Friday, February 8, 2019

How our three border towns got their names!

The three frontier towns of Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar got their names only in 1959.

Until then, they were known by Indian names: Jaigaon Bhutan, Hatisar and Gudama ("godown") or Mela bazar.

The locals called Jaigaon Bhutan as Changkona, which was famous as an orange sales depot; but, in all correspondence, it was Jaigaon, Bhutan. The nearest post office was in Dalsingpara, India.

Gelephu was infested with elephants and hence the name Hatisar. Hati means elephant in Nepali. Samdrup Jongkhar was also known as Mela bazaar because fairs were a regular feature.

The storekeeper of the third king, Lopen Nyapchhi (80), played a key role in coining the names of the frontier towns and in familiarizing them.

Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1952-72), once summoned lopen to his chamber in Dechencholing palace wanting to know why letters with a Jaigon address came to him in Thimphu.

"Our border towns don't have Bhutanese names. That's why some of the Indian letters come to us and also why some of ours go to them," the monk informed the king. As commanded, Lopen spent the night going through hundreds of names and discussing them with his colleagues. By morning he managed to filter them down to three and immediately reported the same to the King.


The monk explained that Gelephug means 'the sanctuary of virtue'. Samdrupjongkhar means 'mouth of the wish fulfilling valley' and Phuentsholing means 'the place of prosperity'. The king was happy with the names.

In 1959, the king's friends, the Schulthess family from Switzerland, were in Bhutan.

He was taking them on a trek to the mountains. Before the trek, the king commanded his storekeeper to broadcast the names on the radio. "I'm taking my radio with me and will be listening to it every day," the king said. The king's radio was big and battery operated. Lopen said that it had two wires; an antenna and a wire that had to be put in the ground. The king relied on it for global news.

The day the king left for the trek, he rushed to the only wireless station located just above the Dechencholing palace. Today this meadow is known as Wireless pang (meadow).

There he met Mr Chawna, an Indian, who set up the station and was better known as "wireless Babu".

The Babu was curt. "Announcements like these won't be effective; to make people listen, we have to first get their attention. The only way to do so is to play some Bhutanese music."
Determined to carry out his master's orders effectively, lopen started looking for some Bhutanese music and a contraption to play it. After a long search in Thimphu, he found two records; the first one was in the house of Dasho Gaden Thinley (father of Ex-PM). His wife Aum Karma Lhatshog had a gramophone and had the only recorded Bhutanese song in the country.

Aum Thinley Delma sang the songs from Haa. All the five songs were zhungdra - classical. In addition to the songs, he managed to get a record of jokes.

It was of the popular comedian of the time, Paro Penlop's Kardep Gyelp Kurney. These were the only records.

With these two records he went to meet wireless Babu. For the next week, the radio operator spent a lot of time broadcasting the announcement.

They played the Sar gi Laso first, followed by Gyelp Kurney jokes, and then lopen made the announcement of the change of names. He began, "The Bhutanese border towns don't have names, so from this day onwards, as ordered by the king, these names will take effect." He repeated the announcement for one hour every morning ‪from 8 am to 9 am.
Lopen Nyapcchi said he received only two feedbacks. When the king returned from his trek two weeks later, he asked, "Where did you learn to talk like this?" The second feedback came as a letter from Bumthang.

The late Lyonpo Sangay Penjor - then the administrative officer of Jakar - wrote congratulating him on the public announcement and on how happy he was listening to the classical songs and jokes.

Today, the three foothill frontier towns of Phuentsholing, Gelephu and Samdrupjongkhar have not only boomed but are the country's gateway to the world.

Reference:
1. www.travelbhutan.com.bt
2. Kuensel

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