a literary journal published by the Black Earth Institute dedicated to re-forging the links between art and spirit, earth and society
“Where are we heading to?” she gasped as we further hiked. Holding her hand tight I lifted her onto a massive boulder to take a breather. “Khenyaa tsho…Tshering,” I replied, calming that inquisitive little crinkle on my 5-year-old’s forehead.
It was my 89th birthday, and each year, same day, I trekked this valley which my grandfather had once befriended me to. Tshering, I felt, had it in her genes, this ecstasy to admire the flawlessness of nature. We’d been hiking for over two hours, and the warmth of daybreak brought a serenity on her innocent face.
“Agay! (Grandfather!) It’s so beautiful up here, isn’t it?”, Tshering was exhilarated looking at the moraines.
“Well… yes, if you find it so!”, a whirl of emotions swished past my mind, contemplating what she was missing out, and what I might never be able to return back to her. We, were sitting atop a dead glacier!
‘Khenyaa tsho’ as we call in Bhutan translates to ‘hundred lakes’, a place which never existed on our planet in 2020, the year I was born. Instead, was a white valley of slowly drifting Wachay– the longest glacier our nation ever had, feeding a major river, Pho chhu.
Today, in 2109, what remains is a ghost-silent valley, full of boulders that Wachay once carried along. Its fast retreat had excavated depressions, now filled with meltwaters forming 100 proglacial lakes!
It all happened in merely a century. As my dad often recounted, our ecosystem had reached a slippery slope by 2020. The globe, he said, was facing two massive challenges, on one side was a minuscule virus, and on the other, was climate change– both cataclysmic.
“Woww… Did you see that?… Did you see that Agay?” as Tshering pulled my arm tenderly, I re-delved into my present. “It was a fish! I’ll help you catch many Agay!”, she pointed towards the lake.
“My super girl! I’m sure you will!”, I tended to her fervent hopes.
By stocking rainbow trout in Khenyaa tsho, we had transformed a dead glacier into an opportunity. Human ingenuity, perhaps can sidestep any catastrophe whatsoever!
Tshering was having a time of her life, there was a catch in almost every fifth cast!
As the sun gleamed higher into the sky, reflections of fiddleheads on the lake margins offered an uncompromising beauty. I could unmistakably spot bright orange halos adorning the rainbow trout as greenish-turquoise waters presented a perfect backdrop.
A couple of fun-filled hours, and we called it a day. “Let’s make a move dear…need to reach back home sooner today!” I said lifting my bag with the savoury bunch of trout.
“But why?”, Tshering inquisitively walked relishing a woodsorrel stalk, which she called the Mother Earth’s tangy-straw.
“This evening after 6, no going outdoors! We’ll stay home for next three months!”
“Mehnn… (No…)! If stay back, I’ll miss the morning assembly at school tomorrow. I sing different prayers each day, my favourite!”
“The whole world rests, Tshering. It’s a rule!”
“But, I need to study!”
“Oh yes, sweetie! I’ve got the virtual interface fixed for you. You’ll meet all your school friends and teachers there. It’ll be exciting you know…!”
“But what about my favourite apple pie from Mrs. Tashi’s grocery shop?
“Chommo will fly to your window every day. Mrs. Tashi has got the order of pies and complementary chocolates stored for you in Chommo’s memory!”, I said, watching her take tiny steps downhill, as we traversed the thick Cedar Forest sloping downwards into a dry river bed– where once Pho Chhu flowed!
She gazed up at me sombrely. “Agay… did you too stay back at home when you were small? Away from friends for months?”
“Well… no,” I conceded, shattered to the core. Why must our children pay the price of what they never did? Why did we ruin our planet to an extent, that there was no way around but that major decision at COP 56…
“Agay!” Tshering again brought me out of the haze of thoughts I was in. “Then why can’t I go?”
“Sweetheart, this is for our Mother Earth! To help Her revive back. You remember the place we caught the fish from?”
“Yes! I do, it was soooo… beautiful!”
“It was even more, long back! Instead of the lake was a fairy land… a white river of ice! But we disrespected Mother Earth and Her beauty reduced. Our movement, transportation and import of food harm the planet. So… we need to slow down, eat the food we locally grow in our gardens, just to let these rivers of ice come back!”
Bhutan was always nature friendly, finding precedence of Gross National Happiness over the Gross Domestic Product, and we wanted the world to be happy too! Bhutan never gave up, we never will, we stand with the world’s decision on a three-month ‘Human hibernation’ twice a year, every year!
“But Agay, would they? Would the rivers actually revive if we do this?”, she was intrigued!
“Oh yes! They will, and you’ll see them when you’re my age!”
“Hmmm… I trust you”…, her silent eyes stared at the sun hitting the western horizon.
“Woww Agay! See… such big birds!” a pair of collared grossbeaks flying past caught her attention.
“You’ll see more of them as ‘human hibernation’ begins dear! You’ll see bears and blue sheep as well, right next to your window.”
“Bears???”, she gushed.
“Go get your animal board book out, let me show you who all will visit us in the coming months…”, I said as we finally reached our street.
Exhilarated, Tshering took her hand off my finger and ran towards our home, excited to find her book. Afterall, she had it in her genes!
Vineet K Dubey is a project scientist on climate change monitoring in Himalaya, at the Wildlife Institute of India. He has avidly worked on biodiversity conservation and awareness.
Aashna Sharma is a senior researcher at Wildlife Institute of India, with interests on invasion biology and climate change. Her popular science stories have been awarded by the Indian government.