Thuenzang was knocked out of his deep slumber when the old man in his adjacent seat mumbled, “Lha Gyelo!” (Let the God Win). As he stretched his strained body and widened his eyelids, he realized that he reached Kyikyi La, meaning the Dog Pass.
The road thereafter winded and twisted amid the serene blue pine trees. The trees flung their placid swing to the tune of the gentle breeze and the hymn chirped by the birds fluttering about its lanky twigs.
As he shifted the gear of his neck from left to right and then back again in awe admiration, another beautiful scene loomed into his vision. The Chamkhar River meandered on its course towards the never ending voyage. It appeared reluctant a chap to start its journey, rather plagued by sadness to leave its beautiful valley.
To the right, the Kharchu Dratshang; the Celestial abode of the Namkhai Nyingpo bloomed and flourished with prayer flags knitted into a myriad of networks.
To the left, the magnificent Jakar Dzong; the epitome of all the administrative activities of the valley crested atop the hill overlooking the peaceful valley.
To the front, he gleaned a view of the Rudungla; a pass known for hiking and trekking. The pass lay posing with pride, showcasing the tinge of white snowy fleck at its summit and the exquisite conifers adorning it along its stretch.
At the bus terminus, he was lost in tracking down his memory lane the list of mesmerizing scenery encrypted therein. Never was he amazed by nature and natural scenery to such an extent.
When he realized, everyone has left. He shook his head slightly, regained his composure and entered the heart of Chamkhar town. He walked from hotel to hotel, only to get the same response every time, “Gom mathrel lopen”, meaning “Don’t mind sir”.
He lounged over a bench that lay in front of a shop. He stood there with his eyes fury as a flame, forehead constricted into a number of furrows and his body disheveled as a beggar.
Suddenly a man sat beside him after a careful and prolonged speculation of his stance. The man, whom he was introduced to as App Kencho, was considerate enough to take him to his home. It was a 15 minutes drive from the town.
Ap Kencho was residing in a single storied bungalow, neatly maintained and surrounded by a fresh organic garden.
As Ap Kencho summoned, a girl in her late teens, clad with thick woven kira, and a white scarf (usually worn by Bumthaps) bound loosely over her silky hair cascading its way over her shoulder, hurried towards the house. Her ankle-length kira stained with muddy clumps around its rim ushered him with a tacit understanding of her having been tooling around with her garden soil.
“Lemo (a pet name indicating deep affection), offer a cup of tea for our guest”. She waved a brisk node of consent and disappeared into the kitchen.
The very first glance of her sent his blood racing at an accelerated rate. His heart beat reached the zenith of its pace.
She returned with two cups of tea before he could even visualize how the minutes ticked by after seeing her. In another bowl, she brought ‘Zow Magey’, roasted rice blended with butter and sugar. The suja, salted buttered tea and the zow magey was a perfect blend for him. However, he was totally oblivious of the fact as to whether to attribute the savory taste to the real flavor or to the exhilarated state that he was in.
More than the innocent look on her face, which was a manifestation of her impeccable youthful beauty, her behavior and respect with which she embraced her father’s words or instructions dragged him intellectually closer.
The moment she walked out of the house, he couldn’t stop wandering his glance through the window for her presence around.
He saw her saunter gently amid the linear rows of lush leafy vegetable beds and speculate which one to pluck. She returned with her face adorned with a placid smile, holding a stainless steel bowl crammed with fresh vegetables.
As she caroled into the kitchen, she hummed a soothing tune; a tone that rendered him calm and relaxed. The whooshing sound of the pressure cooker and the sharp relishing odor that greeted his nose was indicative of something special being cooked.
In the mid of his consistent internal struggle as to whether to peep into the kitchen and say hi to her or would it lead to any undesirable consequence, someone halted at the doorstep. A tall man probably in his late twenties, masked with dark complexion aggravated by a firm patch of moustache stood at the door. As he bent to remove his knee-length gum boot clad with mud, Ap kencho exclaimed, “Get in faster Nado. It’s freezing outside”.
Nado stared at the stranger with an unflinching gaze as if to say ‘Who the hell are you here?’ He could feel a chilly tremor creeping along the length of his spine as Nado’s gaze became intensively woven with curiosity and suspicion.
His conclusion that Nado is none other than Lemo’s husband or would-be-husband plunged his heart into the deepest of agony. He felt his muscles twitch out of sheer insecurity and despair. He was numb for a moment.
Lemo wailed from the kitchen door, “Apa, the dinner is ready”. All of them orbited themselves around the bukhari( Iron structure with a hollow space to accommodate burning firewood used as heater). Lemo uncovered the lids of the mouth-watering dishes and served them.
He, being the guest in their house was the first to get Lemo’s warm serving. A plate full of red rice with sizzled pork and beef blended with long strands of dried chilli alighted in his hand. In another cup, she scooped a few ladles of Ema Datshi( green chilli blended with cheese and garlic) and a cupful of Daw( skimmed milk or the remaining extract after cheese is extracted out).
She spread two loafs of sweet buckwheat bread (locally called Khuley) in her father’s bangchung,a round-bottomed bowl made of bamboo shreds. The father chuckled to say, “I prefer this to rice”.
When everyone was engaged in gliding down what laid before them through their gullet, he managed to steal a brisk glance at her over the bukhari on the other side. He noted another important point that besides all, she was terribly an excellent cook.
After dinner, nothing much was left than to move to their respective beds. He was ushered into a room. A bed was arranged with the blankets neatly laid and coiled back into folds. Nado entered and started laying his bed beside him. No longer able to hide his curiosity, he inquired,”Aren’t you Lemo’s husband?”
“Yalama Lopon(Oh my God!, sir), I am just a worker here”.
Was he to believe this or not but the response he got brightened his face with unprecedented happiness.
Just then, the door hinges creaked as Lemo stepped inside.
“Lopen, zimchang zhey”, said Lemo with a timid grin. It was a tradition that many of the local people cling to where ara or locally brewed wine is offered before bed as zimchang for inducing sound sleep.
Though drinking was completely out of the list of his habits, a kind offer made by the girl he was irresistibly drawn to was simply undeniable. He gulped it down and accepted yet another cup. He could feel the liquor seeping down, its effect radiating to every part of his body.
Nado was laughing incessantly at him. All he could perceive was Nado’s palm tapping on his shoulder and a blurred motion of his lips in intermittent giggling and mumbling.
“Please take me to Lemo’s room. I won’t be able to sleep if I miss the chance of talking to her. Please Nado!” groaned he in his companion’s lap.
“Shsssh! Be quiet or else her father will bash you out”, flew the response that knocked him down.
“Please Nado, I am clasping my two hands into one. Help me please!” wailed he in utter desperation.
‘Well, I am certain that you won’t get to see Lemo. She is too young to counter such venture with you for now. If you really want, I will take you somewhere not far from here”.
“Really? But where Nado?”
“Zip your mouth for a moment and follow me”, was all that Nado uttered.
Both of them slid off their blankets, pushed the door aside cautiously and slipped their way out into the freezing midnight breeze.
“It is extremely cold outside Nado”.
“Don’t worry Lopon, it won’t be the same inside”.
He pursued all the instructions showered upon him by his guide and so did he make a victorious journey. He succeeded in sprawling, clinging and leaping over a two storied traditional Bhutanese house.
Positioning himself near the window, he called out, “Yangki, open the window. Please let me in”.
After several attempts to lure her being turned topsy-turvy, he lost his control and baffled out loudly, “Open the window or I’m going to break it”. He tapped harder and harder until the window opened to his delight.
He was greeted with a jug of chilly water being splashed against his face. Another bucket of cold water over him drenched him to freezing. He lost his grip as a whip hit his hand fierce-fully with a simultaneous hoarse voice of a woman that pierced right through his ears,”Yaa Tae-nyen choe”. The phrase says, ‘you deserve this, you notorious creature’.
The next morning, Ap kencho’s summon dragged him out of his fantasy world. “Lopen, you ought to get ready. You have to be at the bus terminal by 6:30 am”.
He felt an excruciating pain as he tried to stretch his legs. When he got out of his bed, he found himself limping. He was astonished to hear the whole account of the story from Nado. All that he could recollect was Lemo standing aside his bed and pouring him the wine.