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” (http://yesheydorji.blogspot.com/2014/05/yet-again-shingkhar-gorgan-road-rears.html):

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:

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Agent of Change: Did He Change Anything?

Narendra Bhai came - and went. I don’t know what is the official view but in my personal view, he did not quite crackle and pop, as I had expected he would. India’s latest human tornado did not quite disappoint - but he did not sparkle either. I did have a sneaky feeling that we were burdening him with over expectation. It was evident, as can be expected, that his visit to Bhutan was too hasty, poorly prepared and hopelessly premature. After all, the man has been in office barely three weeks. If he intended to convey the message to his naysayers that good relations with neighbors is key to his foreign policy, it did not quite come through that way either. His visit turned out to be rather placid - there was no customary oomph in whatever he said. But he did say a number of things.

Oops: He suffered a momentary amnesia when he called Bhutan, Nepal - in the course of his speech to the Bhutanese Parliament.

Hindi: At one point during his speech, he made a suggestion that Bhutanese people should learn Hindi while, at the same time, candidly admitting that Hindi is already understood and spoken by a large number of Bhutanese. By contrast, Hindi is not spoken or understood in most of the Southern States of India. I am a little intrigued why Mr. Modi chose to give primacy to Hindi over other Indian languages. Some of my Indian friends would be terribly infuriated if I told them that Hindi was their national language. May be Mr. Modi is reminiscent of the times when Hindi was taught in Bhutanese schools, until English replaced it as the medium of instruction - during the late 50’s.

B2B: this old hackneyed acronym has been given a new twist by Prime Minister Modi, during his speech to the Joint Sitting of the Bhutanese Parliament. Generally understood to mean “Business-to-Business”, this evocative contraction now has a new Avatar, thanks to him - “Bhutan for Bharat” and/or “Bharat for Bhutan”. I cannot help but wonder if Narendra Bhai drew inspiration from his first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru who coined the phrase “Hindi Chini Bhai Bhai” when Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai came visiting India in the late 1950s.

Tourism Circuit: He also suggested that Bhutan should form a part of India’s North-Eastern States tourism circuit whereby Bhutan is part of the grouping that would include Sikkim, Nagaland, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh etc. I cannot understand how this will work - given that Bhutan’s tourism business model is completely different from that of these North-Eastern Indian States. May be he has an idea that we have not yet hit upon. It would be worth looking at the concept in greater detail. After all, during his tenure as the Chief Minister, the State of Gujarat has seen huge progress in the tourism sector.

Mr. Modi also spoke of hydro-power projects, a string of e-libraries around the country, doubling of scholarships etc. He also made the point that “Terrorism divides, tourism unites” in an obvious reference to Indian militants supposedly using Bhutanese territory in the south, to hide from Indian authorities.

He also mentioned that the relationship between Bhutan and India is as thick and inseparable as milk and water. That is nice ... now I hope he will do his part to ensure that the mix is not allowed to  curdle.

But if you ask me, the best thing about Mr. Modi and his visit is that he went back without leaving behind a Promissory Note. The last one left behind by his predecessor on the floor of our Parliament still remains to be fulfilled. Thumbs Up to you! - Say less, do more!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

WELCOME, Narendra Bhai

Narendra Bhai is scheduled to arrive today and Thimphu city is all spruced up to receive him. Personnel of the RBP, the RBA and the Desups have been pressed into service - to tear down decrepit walls, to paint road dividers and to erect flagpoles along the road through where PM Modi’s cavalcade will pass. Road surfaces have been swept clean, flowers planted along the Expressway and warnings have been issued to residents of Norzin Lam that they are welcome to park their vehicles anywhere else except where they are normally parked - on parking spaces alongside the Norzin Lam.

New welcome gates have been erected and old ones have received fresh coat of coloring. The derelict lime-smeared concrete posts that line the Chubachu-Zam have been repainted in gold - they now shimmer and sparkle in the sun - as they stand prim and proper, awaiting the arrival of the Guest of Honor.


Bhutan had less than ten days to prepare for the visit of our most important foreign dignitary. It has been a nightmare for the Thromde people and others involved in the preparation for the visit of PM Modi. I am told that the King himself ordered the involvement of the RBA, RBP and the Desups. Without their help, the preparations would have never been completed in time. But as I walk along the road to observe the preparations, I am convinced that PM Modi will be satisfied that the Bhutanese people worked very hard to make him feel loved and welcome in a country that believes that his visit marks the second stage in Indo-Bhutan relations - first being the visit by independent India’s first Prime Minister - Jawaharlal Nehru, in 1958. Lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and some of the water have been pretty murky, to the point that we are now uneasy bedfellows. There is no need to be. As I wrote in my earlier post, India should have faith in her own greatness.

In the last three decades, no Indian leader has had such massive public support, as did Mr. Modi, during India’s 2014 elections. BJP’s stunning victory can be attributed to one single person - Narendra Damodardas Modi. In fact, recognizing Mr. Modi's potential and public appeal, the BJP’s entire election campaigns focused on one single person - Narendra Modi. This has never happened before in India - that a political party banked on a single person to deliver victory -
and he delivered!

Will Mr. Modi live up to his much-hyped reputation as a farsighted leader? Will he begin the process of amending the wrongs that have been committed over the years that lead to the slow but steady slide in India’s reputation as a dependable and trustworthy neighbor?

Mr. Modi’s decision to make Bhutan his first destination as India’s Prime Minister has been perceived as a clear indication of the direction his foreign policy will take. Thus, what he does during this trip will either re-validate or dismantle that perception.

Central to India’s failure to achieve leadership position in the region is because of their long-term policy with short-term vision. Mr. Modi has the required mandate to alter all that and put India on the road to success. I hope he will seize the opportunity. A strong and likeable India is to Bhutan’s benefit.

As far as Bhutan is concerned, we are rolling out the welcome wagon to PM Modi with unprecedented lavishness, to show that we have great expectations from him and his visit. I hope he will not disappoint.

Joenpa Lekso, Lyonchen Narendra Damodardas Modi.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Agent of Change Is Coming

Narendra Bhai is coming. And it is an honor without parallel! Bhutan certainly deserves this rare honor, after all, when every one else in the neighborhood chose to stick their noses up in the air, we have remained resolutely by their sides.

It is symbolic that Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi chose Bhutan as the first country to visit, after becoming Prime Minister of India. Even if it is nothing more than an astute diplomatic maneuvering, we in Bhutan are still extremely encouraged by this gesture and hope that his visit will usher in a reversal of Bhutanese people’s altered perception about India and her real intentions. But it is in India’s hands. In recent times, our relationship has digressed from being trustworthy buddies to that of being an estranged couple - slowly drifting apart with the danger of finally ending in divorce. This would be so unfortunate.

To allow a mere handshake to define her foreign policy towards the only friendly country in the neighborhood is to undermine her own greatness. India should learn to shed her unfounded paranoia about Bhutan’s intentions and place her faith in our vulnerability that is implicit.

It would be naïve to believe that India’s foreign policy would be overhauled overnight. But if Narendra Bhai is the agent of change that whole of India thinks he is, then I dare believe that he comes with a fresh perspective on things. If nothing, he can start the process of redefining India-Bhutan relations based on trust and good intention, which has been sorely lacking so far.

I hope that somewhere tucked away in a small corner of his luggage, Mr. Modi brings with him a brand new and re-tinkered foreign policy initiative towards Bhutan that is progressive and based on trust and good intention.

During the tenure of Mr. Modi as the Chief Minister, I was one among few privileged bird photographers of the world to be invited by the State Government of Gujarat - all expense paid - to participate in the 2010 Global Bird Watchers' Conference. Something urgent came up at the last minute and thus I had to cancel the trip. Now that he is the Prime Minister, may be I will get an invite to cover all of India's birding destinations :)-

Monday, June 2, 2014

Yet Another High Note

As a Ham radio operator, I hit my high note when ICom America featured me as a comic character in their magazine. I wrote about it on June 16, 2010:


I hit yet another high note yesterday - as a Blogger - when I saw the following signboard:

Some of you may recall that I had blogged about the emerging sophistication of the Bhutanese palate. The article can be found at the following:


It is a matter of great honor for me that I have, among a multitude of other readers, a canine meat seller who obviously follows my Blog. That became apparent when I realized that after my post, the owner of the business had re-written his signboard that had earlier been written as follows:

However, I am still intrigued: I wonder what explanations he/she offered to the Department of Trade for the change in name? Did he/she say that there was a spelling mistake? But Canine IS indeed the correct spelling! I would give a leg and an arm to know how the term "Canaine" was explained to the Department of Trade, as an acceptable business name.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

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

Towards the end of their tenure in 2013, the erstwhile DPT government had realized the folly of their intentions and had quietly terminated the construction of the proposed Shingkhar-Gorgan bypass. The agencies such as the NEC and the Department of Forestry, including some environmentalists, who have been vociferous in their resistance to the idea of this road, heaved a sigh of relief that something unlawful and potentially catastrophic had been brought to its just end.

Exactly one year later, the ruling PDP has again resuscitated the foolhardy venture. But this time they are smart enough not to promote the idea that it is a farm road because it certainly does not fulfill the prescribed guidelines for construction of farm roads.

However, this time round, the government does not seem to be all that educated in what they are putting out to the public. The Works and Human Settlement Minister has come on record to state that: “The road could also help travellers, especially by not having to pass through Thrumshingla that remains covered in ice in winters”. This flagrant misinformation can only mean that the Minister has not been told the truth - that Singma-La, over which the Shingkhar-Gorgan road needs to pass, is even higher than Thrumshing-La pass. If the Minister was appropriately appraised of the real situation, she would understand that the incidence of snow and icing on the road would be even more severe at Singma-La than that encountered at Thrumshing-La pass. Are some interest groups intentionally misguiding the government with false information and withholding of truth?

The other reason given is that it will shorten travel distance from the East to the West by about 100 Kms. That is a good reason to consider the road - except that there is some mathematical error in the calculation of the distance. According to what I know, the distances are as follows:

    Shingkhar to Singma-La      6  Kms
    Singamala to Pelphu          30  Kms
    Pelphu to Zhongmay           5   Kms
    Zhongmay to Selibi-zam     6   Kms
    Selibi-zam to Gorgan          5   Kms

Even beyond the numerical error, what the ruling government and its concerned Ministry has not been told is the fact that the ascend from the valley at the bottom of the mountain to Singma-La requires a total of 26 zigs or bends or turns - before hitting the Singma-La top! You can well imagine the gradient of the road! To my memory, there is no road in Bhutan with that kind of steep gradient. This should tell you the kind of geography and topography you are dealing with. To carry out so much cutting into the mountainside will destabilize the already fragile soil structure of the area. Additionally, I am told that this area is most of the time shrouded in mist and fog. Therefore, even if the whole mountain does not end up at the bottom of the ravine, the road will remain perilous and unusable most of the year.

Therefore, even if we were to accept that the distance would be shortened, what will be the volume of traffic the road will carry? Has the government done a cost benefit analysis of this venture? Would it justify the tens of billions of Ngultrums that will be spent in the construction of this road?

Is it enough that the people of Lhuntse makes a request to the Works and Human Settlement Minister and the government has the wherewithal to grant them that kidu? The government has to be mindful of the fact that there are parts of the country where there are no roads at all - let alone a road that can get them to the West in the quickest of time.

In recent times, the Bhutanese lingua franca has been permeated by a newly coined phrase: geological surprise! This new coinage attempts to justify and condone the expensive disaster at Punasangchu I, the consequences and implications of which the Bhutanese people do not seem to fathom or be bothered about. On the floor of our Parliament, elected leaders speak with practiced deftness, of geological surprises as something commonplace and as an act of God that deserves compassion, understanding and forgiveness.

No one is being held accountable for the horrendous disaster; no one seems to point out the fact that such “geological surprises” are not acceptable in a project the size and scale of Punasangchu I. No one seems to care that the project authorities had obviously failed to carry out proper investigation to safeguard against such surprises.

In all likelihood, the geological disturbance caused by the construction of the stretch of road between Singma-La and Zhongmey will cause the entire mountain to collapse at the bottom of the ravine.

Does the present government hope to be indemnified of all blame - because this too can be conveniently written off as another “geological surprise”? I don’t think so, because in this case, fair warning has been given - that the venture is unlawful, meaningless and environmentally disastrous.

The erstwhile DPT government saw through the futility of this undertaking and stopped it in time, at the behest of the people whom they represented. I urge the present government to do the same. Even if not entirely - until a thorough investigation is carried out and until after amending the law that currently prohibits construction of any kind within the core park areas.

The construction of this road was, and still is, a great concern to all of us who care for the environmental health of this country. In June of 2013, I trekked up to Singma-La top - to see for myself what was involved. The following photographs will tell a small bit of the larger story that is the Shingkhar-Gorgan road.

The Singma-La Pass. One can see that the pass is way above the tree lines meaning it is over 4,000 Mtrs.

Thrumshing-La Pass at under 3,800 Mtrs. As opposed to the barren top of Singma-La, you can see trees atop the Thrumshing-La Pass. This means that this pass is much lower than Singama-La.

View of the beautiful Shingkhar Village from atop the Singma-La.

 The endless wilderness between Singma-La Pass and Pelphu Goenpa through which the run will run, if the construction is to resume.

View of the road from Gorgan side that has reached Pelphu Goenpa at which point the erstwhile DPT government had halted further construction. Notice the number of zigs/turns already. The road has to climb further 30 KMs to reach the Singama-La top. One can imagine how many more zigs/turns it will require until the road is able to reach the top of the pass.

 A long shot of the wilderness between Singma-La and Pelphu Goenpa


Perhaps Bhutan's oldest forest stand of Silver Fir that will be desecrated if the road gets constructed.

Some pretty houses in Shingkhar.