Brief Description about Digger/Tangya/Khemma
These villages are situated on the eastern side of the Nubra Valley, which is located 80 km from the Headquarter of Nubra. These villages are some of the most difficult locations in terms of accessibility and the harsh climate as it is located at altitude ranging from 15000-16500 ft above sea level. These villages are scattered in such a way that in order to go from one village to another, it takes one day of trekking or probably more then that. People from outside often tend to think, why did they settle in such isolated areas where they have to be self sufficient in order to sustain their life? Even to buy a matchstick they have to walk down their village over many high ridges.
Although the government has built a small primary health centre in one of these villages, nobody is willing to work there. The hospital is sitting vacant without a doctor since it has been built. To my amazement, people residing there are strong and tough. Their physical stamina is amazing and they are quite healthy except that most of the old aged peoples are suffering from osteoarthritis of knee, which is quite understandable because of high terrains and steep trails.
I started off all alone from my hospital and I was anxious as usual. For a moment, I wished that somebody accompany me as I knew that there is a long and arduous path waiting for me. The only source of encouragement was the book which I was reading the previous night – Torch of Life, an autobiography of Aunt Ida Scudder. The sky was cloudless as I had hoped.
I met a lady with the herd of yaks in a place called Rongjuk. The road ahead was in a terrible condition and it took me more than half an hour to cross 100 meters distance as I had to get down after every inch to make sure that the car is not getting hit by protruding rocks. It was horrible. I began to worry whether my car will get back home in one piece or not.
I reached to a place called Khungru where I parked my car. The road ahead was not suitable for a small car like mine as told by a villager. This place is located in a deep valley from where I had to climb to the top of the ridge to get to Digger Village. I was quite lucky in that I got a ride in a truck which was going to a same destination.
I reached Digger village. I was very happy for the reason that I made it to this village much earlier then I thought. For the moment, I was stunned by looking at this village. It was very cold and windy. I got down from the truck and went straight away to the Primary Health Center. I met a villager and requested him to inform the entire villager to gather at the PHC.
First patient came, an old lady with severe joint pain. Gradually, more and more patients started flowing in. Every other villager was complaining of joints pain and non-specific body ache. I met an old lady who had never been outside her village in her entire lifetime. I felt great pity for her and I asked her to come along with me but she refused. I treated 56 patients altogether. The clinic was finished at 12:34pm
I asked all the women to gather outside the building for the talk. I spoke with them about osteoarthritis, hypertension, acid peptic disease and cervical cancer. They were listening very attentively. It was such a great feeling to teach them in such a remote area. Deep inside, I could feel the temptation for me to move move my medical career to a large urban hospital fading away.
The villagers provide me lunch and offered me chang (local barley brewed bear) too. It was very delicious. I bid them goodbye and started moving on foot downhill where my car was parked.
It took me more then one hour to reach my car. I got into it and started moving toward the next village called Khema. My car could not take me beyond 4kms as the road ahead was covered with ice..
Moreover, dark clouds were looming in and I was wondering what to do. If it starts snowing then I might get struck up here in nearby village for many days. I was not sure of how much time it will take me to reach the next village as I have never been to Khema before.
Anyway, I started on foot with a heavy load of medicines in my back pack. There was a steep road ahead. I followed the motor road which was of no use for now. My mind was buzzing with questions?? What if it becomes dark before I reach the village? What if I lost my way? What if I encounter a snow leopard? Oh Gosh!!!!! Bottom line, I was damn scared on this lonely route.
Halfway up, I stopped to rest before assaulting the steeper zigzag path leading to the village. I managed to climb up the steep mountain. When I got onto the top, I could feel my heart thumping against my chest wall like the beating of a drum and I realized what palpitation is like. I was breathing my lungs out with a heavy load on my back. I threw my bag on the ground and lied down on a rock to catch some breath. I was looking up and staring at the cloudy sky with snowflakes dancing down to my numbed face.
After a short walk, I could see the village at the foot of the snow covered mountain with a large barren plateau, it was like as close to heaven as any place on earth. I started moving faster and I could feel no weight on my back due to the eagerness to reach the village as fast as possible. For a moment, my head stop buzzing with any more fears and contemplation for I knew that I can make it to my next village before dusk.
I met Ajang Tsewang Katongpa, who is a good friend of my father. He guided me to his home and immediately he sent a messenger to announce to the entire village to gather at his home as soon as possible. Without wasting any more time, I unpacked all the medicine and arranged them out on the table. No sooner had I finished gulping down the butter tea he offered the patients started flowing in. I treated 27 peoples with minor ailments.
My host was so good to me and his fellow villagers that he allowed me to give the health education in his living room. The room was big enough to accommodate 50 people. As usual, I talked about various minor ailments, real nature of disease and the mode of prevention. They were listening so attentively that in between, I was wondering, if they are just staring at me with curiosity or actually following my words. At the end, I could make out that they had understood. They offered me a khatak (traditional white scarf) and advised me to spend the night in the village. But I politely refused and decided to move on.
I reached back to my car which was parked deep down the valley. I found out that there was a shortcut to get back. Had I known this route, I would have saved a lot of time climbing up. It was damn cold and the temperature was hitting minus 18. I got into my car and sped off to next village but the rough condition of the road would allow my car to move at snail pace.
7:40pm I reached my next destination, the Tangyar Village. It was already dark and snowing. A cousin of mine was waiting for me to arrive. Ache Rinchen directed me to her nice and cozy home. Her two sons, Sonam Stanzin and Stanzin Zangpo were excited to see me at their home. When I unloaded my bag, I could feel the gnawing back pain caused by carrying it all day long. When I reflected back on the day events, I felt really good and it encourages me to stay on and fight the battle until the last woman hears my message.
9:40pm Had a delicious dinner with my cousin and we talked about various problems faced by villagers. Outside, wind was blowing and pushing the snows against the window. It is said to be auspicious when a person arriving in a village is welcome by a fresh snowfall.
I woke up and looked out of the window. The whole village was laden under a blanket of snow. I went out for a stroll with my camera. The village seems like a picturesque hamlet, set on the mud crag, crowned with a monastery. The houses were built so close to each other that one could jump from the one roof to another. It’s central feature was a monastery which was built in 15th century, and subsequent years made it famous by the preservation of the body of Tibetan yogi called Panchen Nubrapa in one of the stupa inside the monastery. I climbed up to the top of the mountain where the monastery was located. The bird’s eye view of the village was breathtaking and it would always be engraved in my memory.
I met the headman of the village, Mr. Motup Dorjay and briefed him about the purpose of visit. I then went back to have a breakfast. His wife prepared puri (oil fried bread) and omelet. It reminded me of my beloved mother who always used to make it especially for me. Anyhow, then I packed my stuff and headed toward the community hall, where I was expecting people to gather for the health check up and education.
By the time I made it to community hall, a crowd was waiting and soon I was in the whirl of people, writing their names, diagnosing and then doing all the treatments. It was hectic and tiresome. I was sorely in the need of a trained assistant. 35 people attended the clinic. The clinic was soon followed by health education.
Morning was resplendent with beauty and so I set out really enjoying the scenery while I made my way back to the valley. A long hard drive was waiting for me before I hit the next village. The anxious cloud of difficult road ahead was looming over my head. For miles and miles I could not see a single living creature. Oh! I wished for a fellow companion.
1:00pm Before I entered into the area where the condition of the road was bad, I couldn‚Äôt believe my eyes as I saw someone. I stopped my car and found out that he was leading in the same direction as I was. His name was Tsultim, an angel in disguise sent by god to help me out. Indeed, he helped me a great deal to get my car out of the treacherous road which I couldn‚Äôt have done it alone. Thanks Tsultim!!!
I reached my next stop, where I met Dr. Tsewang Chorol, who had come to Khalsar Village to see some patients. She was with Government Ambulance and one Nursing orderly. Here we exchanged cars. I told her to use my car to get back and allow her staff and ambulance to stay with me until I finished my next visit. She happily agreed to this plan.
I along with Mr. Namgyal and the nursing orderly started on foot to my next destination called Tsati Village. We asked the ambulance driver to wait for us to return. We could see the village but in between us lay the great Shayok River with a span of 5 KTMs and poorly yet interestingly built bridge to cross over. It took us one hour reach Tsati Village. A tiresome trekking with a heavy bag loaded with medicine.
Tsati Village: this village is located on the eastern bank of Shayok River, the village is well known for having limestone mountains, the only source to the valley to whitewash the houses, monasteries etc. In the olden silk route days, trade caravans used to cross the Shayok river from this village. Centuries ago, this village used to be a rest stop for the silk route traders.
We kick started our village clinic in the village community hall. We treated 30 patients with minor ailments. Following which, we started our health education on cervical cancer, hypertension, osteoarthritis, acid peptic diseases and health record system. At the end, I could make out from their faces that they have gained something.
The village health clinic and education camp was finished. We were invited to one of the villager’s house for dinner. Our host’s name was Mr. Yountan. He served us rice, boiled egg and dals. I was really moved by his hospitality.
We headed back to the place where the ambulance was parked. We had to follow the same route of one hour journey on foot across the Shayok River. I gave my bag to Mr. Namgyal to carry as my body was no longer in the state of moving ahead with back pack, but the thought of the day events kept me moving ahead.
I got back in the ambulance and rushed back to my place. It was already dark out side but I was satisfied and content with my interaction with so many people in such a short period of time.
I reached back to the starting point and I realized that it was exactly a 48 hour marathon.