We were in Laya (Part – 3): Dochula to Khuruthang, Punakha

“Now, let me be the guide. Are you all ready? Let’s go asha driver!” Jigme signaled with thuds on the door while settling egg trays on his lap with the other hand. Asha driver picked up pace and down we zoomed. A few minutes down the road I caught Jigme grinning in the rear looking mirror, time and again. “The three of you look perfect back there,” he grinned again. “Yea, the fatty near me is an export quality cushion,” I grinned back patting on my colleague Dorji’s shoulder. Just then Dorji sucked his pot belly deep inside and laughed at me, “It is not that big, see?” “Oh, if you were a pig, your time is up!” I joked. “Imagine the shiny juicy fats dripping as knife ran through your stomach.” Dorji defended, “Your chicken body is going to fetch quite a price in the market but your thighbone is too small, that I doubt.” Everyone laughed out so loud, “Hahaha… Hahahaha!” Now we were talking.
“Ohh, small and a cute kangdung, haha!” Jigme the fattest of all turned sidewards and faced us grinning. “This fat guy was working in Lunana a few years ago and I had earned quite a reputation, you know.” He started with somewhat “blowing my own trumpet” tone and looks. “Really, you were digging kangdungs of dead highlanders? Hahaha.” My question was a joke. But, Jigme seemed to be serious, “Not really digging kungdungs of dead bjobs, but I have dealt with so many corpses of folks who died there while working in the harsh climatic condition of Lunana.” Now that made us so curious, everyone in the pickup truck was looking at the fat guy in front, “Are you an undertaker?” “No, no, hahaha, I was the store in charge there for almost three years during Thorthormi lake mitigation project.” “Then, why you had to deal with corpses?” I thought, “He would have killed a man.”
We were all silent, attention fully tuned to FM-Jigme and waited for him to continue. He didn’t say it but his facial expression was like, “Yo, listen up guys or you are going to miss the show!” We had our huge eyes fixed on him. “There was this man, may be in early fifties, he would always tell me if anything happened to him while in Lunana, I should take care of everything.” FM-Jigme has just begun. “Take care of anything meaning inform the authority and family members?” I was like an investigating officer. “Informing the authority and family members of course, but, you don’t know anything that happens there remains there, even your body?” That made me sound so foolish, I turned around and looked at folks sitting with me behind, they seemed to be aware of it already. Like a school boy I asked him, “So, he died and you did the funeral?” “Yes, I did, and it is very different there. We don’t burn the corpse, we feed the birds!” Now this gave me goose bumps, not that I have not heard of sky burials but, I have never seen a person who actually did it and he is sitting right in front of me. I don’t believe him, I have heard only folks with a very strong and firm mind can perform this, and the fatty in front doesn’t seem like one, not from any angle. I was becoming too judgmental.
“Just as he said, he passed away on a fateful night. The very next day I had to perform my duty as I promised him.” “Yalama, so you fed him to birds?” His reply scared the hell out of me. “Feeding the giant birds is not like feeding your puppy. These birds are very special and very demanding too. Demanding by that I mean, highlanders believe; birds don’t consume ones remains just like that and the way they consume speaks a lot about ones thoughts and deeds when alive. Accordingly you will have to chop every parts of the corpse into pieces….. You, you, become more than those working in the hospital. Doctors cut open just one part of the body; just a small one and stitch it back. People like us break even the bones with axes until marrow oozes out and blood runs like a river. Because, it is only then giant birds would hover around and they decide to consume. It is considered holy and a gaywa too. Otherwise, these birds won’t consume, not at all. There are stories!”
“So, you choped his body into pieces and watched the giant birds eating till the very last piece?” Not sure he heard my feeble voice but he continued, “One should be there till the last piece is done to make sure dogs don’t get their dirty mouth up there, later. But, in his case I had to do the other way!” “Wait a minute, now what is the other way? There is another way?” I had to interrupt him because I have never heard of other than the sky burial. “”Water burial,” he cut me off right there. “Oh, yes, water burial but is that not for the infants?” “Yes, sometimes situation comes when you are left with no other choice.” “Yalama, so you dumped him in the river? You threw him off just like that? Did you put it between the rocks? Did you cover the whole corpse with stones? Was it not floated down by the river? Won’t it scare the hell out of people if they saw it down the river? Did you think of that? A full grown man’s corpse in the river, oh, my god, you are kidding me?” I could not control asking him so many questions just at a go, because I had to know asap!


Jigme went on, “No, no, I did not dump. Neither was it thrown off just like that, nor buried between the rocks. I carried the swollen corpse all by myself. Laid it on the bank of the giant river, said little prayers I know so many times, then I choped it into hundred pieces and fed them to fishes. Left not even a speck on the bank, not even a trace of blood. Threw all the rocks and earth involved in the funeral into the giant and rapid river, and then burnt off all the cloths too. I had to do it firstly there was no one who would do it and secondly most of the time corpses are left just like that ,when people die in the highland!” I don’t believe him however, I could feel hairs on my body stand on the end!


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