ILAM, Nov 8: Tourists visiting Ilam district usually buy hard-cheese and tea, among other local products, as souvenirs before they head home.
However, in recent years, tourists visiting places like Sandakpur, Tumling, Chhintapu of Ilam have been buying a rather strange souvenir instead of the traditional ones. Tibetan mastiffs, or Bhote Kukur as they are locally known, are a new favorite for tourists, mostly from nearby Indian cities like Darjeeling and Kalimpong.
Especially after Darjeeling´s Gorkha Janmukti Morcha (GJM) president Bimal Gurung bought a few puppies in his Ilam visit last year, buying Tibetan mastiffs, produced by local farmers, has become a new rage among Indian tourists. Nepali tourists, too, have been buying puppies of Tibetan mastiffs during their Ilam visit.
“People are now booking puppies in advance,” said Pemba Bhotiya, who collects puppies from local farmers and sells them to tourists. Bhotiya says she has received orders for more than 200 puppies from India this year. “Even from Ilam bazaar, I´ve received orders for 40 puppies,” she said. “I now find it very difficult to meet the demands.”
A Tibetan mastiff puppy can fetch anything between Rs 4,000-Rs 8,000. “Mastiff dogs are popular especially among Bengali tourists coming from India,” Pemba said. “But, only a few tourists from other countries have so far bought my dogs.”
With the demand for Tibetan mastiff dogs reaching an all time high, producing and rearing puppies has now increasingly become a new means of livelihood in Ilam. Many people have now started to manage their household expenses by selling puppies. If one owns three mature female Tibetan mastiffs, he can earn up to Rs 150,000 a year.
Many people in Maimajhuwa, Mabu, Jogmai and Jamuna VDCs of Ilam have now started commercial farming of Tibetan mastiffs, which are popular because of their attractive looks enhanced by thick fur and loud bark.