I wake in the middle of the night, bladder ready to burst from homebrew and beer. Leaving Agay Nakho’s candle-lit altar room where I’m camped, I feel my way through the dark house and step onto the starlit porch. The big yellow watchdog stands ridged at the top of the notched log stairs, growls, and bares his teeth into the dark. I grab a piece of firewood and try to drive the dog down the stairs, but he becomes frenzied, barks, and stands his ground. I force my way by him and take a piss in the yard. Back in the altar room, I fall asleep as the dog barks himself out.
I suddenly wake to a sharp-pitched yelp. Looking out the window, I see the beam of Nakho’s flashlight shining into the yard below. A tiger runs through the faint light—the big yellow dog dangles from its mouth like a rat carried by a house cat.
“This is the second dog I’ve lost this year and the second pig,” recalls Nakao at breakfast. “Last month, the leopard took a pig. In Thamji this year, they lost seven ‘jatsa’ oxen to tigers. In Pangsho, we lost one ox, two cows, and one ‘mithun’ bull. And both villages lost several dogs and pigs to tigers and leopards. That’s just around here. I don’t know about other villages.”
“Do the tigers and leopards attack people?” I ask.
“Tigers and leopards hide from people,” Nakao declares. “They don’t attack us. They want our animals. Bears are more dangerous for people. They don’t see well. If you surprise them in the forest, they will attack.”
“Does anyone hunt or trap these animals?”
“Wild animals are the precious jewels of Bhutan,” says Nakho. “The government will not allow us to kill them. If we kill a tiger, we must pay a fine of Nu. 60,000 ($1500) and serve a year in prison. If they take our cattle or pigs, the government pays us to replace them. It’s not like India.”
“I went to India with the King’s uncle,” recalls Nakho. “I’ve been to Calcutta, Kalimpong, Darjeeling, and Bodh Gaya. When we stopped our car, hundreds of cars stopped behind it. They even have houses for airplanes. Bhutan is like salt in a pot of curry. But for me, this is the best country.”
“I enjoy living in my house. Here I feel safe, free. We don’t have a road.” continues Nakho. “I think it is safer than Thimphu. Who knows what might come up that road from India? We used to have our summer farm in Thimphu, but when they built the road from India, I left that land—gave it to the government. Now we stay here all year. I am free here. If I feel like eating, I eat. If I feel like drinking, I drink. Here I can do anything.”