Wednesday, November 26, 2014

BHUTAN: Land of Butterflies

It has been a while since I posted any photos on this site. So here are some of butterflies that I photographed during my recent trip to the East.

Some of you may not be aware that Bhutan has over 800 species of butterflies. For a small country the size of Bhutan, that is a huge, huge number. Compare that to 679 for North America and 440 for Europe.

Nature's splendor is reflected in their delicate colors and complex patterns. I wish I had some funding available to me - I would like to spend the next 5 years photographing them. Someone needs to do it before climate change renders some of them extinct even before we know and see of their existence.

Are there some rich uncles and aunties out there who want to help me realize my dream? :)-


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Wandering Tsampa

While driving back to Thimphu from my recent trip to the East of the country, I had barely begun my descend into Trongsa over the Yotong-La pass when I passed someone walking up towards the Pass. I shook my head: there goes one of those glib Sadhus from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh who make fortunes in Bhutan - reading palms and foreheads of the gullible Bhutanese.

I continued to drive on until it suddenly hit me that the man was clothed in all white. I remember that Andhra Sadhus wear saffron. Also the man was carrying a traditional Bhutanese cane-frame backpack. Sadhus don’t carry those. Even more surprising, the man seemed very comfortable in the near sub-zero temperature of the Yotong-La Pass at 6.30AM in the morning - a scantily dressed Andhra Sadhu would be dead meat at this temperature levels. In any event Andhra Sadhus’ preferred mode of transportation is Druk Air - walking on foot would be so terribly infra-dig!

Something was not right - so I turned my car and headed back towards the Pass. I was right - the man was not a Sadhu from Andhra. He was a wandering Tsampa! I stopped my car and struck up a conversation with the man. He tells me that he is a Tsampa from Mongaar.

 Tea break for the wandering Tsampa from Mongaar.
Please note the traditional cane-frame backpack and the one-legged resting stick

He was a young and good-looking guy on a personal quest to offer prayers for the benefit of all sentient beings. He has already walked to most of the holy places in Bhutan and he was now heading towards Bumthang where he hopes to pray and meditate for the next few months, until he embarks on another walk towards another holy destination.

He had actually intended to prostrate all the way to Bumthang but a medical examination at Thimphu revealed that he had ulcer in his stomach and his lungs were near collapse. His condition caused him great pain due to which he could not perform prostrations. That did not deter him - he was determined that he would continue to recite his prayers - by walking to every one of his destinations. Neither will he accept any ride - from any one - on any form of transportation.

Amazingly, he was not wearing any warm clothing and yet, the bitter cold did not seem to bother him. There was a wonderful look of peace and clam on his face - something that I thought was unusual given that it was bitterly cold and he was suffering from ulcer.

I served him hot tea from my flask, which he gladly accepted. I was of a mind to remove my Patagonia R2 jacket that I was wearing and give it to him but he wouldn’t know how to care for it and damage it in no time. Thus, I decided against it. Instead, I gave him Nu.1,000.00 and asked him to buy himself a woolen sweater when in Bumthang.

As I continued my journey towards Trongsa, I wondered what it was about religion that drove people to such meaningless acts of lunacy. Here was a man with his innards infested with ulcer and holes in his lungs. And yet, he wants to walk the length and breadth of the country - and pray in bitter cold - in the hope and belief that it will benefit all the sentient beings of the world. What benefit, exactly? And who elected him to take on the responsibility of saving the sentient beings? Poor blighter! If I were to ask him, he would provably tell me that he wouldn’t give two hoots if, one of these days, he is mauled to death by a bear while walking through the alpine wilderness. Or, bleed to death from the ulcer that is wrecking havoc on his innards.

Religion seems to teach some strange ways in which to earn merit for the afterlife or how to save sentient beings from burning in hell. It seems to promote the idea that the afterlife is more important than the now and the here. It is as if preserving the unknown afterlife is more important than the visibly miserable present.

During my trip to Tongmejangtsa, Trashiyangtse, I was told that the village would not rear pigs because they have been told that it was against the religion. They wouldn’t rear chickens either, for the same reason. They have no problem rearing cows though. The reason? Very funny one! - but that is a story to be told another day.

Practice of religion, particularly by those who are incapable of analytical thinking, can lead to some seriously dangerous misconceptions. That is the reason why I completely support our law that prohibits religious personalities from participating in politics.

Oh Compassionate Buddha - please hasten the process of human evolution before your teachings are contorted any further and humanity is put to peril!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Have Common Exams, Will Pray!

During my recent trip to Tashiyangtse, I ran into a group of students from the Tongmejangsa Middle Secondary School - in Tongzhang village.

They were all in their regular clothing. This was rather strange since at this time of the day they should be in their school uniform. I stopped my car to ask them why they were not in their classes. They chorused;

Dhari Lhabab Duechen iin la” (To-day is Day of the Descending of Lord Buddha).

“OK .. so it is a holiday and you have no classes”.

“Yes, Sir … I mean No, Sir”.

“So where are you guys headed?”

“We are going to the Lhakhang (temple) to pray and offer butter lamps”.

“Ahhh Haa goi (Ahhh I know) - your Common Exams are due soon so you are going to pray to God and ask him to help you pass your exams, iinosh (correct)?

Iin la (Yes, Sir)”.

“You think you all will pass?”

They are all full of smiles but none offer me an answer.

“So you think you all will pass?”

Mashey la (We don’t know, Sir)”.

“OK … but you have studied and are prepared for the exams, right?”

“Yes, Sir”.

“Good, then I can assure you that you will pass even without prayers and butter lamps. You know why? Because in the world of the old and the wise, there is a saying;

“Siba Lhaghi Sibi ---- Mapa Rung Ghi Ra Siggo”.

“Do you know what it means?”

“No, Sir”.

It means; “It is God who initiates the shiver but it is mostly oneself who must shiver with vigour”.

“Let me explain further. You must have seen your village Pawo or Pammo, Ngeljorpas (Mediums, Oracles etc.) perform their acts. They start with a slow shiver of their body but as the ritual progresses, the shiver gets increasingly vigorous - until they collapse with exhaustion. That signals the end of the ritual”.

“Do you understand now?”

“Yes, Sir”.

“Actually there is a Chilip (English/White-man) equivalent to this Bhutanese saying”.

Gachii iina la? (How does it go)?"

“It goes like this: “God helps those who help themselves”.

“Do you know what this means? This means that you should study hard if you want your prayers and butter lamps to help you pass your exams. If you don’t study, all the prayers and butter lamps in the world isn’t going to help you pass your Common Exam”.

Ha goyi ga (Did you understand)?”

Goyi la (Yes Sir, understood, Sir).

“OK .. you can go”.

As they plodded away, I noticed that they all wore similar kind of rubber flip-flops. I called them back and asked; “Why are you all wearing the same kind of flip-flops?”

“Uniform iin la”.

Wai, iina? I have never heard of this as a part of school uniform anywhere else in the country. We used to have black leather shoes called “Naughty Boy shoes”. You don’t have them any more?”

“Yes, we have, Sir. But we only wear them when it is cold. Rest of the time we wear these”.

Strange! This is a first for me.

Even more strange, how did these young minds come to believe that offering prayers and lighting butter lamps at the local Lhakhang would help them get through their Common Exams? This is bad influence. Simple and gullible minds will believe any old thing but the problem in the East particularly is exasperating, according to one Livestock Officer who tells me of his losing battle with religious misconceptions and how it is interfering with his work.

But this is a story to be told another day.

As the kids walk away towards the Lhakhang in the distance, I hear one of them muttering “God helps he who helps himself ….. God helps he who helps himself ….. God helps he who helps himself”.

I shake my head in sadness - there go a bunch of potential social misfits of the future! As one village elder in Chaaskar told me, education is now a paradox - anyone without it is supposedly a nobody - but most of those who are with it are either crushing stones by the roadside, working as a Khalasi, gyrating wildly in some Drayangs in the urban cities or engaged in abuse of substance and gang fights!

So much for "Basic Education For All"! But this too is a story to be told another day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Where In The Name of DANTAK Is This Road? - II

I am told that on November 13, 2014, the representatives of DANTAK and CDCL (Construction Development Corporation Limited) conducted a joint inspection trip of the Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway - from Gorgan side. Thus there is no longer any mystery as to which road KUENSEL was referring to, when it reported that “DANTAK will also construct a new 56KMs segment of the highway between Bumthang and Lhuentse”. Good old Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway is once again in the limelight.

For the record, CDCL was/is the contractor who worked on the construction of the infamous Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway/farm road, for the past few years.

In less than three days of the announcement, DANTAK the new contractors that unceremoniously replaced the hapless home-grown CDCL, has already moved in to take charge of matters. And word is spreading fast. One Gorgan resident tells me that DANTAK plans to complete the construction of the 56KMs segment of the highway between Gorgan and Singmala in just one year! Obviously, the poor blighter is blissfully unaware that it is the DANTAK’s unstated institutional policy to stretch all projects into oblivion. But the humble roadside restaurateur can be forgiven because his aspirations are greed-driven: he thinks he will see untold riches when the road construction is completed. So much for national interest - precisely why I subscribe to the view that all roads to GNH must necessarily be paved with GPH.

So then, what of the custodians of our environment - the National Environment Commission (NEC) and the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD)? They have been successful in stalling the project in the past - on grounds that the construction of the road through protected areas and the tiger corridor is illegal and NOT PERMITTED as per rules already in place. Are they likely to be as effective this time round too? Will they put up a worthy fight for which the law gives them the right and the duty to protect and to speak for, the environment? Will the powers that be ignore them, and the law, and bulldoze the project through? We will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, it is worth examining all that is wrong with this shadowy project called “Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway”.

First, the misbegotten highway was wrongly christened! This is a road that starts from Gorgan towards Shingkhar. Thus, it should have been named “Gorgan-Shingkhar Highway” instead of Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway.

Second, Shingkhar-Gorgan road stands out as a unique case of happy amicability between the victor and the vanquished - a rarity, however fishy! This is the only initiative of the DPT that the present government seems to want to carry through, from where the DPT left off. Other than this, the victorious PDP government chose to dismantle most of every undertaking the DPT government initiated during its tenure - Pedestrian Day, Tobacco Ban, Education City Project, Car Quota for Civil Servants etc. etc. and etc.

Third, the segment of the road from Gorgan to Pelphu Goenpa has since been constructed. If that were not enough, for good measure, DANTAK is now being engaged to RECONSTRUCT it! Curiously, environmental clearance for the construction of the road from Shingkhar to Singmala that would meander through 11-12 KMs of one of the world’s oldest and most pristine Fir forests - was sought and obtained. For the life of me I cannot understand why clearance for the road upto Singmala was sought because, by itself, this stretch of road serves no purpose whatsoever. Thus its construction is meaningless and a waste of resources.

Fourth, the WCD has categorically stated that environmental clearance for the construction of the remaining portion of the road between Singmala and Pelphu Goenpa will not be forthcoming - on grounds that the road cuts through protected area and the laws, as they stand, do not permit it. I am not aware that the Parliament that is currently in session has an agenda that deals with the revoking of the rule that will open up the possibility of an award of the environmental clearance. In the absence of the all-important environmental clearance that, as of now, seems unlikely, how do they hope to get the highway done?

Fifth, even while the WCD has made it public that they will not issue the environmental clearance for the segment of the road between Singmala and Pelphu Goenpa, the DANTAK and the Government of India is going full throttle with the plans to see through this illegal and environmentally disastrous project. One has to wonder: what gives them this level of confidence? How do they hope to circumvent the rules?

This is not a simple case of building a road - a whole lot of issues are at stake. Central to the issue is that rules will be broken, fragile ecosystem will be imperiled and those who profess to be the custodians of the law and justice, will be seen to be the transgressors of the very law they have been entrusted to protect. Tragically, no tangible benefit will accrue to any Bhutanese - whether Lhuentsip, Mongarpa, Trashigangpa or Shingkharpa!

A whole lot of people and institutions will be put to test. The manner in which the concerned officials will deal with the issue will prove if they deserve to be where they are; whether they have the courage to do what is required of them - whether they truly understand what it is to be of service to the Tsa Wa Sum.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Where In The Name Of DANTAK Is This Road?

The front-page issue of the Kuensel dated November 10, 2014 carries a news item that in part reports; “DANTAK will also construct a new 56km segment of the highway between Bumthang and Lhuentse”.

Hello, excuse me! what segment and what highway? There is no highway between Bumthang and Lhuentse. Except for the ancient, rarely used annual migration trail, there is not even a farm road between these two Dzongkhags.

Ofcourse, the erstwhile DPT government attempted to build, what came to be infamously dubbed, “Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway” that was intended to connect Lhuentse with Bumthang. It was initially promoted as a highway. However, because the road was cutting across a protected area and splitting a tiger corridor into two and breaking all the rules in the book, the environmentalists made a hue and cry which forced the erstwhile government to downgrade the proposed highway to that of a farm road. That still did not appease the conservationists - eventually forcing the DPT government to scrap the whole idea, in deference to popular sentiments.

Now, I wonder if the “56km segment of the highway between Bumthang and Lhuentse” is the resurrection of the infamous Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway? Even if it were, why is DANTAK involved? More importantly, why is government of India involved in this environmentally disastrous project that is illegal and of no benefit to any one, atleast no one in Bhutan? India should already be feeling ashamed and guilty for all the environmental damage their hydro-power projects have caused in Bhutan.

I am intrigued and I have been intrigued for a long time - with respect to this foolhardy idea of a road. I simply could not understand why anyone in his right mind would want to do this road.

Never in my wildest dreams did I suspect that India was the grand puppeteer pulling all the strings from behind. However, if it is true that the road is being done at the behest of India, then I would say that the veil of mystery has finally been lifted and all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle have fallen into place!

Now that the bully is openly in the fray, I wonder if the organizations such as National Environment Commission and Wildlife Conservation Division will still be allowed to do their job or be told to take the highway?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hail To The Modern World’s Most Tested Monarch

Today is November 11, 2014. More significantly, it is the 59th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, IVth Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan. Numerous celebrations are being planned around the country to honor the nation’s and the modern world’s most tested Monarch. Sadly, I will not be fortunate enough to participate in the celebrations because, even as I write this, I am camped by a dusty farm road somewhere in the wilderness between Yadi and Chaskhar in Mongar, Eastern Bhutan.

On this happy occasion, I am trying to attempt to compose an article to pay tribute to my King but the conditions are not the most idyllic! I am distracted by a cacophony of bird calls - three of which I can recognize - those of the Collared Owlet, Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler and White-crested Laughing Thrush. Even worse, the monstrosity called Bolero - an Indian SUV - keeps screeching past my campsite - spewing dust and smell of burnt rubber. To top it off, my PowerBook battery is about to run out and Yadi town is experiencing a power outage. And I remember that my headlamp had already been flashing out three short red blinks in quick succession - indicating that it is running out of juice too! Way to go!

This is a most tumultuous setting in which to compose a tribute to a beloved King and yet, perhaps, this is most fitting. For, this is a King who has lived, and survived, all the tumultuous phases since his coronation. And there have been many such times. Suffice it to say that His Majesty has fulfilled His duties to the hilt - and some more. He has overcome every single challenge thrown His way - to preserve the nationhood of this country - His most important and challenging duty. Therefore, it is perhaps proper, and appropriate, that we honor Him for not having failed in His duty - rather than for performing it. After all, accolades are offered to those who perform beyond their duties, not merely for performing it.

Few perhaps understand what it would have taken to “preserve the nationhood of this country”.

Bhutan is a small landlocked country with neither economic power nor military muscle and with a population size comparable to that of a small Indian gully. Even worse, it is wedged between two of Asia’s most fractious nations of proven atomic capability and with competing ambitions for regional dominance. Bhutan’s geographical positioning as a buffer state (supposedly) between these two giants makes our position even more perilous.

Bhutan’s positioning as a buffer state between China and India is most often spoken as something of an advantage - in Bhutan’s favour. Sadly, not many understand that therein lay our vulnerability! This is where I am stuck by a sense of wonder - at the skillfulness and the political and diplomatic finesse with which our monarchs dealt with the giant to the North as well as to the South. While Tibet and Sikkim got selectively gobbled up by China and India, Bhutan to this day remains an independent state - all thanks to the superior minds and statesmanship of the Wangchucks. During this occasion of celebration and merry making, let us give ourselves a moment of quiet and stillness, close our eyes and contemplate: can we fathom even a fraction of what it would have taken our Kings to “preserve the nationhood of this country?” I doubt it.

Big and powerful nations such as the US employ economic might and military muscle to dictate their terms on other less powerful nations. If economic sanctions do not work, they carpet-bomb the erring states into submission. The powerful nations of this world are back to the primeval ways - smash and grab. Rich and powerful nations have it easy.

By contrast, for small poor nation states such as Bhutan, without the benefit of military muscle or economic might, the task is more difficult. We have to depend on more subtle and civilized ways to fend off the ever-present threat to our nationhood from colonialist designs of more powerful nations. We have to depend on our guile, craftiness, shrewdness, intelligence, sense of anticipation and diplomatic skills, to navigate our way out of the many entrapments laid out on our path.

If Bhutan today survives as a proud, independent state and Bhutanese as a race, we owe it to our successive Monarchs who have been selfless and vigilant in the discharge of their duties. Those of us with a sense of history know that our IVth Druk Gyalpo remains the most tested, but no less credit is due to our past Monarchs. Therefore, on this auspicious day, let us pay homage to the Wangchuck Dynasty as a whole and His Majesty the IVth Druk Gyalpo in particular, for the many silent battles he fought, and won - unknown to his subjects.

May our Kings live long and continue to direct our future.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

WATER: The Next BIG Trouble: III

For every conceivable human activity, we need water. Unfortunately, while the human population growth places increasingly higher demand for it, its availability is dwindling at a pace that is scary and imminently disastrous. Our traditional and most dependable sources of fresh water are under threat of drying up, as a result of climate change brought on by global warming.

This most vital of our resources is now on its final journey of exhaustion.

Today Bhutan is very rich in free flowing fresh water. A tributary of the Puna Pho Chhu seen between the villages of Threga and Lhedi (3,772 Mtrs.) en-route to Lunana

Due to global warming, glaciers are melting and mountain tops are becoming bare of snow and ice. The Puna Mo Chhu is partly fed by this glacier melt. To the base of it is one of the two Tari Tshos. The other Tso (lake) is located at the base of Tarigung (7,300 Mtrs.) which is the origin of Puna Mo Chhu

This is how Mt. Jumolhari (7,326 Mtrs.) looked in April of 2004

Five years later, in December of 2010, even in the thick of winter, Mt. Jumolhari has not much snow on it. In part, Pa Chhu is fed by the snow melt from this peak

When the Jichu Drake was fully clad in snow, this is how it looked years ago

By February of 2011, this is how Mt. Jichu Drake (6,794 Mtrs.) looked. Even in the thick of winter, three fourths of it is now without snow. Pa Chhu may be history when the snow on this peak disappears and the lake at the base of it dries up

Strangely, while we are acutely aware that water is becoming more and more scarce, we remain blasé about the disastrous consequences it will bring upon us. We are smart enough to have seen and documented the receding snow-lines and melting glaciers, but few seem to want to talk about what would be our fate, when our rivers finally exhaust themselves completely into the plains of India.

Consider the following:

1.   There is no known substitute for water. I repeat, THERE IS NO
      SUBSTITUTE FOR WATER. If our water reserves are gone - it will be
      gone forever! It is like death - once you die, your life ends for eternity.

2.  Most of our glaciers are receding and the mountain peaks that feed our rivers are
     becoming bare of snow and ice. Over time, there will be no glaciers and
     snow-capped peaks to feed our river systems - meaning our rivers will run dry
     of water.

What then?

The only way to halt the imminent demise of our water is to reverse the process of global warming. Unfortunately, this is a process that I believe cannot happen. Humankind would be fortunate if we are able to maintain the rate of environmental destruction at its present level. For a while I thought that with a concerted effort, we could reduce or even halt environmental destruction. However, I am now convinced that it is an impossibility. I have understood that no meaningful gains can be made unless we completely demolish the very way we manufacture, market and consume. That, unfortunately, is not an option that we are willing to consider - because we have invested trillions in the processes that ensure commercial and industrial success, rather than environmental stewardship.

We are doomed to failure - unless nature rebels and does unto us that which we do unto it: teach the human race a lesson so humbling that we will learn to be mindful of the consequences of our mindless acts of violation. Actually, there are signs that it may already be happening.

In the meantime, we still need to worry about our waters. It is foreseeable, beyond any doubt that our rivers will eventually dry up. So - is there something we can do to halt the process? Yes, there is! Thinking out-of-the-box can be a start.

We have so far been mesmerized by the promise and allure of untold riches that we will derive from harnessing our waters for hydro-power projects. In truth, after four decades of being into the business, we are nowhere close to being even remotely rich or economically independent. Thus, it is time that we look at water as something more than merely energy to drive turbines of the hydro-power projects. In the face of widespread global scarcity, water resource - particularly unpolluted fresh water resources, could offer much greater gains than being used merely to turn turbines of hydro-power projects whose immediate as well as long term benefits remain questionable. In my view, water is destined for great things in the future. But we need to have the vision to plan and act now before it is too late. There is a need for a paradigm shift - we need fresh thinking - a dramatic departure from the old thinking that hasn't worked, atleast in the economic arena.

As a source of energy to drive turbines and produce electricity, water has alternatives. By contrast, for the human beings as well as all the living creatures on this earth, THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE TO WATER. If we do not manage and preserve what we have today, we will lose it forever. Once it is gone, it is nothing more than saline liquid.

.......... to be continued

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

WATER: The Next BIG Trouble: II

The following are the main river systems of Bhutan.

Amo Chhu
Wang Chhu 
Punatsang Chhu 
Drangme Chhu
Nyera Ama Chhu

Map of Major River Systems of Bhutan

Amo Chhu
The Amo Chhu originates in Tibet, China. It is also known as Toorsa. It drains into the plains of West Bengal, India. This is one of the few rivers in Bhutan that has not yet been harnessed for hydro-power. Not to say that it has not been planned. The 540MW Amochhu Hydro Power Project has been in the pipeline for many years. However, I suspect that the plan may take a while to come through, if at all, since its location is dangerously close to India’s extremely strategic Chicken Neck area. If this hadn’t been the case, a hydro-power project on this river would perhaps be among the cheapest and most profitable to do.

Wang Chhu
The Wang Chhu is the collective name given to three other rivers that form the most prosperous river basin in Bhutan. Thim Chhu, Pa Chhu and Haa Chhu join together to form the great Wang Chhu. The Wang Chhu finally drains into India where it is known as Raidak. The Chukha and Tala Hydropower projects are constructed on this river system. More projects are planned in the future.

Punasang Chhu
The Punasang Chhu is formed by the combination of four other smaller rivers - Puna Pho Chhu, Puna Mo Chhu, Dang Chhu and Hara Chhu. All these rivers originate in Bhutan, some of which have their origins in the great peaks such as Jumolhari, Jichu Drake, Tarigung, Gungchen Singye etc.

Currently Bhutan’s largest hydro-power projects - Punasangchhu Hydro Power projects I & II - are being constructed on this river system. Further downstream, there is a smaller hydropower project called the Dagachhu Hydro Power Project that is nearing completion. A tributary of the Punasangchhu called Dagachhu feeds this project.

The Punasangchhu finally drains into Brahmaputra in India.

Drangme Chhu
Five rivers go to make the great Drangme Chhu: Chamkhar Chhu, Gamri Chhu, Kholong Chhu, Kuri Chhu and the Mange Chhu. This is the country’s largest river system and runs through Western, Central and Eastern regions of the country. A number of hydro-power projects are planned on this river system. The Kurichhu Hydro-power Project is already operational. The Mangdechhu Hydropower Project is nearing completion and construction on the Kholongchhu Hydro-power Project is about to start. One of the rivers in this system originates outside Bhutan: Kuri Chhu in Tibet, China.
The Drangme Chhu finally drains into the mighty Manas in India.

Nyera Ama Chhu
This river is located in the extreme East of the country and is entirely Bhutanese in origin. No hydro-power project has yet been announced on this river.

.............. to be continued

Monday, July 28, 2014

WATER: The Next BIG Trouble: I

"A shortage of water resources could spell increased conflicts in the future. Population growth will make the problem worse. So will climate change. As the global economy grows, so will its thirst. Many more conflicts lie just over the horizon."
Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary-General

1.6 billion live in areas where there is water, but they can't afford to drink it.

International Water Management Institute

By 2025, two-thirds of the world will live under conditions of water scarcity.

International Water Management Institute

Global water demands will increase by 40% in the next ten years.

Pacific Institute

Two-thirds of the cities in China suffer from water shortages. Clean water is even more rare.

Asia Water Projects

India WILL run out of water in the near future.

Arlington Institute

Water is the very essence of life. Every life form on this earth draws sustenance from it. And yet, human beings have been so reckless in its abuse and misuse that we are now faced with an imminent crisis that we are unlikely to overcome, without creating many other tragedies.

In the face of this looming global water crisis, what is the level of Bhutan’s preparedness - not only to endure and overcome the crisis but also to capitalize on our geographical positioning at a location that accounts for one of the two largest sources of fresh water - the glaciers that feed the river systems of the world.

Unfortunately, as a result of global warming, our expansive glaciers that feed our river systems are fast receding. Our great mountains are balding as a result of insufficient snowfall. Around the world, rainfalls are becoming erratic and undependable, resulting in reduced fresh water supply for human use and consumption, while demand is increasing year after year.

In all likelihood, in twenty years time, the very nature and pattern of agriculture farming will change - because whatever water is available is not enough for drinking purposes. Closer to home, it is quite possible that India will see hugely reduced irrigated farming - because their water will no longer be fit for agriculture production. From being one of the world’s biggest exporters of grains, India is likely to soon become a net importer of food grains, thereby driving global grain prices through the roof.

India’s Green Revolution saw them attain food self-sufficiency but in the process they depleted their ground water reserve that they indiscriminately pumped up for irrigated farming purposes. Then came the Industrial Revolution. A hugely thriving economy meant that the industrial production went up. But this also meant that they produced massive amounts of industrial waste that finally ended up in their river systems and groundwater. As a result, today most of India’s rivers are not fit for agriculture production. Thus, currently, more than 80% of India’s irrigation water is drawn from the ground. Sadly though, it has now been observed that polluted rivers seep into the ground, thus contaminating the groundwater as well - rendering them increasingly unsafe for food production.

The water scarcity in India is so severe that Arlington Institute predicts that India WILL soon run out of fresh usable water. To add to their troubles, it is estimated that India’s population will overtake China’s by the year 2050. So, while the demand for water will increase as a result of population explosion, supply will shrink even further because of poor management of water resources and through uncontrolled pollution.

So, why am I talking of India in the context of water shortages? Simple: India is and will remain relevant in our context. I mean think - can you imagine what it will take to quench the thirst of a staggering 1.6 billion thirsty Indians? And, that too, in a situation where their own water supplies are running out? India is already operating some of South Asia’s largest desalination plants, to augment their drinking water supply. But the truth is that desalination will not solve their problems - it is just too expensive. On the other hand, decontaminating their river systems and underground water will take many, many decades without any guarantee that they will ever succeed.

All these point to one thing: India will soon need to look for alternatives.

............ to be continued.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

NC: Robin Hood of Parliament?

I still refuse to be drawn into the salary increase debate. However, I do want to participate in the side show.

The salary increase, whether you like it or not, is a done deal. No amount of discussions or protestations is going to change anything. As my late boss use to say, the deal is firmly in the pocket. Chapter closed.

The NC has declared that they will defer accepting the increase in their salary until such time the country’s financial health improves. They did not protest that it was illegal or that the increase was unfair. Thus the NC is taking a moral high ground and not protesting on grounds of illegality or unfairness or breach of Constitution. While I admire their show of empathy to the country’s strained financial resources, they should bear in mind that they are the House of review, and not Champions of morality. The Constitution does not confer on them the role of Robin Hood. They should be aware of the implications of their behavior.

The NC’s excuse is that the government has not put in place the fiscal measures to finance the salary increase. Is that any of their business? Leave the governance to the government. The NC cannot preempt the government - if the government fails to do what they are supposed to do, they become responsible. The NC cannot say that the government cannot deploy the bulls because the carts are not in place.

I agree with both the Government and the Opposition - that the salary increase has been passed by the Parliament - it is now law and every body has to respect it. Particularly the NC has to be careful when they say that they will not accept something that has been passed by the Parliament.

There appears to be a tendency among some people to confuse the government for the Parliament. It is important to keep the distinction clear in our minds. The government cannot be blamed for what the Parliament passed. If anything, we have to now wait and see how competent the government is - that will be proven by how ably they will generate resources to finance the pay hike that has been passed by the Parliament.

If some people are unhappy that the salary increase was disproportionate and unfair and inadequate, ask for another increase in a few years time - put it through the Parliament once again. But for now, any further discussion on the issue is futile. Let us move on.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Buddha Dordenma's Progress

The US$ 47.00 million Buddha Dordenma statue currently under construction at Kuensel Phodrang, Thimphu will stand 52 meters tall when completed. It will be the tallest sitting Buddha statue in the world. The Buddha Dordenma Project will cost over US$ 100.00 million when fully completed. The beautiful statue is surrounded by the Kuenselphodrang Recreational Nature Park that covers an area of close to a thousand acres of greenery.

From time to time, I photographed the progress of its construction that span half a dozen years.

August 31, 2009

May 12, 2010

August 01, 2010

 March 03, 2011

February 19, 2014

It is not known how long it will take to fully complete the project. But of one thing I am sure, Kuenselphodrang will be one busy tourist spot, when done!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Yet Again, The Shingkhar-Gorgan Road Rears Its Ugly Head II

Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan

Article 5

“Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment for the benefit of the present and future generations and it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to contribute to the protection of the natural environment, conservation of the rich biodiversity of Bhutan and prevention of all forms of ecological degradation including noise, visual and physical pollution through the adoption and support of environment friendly practices and policies”.

That says it all ….. “Every Bhutanese is a trustee of the Kingdom’s natural resources and environment …… and it is the fundamental duty of every citizen to contribute to the protection of the natural environment, conservation and prevention of all forms of ecological degradation….”.

Have you done your part in fulfilling your duty towards protection of our natural environment, as charged by the Constitution? Dr. Karma Phuntsho attempts to do his. He makes the following point, in response to my post titled “Yet Again, The Shingkhar-Gorgan Road Rears Its Ugly Head” (

Dear Lopen Yeshe,
Thank you for the well written and well researched article. I hope it will get the attention of the relevant authorities. As much as I stand for the economic development of the local communities and the provision of good and easy communication facilities to people of these areas, I too remain suspicious of the benefit of this road. I am myself deeply connected to this part of Bhutan, with some deep roots in Shingkhar and quarter of my origin in Tsakaling, which lies on the edge of Kurtoe and shall benefit from this new road. In spite of the likely short term economic benefit and convenience this new connection will bring, I am wary as you are of the ecological consequences. The geological make of that terrain is precarious to say the least. Just next door in the Ngalakharchung valley, a whole mountain broke loose a dozen years ago causing not only great ecological disaster but much loss of life and property. The whole Kurichu project was nearly swept away downstream. That was already enough warning for people to be careful when they deal with the steep terrain in these areas.

The economic argument that the local communities can develop with the construction of these roads has no basis. Shingkhar already has road, so does villages in Kurtoe on the other side of the mountain. The connection that will pass through sheer wilderness is not going to add any significant bit to their economic betterment. Some commentators above say that the farmers could easily sell their dairy products. What we know is dairy farming almost immediately stops with the arrival of road as people have quick access to Amul. Shingkhar is a good example. Closure of yak farming and decline in dairy farming started when motor road reached Shingkhar.

The most important question is really about where we envision Bhutan to be in 30, 50 or a 100 years time. Do we want all our valleys and wild life reserves crisscrossed by highways? Do we want gas stations and auto-workshop shacks to prop up in every idyllic valley we have today? Bhutan's main wealth is and will be its environment and culture and this will be our lasting source of income and happiness as well as our contribution to the world. Any untoward intrusion into ecological watershed and spiritual valley such as Shingkhar will not result in economic loss (as we increasingly rely on hydro power and tourism) as well the very unique characteristics which make Bhutan special. It is for this reason, the Shingkhar community campaigned against a golf course and the responsible government of the day saw reason to stop as they have to stop the road. The Shingkhar-Gorgan road plan deserves much more debate than it is given, certainly more than MP salary packages.

Karma Phuntsho


Dr. Karma Phuntsho is among Bhutan’s most learned scholars. He is the founder of the Loden Foundation and authored a number of publications, including the highly acclaimed “The History of Bhutan”. This colossal book is the only book I read in the last 30 years. This book is so readable that during my last trek to the frigid regions of Lunana that lasted 28 days, I carried it with me - so it can keep me company during times of snow and blizzard and foul weather.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Views That Warm The Heart

On the afternoon of 1st July, 2014, I had gone to the Regional Trade Office in Changzamtog, to meet a friend. There I met Mr. Dungtu who had been superannuated just a day back. Until then he was the Regional Director of Thimphu region. He and I go back decades - having been part of the same Ministry during my stint in the government.

Chance meetings among old friends are invariably an occasion to reminiscence about good old times. But there was nothing nostalgic about our conversation. Instead, it verged on the pathetic and the loathsome - on the topic that is currently in vogue - salary increase.

Dungtu and I talked of our individual disgust at the misconceptions, the confusions and lack of understanding about the need or the reason for the salary increase. But a point Dungtu made hit my sweet spot. He told me of his interview with the BBS on the occasion of his receiving the gold medal for long service to the Sa Wa Sum. When asked by the interviewer how he deserved the medal, his answer was:

“No, I simply do not deserve it. This medal too comes as an undeserved gift from the King and the government. Unlike other recipients who claim that they have toiled in the sun, rain and snow and deserve what they got, I would like to say that I have done nothing outstanding in my life to deserve the award nor all the salary and perks I was given during my last forty years as a government employee. I have nothing to show for it. Instead, I have to thank the King and the government for taking care of me all my life. Today as I enter a life of retirement, I go a happy and contended man - that I have been a lucky man to have got more than I deserved”.

Which reminds of another chance meeting with another retired civil servant whose views gave me hope that we are not entirely a hopeless case.

Dasho Tshering Wangda retired several months back, as our Consul General to India. He retired before time, unlike others who fight tooth and nail to remain in service way beyond their time and usefulness. When Dasho Wangda was asked by the RCSC to continue, he adamantly declined to do so. When he was told that the country needed his service, he made this point:

“My service to the Sa Wa Sum will never cease as long as there is life in my body. And, it is not important for me to remain in the government to serve the Sa Wa Sum. Even as a private citizen, I can continue to serve and be useful to the country in a variety of ways”.

Few friends asked me to blog on the issue of this salary increase. I have refused to do so. But now that I am drawn into it, let me simply state the following:

Is there a need for increase in salary? YES!

Do those who are receiving it, deserve it? NO!

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Beautiful Letter

Recently I received a beautiful and touching mail from an Indian traveler whom I met in Thimphu during his travels to Bhutan sometime back.

Quite often, I get told by some of my friends that they could not write to me because they were so busy that they simply could not find the time to do so. How plausible is that? I mean how believable is it that one cannot take out 5 lousy minutes to write few lines to a friend? You have got to be a prized Dodo if you are unable to reschedule 5 minutes of a day that has 720 minutes, to write to a friend to say you care!

You may notice that the young writer who authored the following mail, writes from the heart. And, it is evident that he has a very sensitive heart. In the few lines that would have taken him no more than 10 minutes, he lays bare his soul and manages to tell the story of his journeys and his life’s goals, his passion.

I loved the sensitivity of his writings and sought his permission to post it as an article on this Blog. He consented.


Dear Yeshey,

Its been 4 years since you were kind enough to meet me on my travels. There are many intellectual debts one accrues while travelling and hence these are ones that must be acknowledged.

In my case those travels marked an important shift in the direction I choose to lead my life. I became an ecologist. I worked in the Southern Western Ghats for a year on a large mammal project, then went to study anthropology for a year while working with Hornbills in another landscape closer to home in Mumbai. I now make my way to study for a Master's in Environmental Sciences and Policy at Central European University in Budapest. They were kind enough to give me a scholarship. Despite my many attempts I have been unable to travel up north and as a consequence my yearning for returning to Bhutan grows with each passing day.

I also took up Photography as a hobby during that time and then laid my camera to rest because I felt that I had no right to capture something I wasn't going to protect. Eventually having convinced myself that I was working towards environmental protection in some form or the other I have picked up the camera again and also put up some of my work online. Your comments on my work would be wonderful. I have recently invested in a zoom lens most of my photos were shot on a 50mm so a 300mm will take a little while to get used to.

I've been thinking of drafting this mail for many months now but as a result of relatively busy schedule failed to find both the tranquility and composure that such mails deserve. I can hope you'll be able to forgive me for these transgressions.  

I hope things are good with you and I look forward to being able to meet you once again when an opportunity to return to mountains presents itself. If you find yourself travelling south to Mumbai do let me know, I'd be more than happy to show you around.

Warm regards


Saturday, June 21, 2014

In and Around Wimbledon

In 2009, I had a contract to cover the Wimbledon Championships. Here are some of the sights, mostly off-court:

The Face Of The Security:

Face Of The Ball Boy:

Face Of The Drummer:

Face of Azarenka:

Strains Of Competition:

At the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club where the Championships are held, there is no Court Number 13:

The Umpire:

Wimbledon in not all about Roger Federer, Rafeal Nadal and Novak Djokovic. It is also about:

Disabled Players:

Veterans (Martina Navratilova):

... and Junior Ladies (Noppawan Lertcheewakar (Thailand) - Junior Ladies Singles Title Holder, 2009):

Day of Men's Single Final at the Wimbledon. Seats inside the Center Court are all taken up so people throng the Tim Henman Hill (now renamed Murray Mound), to watch the proceedings on the giant TV screen:

Some don't care much for the games - they come here to sunbath:

.... and some come for Strawberry, Champagne &  Romance:

The Hairless Spectator:

The Veteran:

The Novice:

The Old:

The Young:

The Photographer:

I love the English streets - they are lined with colorful flowers. Pots of flowers are placed in front of their homes. So very pretty!

An Example of the dour English Humour: