Panbang is a small, sleepy town in the extreme south of Zhemgang Dzongkhag, some 13 kilometers north of the Indian border. Remote and far-flung, little was known about Panbang until recently. Encircled by the tributaries of Manas River, dense sub-tropical vegetation and a thriving wildlife, Panbang is an eco-tourism hotspot.
The completion of the Gomphu-Panbang highway and arrival of electricity and communication facilities have given a new leash of life to people living in this remote part of the country. A number of decent tourist hotels have mushroomed in and around Panbang in the past few years, catering to a growing crowd of tourists every year. The local folks are also now opening their homes to visitors. Young entrepreneurs are taking up community-based businesses.
Despite modernization, the life of villagers has in essence remained bucolic, authentic and simple. Many still practice shamanism and depend on nature for food and sustenance. Here, man and nature live in perfect harmony.
Even today people live in houses made of bamboos and thatched banana leaf/grass roofs. A typical khengpa (people of Zhemgang) house uses bamboo as the main material. This simplicity also manifests in the way people are – kind and friendly. I couldn’t help but compare how khengpa people share so many similarities, both at the physical and cultural dimensions, with the native Lhop people of Samtse, in the southwestern flanks of Bhutan. From houses with thatched banana leaf roofs to the simple agrarian lifestyle, including their relaxed indulgence in simple pleasures like drinking ‘tongba’, these people are content with what they have – a roof over their head and food to eat. Be it delving in local khengpa customs and traditions or exploring the unbeaten hiking trails, or rafting in virgin rivers, or going on a safari, Panbang has so much to offer, perhaps more than what we can ask for!
The Royal Manas National Park is the oldest national park of Bhutan situated in southern foothills of Bhutan with the total area of 1057 km. sq. If you are travelling to Panbang via India, from the Manas National park of India, it is 22km drive to Royal Manas National Park. From Panbang, it is a 12km drive to the Park.
To go to the other side of the National Park, one must take a boat ride. The Royal Manas National Park is home to rich varieties of fauna and flora – over 86 different mammal, 365 bird and 900 plant species. Asian elephant, tiger, golden langur, clouded leopard, and gaur are some notable wildlife you can find in Manas.
There are also several hiking trails within the Park. If you enjoy bathing elephants, Manas Park offers elephant safari. The pristine rich forests, diverse wildlife and breathtaking landscapes lend a unique charm to the rich wilderness area. Irrespective of the season of your visit, the Royal Manas National Park offers opportunities to enjoy and explore one of the country’s unspoiled natural sanctuaries.
If you are in Panbang, the Community Liaison Cane and Bamboo Center is a must-visit. The Center exhibits artistic bamboo handicrafts like bamboo baskets, hats, holders, carpets and many more. Local people, both men and women, handcraft these products, keeping alive the age-old tradition of bamboo craft or tsar zo. People of nearby Bjoka Village are famed for their artistic bamboo weaving skills, which are displayed aplenty in souvenirs at the center.
Panbang can unquestionably claim to have one of the most beautiful twin waterfalls that you will ever see. Located along the Pantang-Panbang highway, the twin waterfall is adjacent to a green emerald shore, making it even more mesmerizing. The twin waterfall is a hotspot to stop for lunch for a comfy break. Numerous benches and tables are placed for commuters and travelers. It is a great picnic spot!
Kheng is not only rich in wildlife, but also home to Bhutan’s largest river basins: the Mangde Chhu and Drangme Chhu basins. River rafting in the green, emerald river is a ‘must-do’. Rafting in the Panbang River can be absolutely thrilling and adventurous, offering a sneak-peek into the region’s rich biodiversity. There are local rafting companies in Panbang that offer different rafting packages.
In Panbang, you can swim in the emerald river and beat the midday heat! Because of its tropical climate, outdoor swimming is a popular leisure activity. Travelers must try the outdoor swimming, except during monsoon. And if you like to go fishing, you will require a permit for fishing from the forest department. However you could do fly fishing. Be mindful of the restricted or protected areas.
If you are looking forward to delving into local Panbang beyond the road, go for a hike from Jerang to Nakar Village. The 2-hour hiking trail starts near the Eco-Lodge and ends at Gerang village. The hike takes you deep into the wilderness of Panbang, scenic valleys, and eventually closer to khengpa people’s rich indigenous culture and way of life.
Khengpas practiced slash and burn agriculture and moved around the slopes in search of fertile and new land to grow crops such as maize and millet. And obviously, some of the cereals were made into ‘tongba’ local alcoholic beverage made from millet or maize. Fermented millet is served in bamboo containers. You pour hot water and drink it up with a bamboo straw. It certainly has a soothing effect, a good way to put you to sleep.
She is a full-time Bhutanese female solo travel blogger. In her blog, she shares personal experiences and narratives of traveling to various getaways within Bhutan.
Follow her https://denkarsgetaway.com or @denkarsgetway on Facebook and Instagram
An excerpt from our in-flight magazine ‘Tashi Delek’, March-April 2020 issue, Vol. XXII