Saturday, January 16, 2021

Dangbo Dingbo: Bhutan’s Postage Stamps: The Early Days II

I like what a historian recently told me:

‘Without written records, we're left to "sleuthing" – to investigator logic.’

This was in relation to my exasperation at the near zilch written records within the country – about our coinage and postage stamps. Fortunately, although they could test our sleuthing skills and investigator logic to the extreme, there do exit sufficient material and records of events out there – as long as we are willing and have the patience to wade through a pool of murky and often times, undependable information. The only thing that remains to be seen is, at the end of it all, how good are our analytical skills and skills of deductions, and how adept are we at the application of logic.

Now, in my last post I have already established how it became possible for Burt Kerr Todd to enter Bhutan. And, if you read the telegram more intently, you will also be able to make an educated guess as to which month and year he arrived Bhutan, and who was his travel companion. But there are host of other questions that has remained mute, in relation to the mystery surrounding Burt’s role in the production and marketing of Bhutan’s postage stamps in the international market.

First issue relates to his appointment by Bhutan – to handle the entire process of designing, printing and delivery of our postage stamps – for internal consumption within the country, as well as for sale to collectors in the international domain.

To begin with, it is said that the deal was sealed at Bhutan House, Kalimpong, in 1959. To my mind this is most unlikely - for two reasons:

REASON 1:

Gongzim Sonam Tobgay Dorji had passed away in September of 1953. In any event, with the situation prevailing following the “Quit India” movement, Bhutan House’s pivotal role as a foreign relations office during late 1800s and early 1900s, had greatly diminished. Her Majesty Ashi Kesang Choden Dorji moved to Bhutan, upon her marriage to the XXVth Paro Poenlop and Crown Prince HRH Gyalsey Jingme Dorji Wangchuck, in 1951. During the same time, Haa Droomp Jigme Palden Dorji also moved to Bhutan – soon to be appointed Prime Minister of the country. Ashi Tashi Chodzom Dorji was moved to Eastern Bhutan (Trashigang) in 1954, as the King’s Representative - to streamline land holding and issue of Thrams in that part of the world. Thus, the only person of stature who would have been present in Bhutan House in 1959 would have been Mayoom Choying Wangmo Dorji.

I seriously doubt that she would have entered into any legal agreement with an outside person/agency, on behalf of the Royal Government of Bhutan.

REASON 2:

The second reason why I believe the agreement would have been concluded much earlier to 1959 is because as early as 1960, Burt Todd saw it fit to “plant” a news article in the New York Times newspaper, announcing that Bhutan is planning to issue “regular postage stamps”. The term regular postage stamps would have been used since before that we only had four varieties of fiscal stamps, issued in 1954.

By May 1962 – five months before official release of our postage stamps on 10th October, 1962, Burt Todd was offering to sell Bhutanese postage stamps to international collectors. Designing and printing postage stamps is a tedious process – particularly when doing so for the first time ever. Additionally, shipping the stamps from England to his marketing agency based in Nassau, Bahamas would take time. So it is my belief that the deal to do the stamps would have been struck before Burt’s supposed trip to Bhutan in 1959. Also it is quite provable that he never arrived Bhutan in 1959 – but only upto Kalimpong. Some one representing the Royal Government of Bhutan with authority to do so, may have been sent to Kalimpong, to sign the Agency Agreement.

To be sure, there certainly is documented proof within the country that Burt Todd did come to Bhutan for his honeymoon, in 1954.

But one thing is certain BEYOND DOUBT – a written agreement would have to have been executed between Burt Todd and the Royal Government of Bhutan. Without this letter of appointment to validate his credentials as a bona fide representative of the Royal Government of Bhutan, the security printers Harrison & Sons, London, and later on, Walsall Security Printers, London would have never agreed to print Bhutanese postage stamps – just on the say so of Burt Kerr Todd.

Friday, January 15, 2021

130 Fully Funded Rotary Fellowship for 2021

Dear readers who are Bhutanese graduates and are interested to take up higher studies in select subjects, the Rotary International is offering fully funded 130 Peace Fellowships to qualified candidates. The applications will be accepted as of February, 2021. Please read the full detail at:

https://www.rotary.org/en/our-programs/peace-fellowships/

Please DO NOT write to us seeking clarifications - all the answers and details are available at the link provided above.

Our Club will only be involved in the assessment and recommendation of the candidates whom we think qualify.

Other than direct family of the members of the Rotary Club of Thimphu - all all eligible to apply.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Dangbo Dingbo: Bhutan’s Postage Stamps: The Early Days

'Please come now to Bhutan. Jigmie leaves May 21 for Ha Dzong. We have received permission for you to join him.'

The above telegram message enabled the young American Burt Kerr Todd to make his maiden trip to Bhutan in 1951 when he attended the royal wedding of the XXVth Paro Poenlop and Crown Prince HRH Gyalsey Jigme Dorji Wangchuck to Ashi Kesang Choden Dorji, which took place in Paro on 5th October, 1951. Upon his return to the US after spending nearly a year in Bhutan, Burt Todd wrote a detailed account of his trip, which the National Geographic magazine published in their December 1952 issue.


I was intrigued – how in the name of God did Burt Kerr Todd manage to gain entry into the forbidden land of Bhutan – in 1951? I finally found my answer in an article authored by one Alex Klein:

The youthful Burt was thoroughly smitten by Bhutan - so much so that he was once again back in Bhutan in 1954 – this time with his newly wed wife Susie for their honeymoon. It was either during this trip or the subsequent trip in 1959, that plans began to take shape that would go on to establish his association with Bhutan – on a more permanent footing. Later events that came to light make me believe that it would have to have been before 1959.

Burt Kerr Todd graduated from Oxford University in the UK, in 1949. As reported in the above article, it was during his time in London that he was introduced to the future queen of Bhutan who was then simply known as Ashi Kesang-La Dorji. She was then studying at London’s House of Citizenship.

The casual acquaintance endured - finally culminating into a dream opportunity that few dared hoped for – a visit to the elusive Last Shangri-La – the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan about which few would have heard. It is said that Burt Kerr Todd was the first American ever to enter Bhutan.

The daring and adventurous nature of Burt seems to have endeared himself to the King. Over time, it is said that he began to play the role of Bhutan’s unofficial Advisor. No record of his appointment exists in the annals of history – but later events prove that his services were most definitely sought for by Bhutan and, in all fairness, to great benefit.

Burt Kerr Todd was the trailblazer who helped put Bhutan on the world philately map. He helped Bhutan design, print and market our postage stamps beginning 1962:


Burt Kerr Todd set into motion Bhutan's postal journey with the release in 1962 of these earliest set of seven postage stamps

There are two versions as to how it all began.

One version says that it was His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck who called upon him to suggest ideas as to how Bhutan might expand its economic base. Burt suggested postage stamps.

Another version says that it was as a result of the World Bank refusing to grant Bhutan the asking loan of dollars ten million. Supposedly an American who attended the World Bank meeting as an observer to the proceedings felt sorry for Bhutan and suggested to Burt who presented the loan proposal to the World Bank, that Bhutan could try selling postage stamps to raise finance. I truly do not believe that we would have sought a loan of dollars ten million. What would we have done with that kind of money in the mid 1950s? In fact, I do not believe that we would have applied to the World Bank for loan at all. We became a member of the World Bank only in 1981.

Whatever the truth – what remains a historical record is that Burt Kerr Todd helped Bhutan to release our first set of seven postage stamps in Phuentsholing, on 10th October, 1962. Although initially the world collectors were not impressed, over time Burt’s unique and unusual stamp designs drew attention and admiration. History is witness to the fact that for a number of years philately accounted for the highest earning of foreign exchange for Bhutan.

PS:

The telegraph message quoted at the very start of this post would have been transmitted from Bhutan House, Kalimgpong because we did not have the service in Bhutan those early days. In 1951, we did not even have wireless – we used the station based at Yatung.

Burt would have had to arrive Bhutan following the reverse route of the postal runner: Kalimpong-Sikkim-Nathu-La Pass-Yatung-Haa – even Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did so when he made his first official visit to Bhutan, in 1958.

Burt Kerr Todd knew nothing about postage stamps or the business of marketing them – this is an indication of how adventurous and daring the man was. Thus, contrary to what the Bible says, it was the daring and the courageous who inherited the Earth, not the meek!


Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Are We Preparing For Heavy Snowfall?

The weather has been warm for the past 3-4 days and the sky overcast and gloomy. It worries me - is the weather due to brew up some heavy snow across our mountain passes? We are into mid January and this is certainly snow time.


It is sad that this year we will not be seeing children in the open battling with snowballs. During this pandemic time and the ongoing lockdown, we have to be confined within our homes. That is not a problem.

The problem will be if our supply delivery chain is disrupted during this period of lockdown. I hope the Department of Roads has enough stock of salt to sprinkle over the road surface at the high passes so that traffic flow is not disrupted. It would also be a good idea to station some earth moving equipment at the high passes on both sides - to shovel snow - if the down pour becomes too heavy.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Peculiar Problems During Lockdown

I am glad that the Government has extended the lockdown in Thimphu and Paro for a further period of 2 weeks. Hopefully, we are able to break the chain of transmission by then and should there be any undetected or unreported active cases elsewhere in other Dzongkhags, we would come to know of them.

There is no doubt that this lockdown would cause all sorts of inconveniences to a lot of people. Inconveniences would be an understatement – I can imagine a few hundred problems people may be facing – different kind of problems at different levels of society. We are already seeing one ugly face of lockdown – a spike in domestic violence.

The rich may have the money to buy whatever they fancy – at whatever asking price. Unfortunately, they have a problem – their money cannot buy what is not there to be had. The poor man on the other hand has a problem quite distinct from that of the rich man – he has the problem of lack of purchasing power – he does not have money to buy the most basic needs – not even at half the price.

There are rumors of incidences where clandestine lovers got caught in the lockdown - in hotel rooms – with someone else’s wives. By contrast, lovers are pinning away for company and togetherness – rudely separated by the lockdown, at each far end of the city.

My problem I suppose is something of a universal problem – how to stop gaining weight during these inactive times. The moment I heard that the lockdown is being extended by two more weeks – I got serious about keeping the weight down. My answer:

Oranges and Kiwi Fruits

I determined that the first step - for a while at least - is to cut down on intake of carbs - cut down on the rice. As of yesterday, I am onto fruits - oranges and kiwi fruits - I don't like apples. I hope it helps. And I hope these fruits remain to be available - until the end of lockdown.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Fakes and Forgeries of Bhutanese Stamps

Collectors - whatever or wherever they collect – are a breed apart. They are passionate, zealous and obsessive, to the point that at times they become easy prey for the immoral and the nefarious. It appears that the world community of philatelists, on occasions, have been duped with forgeries and fakes of our stamps. Actually it is a matter of pride that people have found it lucrative to produce fakes and forgeries of our stamps. I mean it proves that our stamps were popular and sought after – enough for some to invest money and time to produce fakes and forgeries of them.

In an article by Leo van der Velden and Iiro Kakko titled “Forgeries, Fakes and Bogus Stamps of Bhutan”, they record the following fakes and forgeries of our stamps.





It is sad that some of the above forgeries are executed so poorly. One can notice that whoever the cad was who did it, he used a rubber stamp to surcharge our 1954 revenue stamps. Even worst, the stamps of the fish has Laotian alphabets while declaring it Bhutanese stamp. In my opinion, there cannot be an excuse for a poor job – even if the job is intended to crook and hoodwink others. In fact here is where one should endeavor to do an EXCELLENT JOB!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Did We or Did We Not?

It is now confirmed that there existed an organized mail service in ancient Bhutan. As I had suggested in one of my earlier posts, they used a relay system – a postal runner from the originating Dzong would deliver the mail to the next Dzong on the mail’s route – and from there on to the next … and so on and so forth. That is why you see cancellation marks of a number of Dzongs on the mail’s cover.

It is also said that district judges were given the responsibility to transmit the mails from their districts to the next. This needs to be swallowed with a pinch of salt. District judges came much later – perhaps in the early 1900s, or perhaps even earlier. District administrators such as Dzongpoens and Poenlops were there as early as 1640s. Thus if any body acted as the transmitters of mails, it would have to have been these regional administrators.

One account goes on to say that initially it was mandated that mails should be dispatched every five days. Upon introduction of the revenue stamps and its approval for use as a postage stamp in 1955, other than that of the King, all mail covers were required to be affixed with a revenue stamp of a set value. In due course, the frequency of mail dispatches was hastened to two days a week.

It is also more or less established that Bhutan did not use the post offices of China or India based at Yatung – for delivery and transmission of our mails. It was hand delivered by postal runners over Yatung-Nathu-La Pass-Sikkim-Kalimgpong. As I had said in my earlier post, an experimental Post Office was set up in Bhutan House in Kalimpong, which would have ceased operation after 1962 – the year we introduced modern postal service and released our first set of 7 postage stamps. But it is possible that the Post Office in Bhutan House would have remained beyond 1962 since it would still be faster and more convenient to deliver mail over the Nathu-Lass pass. Remember that we started building motor road only in 1961.


Nathu-La Pass as seen from Bori Goma, North of Haa and close to Nobtshonapatta. This is the Tibetan side of Nathula - I think on the other side is Sikkim

An Indian Postal Advisor by the name of Dr. K. Ramamurti joined Bhutan Postal Service in 1964. He streamlined the system until his departure in 1968. Upon his departure, late Lyoenpo Lam Penjor took over as the Director of Department of Posts & Telegraphs.

Interestingly, one reader informs me that instead of a Post Office, we had a wireless station at Yatung. He tells me that from time to time His Majesty the Drukgyal Ngipa would trek up to Yatung, to do wireless talk. Wireless messages were also regularly transmitted and received through this station at Yatung. Ofcourse by 1955, we already had wireless station in Bhutan – at Dechenchholing, at a place called Wirelesspang – behind Dechenchholing Palace. N. Chawna of Mizoram was the instructor and trainer at the station - he was later joined by is uncle - S. Saja. You can read all about early wireless days under "Ham Radio History" listed on the column left of this page.

One record has it that the Post Master at Haa during those days was someone named Babu Agye Tshering. But there could not have been a Post Master in Haa since we did not have a Post Office back then – the first one came in October of 1962 – in Phuentsholing, although the Post Office building itself was inaugurated only on 2nd May, 1967. I confirmed with the daughter of the only Babu Agye Tshering I knew and worked with – and she tells me that he was never a Post Master. But she confirms that he was in Haa during the period under discussion. He was working for the late Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji. Thus it is more or less confirmed that it would indeed have been him who handled the mails in Haa – given his proximity to the late Prime Minister and the Lyoenchen’s proximity to Bhutan House in Kalimpong.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Please Extend The Lockdown II

All across the world a good number of countries have started to administer COVID-19 vaccines to their population, as authorized by their individual governments and regulatory authorities. Luckily, in Bhutan we are not talking of vaccines as yet, and that, to my mind, is a good thing. Let us give it few months before we decide if the vaccines are safe, in addition to being effective.

On the other hand some of us in Bhutan are pleading with the government to extend the current lockdown by few more days - until the recent surge in new cases are brought under control, or until we are able to determine what is the cause behind this sudden surge in new cases. A glimmer of hope is that we had only 6 new cases yesterday - an encouraging drop in cases for the first time since the announcement of our second lockdown.

It is encouraging that some Dzongkhags have not reported any cases. Is that a cause for relief and rejoice for the people of these Dzongkhags? Or should they worry that perhaps their active cases remain undetected and unreported. What are the chances that there may be cases that are simmering to spiral out of control? Have we done enough to determine that they truly are free of positive cases? Do you think we need to find out – to be certain beyond doubt – before we heave a sigh of relief?

Certainly the arrival and administration of the vaccines is good news. Now we have to grit out teeth and wait a few months to see that in their wake the vaccines have not unleashed a Lucifer even more deadly than the COVID-19.

But one thing is for sure – the onus is on us to do the right thing – to behave responsibly and follow instructions as determined and proven to be necessary. While the government does not have a monopoly  on common sense and wisdom, it certainly has better access to know better.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

What You See Is What You Get - But What You Got Is Not What You Wanted

As pointed out in my last blog, it appears that some of the mail covers that are in the possession of collectors around the world – do not quite tell the real deal. Something is amiss. Like I said in my last post, the following cover is simply impossible. It is affixed with a revenue stamp issued 19 years back. Once our postage stamps were released in 1962, revenue stamps would have been disallowed, to be used as postage. However, a senior philatelic historian contends that the fiscals (revenue stamps) continued to be used sparingly way past 1962. I will confirm this from three oldest postmasters who are still living. Thus  it is unlikely that the originating Post Office would have allowed this Post Card to be dispatched to the intended destination. Further, revenue stamps were only used for internal mail.

In addition to the above, take a look at the following cover. It is clear that the mail was sent by the Home Minister to the Ramjam of Trashiyangte. This also does not make sense. Why I say this is because the cover carries a revenue stamp of 1954. This means the mail would have had to have been issued by the late Kidu Lyonpo Tamzhing Jagar – first Home Minister of Bhutan.

Upon the establishment of the Ministry of Home Affairs by the Council of Ministers during the 28th Session of the National Assembly, the Third King appointed Tamzhing Jagar as the first Home Minister – in 1968 which post he held until 1985. This means this cover would have to have been issued after 1968. By then postage stamps were already in use for the past 8 years. This is another anomaly that does not fit.

All these point to the possibility that there may have been serious mischief in the philately world – surrounding Bhutanese stamps and covers.

To give you a hint of what happened, consider the following:

An experimental Post Office was started in Bhutan House, Kalimpong in the late 1960s. At some point during the period, a person named Kesang Dorji served as the Post Master in Bhutan House. Like me, the Finnish philatelist Iiro Kakko also did not believe that the covers were the real deal. During an interview he conducted, Kesang Dorji admitted to him that he produced the covers – for sale to the world stamp collectors.

This means whole lot of covers – and perhaps even postage stamps - currently held by the world collectors are – fakes.

Bhutan's first Post Card, issued in 1966

Saturday, January 2, 2021

Bhutanese Mail Route Of Yore: Yatung-Nathula Pass-Sikkim-Kalimpong III

It turns out that the history of philately in Bhutan is ten times murkier than that of our coinage. It is one truly tangled world – one that appears to have been shaped and molded by characters mostly clad in grey. But I will get to that later – for now there appears to be a need to reassess and bring clarity to the matter concerning what has been told so far, about how our mail was delivered over Yatung and Nathu-La Pass, on to Sikkim and from there on to Bhutan House, Kalimpong.



I have been brooding over it for the past two days – and somehow I believe that that narrative is not tenable. It just simply does not gel!

First and foremost, we neither had post offices nor a postal service  in place then – during the 1950s.

Second, one sticks a stamp – whether revenue or postage - onto a cover only when the cover is intended to be carried through the postal network.

Third – the covers you see above supposedly sent over the Nathula Pass had been stuck with additional Indian and Chinese postage stamps – supposedly at Yatung. The question then arises: who stuck the postage stamps at Yatung and even more important – who paid for them?

Fourth – the addressees of the covers are private individuals with incomplete delivery addresses such as: Pasang Lama C/O D S Lama, Kalimpong. Does a letter get delivered with that kind of address – particularly to a highly populated place like Kalimpong? I don’t think so.

As we know, we used postal runners to deliver mails internally. Thus it could be argued that we used postal runners to deliver the mails upto Yatung Post offices of the Indians and the Chinese. This argument would not hold water since if we used postal runners, where was the need to stick a revenue stamp on the cover? Postal runners can carry the mails without the need for postage. And even more important, postal runners were not used for private mail – only official mails.

Look at the following Post Card – it is surreal, to say the least! Consider:

The Post Card is the second issue by Bhutan P&T – I think sometime in 1969 – the first was issued in 1966;

The sender sends the Season’s Greetings on 01.05. 1981;

The postal cancellation is dated 02.05.1981;

Strangely a revenue stamp of 1954 is affixed when we had already released our postage in 1962 - nineteen years before the Post Card was posted. By 1981, revenue stamps should have been disallowed to be used as postage but I am told they were still used, sporadically.

Thus I have concluded that there is something fishy about these covers over the Nathu-La Pass. In my next article in the coming days, I will try and bring some facts to light, which hopefully will enable the readers to assess the matter in a more objective light.


Thursday, December 31, 2020

Bhutan's Earliest Postage Stamp Gives Joy to a Sikkimese

I have long been grumbling about the errors – perpetrated both intentionally and through carelessness – in the printing of our bank notes as well as our coins – both hammered and milled. But now that my attention has been drawn – willy-nilly – to the postage stamps, I find that here too we have blundered. Look at the following two earliest stamps:

1. Stamp depicting His Majesty Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck, issued in 1962

If you look at the stamp carefully, you will notice that the date of birth has been shown as 1867 – 1902. This is totally wrong. His Majesty’s birthdate should have been shown as 1862 – 1926. How could such a drastic mistake have been made?

But something that surprises me is: It cannot be that they pulled the years 1867 – 1902 out of some magician’s hat. Does these years of birth and death belong to someone? Who? But one thing that is heartwarming to know is that one subject of the erstwhile Kingdom of Sikkim is thrilled to bits that his annexed homeland is shown in the stamp as an independent Kingdom :)- He writes that this is the only stamp he knows in the whole world where his annexed homeland is depicted as an independent Kingdom.

Then consider the following stamp issued the same year – 1962. The postage stamp depicts a Bhutanese archer in traditional Gho. Look carefully – and you realize that the man has worn his Gho from the wrong side – the Gho’s Gong is facing left, and not right as it should be.

2. Stamp depicting a Bhutanese archer, issued in 1962

I cannot imagine how Burt Kerr Todd would have made such a terrible mistake. I mean he attended the Royal Wedding in 1951 during which time he is supposed to have spent 7 months in Bhutan. Then he came back to Bhutan with his brand new wife - in 1954 - for his honeymoon. Then he is known to have come back once again in 1959 – when it is said that an agreement was reached – for him to work at designing, printing and marketing of Bhutan’s postage stamps in the international market. This means he surely would have seen and known how we Bhutanese male wear our Gho.

I thought long and hard – how this could have happened. The only conclusion I could draw is that Todd must have photographed a Bhutanese man on a negative film, which was used those early days. However, when printing the photograph for artwork, the studio person must have printed from the wrong side of the negative – with the result that an inverted image was produced. When an image is captured on the negative film, it is actually captured in “negative” or inverse state. When they are printed on photographic paper, the positive image is reproduced. The following is what I mean.


The image on the right was flipped horizontally to produce an inverted image that shows the Gho's Gong facing to the left.

Since this is the last day of a year that tested us all, I am posting two articles today - in jubilation of a terrible year that we are now putting behind us. See you all next year.

Please Extend The Lockdown

The Royal Government of Bhutan has recently announced that the ongoing lockdown could be lifted after the New Year and the Nginlo that is coming up tomorrow and day after. I should be relieved – but I am not. A sense of unease overwhelms me. I fear that we may be opening up too soon, too hastily. We have never seen such double-digit cases in the past. In the last 10 days, we have been averaging 20.9 new cases a day. This is very worrisome – something has triggered this surge in new cases – we need to understand what caused it. Even if we cannot yet understand the reason for the surge, we can allow ourselves to relax – only once we see a drop in new cases. Or, at least we have been able to undertake mass testing in all the Dzongkhags. Look at the following figure:

Record of recent COVID-19 cases

His Majesty the King had personally subjected himself to two quarantine isolations. He has given out Kabneys and Patangs to a number of people – to recognize their achievement in their efforts towards containment of the epidemic. He has awarded medals of valor and service to organizations at the forefront of our fight against the pandemic. After all that, it would be a real pity if we allow ourselves to be impatient and let go before time, and before making sure that we are doing the right thing.

I have always said through a number of past posts on this Blog that there is no escape for us – that we too must face the St. Martinma’s Day, eventually. That day is here – and we have seen that the Bhutanese people were ready, and prepared to face it. If that is true, then let us be prepared to face the lockdown for few more days – until we are cock sure that we have been successful in breaking the chain of transmission.

Let us encourage the King and the Government to extend the lockdown for few more days – until the numbers are under control and until we can complete mass testing across all the twenty Dzongkhags.


Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Bhutanese Mail Route Of Yore: Yatung-Nathula Pass-Sikkim- Kalimpong II

Looking at the following mail cover, it becomes apparent that while we know that there was no postal services in the country during the early 1950’s – there appears to have been some kind of mail delivery system in place. The multiple seals from different Dzongs affixed on the cover are evidence of that.

I wondered – why was the cover stamped at every Dzong en-route to the destination? The only explanation I could arrive at is that it could not have been a single postal runner who carried the mail from Trashigang to all the way to the final designation. Although the cover’s postmarks end at Wangduephodrang, I believe that the final destination would have been Thimphu or Paro.

It is my belief that the mail delivery system was organized on a relay system. A runner from Trashigang would deliver the mail up to Zhongar Dzong and from there on another runner from Zhongar would deliver the mails to Jakar Dzong and so on and so forth. That would explain the presence of postmarks of each of the Dzongs on the route of delivery. Ofcourse we know the existence of postal runners – in fact our first postage stamps issued in 1962 depicted a postal runner on two of the seven stamps. But was a relay system in place? – that is what I am interested to find out.

I looked up the records and find that between 1952 - 1965, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi and Dasho Babu Tashi were the Dzongpoens of Trashigang and Zhongar (Mongar). I do not know who was Kuzang Wangdi – but certainly I know who was Dasho Babu Tashi – as things settle down, I will confirm if there were postal runners during those years.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Bhutanese Mail Route Of Yore: Yatung–Nathula Pass-Sikkim-Kalimpong

One reader commented as follows, on my last blog titled Postage Stamps Without Postal Service:

The blue rubber stamp on the invitation card is intriguing. In the center is Phuntsholing Bhutan, but on the outer circle, it reads P.O. Dalsingpara, district Jalpaiguri. Is it because there was no post office in Phuntsholing and that the mails came via Dalsingpara PO.

The reader is right – we used the closest Indian Post office to deliver/receive our mails. However, to me the blue rubber stamp is not so much of a confusion – what is, is the black round stamp that cancels the postage stamp on the Invitation Card. If you take a closer look at it, the postmark date is indicated as 10 October, 1962 – which is the day the Bhutan Postal Service was launched in Phuentsholing by the SDO (Sub-Divisional Officer). From the round seal, it can be seen that the organization that looked after the postal service those days was called Post & Telegraph Service. What is puzzling is that the cancellation stamp shows Rinpung Dzong (Paro). How could it have been post-marked in Rinpung Dzong, on the same day of the inauguration? Even if we accept that the Invitation Cards were posted from Ringpung Dzong, the date should be few days, if not few weeks, before 10th October, 1962. Remember, motor road construction in Bhutan started for the first time in 1961 - from Phuentsholing towards Thimphu.


Confusing dates and postmarks

Bhutan used the nearest Indian post offices for receiving and sending our international mails. Dalsingpara in Jalpaiguri is just across the border from Phuentsholing town – so we used the Indian post office there. It is for that reason that the blue rubber stamp on the Invitation Cards shows the return address as P O Dalsingpara District Jalpaiguri.

When there was no motor road access to the Southern borders, Bhutan use to route our mails overland to Bhutan House, Kalimpong and use the route: Tibet Yatung–Nathula Pass-Sikkim-Kalimpong and finally from Bhutan House to destinations around the world. It is also possible that we may have used runners to deliver and collect mails through the Pasakha/Soembekha route - but I doubt it because it would have been the longer route. The earliest Revenue Stamps were used for the purpose – but upon the mail arriving at Tibet Yatung, the covers were required to be slapped with additional postage stamps of China and/or India – for onward journey to Kalimpong. Who did that and how they were paid for is still a mystery. And, even why additional stamps were needed to be slapped is a mystery – unless our Revenue Stamps were not recognized for use as postage stamps – outside the Bhutanese territorial boundaries.


The cover shown with an additional Chinese Postage Stamp affixed at Yatung, Tibet-China, in addition to our Revenue Stamp



The cover shown with an additional Indian Postage Stamp affixed at Yatung, Tibet-China, in addition to our Revenue Stamp



Translation of Lunar year to Gregorian year, month and date

Looks like during the mid 1950’s, Rinpung or Paro was the place of action for mailing services – most covers are marked from Rinpung Dzong. Ofcourse internal mails were also exchanged from other Dzongkhags such as Shongar (Mongar), Bumthang, Trashigang, Trongsa, Wangduephodrang, Thimphu etc. The following cover tells a very interesting tale of the route and journey of a mail dispatched from Trashigang to Thimphu.




Journey of an internal mail - from Trashigang to Thimphu


The postmarks show the following dates:

Trashigang           Fire-Bird     5th month   5th Day       02.07.1957

Shongar (Mongar)     Fire-Bird     5th month   9th Day       06.07.1957

Bumthang           Fire-Bird     5th month   16th Day     12.07.1957

Trongsa                   Fire-Bird     5th month   18th Day     15.07.1957

Wangduephodrang   Fire-Bird     5th month   25th Day      22.07.1957

Thimphu

From the above, you can see how many days a mail took from one point to the next.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Postage Stamps Without Postal Service

If being locked down were not enough, my life suddenly got complicated by my pursuit of history – this time about the history of our postage stamps. By necessity, the history of coinage was expected to be blurry, hazy and supremely challenging – given that facts and myths need to be gleaned and weighed and analyzed from events and occurrences spanning few centuries of our tumultuous past. But the history of Bhutan’s postal service is less than seven decades old – thus it shouldn’t have to be this complicated. But I find that it is.

A Washington-based reader of my blog who sent me a handful of images of our Gold Coin Stamps from the 1960’s put me on the road to postal history – I had made a mention of him in my last blog. Since then I have done nothing but look at our old postage stamps and re-examine their history. Quite incredibly, I discovered that the history of our postage stamps is even more intriguing and fraught with mysteries and improbabilities that have my tongue hanging out a mile long.

Let us begin at the beginning – 1954 when, for the first time, Bhutan issued stamps. They were a set of four stamps in four different colors. Actually they were not postage stamps – but what we call "Revenue Stamps".

Bhutan's first stamps - Revenue Stamps as they are still called

The confusions with these stamps are primarily three:

1.    The stamps were denominated 1, 2, 4 and 8. It does not say what these numbers are

       – identification marks or face value of the stamps? If they were face values, they do not say
       whether Ngultrums or Chettrums.

2. They were called Revenue Stamps – I do not know why. They should have been called

        Fiscal Stamps – as does the philatelist from the US - since they were intended for use

         in monetary transections.

3. Curiously, in early 1955, these fiscal stamps were assigned to be used as postage stamps,

        under the authority of the IIIrd   King – as conveyed in writing by the Zimpoen, on

         17th September, 1955.What is funny is that there was no postal service then –

        Bhutan’s postal service was established on 10th October, 1962 – in Phuentsholing.


Launch of Bhutan's postal service on 10th October, 1962, in Phuentsholing

Between 1966 - 1996, some more of these fiscal stamps were issued – including a number of, what we chose to call – “Legal Stamps”. But unlike in the past, this time all of them had a face value, and they were designated in Nu./Ch.

Revenue and Legal stamps with face value denominated in Nu./Ch.

Now I find it funny that the stamps were called “Legal Stamps” – we still do. Did we have illegal stamps? A more appropriate nomenclature would have been “Judicial Stamps” - as the Bhutanese call them "Genja Ticket".

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Loan No Get – Stamps Will Issue

A Washington based reader of my Blog who is both a numismatist and a philatelist sent me an assortment of images of Bhutan’s Gold Coin stamps … in an attempt to explain to me:

In philatelic (stamp collecting) circles, changing of the value is a "surcharge" and "overprint" refers to alterations that did not affect the face value.

The following is what is being explained:


An example of Overprint/Surcharge

What the reader sent me was a bunch of Bhutan’s world famous coin stamps issued by the Bhutan Postal authorities in 1966.

One of the images sent to me by the reader

A rich American by the name Burt Kerr Todd – a friend of one of the Royal families supervised the designing and printing of the stamps, including their marketing to the international collectors.

Very few Bhutanese would be aware of the reasons behind the emergence of Bhutan’s postage stamps. Although eventually Bhutan would have had to issue postage stamps, at that point in time when a decision was made to produce postage stamps – the reason was said to be for a reason totally unrelated to postal service.

Apparently Bhutan had applied to the World Bank for a loan of US$10.00 millions. The loan was denied – ostensibly because the World Bank did not want to displease India by helping Bhutan. In his capacity as the unofficial Financial Advisor to Bhutan, Burt Kerr Todd led the team that made the presentation to the World Bank. At the end of the Meeting as he was leaving, a US government official who also attended the meeting as an observer suggested that Bhutan could produce postage stamps as a source of revenue. The idea appealed to Burt and thus, with the approval of the government, he embarked on issuing a variety of postage stamps, in a bid to earn revenue for the country.

The philately world did not exactly jump with excitement over his initial offerings. Then an idea hit him – an idea that was originally conceived by the Kingdom of Tonga who had issued a hugely successful gold coin stamp in 1962.

Gold Coin Stamp of the Kingdom of Tonga


Burt designed and printed Bhutan’s own Gold Coin stamps in 1966, which was received very well by the global community of collectors. He never looked back thereafter – he designed and printed Gold Coin stamps, triangular stamps, square rounded corner stamps, silk stamps, steel stamps, stamps with bass relief, talking stamps, scented stamps and his hugely popular 3-dimensional stamps that took the world by storm.

Bhutan’s earliest postage stamps were designed and printed under the supervision of Burt Todd – beginning 1962. Before that, Bhutan had issued revenue stamps in 1954. At a time when it was most needed, postage stamps accounted for the highest foreign exchange earning.

But Mr. Todd has been a source of serious confusion for me – for a whole day! The confusion arose from the following stamp that had me  thoroughly puzzled:

The Stamp with two face values

I noted that the stamp had two face values – one in the inner circle and another on the outer circle. The value in the inner circle was set in Indian Naya Paise (N.P.) and the outer one in Bhutanese CH (Chettrums). I was puzzled – why would a stamp need two face values and which of the two is the face value of the stamp? I was intrigued – until I realized much later that the inner value was the value of the 1966 cupro-nickle Thala that was depicted. Thus the denomination set in CH on the outer circle was the face value of the stamp. The stamp design was comprised of two components – the 1966 50 N.P. coin encircled in a circular band of blue bearing two dragons facing each other.


Sunday, December 20, 2020

Rewriting History

Historians, particularly Bhutanese historians, tend to treat our history with a casualness that is inexcusable. Historical texts are rife with contradictions. Authors are keen to publish their own take on the past—versions that are quite often in conflict with other accounts. In some cases, truly illogical claims have been made.

For instance, I have examined four different records of the chronology of Trongsa Poelops, with numerous inconsistencies in the names. Three of the records do agree on one point: that there were a total of 16 Trongsa Poenlops from 1647 to 2006. The fourth record, however, lists a staggering 25 Trongsa Poenlops.

I was not interested in history until I started putting together my book on the coinage of Bhutan. I discovered that the historical documentation on this topic was confusing, often inaccurate, and at times pure conjecture—the product of the writer’s fertile imagination.

One source of misinformation in the history of our coinage drew me deep into the tangled thicket of Bhutanese history—in particular, the lives and times of the famous Pala and Pila brothers, forefathers of the Wangchuck and Dorji families. Even accounts narrated in school textbooks are grossly erroneous, resulting in generations of Bhutanese growing up with a misunderstanding of our own history.

On page 3 of the Royal Education Council’s A History of Bhutan: Course Book for Class X, the following narration appears:

Pala continued to serve under the Paro Poenlop in the course of which, he has a son in the village of Tsentona. This was Sharpa Puenchung, who was to be the father of Kazi Ugyen Dorji of Kalimpong. He in turn rose to be Bhutan Agent and later Gongzom to the first Druk Gyalpo in 1907. His other son, by an earlier marriage, was Kitchelp Dorji Namgyal of the Bemji Chhoeje, who became Druk Desi.

There are problems with this passage. First and foremost, it is misleading to say that Sharpa Penchung’s son Ugyen Dorji was from Kalimpong; phrasing it this way makes it sound like he was not Bhutanese. It is true that Gongzim Ugyen Dorji was born in Kalimpong in 1855 to parents Sharpa Penchung and Thinley Om, in a house called Kota Homa/Kota Ghar/Kothi Woma. But most readers are likely unaware that Kalimpong in 1855 was Bhutanese territory. Only in 1865 did the British India government annex it, after the great Duars war.

It is also incorrect to state that Pala Gyeltshen married twice. He married only once—a woman from Tsendona in Paro (I am still trying to find out her name). Thus, it is not possible that Desi Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyal was the son of Pala Gyeltshen. I say this with certainty because, on page 30 (Reprint 2019) of A History of Bhutan 19th to 20th Century: Course Book for Class VIII, the following sentences appear:

It became clear then that Jigme Namgyal was the most powerful man in Bhutan. The officials of the Central Government and the Central Monastic Body invited Jigme Namgyal to be Desi. He was therefore enthroned in 1870 as the 49th Desi.

After he was enthroned, he appointed Kawang Sangye as the Wangduephodrang Dzongpoen, Wang Chogyal Zangpo as Zhung Dronyer, and his half brother Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyal as Gongzim.

The same Course Book, on Page 32, says:

In 1877, the Punakha Dzongpon, Ngodrup and the Paro Poenlop Niyma Dorji got together and planned to rebel against Jigme Namgyal and the new Desi. Further, they killed his representative, Nyerchen Charchung in Paro. This act of treachery required action from Jigme Namgyal. Jigme Namgyal, his son Ugyen Wangchuck, Phuntsho Dorji, his half brother Desi Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyal, and the Thimphu Dzongpoen went to Paro and captured the Ta Dzong.

These records are correct. Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyel was the son of Pila Gonpo Wangyal, born out of wedlock to a woman named Chechemo, who hailed from the house of Bemji Choeje in Trongsa. Pila Gonpo Wangyal fathered Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyel during his short stint with the Trongsa Poenlop, on his return journey from Gantey to Doongkar, where he settled down and married Sonam Pelzom and fathered the future Trongsa Poenlop Jigme Namgyel, as well as four other children. He built the Doongkar Nagtsang or Jigme Namgyel Nagtsang, which still stands. And Pila Gonpo Wangyal did marry a women in Gangtey during his time there. But this woman died soon after, childless.

Since Desi Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyal was born before Pila married Sonam Pelzom, Desi Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyal has to be the oldest of the six children fathered by Pila. Thus, it is correct that Desi Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyal is half brother of Jigme Namgyal.

I spent months tracking the journeys of Pala and Pila. I finally met the incumbent Head of Bemji Choeje who, along with other members of the Bemji Choeje family, confirmed that Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyel was indeed the son of Pila Gonpo Wangyel. When I cross-check the events in which Pila was involved, it is clear that only he could have fathered Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyel—not Pala, as some records claim.

As I find time, I will write a more detailed account of the journeys of the two brothers, Pala and Pila. Without an accurate account of this nation’s past, we will never fully understand the forces and personalities that brought us to where we are today.   



Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Down Memory Lane: The Karmic BHUTAN2020 SkyHydrant Water Filter Project

Hi David,

Thank you for your quick response. I am glad that you and Jean are well and safe.

Certainly you are one person in the whole world who I want to see - soon is not soon enough. Particularly because I resign from the Rotary Club of Thimphu as well as the Rotary fraternity – at the end of June, 2021. As you know, we have a Rotary Conference happening in July, 2021. It is my hope that you and Jean would make it to Bhutan for the Conference. Even if you cannot, please do try and re-route your return trip home from Taipei - through Bhutan - after attending the Rotary International Convention planned to be held there during mid June of 2021.

The one million dollars BHUTAN2020 Project is the Rotary Club of Thimphu’s single largest humanitarian project ever – we have never done or are ever likely to do a project at this scale. And I credit you entirely for it – for conceiving it and initiating it during your leadership of DAA. Bhutanese children have benefitted immensely from it. Fortunately the DAA leadership that took over from you continued to remain unfaltering in their support towards the project’s successful conclusion. Brian is determined to see the project completed by June 2021. Not only that he is committed to take the project beyond the planned 120 filters. Brian is due to ship 15 units of SkyHydrant MAX in the next few weeks. With this, DAA would have delivered close to 110 units of filters – meaning that we are on track to complete the project within the promised 3 years.

You may or may not remember – that the BHUTAN2020 project was almost Karmic – it was never supposed to have happened. Bhutan was nowhere within the radar of DAA. It was a pure chance happening.

Please pardon me for this long winding mail – but now that I am writing to you on the issue, I am taking this chance to make it a detailed mail – so that our Club Members who may not know how it all happened, would get to understand the context of the Project BHUTAN2020.

The seed for the idea for SkyHydrant water filters was first planted by the Malaysian Rotarian K K Looi - currently the Chair of Disaster Aid International. Quite extraordinarily, K K Looi’s arrival in Bhutan was yet another Karmic happenstance.

In 2017, our District Governor of RID 3292 informed us that the District Conference for the year would happen in Thimphu. We were ecstatic and embarked on making all the preparations. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the District reneged on their words and cancelled the District Conference. By then we had already spent hundreds of thousands – in preparation for the Conference. Cancelling the Conference was going to cost the Club millions in refunds and other costs. Already 160 participants had registered and paid for the Conference. Thus I proposed to the Members that we hold an international but Club level Rotary Conference – in place of the cancelled District Conference. The Members agreed and I proceeded to make the plans to host a Club level Conference targeted at international Rotarians. The Conference was a great success – we had a total of 175 including 15 participants from Bhutan. There was participation from more than 20 countries. The biggest contingent came from Malaysia – among whom was Rtn. K K Looi.

Rtn. K K Looi was one of the speakers during the Conference – and he spoke on a fascinating water filtration system called SkyHydrant. I was fascinated by it. Once he returned home, I wrote to KK and asked him to help us get some units of this fascinating filter. He wrote back saying that his club and the Disaster Aid Malaysia was too small to handle our request – he instead put me in touch with you.

I wrote to you – but you politely responded to say that DAA was busy with aid work for Nepal that was ravaged by the massive earthquake of 2015. I understood that you did not want to be over-extended – thus we went silent.

Then out of the blue a few months later, you communicated with me and said that there may be a possibility to offer Bhutan 2 SkyHydrant water filters – if I am able to work fast enough. You said I needed to arrange for visa and air passage and all other travel arrangements within 3 days – to move 2 filters and a DART Member of the DAA who was stranded in Nepal. Apparently the 2 SkyHydrants were destined for a location that was out of bounds for your team to visit – because a landslide had happened and the DART Member was not able to access the location. Thus you decided that you could fulfill my request – by diverting the filters from Nepal to Bhutan – instead of bringing it back to Australia. This was Karmic – and I was not about to let go this God-sent opportunity, to lay my hands on those fantastic filters.

Within a day and a half, I arranged everything – visa, hotel, air ticket – everything – for the DART Member Andrew Gunn to exit Kathmandu and travel to Bhutan and deliver and install the two filters. On 30th September, 2017 Andrew arrived at Paro where I went to receive him. Unfortunately – the selected sites of installation – Zhemgang HS and Yebilapsa CS – were cut off by roadblock. But I did not give up – I requested Andrew to train our local persons in the installation of the filters. Thus three member installation team of Bhutan Toilet Organization were put through a training course for 2 days – at the end of which Andrew was satisfied that they were now competent enough to carry out the installations independently.

Andrew went back a very happy man; with a wicked smile he promised to me that he would “bat” for me with you and your team at the DAA. We particularly requested him to pitch for us for the donation of 4 more filters for installation in our schools.

True to his word, Andrew successfully “batted” for us and managed to convince you and your team at the DAA to donate four more SkyHydrants – bringing the total installation of SkyHydrants to 6 Nos. DART Members Andrew Gunn and Phillip Gribble came for the installation of the second lot of 4 filters.

Seeing how beneficial the filters were for our school children, during one of our Club Meetings, I proposed that we invite you to Bhutan as our guest – to visit the schools where your filters were installed. You accepted the invitation and arrived in Bhutan on 5th March, 2018.

Consequently, on 9th March, 2018 during a farewell dinner hosted in your honor by the Club, you met the Education Minister and other dignitaries when a request was made to you to extent the donation of filters to 120 of Bhutan’s largest schools, which you readily accepted.

The initiative to deliver 120 SkyHydrants to 120 of Bhutan’s biggest schools, codenamed “BHUTAN2020” valued at $1.00 million was launch by you at the Rotary International Convention in Toronto, Canada on June 25, 2018.

Since then we never looked back. We are now all poised to complete the project dot on time – at the end of June, 2021.

You have moved on – but your legacy lives on.

We Thank You for your big-heartedness. Initially your successor Brian had serious doubts about being able to deliver the promise you made – but in a recent mail to me, he admitted that we are after all going to be able to deliver it – and even more.

Lastly, one other person who must get a mention and who was pivotal in making the BHUTAN2020 project a success is Madam Jamyang Choeden of the Ministry of Education. It was Karmic that she was then the Head of the SHND – the division in the Ministry of Education that looked after water supply to schools. Without her initiative and personal connections, the BHUTAN2020 would have floundered miserably. Through sheer dint of hard work and relentless pursuit, she succeeded in obtaining budgetary allocation of a substantial sum – to enable the SPBD to carry out the installations in the schools, and purchase fittings needed for the job. You may recall that she also acted as the host and guide to you, during your visit to Bhutan, as the representative of the Ministry of Education.

On behalf of he Bhutanese school children and on behalf of the Rotary Club of Thimphu, I once again Thank You for your generosity.

Bye and take care ... and keep safe.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Talking Tourism To The Graveyard II

Every once in a while, a motley of lawmakers and interest groups get together and start a discussion on the tourism sector and how to reorganize it. The mischief makers are so determined that they had even gone so far as to engineer a debate on the subject – during a RIGGS session in Phuentsholing sometime in 2015. Fortunately, the motion to do away with the Minimum Daily Tariff was defeated. Even today, Dr. Karma Tshering, founder of BSTS messages me, after the meeting on tourism that was concluded 2-3 days back: “Think positively – we are able to hold on regardless of the threats”. This was in response to my vehement refusal to attend the meeting on tourism, on grounds that I have said more than enough on the subject.

Year after year, unfailingly, the discussion that tops the agenda when discussing tourism is: How To Do Away With The Minimum Daily Tariff. Nothing beyond that – there is no creativity, no fresh thinking or bold new ideas that are offered. They are all stuck at: Doing away with the Minimum Daily Tariff.

Strangely, while these people seem to be clueless about the demerits of doing away with the Minimum Daily Tariff, they seem to be in total confusion as to what they really wish to achieve. This is evident from the slogan that has now come into vogue: High Value, Low Volume. We had earlier aimed at: High Value, Low Impact.

ONE: if it is low volume we want, then what the hell is this entire ruckus all about – of increasing inflow? If low volume is the aim, then damn well STOP PROMOTING TOURISM!!

TWO: How will freeing up the Minimum Daily Tariff help us maintain low volume?

THREE: If high volume is what we want, how can we assure low impact?

It is disgusting that people can be so utterly confused!