Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Lhuentse’s Little Leap Forward

27 May, 2008 - The face of Lhuentse town is up for a major overhaul.

Replacing the cluster of small shacks, built of planks and tin sheets, which has made up the district’s urban centre for decades, will be permanent structures, an internal road network, proper drainage, adequate water supply and street lighting.

At least, that is what residents are hoping for.

As in other parts of the country the few people, who set up shop more than three decades ago, settled near the dzong, the centre of all activity and authority in the district. They transported goods on horses from other eastern districts to do business.

But as other district centres grew into small towns, Lhuentse remained as it was.

Several sites for a township were suggested in the past but disputes among residents, lack of cooperation between shopkeepers and the dzongkhag authority, and superstitions never allowed anything to take off.

A place that everyone agreed on was finally identified at Phaling, near the present cluster of shops, and site development work was carried out during the 2004-05 fiscal year with World Bank funds. District engineer Tshering Chophel told Kuensel that about 24 plots were allotted to shop keepers. “Now it is up to them to start constructing. They have to do it within two years otherwise the plot will be auctioned to others,” he said.

Plot owners had waited for the lona to be over. In recent months the dzongkhag, through the works and human settlement ministry, has also approved drawings of houses to be built.

Town tshogpa, Kinzang, told Kuensel that only about four plot owners had adequate resources to start construction. The rest had to seek all possible means of support.

“Lhuentse is a remote town and most of us survive from hand to mouth,” he said. “Our business is very small and we hardly have any major income. It would be difficult for us financially.”

The 31 shops in town, including the 24 plot owners, cater to customers from the three gewogs of Kurtoe, Gangzur, and Khoma. But their most favoured customers are civil servants. While most shops are bars and general shops, the average income in a day is about Nu 300.

Plots were allotted on seniority basis and the rest were permitted to stay where they were until a new site was developed.

Kinzang said plot owners had put up a joint request for timber kidu to His Majesty the King and were waiting for a response. “Stone and timber are our main worries as they cost us a lot. Just for stone alone, it would cost us over Nu 300,000,” he said. He said that those who had money have begun to bring in raw material but most were waiting for kidu.

The construction of a two storey traditional house in Lhuntse is estimated to cost about Nu 2 million.

Meanwhile, many are of the opinion that the new town would bring more organized growth to the place. “Even if the place doesn’t grow in terms of business, there will be income for us through house rents and other activities,” said Samdrup, a bar owner.

According to sources, except for shopkeepers in the current Lhuentse town, hardly any private people would be interested to make investments in Lhuentse.

Most are optimistic that there would be an increase in civil servants, who would subsequently rent their houses. “At present, there are civil servants staying in makeshift houses costing them not more than Nu 1,000 but, when we provide them with a good flat, they should be willing to pay a reasonable rent,” said Chedon, 54.

The 30 unit buildings constructed under national housing development corporation (NHDC) had helped, but many civil servants still live in temporary huts owing to housing shortage.

The new town is expected to reduce flood and fire risks with proper drainage and a planned fire control system. In a recent incident, four shops were flooded with mud and boulders brought down by a heavy shower. The fuel station situated near the lower market line posed a fire threat to the wooden huts.

Meanwhile, dzongda Tshering Kelzang told Kuensel that every possible way was being looked into to improve the place. “We agree that the place is a bit backward in terms of town development but everyone in the past had tried their best,” he said. “The place itself is very remote.”

The dzongkhag was currently studying the feasibility of eco tourism in order to boost the local economy. “The place has great potential for eco tourism with a treasure trove of important religious sites, hot springs, and tourist attraction sites in Khoma and Dungkar,” he said, adding that possibilities of opening trekking routes to Trashiyangtse via Menji were being looked into.


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