Thursday, August 22, 2019

Taking Tourism To The Top

The tourism industry’s journey to the top – has it begun? Is it faltering? Are the planned activities realistic? Is funding adequate? Are industry players adequately committed and knowledgeable in what is called for? Do they know what direction to take? I have no answer to all that as yet.

One thing I know though, and I have said it often enough in the past – in my articles and in my talks to the trainee guides. It is my understanding that the most important players in the service chain in the tourism industry are the guides! They are the very first faces the tourists will see – and theirs are the last faces the tourists will see before they depart the country, and every single day in between. How ably the guides perform in the discharge of their duties will go to shape the impressions that the guests will form in their minds – about the country and the tourism sector as a whole. Thus, guides must receive their just due.

Unfortunately, according to the Chairman of the Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB), Garab Dorji, guides are most often treated with obvious disdain. If that were not enough, according to him, they are paid less than what they deserve. If this is true, it must be said that such behavior is self-defeating. For the tour operator who employs them, a happy and contented guide is bound to perform better at making their guests happy. A grouchy and unhappy guide is unlikely to give happiness to their guests.

In my experience, it is not just the tour operators – but the hotel owners – who must pay heed to the mood of the guides. I have known guides to influence tour operators’ decisions, as to where to host their guests. Keeping the guides happy while within their property has helped hotel owners keep their business flowing in, uninterrupted. I know of tour operators who stopped giving business to certain hotels – based on the negative reports by their guides.

Recently I visited a brand new player in the hotel business – ThePema By Realm, located in lower Motithang.

The new kid on the block

Now perhaps there are others who may do the same – but this is the only hotel of whom I know that provides a nicely appointed living space – entirely built for use of the guides and drivers - their “Charos Lounge”.

The hotel's Charo Launge - a nicely appointed living space built wholly for the guides and drivers to while away their waiting hours

A nice little touch – guides can sit in the room while they wait for their guests to emerge. It has a TV to boot – and an attached toilet to go with it - a totally self-contained living space. Perhaps the difference is not in the realm of the stratospheric – but certainly a notch above the rest – everything else being equal.

This hotel obviously treats the guides and drivers with equal humility, as they do their valued guests. Now this is a gesture that all hotels must try and emulate – for the sake of their own business.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Do You Know your Ema?

We Bhutanese pride ourselves as a nation of Ema Datsi. We eat chilies for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack on it at odd hours. But how much do we really know about this hot stuff that ranks as our most favorite item of food? We are so desperate for chilies that we unfailingly smuggle in chilies during our overseas trips - even while fully in the know that we could be fined heavily, if caught with the hot stuff. Shortage of chilies in the country is a national crisis - we can be driven to such desperation that in 2017, the erstwhile PDP government imported chilies by Druk Air.

Druk Hotel's Chef Kundu's Ema Datsi prepared from green chilies

I suspect that we consume over 14,000,000 KGs of chilies a year. And yet, until about a year back, we were talking of importing 200 truckloads of chilies from India. The situation has now improved and we are more or less self sufficient in chilies.

During the chili season, even open fields are taken up for drying chilies

There are over 2,000 - 3,000 chili varieties cultivated around the world, in addition to the wild varieties. How many varieties do we grow in Bhutan? No idea – but the following are what I have seen in Thimphu Centenary Farmers’ Market. Unfortunately I do not know the names. Perhaps some readers could fill in the names of these varieties. The only thing I know is that more chili varieties seems to be grown in the Southern parts of the country, compared to the Northern parts.

This is called Dulley Khorsani - one of the hottest varieties originating in the South of the country

 This variety of chili grown in the North of the country seems to be the chili of choice for preparing Ema Datsi

Pakshikha Ema - This chili variety comes from Pakshikha, Bongo Gewog. They claim that this is among the hottest and tastiest of all chili variety found in Bhutan

Some chili varieties arranged in order of size

Generally only ripe red chilies are sun-dried. After drying, they come to be known as Ema Kam

We Bhutanese like our chilies in a variety of shapes, sizes and forms:

Ema Shukam - Green chilies - boiled and sun-dried

Ema Hokam - tender, whole green chilies sliced open and sun-dried

 Ema Kam - Solid red, ripe chilies sun-dried whole

 Epchi - dried red ripe chilies pounded and pulverized

The Americans do not consume chilies – but they produce the most famous chili sauce called the “Tabasco Pepper Sauce”. The McIlhenny Company of Avery Island, Louisiana, USA produces and ships over 700,000 bottles of the hot sauce every day to over 200 countries. It is a business worth over US$200 million a year. That is Bhutan’s annual tourism revenue!

Tobasco Chili Sauce : America's gift to the world

America is also the land where you can buy one of the world’s very few wines made from - yes, you guessed it - CHILIES! Wine maker Shannon Johnson of Peaks of Otter Winery & Orchards, Virginia, USA produces a unique wine named “KISS THE DEVIL”. All of 30 varieties of chilies go into brewing this wine – with alcohol content rated at 11%. 

Chili the king of all spices is ofcourse used for none-culinary purposes as well. The Reuters once reported that the Chinese Police feed them to sleepy motorists - to keep them awake.

A recent study revealed that liquid spray made from chilies is most effective at warding off grizzly bears.

Spray made from chilies is most effect at warding off Grizzly Bears

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Rotary Club of Thimphu Rebuilding Lives

Long after the memories of their time at Dawakha have faded, and normalcy has returned into their once tumultuous lives, 15th of August 2019 will forever remain etched in the checkered memories of the 26 female inmates who are currently lodged at the Dawakha Open Air Prison of the Royal Bhutan Police. For, on this day, these 26 inmates have received their Certificate of Competence - to practice a vocation that the Rotary Club of Thimphu helped them acquire. The life skill that these ladies have acquired will stand them in good stead - when they complete their term and reintegrate into society. It is our Club’s effort at rebuilding lives that have been thrown into disarray, for reasons beyond their control.

During a simple prayer ceremony presided over by a Truelku and the Superintendent of RBP Sonam Wangchuk, these ladies have been issued their certificate of proficiency in sewing.

Superintendent of Police Mr. Sonam Wangchuk and trainer Ms. Pem Pem Gyaltshen hold up the Certificate of Proficiency awarded to 26 inmates who underwent one month's training program in sewing.

For the past one month these ladies have been taught sewing on 10 brand new sewing machines donated by the Rotary Club of Thimphu. Zamin Friends Forever - a homegrown entrepreneurial trailblazer who is the one and only manufacturer of reusable cotton sanitary napkins in the country, fielded the training instructor, Ms. Pem Pem Gyaltshen.

Under an MoU that is due to be signed independent of our Club, between the RBP, Zamin Friends Forever and the women inmates, this project will see generation of income for the ladies while they are still at the Dawakha facility. Zamin Friends Forever is committed to purchase all of the pads that inmates produce at Dawakha. They will continue to make a living from sewing cotton sanitary pads, should they wish, even after they leave the facility. For those who are unable to afford to buy sewing machines, the Rotary Club of Thimphu is committed to help them finance the purchase of sewing machines.

The Rotary Club of Thimphu is proud to be able to engage in this meaningful project - the capacity building initiative towards manufacturing and use of affordable and environmentally friendly reusable cotton sanitary napkins. We believe that each of us must do our share to protect and safeguard our environment. Disposable plastic sanitary napkins MUST GO! It is bad for the environment. And it is bad for the pocket.

The Dawakha project is the epochal first step - The Rotary Club of Thimphu will initiate much bigger programs in the coming months and years. Over time, we hope to be able to cover whole of the country, in the production and use of environmentally friendly reusable sanitary napkins. Currently operational modalities are being worked out with the RENEW whose nation wide reach and coverage will help us reach most parts of the country.

This project is a small contribution from the Rotary Club of Thimphu, towards safeguarding the nation’s environment. In the same vein, we are currently in the process of implementing a 100% organic agriculture project valued at US$51,000.00, in Chhukha Dzongkhag.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Charmed Phallus Of Chimi Lhakhang

For years I have heard of Chimi Lhakhang and the magical powers of the soot smeared wooden phallus that hangs within the sanctum sanctorum of the perfectly ordinary temple that sits atop a low-lying plateau in Punakha valley. Over the centuries, women from all around the world have trudged up the gentle incline to the Divine Madman’s Temple - with a singular purpose in mind: to be blessed by the wooden phallus. These women were all driven not by faith or belief - but by desperation caused by their unfilled wombs. They have all been told that Chimi Lhakhang’s wooden phallus has the magical powers to help women conceive and bear children.

To me all such rants are nothing more than effective ploys to attract visitors for increased collection of Ngendah. But this morning’s mail brought in something quite the unexpected - a mail from the Club President of the Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunset, Rtn. James Ham, MD, that read as follows:

“Wanted to share the good news with my extended Rotary Family!  Please share with others, since I’m sure I forgot a lot of people (been awake for 42+ hours now).  Kinley Jin Ham born at 6:54 am on 8/10/19, 5 pounds 13 ounces, 20 inches. Mom and baby are doing well.”

I offered my Congratulations to President James, but asked him:

“By the way how did you happen to name the baby Kinley Jin Ham?”

His answer:

“This is our first child.  We went to Chimi Lakang and received the blessing from the Lama and was told we would have a boy named Kinley Wangchuk.”

My next question:

“Was your visit to Chimi Lhakahng during your last trip when we met at our Weekly Club Meeting?”

His answer:

“Yes, sir.  My wife was pregnant almost immediately after the visit!”

What can I say? Drukpa Kuenleg the Divine Madman cannot, after all, be all that MAD. That is all fine - but I am terror struck at the though of a young unmarried women going up to the Lhakhang and getting a blessing from the phallus. That would be catastrophic! 😂😂😂😂😂

The following are the blessed couple and the new-born Kinley Wangchuk:

The blessed couple at Taktsang Monastery

Drukpa Kinley in Honolulu

I have Club President Jame's permission to post the story and the accompanying photos.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

The March Of Money: Part XII

No Have Change – Will Slice Into Half
One never knows when one’s life can take a sudden turn into uncharted territory. I am making amazing discoveries, as a result of my recent interest in the history of coinage in Bhutan, and how currency evolved in the country. And, here too, I am yet again discovering the utter callousness of the Bhutanese attitude.

Starting from the very first milled silver coins of 1928 to the present, our coins and currency notes have been full of mistakes - every one of them. Ninety-one years since modern coinage began, the mistakes remain uncorrected.

It was the legendary American radio amateur Gus Browning who first broke the news of Bhutan’s braking dogs problem to the Western world when he filed a report about his experience at the Paro Tsechu in 1965. The problem today is even more severe than it was 54 years back. Typical! But today I want to speak of something that is very interesting.

I know that very, very few readers would have heard of what I am going to tell. My relentless search for old Bhutanese coins and information about them resulted in my finding the following strangely shaped coin. It is a silver coin.

Cut into half to convert to small change

I did not know what to make of it. Thus I sent an image of it to my consultant/expert Wolfgang in Germany. To my utter consternation, he explained as follows:

“Your coin is a cut Tangka of Pratap Simha, second Shah King who ruled from Kathmandu, Nepal. It was cut (most probably in Tibet) to make small change and represents 1 Shokang or 2/3 of Tangka.”

What he is saying is that the Tibetans would cut up a coin to convert it into half or one third/fourth value of the original coin. This means if they needed a Thala (half a Tikru) they would slice the coin into half. And if they wanted a Shiki, they would cut up the coin into 4 equal parts.

Nepalese coins were legal tender in Tibet. But the Tibetans were naughty and cut up the Nepalese coins - to turn them into small change. Ofcourse the Nepalese did not like the idea. It resulted in the Treaty of Khasa of 1790AD in which it was agreed that “mohars issued by Shri Shri Shri Shri Shri Gorkha (Maharajadhiraja) shall not be cut into small parts”.

The fact that I have been able to find this cut coin here in the country would mean that these were in use in Bhutan as well, along with all the other coins from Assam, British India, China, Cooch Bihar French India and Tibet. Meaning even Nepalese coins were legal tender in Bhutan.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Thank You Note From The Rotary Foundation (TRF)

The Rotary is the world’s biggest Club - it has presence in over 200 countries numbering over 33,000 Clubs. Its Membership stands at over 1.2 million, worldwide. In Bhutan we have one Club: The Rotary Club of Thimphu, with 28 Members as of July 1, 2019.

I just received a mail from The Rotary Foundation, Evanston, Illinois, USA, recognizing our Club’s contribution to the Rotary cause. It is a BIG DAY for the Rotary Club of Thimphu and its 28 Members, for being noted for our contributions. My name appears on the Recognition Mail since in my capacity as the Club’s Secretary, I serve as the Primary Contact for all the Foundation’s many Grants to Bhutan.

Please double click on the image to enlarge it:

Note of Thank You from The Rotary Foundation (TRF)

The truth ofcourse is that we - Bhutan and the Bhutanese people - receive a thousand fold more than what our Club Members contribute to the Foundation. For proof of the Foundation’s giving to us, look at the following:

Most of the above has been achieved from the Grants our Club received from The Rotary Foundation

Thank you The Rotary Foundation. You continue to make a difference in the lives of the Bhutanese people. Even as I write this, there is a Rotary Foundation Grant of US$ 51,000.00 being implemented to benefit a Farmers’ Group in Bongo Gewog, Chhukha Dzongkhag: in the agriculture sector.

Monday, August 5, 2019

The March Of Money: Part XI

One English gentleman reader of my Blog was hugely tickled that I started my post with:

In a land filled with half-hearted people, ……..” 

But he agrees that I am 100% spot on! What I am going to tell you on this post will prove me, and him right beyond doubt!

Immediately after Mr. Wolfgang Bertsch of Germany, an expert on ancient Bhutanese coins read my Blog “The March of Money: Part VIII”, he mailed me as follows:

Dear Yeshey Dorji,

“……… It was very nice of John to introduce us to you and your highly interesting blog on Bhutanese currency.

I did not find the time to read everything carefully, but one detail drew my attention:

When discussing some modern coins of 1974 and 1979 you mention spelling mistakes, referring to the Western legends. What is more interesting is the fact that the Bhutanese spelling on the coin of 1974 is "phyed tam" (with reversed letter "ta"), while it has been changed to "phyed kram" on the 1979 coins. I transliterate using the Whylie System.  While the first spelling is also known from Tibetan coins, the latter spelling seems to be used only on Bhutanese coins. Both spellings try to render the retroflex letter "ta" (normally transliterated with a dot underneath the letter) which is unknown in native words of both Tibetan and Bhutanese……..”

Kindest regards
Wolfgang Bertsch

One look at my Blog post and Wolfgang immediately observed that as of 1979, we had spelt our coins wrongly as “Chekram”:

The coins of 1974 and earlier were correctly spelt as "Chettrum":

If you look at our second lot of paper currency printed and released in 1978 and thereafter, we see that the Dzongkha version of the word “Ngultrum” has also been spelt “Ngulkram”:

I cannot read Dzongkha - I can speak it haltingly. So I went to see a local expert by the name of Lopen Kunzang Thinley. I told him what Wolfgang had said – that the word “Tam” has been wrongly spelt as “Kram”. He took a look and said;

“Mr. Wolfgang is correct. The spelling is wrong”.

I was perplexed! I said to him;

“But the coins of pre-1978 coinage are correctly spelt as “Tam”. How did the word change to “Kram” after 1978?

Lopen Kunzang thought for a while and said;

“I think I know why - it must have been as a result of the mechanical Dzongkha typewriters that were introduced into the country. The earliest versions of the typewriters did not have the alphabet reversed “Tah”:

I remember because when I used the Dzongkha typewriter to compose my writings, I had to leave a space into which I would later manually insert the alphabet reversed “Tah”, in hand. The absence of the alphabet reversed “Tah” would have forced people to spell the word with the combination “Ka-ra-ta-Tra + Mah”:
not realizing that when spelt thus, the pronunciation would be “Kram” and not “Tam”, as pointed out by Wolfgang.”

The mistakes never got corrected - not even after the alphabet reversed “Tah” was included in the later versions of the mechanical typewrites. The electronic keyboard of the computers also has the alphabet reversed “Tah”. But the mistakes to this day has not been corrected - true half-hearted Bhutanese that we are! It has been more than four decades since the mistake was first committed.

I cannot believe that in more than forty years, authorities did not see the terrible mistakes with the naming of our currencies, and the wrong spellings. We claim to have few hundred Lams, an equal number of Geyshes and Khenpos, and few thousand Rinpoches and Trulkus, and Doctorates in Buddhist Theology ….. Not one of them saw the flaws? I can understand that for the half-hearted mind, “Ngultrum” and “Chettrum” could prove to be little too taxing to decipher. But none of these learned people observed the wrong spelling until a hawk-eyed German had to point it out to us, after more than 4 decades? I mean we handle the currency notes on a daily basis!

So, now that it has been pointed out to us, we have absolutely no reason NOT to make amends. Are we going to do it? Or, true to character, will the RMA do nothing to correct the mistakes – because it is no money into their pockets.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The March Of Money: Part X

Ngulturm/Chettrum not proper terms to describe our currency notes and coins
One expert on ancient coins of Bhutan, Mr. Wolfgang Bertsch, explains that the term “Ngultrum” is a combination of two words:

Ngul = Silver
Trum = Tangka

The term “Tangka” refers to a Tibetan silver coin that has been coined since the mid 1600’s.

The indigenous Tibetan Kong-par Tangka
They were struck within the country from 1791 to 1891. Earlier versions of the coins known simply as Tangas were struck in Nepal from 1640.

I believe that the term “Chettrum” is also a combination of two words:

Chet = Half
Trum = Tangka

It seems like we made a terrible blunder in the early 1970’s when we adopted the terms “Ngultrum” to denote our paper currency, and “Chettrum” to denote our coins. “Silver Coin” cannot be used to describe a paper currency, and it is impossible to denominate a coin with “Half Coin”. Imagine: 10 CH would actually mean: 10 Half Coins. And, Nu.10.00 would mean: 10 Silver Coins.

The Central Bank - The Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan should immediately consider changing these names - to those that are purely Bhutanese in origin.

There is actually a term “Tikru” that was in use which is understood to mean “Money”. But when I consulted a local expert – Ex-MP Rinchen Dorji of Trongsa, he stated that the word “Tikru” is borrowed from two independent words:

Tikchang + Rupiya = TikRu

Ex-MP Rinchen says that the term finds mention in the “Biography of 13th Druk Desi Sherab Wangchuk”. So the word Tikru would not be appropriate.

What about “Lor”? Remember this term is still in use, as follows:

Chaang Lor

Ngig Lor

Nga Lor

Chuu Lor

Khae Lor

Ja Lor

Tong Lor

What is “Lor”? From the above it obviously means currency Note. So, it is provably proper to term our paper currency as “ShogLor”. Shog ofcoure means “Paper” in Bhutanese (we Khengpas pronounce it: “Shokshog”.

Friday, August 2, 2019

What Are Those Dang Lines?

Every time I see a traffic cop issuing a traffic violation ticket to a driver, I am a happy man. I stop my car and go to the Traffic Copper and give him a gusty THUBS UP and tell him; “Don’t Excuse Her/Him”.

Hazard Light
Quite obviously, a majority of the Bhutanese drivers seem to confuse the Hazard-Warning Lamp for that of a Parking Lamp. Even worst, they seem to think that flashing the Hazard-Warning Light in a NO PARKING area will absolve them of the offense of illegal parking. It is pathetic to watch the offenders beg and plead with the Copper when they are booked. But one has to understand that discipline on the road saves lives - and eases traffic congestion that is reaching crisis proportions in Thimphu and Phuentsholing.

The issue is clear: if the erring driver did not know the rules, then he/she has no business being on the road. If the driver did know the rules and still committed the offense - then that is even worst - he/she should be locked up in the slammer and the keys thrown into the Thimchhu. Either way, she/he is a danger to life.

This is a Hazard Light Switch - not a Parking Light Switch 

When should you use Hazard-Warning Lights?
These are a pair of intermittent flashing indicator lights that flash in unison. They are intended to warn other drivers that your vehicle is a temporary obstruction. They are also called Hazard Flashers and Hazard Lights. You are expected to use them if your vehicle is broken down on the side of a road, or you are changing a tyre on a shoulder of the road. You should also use them when your vehicle is being towed. IT IS NOT TO BE USED AS A PARKING LIGHT!

Illegal Parking - Flashing Hazard Lights won't Help

Bang In The Center Of The Road
The other strange thing that I have noticed is that a large number of drivers seem to think of the solid/broken white Road Diving Line in the center of the road, as an indicator for them to align their vehicle bang center on the road. How strange! Actually doing so is tantamount to infringing on the right lane, which is a violation.

You can see that the vehicle is a Taxi - meaning that the driver has a professional driving license. Imagine!

Another problem with the Bhutanese drivers who drive on multi-lane roads in Thimphu is that they are clueless about the rules that govern the use of the right lane and the left lane. I do not know if this is excusable - since 90% of them would not have driven on a multi-lane road before. What drivers should know is that the faster traffic should take the right lane and the slower traffic should take the left lane.

Thimphu's multi-lane highway - Many are clueless as to which lane to use when

You must always overtake from the right – overtaking from the left is illegal. Sometimes one fast driver overtakes from the left to get in front of the vehicle in the front. That is not correct. You must flash your headlamp (honking is rude) to indicate to the driver in front of you to indicate he should either drive faster or allow you to get ahead.

There are many types of lines and with different colors, marked on the roads. One has to understand that those lines were marked - spending millions of public money - they are not cosmetics for the road. They do have very import messages.

Single Solid White Edge/Boundary Line
Generally outside boundary line close to the shoulder of a road. Parking inside the white solid line is not allowed. In Bhutan, all cars must be parked outside it.

Single Solid White Line in the Center of the Road
When you see this unbroken solid white line in the center of the road, it means that you are not allowed to cross it or change lane. Overtaking is NOT ALLOWED.

Single Solid White Line in the center: Overtaking is NOT ALLOWED

Broken White Line in the Center/Shoulder of the Road
When you see broken lines in the middle or edge of the road, you can cross it and change lanes. However, some broken white lines end in a solid line - most often at bends and blind curves. When you see that, you cannot change lane or overtake. Parking on the  road shoulder is allowed - whether paved or unpaved.

Two different types of lines - broken and solid

Zebra Crossing
Where there is a marking to indicate that it is a Zebra Crossing, know that the pedestrians get right of way.

Zebra Crossing - Pedestrians get right of way

Jay Walking
In most countries of the world, Jay Walking is an offense. Singapore perhaps has the highest fine for Jay Walking: $50.00 for first time offender – repeat offenders can be fined as high as $1,000.00 or Nu.50,000.00.

Jay Walking - A bad and dangerous habit. Here you could end up with a dislocated knee-cap

In Bhutan I have not yet seen Jay Walkers being fined although Traffic Police do warn the Jay Walkers to use the Zebra Crossing. If you do Jay Walk, you could end up getting your knee cap dislodged.