Geographical location of Sarpang Dzongkhag
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND OF SARPANG DZONGKHAG
With an area of 1655 sq.km, Sarpang Dzongkhag is located in the central part of southern Bhutan with an elevation ranging from 200 meters to 3600 meters above the sea level. It shares a border with Assam state of India with direct contact with Kokrajhar and Chirang districts. Internally, Sarpang shares a border with Zhemgang in the east, Tsirang in the west and Trongsa to the north. The Dzongkhag's population of 49,439 (of which 49.54% are female) people from 10,388 households are spread across 12 gewogs, 61 chiwogs and a Thromde A with more concentration in Gelephu Thromde followed by Gelephu and Dekililng Gewogs. The least populated is the Tareythang Gewog with only 491 people.
Sarpang takes pride in being very rich in biodiversity. With 88% of its land under forest cover, Sarpang is host to Royal Manas Park and Phibsoo Wildlife Sanctuary which provide natural habitat to numerous species of animals, birds, fishes and reptiles – some of which are globally endangered. While elephants, golden langur, gaur, spotted deer, wild buffaloes, hornbill, hare, etc are sighted most frequently – often coming in conflict with - these two protected areas are also homes for Royal Bengal tiger which is one of the globally endangered animal species.
Sarpang is also one of the gateways to Bhutan from India through Gelephu and is one of the developing socio-economic zones in Bhutan. It serves as the commercial center with its catchment from surrounding areas including Trongsa, Zhemgang, Tsirang and Dagana and Bumthang.
However, the security issues has posed limitations to transform into a vibrant commercial zone.
Brief History as an Administrative Center
The history reveals that Sarpang region was administratively under Paro Penlop until the institution of Chichap (regional governorship) system in 1955. The system of governance then was directly from the central. The institution of Lhotsam Chichab in 1955 and establishment of the Chichab Office in Shompangkha area was the biggest ever milestone in the history of the governance system as it brought the administration closer to the people. Later the Chichab system was reformed and Sarpang was created as Dzongkhag with the appointment of/alteration of the term Chichab to Dzongdag in 1973.
In 1975, the District Administration was shifted to Gelephu where the old Dungkhag Office now stands. However, the people of Shompangkha submitted a relook into the decision of shifting and establishment of a zonal office for Zone III in Gelephu. Hence, the Dzongkhag Administration was brought back to Shompangkha and Dungkhag Administration to Gelephu that functioned from Gelephu until it was shifted to Umling in 2019.
Behind the Name: The Meaning and History of Sarpang
Neither the paying of taxes to Paro Penlop nor the institution of Lotsham Chichab is the beginning of history for Sarpang. Actually, Sarpang can take pride in the beginning of the history of the advent of Tantrayana Buddhism in Bhutan that is associated with Guru Rinpoche. The term Shompangkha, which can be loosely translated as “leaves over the meadows,” dates back to the entry of Guru Rinpoche into Bhutan enroute to Bumthang in 746 AD to mediate between Sindhu Raja and Naoche who were then a warring factions. It is narrated that the people of Sarpang made a cushion with leaves over a meadow where Guru Rinpoche was made to sit and served tea when he entered Bhutan from India. The derivation of the terminology “Shompangkha” according to the Department of Culture was confirmed by His Holiness Dudjom Jigdrel Yeshey Dorji (1904-1987) who possessed clairvoyance to see through past, present and future lives.
Similarly, the place name Sheychamthang (previously called Ranibagan) is also said to have derived from the entry of Sindhu Raja and his wife. Sindhu Raja as the name indicates was the King of one of the kingdoms in India. As history would tell, he settled in Bumthang after being exiled into Bhutan after his defeat in war. As the story would indicate, he too entered through the Sarpang region. It's said that Sindhu Raja and his wife had lunch at Ranibagan town after which the place got its name Ranibagan which currently is renamed to Sheychamthang.
While it is unclear as to when the Dzongkhag was named Sarpang and why it was decided to adopt that name, it too has a background story as to how the name Sarpang came into being. The Department of Culture states Sarpang as a combination of two Sanskrit words – “Sar” and “Bang.” Sar is interpreted as a person in meditation and Bang as disturbed. As the Sarpang comparatively has temperate climatic conditions than the Indian plains, a religious Indian person was said to have meditated at a cave called Duvar, but he was disturbed by the negative forces thereby giving forth the term Sarpang.
It is our belief that there could be numerous sacred places – both religious and historical - given that there is evidence that Guru Rinpoche and Sindhu Raja had travelled through Sarpang. Therefore, more research is required to unveil such associated stories from where we could not only draw our beliefs and values but to connect ourselves with the past.
As much as the Dzongkhag is advantageous being located at the border, we too have challenges confronting us in many aspects. We are therefore on a constant move to overshadow the following challenges:
a. Longer monsoon season
b. Human wildlife conflict
c. Frequent outbreak of zoonotic diseases
d. Stiff competition for agricultural products from across the border
e. Water shortages
f. Porous border vis-a-vis security issues.