The most remote village I have ever been to: (drum roll) – Thudam.
I was on the Lumba Sumba pass camping trek in the Kanchenjunga region this month. On the nineth day from Fungling, we crossed the Lumba Sumba pass and after a long and exhausting descent, we reached our campsite at Thudam. The village comprises of about twenty five houses nestled by the banks of the Modek Chheju river. The first things I noticed were a bunch of kids running around and fresh planks of wood resting on the porch of every house.
After settling in, I went to the house that was right above the campground. A few of our camping members were already enjoying a round of ‘Tongba’ with the villagers. I joined in and immediately sensed that the locals did not feel comfortable with us being around. Maybe it’s because they’re not used to mingling with foreigners, I thought. I was served Tongba in a plastic mug and a side of ‘not so clean’ hot water. It tasted alright.
The locals kept talking among themselves. To break the ice, I asked if there was a school in the village. The house owner nonchalantly replied that there was no school and the kids spent their days looking after the yaks. One of the villagers told me that the Government had actually constructed a “school” but it has never been operational. The nearest school is a couple days walk away with no boarding facilities. Almost everyone in the village have never been to school! Can you imagine that? Those kids playing outside were destined to become Yak herders. I wondered how many other villages are in the same situation as Thudam.
A woman came by asking for some medication. It was for her daughter who had a cough and a slight fever. She informed us that there was no health center or a health professional in the village. It was tempting to give a few pills to the little girl to make her feel better but we knew that wasn’t the right thing to do. Our guide had a hard time explaining why that was the case to the woman who really didn’t seem to care about the explanations. We finally convinced her that she should stick to home remedies rather than rely on drugs that’s not readily available in Thudam. We also advised that if the cough got worse, she needed to take her daughter to the nearest health post. She murmured, “the nearest health post is a couple days hike”, and walked away. I have never felt that helpless in my life. What do you really do in a situation like that? Turn a blind eye, and drink your Tongba? Well, I did just that.
I was fighting this urge to ask about their source of income. I was afraid I would offend them. Just then, one of the porters blurted “what’s up with all the planks of wood outside?”. I literally wanted to jump up and thank him for asking that question. The villagers said that they exchange the planks for basic commodities at the China border which is only a day’s hike with a yak caravan. I asked if there were other sources of income. There wasn’t! Selling wood is their only source of income! That provided an explanation for all the deforestation and landslides along the trail. I couldn’t put a straight face and tell them what they were doing was not sustainable. I probably would’ve done the same if I were put in their situation.
How do you feel about a community with no educational institution, no health care facility, and no employment opportunities? For me, it was a life changing experience. But, no matter how bad it may seem, life goes on in Thudam. And unless the responsible authorities do something about it, it mighty not last for long. As for the rest of us, we can sit in the comfort of our homes, surrounded by all the modern gadgets, and whine about the things we can’t have…