Smokes bellows from a solitary house among ruins of a village atop a mountain. Inside, a wiry elderly lay monk reads a prayer book in a dim light from a half open wooden window. In the next room the man’s wife prepares lunch on a wood-fed oven. They are the only people living among the ruins of a lost village called Dungmanma (Dung-village; Manma-old or lost village) under Khar gewog in Pemagatshel.
Trees growing on the stone walls of what were closely built houses and imposing choetens and mani dangrims on the fringes of the ruins indicates that it was a prospering village at one point of time. And people around have no idea as to what led to the ultimate downfall of the village.
“No one in the village knows exact details of the lost village except that the village was a prosperous one made up of over 180 households,” said 86-year-old Lopen Shera Wangdi, who lives along with his wife among the ruins.
He said that, there is no information about the place except that, the village was burnt down in a war with all the residents of the village reportedly escaping to neighbouring dzongkhags and some escaping beyond the national border and into the neighbouring Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh locally known as Shar (east). “This could have taken place more than 200 years or so as no one living today or those from my generation know anything more about the lost village.”
It is believed that those who fled the village never came back and thus there is a complete lack of any credible information about the village.
Lopen Shera Wangdi said that since the isolation offers an ideal atmosphere for spiritual pursuits, he along with five other households moved to Dungmanma more than a decade ago. The rest have moved back to their villages but he remained back.
Few people come this way except during the third month of the Bhutanese calendar. It is the time for preparation to begin for the annual Dungkhar Tshechu under the community patronage. “Around this time, we receive a steady stream of visitors who are in the process of moving to and from the villages below to Dungkhar Gonpa which is about half an hour’s walking distance from Dungmanma.”
Karma Wangdi, the Tshokpa of the neighbouring Bongman village said that another legend that lives on today about the village is the flight of a pair of pigeon from Dungmanma to Paro. “This is the legendary stone mortar that produced the same quantity of grains without volume reduction even when chaffs were removed using this,” he said, pointing to a large stone mortar right by the side of a track among rubbles.
But he added that, this phenomenon ceased when a curious ill-fated woman decided to investigate by removing some loose stones attached to the mortar from where a pair of pigeon was said to have flown away. The locals believe that this pair of no ordinary pigeons are said to have made their landings at Paro which is attributed for the valleys prosperity.
Elderly people like Lopen Shera Wangdi also believes that the village of Dungmanma must have provided patronage to Dungkhar Gonpa and that perhaps the mother of the second Druk Desi Tenzin Drukdra could have been from Dungmanma because it was close to Dungkhar Gonpa founded by Yab Tenpai Nyima and the ruins indicate it to be a flourishing village with rest of the villages in the gewog coming up much later.
While there are other possible reasons for the village’s downfall like disease epidemic, natural calamities like earthquakes and prolonged drought, people like Lopen Shera Wangdi say that the village was believed to have been burnt down and destroyed during a war. It is likely that the village which also falls on a less used trade route to the south through Shomigata pass must have been used by one of the British column during the 1864-65 war that could have annihilated the village which was the first major Bhutanese village on this route.
Whatever the reasons, it is evident that the residents may have fled in haste burying their important belongings under the soil. There are reports of people stumbling upon buried items occasionally and holes dug around mounds of earth and around trees stumps indicate even minor treasure hunts taking place occasionally.