Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Bhutan's Beautiful Wild Birds

It has been a while since I posted images of birds. Here are some - for those readers who are bird lovers.

Asian Pied Starling

Chestnut-tailed Starling 

Crested Kingfisher

Crested Serpent Eagle

Green Sandpiper

Indian Roller

Jungle Mynah


Peahen with Chick

Red-wattled Lapwing

Spotted Dove

Tawny Fish Owl

White-breasted Waterhen


Saturday, June 20, 2020

Does COVID-19 Affect the Brain?

Generally it is accepted that the COVID-19 virus affects a vital human organ called the lungs. But in Bhutan it seems to affect a different organ of the body - atleast among the Members of the National Council – the brain. They seem to have lost it completely. Or why else would they proposition an outrageous idea like handing over the mining operations to the SMCL? I am happy that the Members of the NA stood their ground.

State owned and operated enterprises have never done well. They cannot - it is not in their culture to operate enterprises of commerce and trade. The only thing the government and the bureaucracy should be entrusted with is governance – even that they do so poorly.

Mining activities can be ably undertaken by the private sector, and they have been doing so for the past many years. The mining companies have been generating millions in tax revenue. If the state takes over the operations, forget tax revenues – the sate may have to bear losses through inefficiency and corruption and lack of competence and business acumen.

Talking of civil service, it reminded me of a strange conversation I had with my late boss Dasho Rinzin Dorji – in the early 80’s when I too was a member of the brood who are neither civil nor servants. But this narration should certainly warm the hearts of the present lot of civil service – because this would go to demonstrate that this monopoly has been with their lot since decades.

Even those days we were so frustrated with the civil service that one morning my boss Dasho Rinzin Dorji and I sat down do brood over how we might contribute to improving efficiency in the government. While a number of options were discussed, we narrowed down to one real possibility:

Hand over the governance of the country to Mr. G. C. Bhura at 15% commission.

G. C. Bhura was then the Managing Director of Tashi group of companies – since deceased. He was perceived to be a very efficient and successful executive. However, on careful reconsideration, we decided that this would be tantamount to fronting – that too for a none-national. Even those early days fronting was seen as a scourge that needed to be rooted out. Ofcourse we never could – even to this day.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Outbreak of Canine Distemper: Yet Another Service Project By The Rotary Club of Thimphu

Twenty-five days after funding of US$ 59,000.00 was approved by the TRF, our Club’s Community Service Project to supply hospital incinerators to help battle the COVID-19 is still firmly entrenched in the ceaseless whirlpool of systems and procedures. But that does not deter us – we move on.

Dear Club Members,

Arising out of the need for physical distancing necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Club Members have not been able to meet and discuss community service project proposals. As you may recall our Club’s Weekly Meeting remains suspended as of March 6, 2020 in compliance to the government's directives to restrict gatherings. Nonetheless, as you may have noticed, our community service work has not been hampered – it goes on unabated.

Recently an URGENT call for HELP was sounded out to the Club by the Royal Society for Protection and Care of Animals (RSPCA), headed by our own Club Member Rtn. Tashi Payden Tshering, arising out of the large scale infection of a virus known as Canine Distemper – among the canine population of Bhutan. Although worrisome, the Canine Distemper is a preventable disease and curable if caught at the early stages – through the administration of a vaccine that is already available in the market. The fact that the outbreak has happened during the pandemic period of the COVID-19, we fear that it may be linked to the shortage of food to the canines – caused by the closure of over a hundred hotels brought about by the ban on entry of tourists into the country.

The Club President and I reviewed the request and came to the decision that this is an emergency condition that deserves our Club’s consideration. Our Club’s intervention would help in further spread of the virus among the canine population of the country. We do not need another virus to spread – to further aggravate the COVID-19 contagion that looms large over us. The fear is that if the spread is not arrested in time, it could spread among the wildlife, which would not be good. Thus I would like to convey to all the Members that the Club President and I agreed to support the supply of vaccines to the RSPCA.

On a related note, you may be aware that the government has instituted a Waste Management & Stray Dogs Population Control Flagship Program, under the NEC. We believe that our support to the RSPCA would complement this important initiative of the Royal Government.

Thanking you, I remain, in anticipation of your support,

Yeshey Dorji
Club Secretary

Thursday, June 11, 2020

Thank God!

Thank God! I notice that yesterday there were two persons who logged in to my Blog - from United Arab Emirates. As I had reported earlier, for more than a month, not a single person logged in from that part of the world - causing me great anxiety and fearful that things may not be right for the Bhutanese community in that part of the world.

I was the person chosen by the government to conduct a reconnoiter of Kuwait before our Embassy was established there – I spent close to 3 weeks in that part of the world. Thus I know the quality of people in that part of the world. And it is this knowledge that causes me to be fearful.

By the way, for your information, the first Ambassador of Bhutan to Kuwait was Maj. Pem Tshering - a harmless soldier from Haa - as my late boss use to call him, with a smirk. To this day I am puzzled why a person not in the Foreign Service was chosen to head our Embassy there.

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Buyback: The Miss-Coined & Misunderstood Concept

The miss-coined concept that has been popularized as “buyback” is once again doing the rounds in the corridors of power - that of the Ministry of Agriculture. This is the state of our bureaucracy - they do not even know what they are talking about.

They either do not understand English or, failing that, they are clueless about the logic behind what they are contemplating to do -which is even more dangerous.

From what I know:

Typically, buyback happens in the corporate world. Companies engage in buyback for a number of reasons - principal among them are to reduce the number of their Shares being available in the market – an attempt to keep the prices high. Companies also buyback their own Shares from the market - so that plentiful of them are not available to potential corporate raiders from gaining a controlling right through major Share holding. Companies also buyback their own Shares so that they may gift them to employees as bonus.

Buyback, in other words, happens when something has been pre-sold to a buyer and you now want to buy them back - for your own reasons. It is not a support scheme. If the Ministry of Agriculture does not understand a simple concept such as this, how do they expect to implement the scheme in any meaningful ways?

The term to employ - for the purpose for which they use the term, should be either of the following two:

a.  Support Price
b.  Subsidy

SUPPORT PRICE: In my thinking, Support Price is more appropriate. Support Price is understood as a scheme where the government agrees to purchase surplus production of essential goods from the farmers - at a minimum fixed price – to either prop up the market price or to offer a market for the farmers during their times of stress. Which is what the Bhutanese farmers’ situation is expected to be soon.

SUBSIDY: Subsidy is a fixed sum of money given by the state to farmers and other select important industries or services, as an encouragement or to keep the prices low in the market. It is not a price offer - but a supplementary gesture. In this case the state does not buy the goods or services.

Support price scheme is good and necessary. Unfortunately, it is prone to massive manipulations by the crooks and the immoral opportunists. The country has had a taste of it - in the early 80’s - the effect of which has been felt decades later - the issue still remains unresolved - after close to four decades.

While the mighty Ministry of Agriculture and its officers reorient their thinking on their "buyback" thing, I will do some re-contemplation on whether I should tell the story of the support price that went horribly wrong - nearly four decades back - when the state was hood-winked of hundreds of millions - for private and individual gains.

Friday, June 5, 2020

Coins Of The Man Of Destiny

Having delved deep into Bhutan’s close to two and half centuries of coining journey, I began to grasp the true measure of men of destiny - why they are so uncommon among the common.

From 1790 to until the advent of monarchy in 1907, a multitude of Druk Desis, Penlops and Dzongpens hammered hundreds of thousands of coins in base metal, copper, bronze and silver - some even gold washed. But what is common among all those coins is that their design was borrowed from Cooch Behar’s Narayani coins, including, shamefully, some Bengali/Assamese alphabets.

That all seems to have changed - upon Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck’s visit to Calcutta in 1906 when he is supposed to have ordered machined coin dies with the India Government Mint, Calcutta. The quality of coin strikings improved dramatically thereafter. But even more important, from 1907 onwards, our coins were shorn of Narayani coin designs and alphabets. As the following example will illustrate, with the beginning of the monarchy, the motifs on our coins were entirely Bhutanese.

We as a sovereign nation state seems to have come of age.

Unfortunately, I also notice that there are mistakes in the positioning of the motifs on the coins. Obviously the Indians at the Calcutta Mint did not know how to correctly position the motifs. As you can see, the motif “Gyeltshen” on the following coin to the left is wrongly positioned. It should have been positioned like the one to the right:

The wholly Bhutanese motifs depicted on the coins encased within a Swastika are as follows:

The interpretation of the motifs are as follows:

The following coin also shows two of the motifs being positioned wrongly:

They should have been positioned as follows:

The errors ofcoure do not end here - as I had mentioned in one of my earlier posts on the subject, the mistakes occurred even in our milled coins of silver and nickel of 1928, 1929 and 1954.

For a while I was undecided whether the above coins belonged to someone else - other than Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. But when I looked at the design of one of his other, even more significant coins, I am now in no doubt that the above coins are his.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Thank God For COVID-19 II

Bhutan is now faced with an extraordinary situation – a situation of surplus production in the face of contracted market! Now, what the dang hell do I mean by this? Let me explain it simply:

As a measure of mitigation against an extended lock-down by India, we began importing billions worth of food items from India. Although necessary in the interim, it has nonetheless partially dried up the market for our famers and their produce.

Hundreds upon thousands of tourists are barred from entering the country – resulting in hundreds of hotels being shut down for lack of business. This has caused a severe decline in the country’s consumptive capacity for farm produces – including hunger and starvation among the stray canine population of the country.

There was an exodus of Indian construction laborers out of the country – to celebrate Holi – just before a COVID-19 active case was detected within the country. By necessity, the country went into semi-lockdown condition and barred the re-entry of these laborers, thereby reducing consumers by the tens of thousands. The farm produce market contracted further as a result.

The COVID-19 rendered tens of thousands jobless – causing decline in the Bhutanese people’s purchasing power as a whole. People feared shortages – in addition to running out of money to buy essentials. To counter that – they resorted to farming - to safe guard themselves from hunger and starvation and as a means to save money. This will eventually result in even further contraction in the farm produce market.

In the face of all that, the country is not prepared to handle a surge in farm production. To aggravate the situation further, we do not have cold storage and processing facilities, to absorb the excess production.

The only hope is that India will remain under locked-down condition for a while longer so that import of food from India will remain restricted. This way, food items that used to be imported can be substituted by local production. Under restricted conditions, there will be no Indian produces to compete with overpriced local productions. However, a price control mechanism may have to be introduced – to ensure that greedy farmers and middlemen do not over price local produces.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Thank God for COVID-19

The human race has a number of choices – in the manner how we choose to die:

Hunger and starvation – caused by shortage of food
Isolation                         – extended periods of lock-down
COVID-19                     – the dreaded virus that has gone pandemic.

Of the above three, I choose the last – I have a chance to survive COVID-19. I have no chance against the first two.

I have said this twice before – that the COVID-19 is God sent for Bhutan and that we must not allow this perfect crisis to go to waste.

I am truly encouraged to see that a large number of Bhutanese – both rural as well as urban dwellers are seizing the opportunity that has been thrust upon them. They are growing food and I suspect that this coming season will see Bhutan’s agricultural production going through the roof.

Fresh, organic and home-grown

Now this is something we had always aspired for – for the past 4 decades: food self-sufficiency. And the dreaded COVID-19 is going to deliver this dream. Unfortunately there is a flip side to this revolution that has every chance of upsetting the equilibrium: a situation where there is a reversal of role: consumers turning providers.

The urban centers have traditionally been the consumers of products and produces. Growers from far away places had thronged to urban centers to sell their produces. But now there is every likelihood that Bhutan’s urban dwellers may no longer be a dependable source of market for rural farm produces – because they are growing their own food. This could spell disaster for the newly invigorated farming community in the rural areas.

Thus there is an URGENT need for the government to plan how to keep the farmers encouraged and farming vigorously. We cannot allow this momentum to tapper off and die down. We need to come to the rescue of the farmers.

Few days back I spoke to one very senior official in the Agriculture Ministry about the emerging trend in the agriculture sector. He assured me that the Government will do “buy-back”. Buy-back???? Damn the miss-coined concept! Anyway I told him that is all fine – but where will you store what you buy-back? Why don’t you build a chain of cold storage facilities? He said – that is the plan. I said the farm produces will begin to hit the markets in the next 3-4 months. Thus this is not a time to plan – it is a time to DO IT!

I hope that the Ministry of Agriculture will begin to act and plan their preparedness in order that the newfound fervor among the farming community – both in the urban as well as in the rural areas, continue to stimulate and scintillate!

Being prepared is not merely dishing out money on buy-backs – but planning for marketing, storage, distribution, and most importantly – post harvest processing of excess production.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

What is Bhutan's Situation?

Hi .......... ,

Thank you for your prompt reply.

I know – the weirdest thing is that Americans are supposed to be the first world people – but they go and elect someone like Trump to lead them. It is frightful!!

Well, do not worry about getting here …. You will get here for sure  - eventually. The human race will overcome this one too --- as we have done many viruses over the centuries.

My view about Bhutan’s situation? Frankly, right now I am feeling a little nervous. Our rationality seems to have been totally hijacked by this frenzy to keep the virus at bay. We seem to have lost focus – I hope the government will do a retract and reorganize their thoughts soon.

What is currently happening is that we are so focused on keeping the virus at bay, that we do not seem to be preparing for an eventual community outbreak. My thinking is that WE CANNOT KEEP THE VIRUS AWAY FOR EVER. It is here to stay - thus we have to learn to live with it, and face it squarely.

What we have obviously failed to understand is that the current locked-down condition is NOT A FIGHT AGAINST THE VIRUS - but to contain it until our preparedness is in place - it is merely a game plan to GAIN SOME TIME to effectively tackle the eventual spread of the virus. This locked-down period should be used to upscale our medical facilities - to tackle the outbreak that will happen.

Lock-down cannot be perpetuated forever – or it will be the cause of our death, not the virus. The virus will only kill selectively – lock-down can kill en-mass.

We have to go with the assumption that the virus will hit us soon. As we bring back all the Bhutanese from the affected areas like the US and the Middle East, as strict as we are in our quarantine regime, few cases will eventually slip in – because the scanning and detection system is NOT 100% FULL PROOF. Some positive cases will eventually slip through undetected – and we will have community infection and spread. That is as certain as night and day!

Now this is where I think we have so far failed to comprehend – that community infection and spread is a foregone conclusion. Thus while we are totally focused on arresting the virus at the entry points with the zeal of a coyote, we do not hear of the government preparing to handle an outbreak.

We are not preparing for enough hospital beds. We are not preparing for enough trained doctors and nurses and other health workers to handle positive cases.

In my view, when the virus hits us, there will be thousands of cases – not merely hundreds.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Is This A Cause for Worry?

Until the end of last month, my Blog use to get visits from the Middle East - I am assuming they were Bhutanese - between 200 to 400 every day. Strangely, this entire month I have had not a single hit from the Middle Eastern Region.

I know that we have evacuated hundreds of Bhutanese from the Middle East in the past one month or so. However,  I also know that we still have few hundred of them in that part of the world - awaiting to be evacuated.

So why are they so inactive on the net?

Are they OK? Should this be a matter of concern for the Bhutanese authorities?

Friday, May 22, 2020

Again, and Again – For Our Men In Blue

Human activity around the world may have ground to a screeching halt – caused by the Almighty Nature’s DeSuup – the leveler labeled “COVID-19”. But we at the Rotary Club of Thimphu have seen frenetic activity amid all the confusion and misconceptions and the dread of sickness and death.

Yesterday at about 12 PM we handed over 38 units of Chabto Toilets to the Royal Bhutan Police (RBP). These toilets are ultimately destined to be installed in 38 of RBP’s Detention Centers across the country. These personal portable toilets are safe, odor-free and water efficient – they can be installed in bedrooms, small spaces, as well as locations in motion – such as prison vans. They are promoted by the Bhutan Toilet Organization (BTO) and the innovative shit pots are manufactured in Pasakha, BHUTAN. The BTO offered these toilets at a discounted price – in an effort to help the RBP and the Rotary Club of Thimphu during these difficult times.

Club President Rtn. Tsewang Rinzing and BTO CEO Chablop Passang Tshering hand over 38 units of Chabto toilets to the Chief of Police yesterday at the RBP HQ, Thimphu

The Rotary Club of Thimphu has also been successful in obtaining a sizeable grant funding to the tune of US$ 59,000.00 from the TRF – for purchase and installation of 2 small units (30 KGs each) of hospital waste incinerators - to process infected wastes emerging out of the quarantine centers, isolation centers and hospitals that treat coronavirus positive cases. But the mills of bureaucracy grind oh ever so slowly! and we are unable to move with the required speed and efficiency. However, we believe that it is a matter of time - we hope to get there and move on – to a bigger project that has been lined up – for the installation of a 100 KGs unit. But unless we successfully implement the current approved project, we dare not put our reputation on line - by proposing another project related to incinerators. But work on it is already afoot and international partners are being shamelessly wooed to render their support.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Bhutan-Nepal: Historical Connection

My ongoing research into historical facts about coinage in Bhutan has thrown up some seriously interesting revelations about which most of us remain clueless. Consider the following:

A little known history reveals that Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal visited Kathmandu in the year 1640 - during the reign of Dambar Shah (1633 – 1645). Kathmandu was then a Kingdom in itself. The Zhabdrung returned with 40 to 50 Gorkhali families, led by their leader Bisan Thapa Magar. It is written that the families were settled in places like Bebena and Bel-Nang in Thimphu valley.

Bebena, as we know today, is that brimming chockablock urban jungle below Dechen Phodrang lhakhang, bordering Samtenling - west of Embassy of India. But it is clear that the name of the place should not be Bebena. It should be Balbu-Nang.

In ancient times, Nepal was known as Bal-Yuel: wool country.

The other place where the Gorkhalese were settled is said to be called Bel-Nang. My enquiries with senior citizens around Thimphu revealed that this too is incorrect. One reliable source tells me that the name of the village is: Bekhu-Nang. Bekhu-Nang is a place below Semtokha Dzong, close to the GREF camp. This person tells me that the Gorkhalese would have been settled in Balbu-Nang and Bekhu-Nang because around that time the Zhabdrung had just completed the construction of Semtokha Dzong and he was working at rebuilding Dechen Phodrang Dzong.

The Zhabdrung would have brought the Gorkahlese from Patan, Nepal to take on the copper and silver smithy work - for the alter rooms of the two Dzongs. These Gorkhalese were artisans and some of the earliest statues in the country were said to have been crafted in Thimphu by these Ghorkhalese. The proximity of the two villages to the two Dzongs would, according to the source, explain why the Gorkhalese would have been settled in those two places.

It appears that this was not the first time Gorkhalese were brought to Bhutan as artisans. When Chari Monastery was constructed in 1620, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal is supposed to have employed skilled carpenters from Nepal. This ties in nicely with what Lam Kezang Chhoephel of APIC tells me - that the name Begana should be Balghar-Nang. Obviously the Gorkhalese brought in during 1620 for the construction of the monastery were settled at Balghar-Nang above the present day Guru Lhakhang, close to Chari Monastery.

There are some very interesting accounts that tell how close Bhutan and Nepal was during early times - but they are too lengthy to be included here - I will speak of them in my more detailed records of the history of coinage in Bhutan.

Another place that is perhaps wrongly named is: Metsina in Punakha. I am told the name should be: Mistri-Nang. Apparently the Fifth Mind Incarnation Zhabdrung Jigme Choegyal (1862-1904) brought in some Indian masons to carry out metal work at Talo Monastery. Mistri in Hindi means mason.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

In Response To A Concerned Reader

On 10.05.2020 one Anonymous reader left the following comment:

Yeshi sir, did you cross-check and verify your facts?

This comment was on my post: “Confusion: What is QR and What is Druk Trace

In response I would like to reply as follows:

After removing the contents of my post “What is QR and What is Druk Trace”, I got very busy – because our Club Members wanted to do something for the country – to battle the dreaded COVID-19. We decided that we would raise funds to supply hospital incinerators – to safely dispose off the waste generated at the Quarantine Centers, the Isolation Centers and the hospitals where the COVID-19 positive cases are treated. Please read my following post:

“Safe & Secure Disposal of Wastes from Hospitals/Quarantine/Isolation Zones”

It is not that our Club has not done our share. We had recently donated one Ventilator, which was followed up by a donation of 17 units of Oxygen Concentrators – both useful in the battle against the virus.

A decision was made by some select Members of the Club to work on donating hospital incinerators, on 4th May, 2020. From the morning of 5th May, I began the process of putting together the Grant application to the TRF. On the 8th May, I was ready to submit the Application. I uploaded the Application for approval and acceptance the same day - 8th May, 2020. The Rotary International District 3292 gave their acceptance and approval within hours of my submission of the request for authorization and acceptance. Same was the case with RID 3510 (Taiwan) and our International Partners RC Pingtung East, Taiwan – both of them also authorized and accepted the Application and thus the final GG Application was submitted to the TRF the same day I submitted – on 8th May, 2020!! On 10th May, the TRF approved US$ 59,000.00 grant for the purchase of the hospital incinerator that we had requested for, based on a request from the Ministry of Health.

The grant was approved within 3 days from the date of submission! A record of some sorts!! We are now waiting for the bureaucracy in the RGoB to get their acts together so that we can go ahead and start the process of acquiring the incinerator.

But in all this, I still hadn’t forgotten my concern about the way the DrukTrace was designed and how useful or inadequate it was/is. I still intend to be able to study it further as I get time. But right now I have no time – in addition to working on the incinerator Grant, I am also simultaneously working on the closure of another Grant project implemented in Bongo Gewong, Chhukha.

Upon the above comment by the Anonymous, yesterday afternoon I went to see and talk to a team member that designed the DrukTrace. I am happy and relieved to report that what I did was spot on. Nothing wrong with what I did – that is put my own money to print and distribute hard copies of QR Code for people to scan. The QR Code Team Member said that that is what they do too --- in the outlying areas, he said that the QR Codes are printed by the DeSuups (Thank God for these tireless legs in motion - clad in orange) and posted on home and shop doors. He thanked me for doing what I did – print and distribute to establishments that I frequent. I do not have the time to go into the details of my discussion with him but in short I offered the following suggestions:

The authorities should require the person registering for the DrukTrace to provide an alternate mobile number so that in the event the registered number is out of service, the person can be traced through this alternate number.

Make the QR Code universal and not location specific. This way the authorities can print and distribute the codes by the hundreds of thousands. This way lazy people, careless people, and unmindful people can get free prints of the Code. This will also help people who do not have the means or the skills to download and print hard copies of QR Codes.

Redesign the Application in such a way that it captures the coordinates of the place where the scanning took place – (something like: NL 25 deg 24’ 19”    EL 87deg  39’  28’’) instead of recording the location as Sangay Tshongkhang, Dechenchholing.  Obviously this will be useless for locations that are in motion - such as taxis and buses. Rapid tracing can happen only if you know the coordinates rather than spending time tracking down a place named Sangay Tshongkhang.

Lastly I requested the person that the government should make downloading and scanning of the QR Code MANDATORY! This is a national emergency and people should not get away by saying (one person actually did) that the government need not know who is visiting my shop or home.

If a home owner is not doing anything illegal, where is the problem in the government knowing, for a good cause, who has visited the place when and at what time?

There is a whole lot of misconception about scanning. Yesterday I had to go to the BNB – three times. The guard at the gate saw me come in for the second time and told me --- you already scanned that time so no need to scan. I told him no – I have to scan every time I enter the establishment since time of my visit is of essence, if a rapid tracing is called for. 

Friday, May 1, 2020

Safe & Secure Disposal of Wastes from Hospitals/Quarantine/Isolation Zones

Dear ……..

Greetings from Bhutan ... I hope you are well and keeping safe. For your own safety and that of your family, please practice physical distancing.

COVID-19 is ravaging the world. Bhutan has had 7 cases so far as of yesterday - fortunately all imported and detected upon arrival and quarantined/isolated. Most of them have recovered. Two were American citizens and they have recovered and are back home safely.

Something the Rotary Club of Thimphu's Members have been worried about is the emergence of a community infection - local COVID-19 case. Thus we are all working hard to keep that from happening.

Unfortunately, recently we discovered that while our King and the government are commandeering the issue very attentively and strictly, there have been some slips between the cup and the lip, by a number of agencies responsible to oversee, and arrange the safe disposal of municipalities’ garbage. Incidences of improper disposal of used materials from our quarantine/isolation facilities have been reported. This is a huge concern for the country and the people. As you may be aware, incorrect disposal of waste from the quarantine/isolation facilities can result in dangerous consequences. We have to assume that every item emerging out of the quarantine/isolation zones and hospitals where the positive cases are treated are potential threats. This means we have to protect the waste handlers as well, in addition to the fact that a separate protocol has to be adopted for waste collection and disposal from the quarantine/isolation zones.

As of now, the only safe method of disposing contaminated or infected material in our view is through incinerating the wastes generated at the quarantine/isolation zones and hospitals. Unfortunately, as of now Bhutan does not have a single incinerator to safely dispose off contaminated and toxic material and medical wastes.

Thus as a measure to ward off COVID-19 and safe disposal of contaminated/biologically hazardous material, we have requests from authorities for help in procuring incinerators that are environmentally safe to operate. We know of such affordable and safe incinerators that will do the job.

Therefore I write to ask you if the TRF would support our application for a Global Grant for purchase of incinerators. We will apply under "Fighting Disease and Disaster Response". If you think that our proposal has a chance of seeing the light of day, I will start to look for partner Clubs to partner with us on this critical item of need.

Please respond to me quickly so that I can start the preparatory work promptly.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Confusion: What Is QR Code and What Is Druk Trace

This post is temporarily removed - until facts are cross-checked and verified.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Amorous Cordyceps Collectors

The news report in the BBS few days back concerning the departure of Cordyceps collectors into the alpine regions of Northern Bhutan came as a bolt from the blue. This is a terribly worrisome news. And yet, it would be unfair to disallow collection of Cordyceps that is the livelihood for thousands of families living in the higher reaches of the country. But our sense of charity is one thing – safeguarding lives is another. When you pit one against the other, which should take precedence? - truly an impossible dilemma.

Cordyceps sinensis: the freakish half worm, half grass natural wonder that is credited with incredible medicinal properties

From what the BBS reports, the government seems to be aware of the threat associated with Cordyceps collection. But I fear that they have not yet understood the real nature of the problem of an unmonitored Northern borders, teeming with thousands of crawling collectors, at sub-zero temperatures.

Cordyceps collections happen in the Districts of Bumthang, Gasa, Lhuentse, Paro, Thimphu, Punakha, Trashiyangtse, Trongsa and Wangduephodrang.

There are a host of dangers associated with Cordyceps collection. The first problem is altitude and temperature – the virus is known to survive longer and spread quicker in colder temperatures. The collection of the worms happen at very high altitudes – up to 16,000 ft. msl. Patrolling the borders in such altitude and temperature range is almost unthinkable.

The harsh conditions in which the collection of Cordyceps happen. Not a blade of grass anywhere

Next comes the state of the health of the collectors. They are mostly in a state of undernourishment. Given the altitude at which they are camped, there are no fuel woods available for preparing meals. Thus the collectors mostly survive on Khuli and pre-packaged Noodles and Tsampa and Bokpi. Surviving on such food for months must surely play havoc with the immune system of the collectors.

Then it is the manner in which they crawl over the grounds – looking for the worms. They all huddle together – not for warmth or company – but any signs of a rich harvest ground and everybody flocks to the same spot.

No physical distancing here - they all crawl in a group

They all throng in the same patch of rich harvest ground

Another group of collectors in close proximity of each other

Lastly they camp in close-knit clusters. The photo below shows a cluster of 50 tents. This is in Phangu – there were two other clusters – meaning there were over 100 tents pitched in one location. Under these circumstances, if transmission happens, it will be rapid.

One of the three camp sites in Phangu, Lunana. This cluster of tents number 50 tents. Although during day they wonder all over the mountain tops in search of the worms, they all camp together in groups. You notice that there are no green grasses or bushes in sight - let alone trees.

I have been to Dhur in Bumthang, Phangu in Lunana and Singye Dzong in Lhuentse on photographic assignments to cover Cordyceps collection. I have seen first hand how people survive when they are out collecting Cordyceps. In Dhur I have seen families with sack loads of pre-cooked Khuli which is the only food they have – they tuck them inside their jackets and munch on them for breakfast, lunch and dinner – for months on end.

From what I hear, the government seems to be worried about the collectors sneaking over into Chinese Tibet to trade in their harvests. My view is that this should be the least of our worries. The real worry is: SEX!

During my trips to these places, my hired hands were local people with sorties to tell. One team member from Dhur and another from Laya recounted to me their experiences that are identical. They tell me that once the collection season is over, the youthful lot head for Tibet for a much deserved rest and relaxation. They hire a room each which are cheap and look for buyers for their Cordyceps. Once the worms are sold and money firmly inside their pockets, the good life begins. For the equivalent of Nu.30.00 they get to soak in the hot springs as long as they like – including a large flask of steaming hot Suja to boot. Once in a while, pretty young girls come to check on them and to provide any service that they might be in need of. And, by the by, they strike up conversations and establish amorous friendships with the young Chinese/Tibetan girls. The Bhutanese youths extend their stay by few days, then a week, then a month and then two months – until they suddenly find that they are out of money. They have been lavish with their temporary girlfriends – they buy them mobile phones, clothing and jewelry. They also buy themselves mobile phones and temporary SIMs for use during their stay there.

At last, penniless, they start for home – worried sick as to how to explain to their parents the cause for their empty pockets. Back home they are treated to sound thrashing by their fathers. But they repeat it once again, the coming season.

I asked this horseman from Laya whom I always hire for my trips to the North-Western regions:

“So why are you so stupid that you spend your entire money behind some girls in Tibet?”

His reply; “Dasho – you simply have no idea – the temptation is too powerful. I mean these nymphets are young and very pretty with long black hair – they are like Khandoms (Apsaras)! Who can resist them?”

Talking of which, are we monitoring Merak in Trashigang. That place gets lots of visitors from Arunachal Pradesh – it appears that there is pretty active cross-border trade happening there. During my trip there, I saw half a dozen of them who had come to buy sheep and booze.

I suggest that the Tourism Council of Bhutan consider deploying Trekking Guides in every cluster of camps in the Cordyceps collection areas across the country, to make sure that every evening there is roll call to ensure that every one of the collectors are resident in the camps, and has not gone traipsing across the border, in search of Khandoms.

This is no joke. Since TCB is already devising ways and means to keep the guides gainfully employed, this is one sure way of giving them employment while keeping the nation safe in the process.

I am suggesting Trekking Guides – because there could be incidences of AMS – Acute Mountain Sickness. Seasoned Trekking Guides would have no issues since they would have already scaled heights above 12,000 ft.

AMS is serious - Thus only people with proven immunity to AMS should be sent to the collection fields. I have personally seen 3 AMS related deaths: one at Jele Dzong, Paro (an American), one at Merak, Trashigang (a government employee) and one at Roelmateng, Singye Dzong, Lhuentse (a young house wife of a Dzongkhag Administration official of Lhuentse Dzong).

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

If We Should See Red

Commandeered by His Majesty the King, our government is doing a remarkable job at containment – thus far we in Bhutan feel safe and protected. But having a neighbor like India that is a cauldron teeming with close to 1.4 billion people, it is a time bomb waiting to explode. Thus I for one am praying that Modi-ji will act the tyrant that he is projected to be. However, I cannot help but feel a sense of unease given India’s population size and habitation density.

For now we have no home grown cases – all those we had are from outside. That is cold comfort though – should India enter a state of full blown spread, which I believe is a real possibility, we need to plan and step up our safety protocols to a level that is many, many notches above what has been recommended under the current controlled circumstances.

Personally, the following is what I will be implementing – the moment a homegrown case is reported:

I will impose a total EMBARGO on house visits by relatives or friends – without exception. No visits – either announced or otherwise.

A member of the family will be allowed only one exit/entry per day. If it is anticipated that a member has to make multiple exits, he/she will have to stay out the whole day. In that event, he/she has to carry pack lunch. He/she will be allowed re-entry into the house only once – day, evening or night.

No visits to restaurants for lunch/dinner. That will be strictly prohibited – that is why the pack lunch. Actually this restriction is already in place.

Two separate outdoors bath tents will be set up outside the house. One tent will house change of clothing for the person needing to exit. One tent will serve as a stripping room.

Tents for change of clothing and removing used clothing of the day

A member of the family needing to exit has to ensure that a full set of change of clothing is deposited inside the clothing tent before exiting the house.

Upon retiring for the day, the member of the family will first remove the shoes/socks and dip it in medicated water trough and hang it outside to dry. He/she will then put on the hand gloves and only thereafter the changing tent should be accessed in bare feet.

There is an interesting product that has been introduced in the market for disinfecting large number of people that seems like a useful product for Bhutan to consider. It is available both in stationary and mobile type of installations.

After removing the day’s clothing – it should be put inside a plastic bag, seal it and thrown outside and left there for the next 24 hours. The member will be required to follow the correct procedures to remove the hand gloves after use, as follows. Bare hand must not touch the used glove’s exterior.

Putting on the right hand glove

Putting on the left hand glove

Hand gloves are firmly on

Taking off: First take off the left hand glove and throw outside

Peel off the glove slowly so that there is no tear

Without touching the exterior of the glove, insert index and middle fingers of the left hand inside the handle of the right hand glove and slide the glove up over the fingers

Peel it off all the way and throw outside the tent

After sanitizing the hands and soles of the feet - this should happen just out side the changing room tent door - the member will walk over the floor mat bare feet and enter the tent housing the fresh set of clothing. After changing into fresh set of clothing, the member will exit the tent in fresh house sandals and access the house.

Once inside the house, the member will proceed to the kitchen or bathroom, and wash his/her hands with soap and water.

The used clothing will be left outside for at least 24 hours, before they are run through the washing machine, using hand gloves. Emptying the soiled clothing into the washing machine should be done with utmost care. Yet again, proper procedure for removal of hand gloves is to be followed, before dropping then into the washing machine.

Isopropyl Alcohol I.P. 70% v/v Hand Sanitizer: Use in moderation.

The label is designed by me but the liquid inside is for real. The original bottle did not come with a dispensing pump so I used another brand's casing.

A member should use hand sanitizer no more than once during the day. The next/second time the member must use hand sanitizer will be during the time of changing clothing. Studies have concluded that it is not very good to use hand sanitizers too often. Moderation in its use is encouraged.

Regular washing of hands with water and soap is the best and the safest. Excessive use of sanitizer is said to have dire consequences to our hand microbiome – the good bacteria that keep our skin and bodes, healthy.

Should any readers have additional precautions to suggest, please do so.