While tourists from all over the world visit Bhutan for cultural, environmental and other reasons, an old suspension bridge is the magnet that attract Indian tourists from the states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh to Jomotshangkha in Samdrup Jongkhar.
Popularly known as Bhairab Kunda, because of a lake at the edge of the rock where a Hindu Shiva Mandir temple stands today, tourists throng Jomotsangkha especially on the new year and other festive occasions. However, the lake has become history.
The only Indian shopkeeper in the dungkhag, Din Dhayal said Indian’s seeing a suspension bridge is something like Bhutanese seeing an ocean. “Bhutanese will not get excited seeing a suspension bridge, but the Indians will be as they see it only in the movies like the Bhutanese see oceans,” he said, adding that suspensions bridges, especially old ones are “rare” in India.
A grandmother, Dawa, who cannot communicate with the tourists says she just points her fingers showing the direction to the bridge. “I do not speak or understand English or Hindi. But the moment they (tourists) come near me I know they are asking me the direction to the suspension bridge,” she said, adding she has been doing the same for several years.
Meanwhile, former Chimi Yonten Thinley said Jomotsangkha can attract tourists. “People can sell handicrafts.” However, he underlined that without development the scope of tourism is limited. “People come and leave, and there are some who visit the place every year. They say nothing has changed and this disheartens us,” he added.
According to him, tourists need not be “chilips.” “The visit by Indian tourists will help people generate more income.”
A 69-year-old local resident, Pasupati Nepal said the community tried to rebuild the lake at the edge of the rock where the Shiva Mandir temple stands today. Donations were collected. “We could get only Nu 10,000 and so budgetary constrains impeded our work,” he said.
However, under government funding construction of a boundary wall around the Shiva Mandir is ongoing. But the people are seeking government aid to “reproduce Bhairab Kunda.”
Residents of Jomotshangkha reminisce the past where people used to camp in the area for weeks and even months. Though there are people visiting the place, the number has shrunk. However, people are optimistic that with a little help from the government the past can be revived.
According to Pasupati Nepal, the name and fame of Bhairab Kunda is reflected in the fact that most of the people living en-route to Jomotsangkha, previously called Daifam will not be able to give directions. “You have to ask for Bhairab Kunda and everyone will know,” he said, adding that things are now changing.
Jomotshangkha dungkhag is 179 kilometres from Samdrup Jongkhar town.