. In fact he is charged up about
it. "For me it is not about carrying letters or delivering packages," he
says with some emphasis. "It is about doing something for my community,
about trust, about bearing good news for others." He says the biggest perk
of his job is to see people greeting him with eager smiles and joy, especially
upon his return from Thimphu. "Sometimes they are so happy to see me they
treat me to grand meals."
course the other good thing is I get paid handsomely," he says and adds,
with noticeable pride, that he receives Nu 5,200 a month. A princely amount
compared to the Nu 217 he got when he reluctantly took the job in January
1976. Asked for how long he intends to carry on being a death-defying mailman,
he has a readymade reply: "As long as there is breath in my chest and spring
in my footstep."
|| Modern Bhutanese stamp
as well because Bhutan Post is happy with the services of its intrepid
mailman. "Not a single letter or package misplaced or lost in all these
years," says his boss, Chief Postmaster Sonam Tshering of Thimphu general
post office. "He is very responsible and reliable." Ugyen himself is a
happy and satisfied man too. "An illiterate man like me couldn't have asked
for a better life," the father of five says. Besides the salary his heard
of 50 yaks also brings his family a substantial income through chhugo (hardened
cheese) and butter.
this trip Ugyen is in a particularly garrulous mood which, to some extent,
seems to have been inspired by the rattling bottles of rum tucked in his
bag. Like most men from the highlands, Ugyen is fond of chhang and possesses
a rather vigorous appetite for it. For his four day trek back home, he
is carrying four bottles of his favorite liquid, the AWP's Royal XXX rum.
"I normally finish only one and a half but one needs more of this stuff
around this time of year to beat the cold," he says with a disarming missing-tooth
this earthy piece of philosophy he takes to the ancient trail from the
base of Chari monastery with his pet horse and trusted companion for the
last nine years, Norbu, in a plume of dust singing a merry song.
by Tshering Gyeltshen, KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper
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