Thursday, October 3, 2019

The God Still Gets Dumped

It has taken the government 9 long years to do something about the dumping of the toxic statues of the God Vishwakarma into our river systems. I started making noise about the issue in September of 2010. Since then I have written again and again on the issue of the environmental impact of the practice of dumping the statues of the divine architect into our rivers. Please read about them at the following:

It is amazing - the government takes 9 years to act and when they finally do, they decide to take on the burden of cleaning up the pollutants. I am told that over 200 toxic statues have been dumped at the Memelakha dump yard by the Thimphu Thromde. Is that a good job?

The statue of the architect of Gods being dumped into the Thimchhu

According to the RMA, Nu.28.00 billion was loaned for construction of buildings during the year 2018. Currently close to 400 buildings are at differing stages of construction in Thimphu alone. If that is the case, then what happened to the unaccounted 200 odd Vishwakarma statues? Add to that number over a hundred statutes imported by the vehicle workshop owners, saw millers and other metal working establishments? Do you want to take a guess?

The level of complacency can be judged from the fact that the notification from the Forestry Department disallowing dumping of the statues into the river came out one day ahead of the Puja day. Thankfully, there seems to have been some level of monitoring – because half of the statues were prevented from being dumped into the rivers.

How difficult is it to solve this problem? Years back I had reported about tens of thousands of beer bottles being dumped into the belly of the earth in rural Bhutan – nothing has been done about that either. Bhutanese contractors and homeowners and vehicle workshop owners happily fund the conduct of the Vishwakarma Puja in their premises – but they are unwilling to put a little effort into making their merry making into something responsible and environmental friendly.

Will Bhutanese ever grow up to be responsible citizens? I doubt it. As I said in one of my earlier posts, this is a country filled with unthinking people. It is so sad – there is so much we can achieve – and yet no one is willing to work at achieving anything.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

RTI Act - What News Of It?

This morning I woke up to notice that some readers were reading my old posts from 2011 and 2013. It has always amazed me how and why certain readers chose to read some particular posts from the past. I too went back to the two posts to see what was interesting about them. I came back satisfied that peoples' curiosity was justified - they are certainly interesting to read. Please read them at the following:

The above two posts are related to each other - RTI Act. The other most visited post of mine is the post on Kabney & Patang. For some reason, people keep revisiting the post time and again, persistently. If you notice on the left side column, you will see that the post has yet again featured among the top 10 posts, although it is now 6 years old:

However, in terms of visitor visits, the following are the chartbusters:

Monday, September 16, 2019

Bhutan Chamber of Commerce & Industries Seeking To Legalize Its Status

I am hugely intrigued by a report appearing in the KUENSEL of September 13, 2019 that read: BCCI pushes for legal status. What does that mean, exactly?

Is the Chamber seeking to pass a Bill in the Parliament, to legitimize itself, after being in existence for the past 39 years? What is illegal about an organization that is said to represent the interests of the largest of industries and businesses in the country?

In my view the Chamber is wasting its time forming Committees after Committees – to work towards passing of a Bill in the Parliament, to give it legal standing. It would be a mockery for the Parliament to deliberate on a Bill to justify the existence of a private interest group, such as a chamber of commerce and industries.

But I agree with the Secretary General of the BCCI – the organization does not fulfill the mandates of a social/public benefit organization. Thus, it cannot qualify as a Public Benefit Organization (PBO). But it certainly fulfills that of a Mutual Benefit Organization (MBO) since it works towards protecting the mutual interests and benefits of its members and that of the business sector as a whole. Thus, the BCCI should certainly qualify to be recognized and legitimized as a MBO under the CSO Act.

One certainly cannot imagine the legislative house deliberating on an Act to legitimize BCCI. That would be total waste of tax payers' money.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Brand New Sunshine Collection Box for RC Thimphu

More than seven years back, oblivious to an epochal event that was unfolding in Thimphu, I was photographing birds in the jungles of Yongkala, Mongar, Eastern Bhutan. The April month is good for birding - obviously it was also determined that the month is good for establishing new institutions. It was on the 24th of April, 2012 that the Royal Government of Bhutan established the Rotary Club of Thimphu, the one and only Rotary Club in Bhutan.

The entire cost of the formation of the Club, including the cost of hosting the Rotary International dignitaries and expenses for the Club’s Charter gala dinner was borne by the RGoB. In fact the Charter President of the Club was the then Home Minister, Lyonpo Minjur Dorji. Please read all about it at:

To this day I do not know which charlatan proposed my name as a Member. But I have no regrets – my time with the Rotary has been, and continues to be fulfilling. I have served as the Club’s Secretary for the past four RI years.

Since its Charter in April, 2012, the Rotary Club of Thimphu has grown into an organization that has implemented service projects in access of Nu.125.00 million. Our projects have been so meaningful that the then Home Minister Lyonpo Dawa Gyaltshen once told me;

“Yeshey please do not hesitate to come to me for any support your Club needs. For me the Rotary Club is even more important than a government department”.

Our Club’s services to the society have been recognized beyond our borders. A none-Rotarian in the US appreciates our work so much that she has bequeathed a portion of her estate to the Rotary Club of Thimphu.

The Club has 28 Members as of this year. Year after year, I have put in 14-15 hours of work for the cause of the Club. Now I need a little rest – I deserve it. Thus I will be resigning as the Club’s perennial Secretary, as of June end, 2020. I know that there are other Members who are as keen, and as able, to take over the responsibilities of a Club Secretary. A change of guard is called for. It is proper that other Members too must do their time for the Club and the Bhutanese society.

So far everything is hunky-dory with the Club. But there has been one thing that I have been displeased with – the Club’s Sunshine Collection Box. If there is one thing I wanted to do before my departure, it is that I wanted to improve the look of the Box that takes the seat of prominence – bang in front of the Club President and the Club Secretary, at every Friday Meeting. I have now fulfilled that wish – after working on it for 2 full weeks, the Club’s Sunshine Collection Box has received a complete makeover.

Three sides of the Sunshine Collection Box. This box required the engagement of five players: a carpenter to prepare the wood work, a metal worker to prepare the metal trimmings, a graphic artist to prepare the logo outlines, a laser engraver to engrave the logos and the text on three sides of the wooden box, and finally a laser etcher to etch the Club's name on the metal work.

The Sunshine Collection Box that I lovingly constructed for the Club will serve as a demonstration of my love and care for my Club that I will continue to serve and cherish.

What is a Sunshine Collection Box:
At the end of every weekly Meeting on Friday, Members contribute a minimum of Nu.100.00 into the box. If there are visiting Rotarians, they do too. This money goes to pay for the refreshment  that is served during the Meetings.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Viewshed Analysis

This morning I woke up to find that someone was online reading my article that I had posted 8 years back. I too went to read what I had written. I find that what this reader wrote was meaningful.

Bhutan has some stunningly beautiful architectural monuments. Unfortunately I have been pained to see electrical wires and lamp posts and other ugly structures coming up in and around the structures that spoil the view. I think time has come for us to consider "Viewshed Analysis".

The following was in response to my Blog post on the construction of the ugly Amankora Resort next to the heritage site: Wangdicholing Phodrang:


Hello Yeshey,

I am afraid I come across as a know-it-all whenever I comment on issues in Bhutan as I have spent mere months there. So, I usually keep my thoughts to myself although I am a follower of your blog and I read each post! The problem of the Jakar Amankora hotel forces me to speak up, however.

For all the talk about protecting Bhutan's culture from foreign influence and controlling the negative impacts of tourism, this is a major, tangible contravention.

There are ways to ensure that if a structure as special as Wangdicholing Palace were to have a development project proposed in its vicinity, it would not be adversely affected. One process would be 'viewshed analysis' which is simply considering the potential visual impact of the proposed development on the historic structure and landscape. The Amankora hotel, which leaves Wangdicholing Palace literally in its shadow, is clearly out of harmony with its historic context. I realize that local administrators in Bhutan don't have access to trained experts and funds to deal with landscape preservation but the monolithic hotel should have been permitted only in a less obtrusive part of the valley.

Since development is happening at such high speed here in my country, we have many processes in place to protect significant structures and landscapes although they don't always succeed. My work now is related to protecting archaeological sites from construction works. I'm working as a civil servant with the Ministry of Culture here in my home province.

Anyway, for whatever reason, I feel extremely inspired and motivated to contribute however I can to the management and protection of Bhutan's historic sites. I hope I can return and do some good work in this area, share what I've learned, maybe even train others. I've had the opportunity for education and experience in this uncommon field, in a setting of rapid development. Nobody in Bhutan right now has this background. I understand and appreciate why there's a continuing backlash against "foreign experts" and I know that non-nationals aren't easily employed in Bhutan (unless sponsored by an NGO, which is my hope) so it would be very difficult to make this happen. But, dreams are not supposed to be simple to achieve, right?

Anyway, thanks for reading all that. I hope you are well and I look forward to your continuing posts and photos.

Take care

Friday, August 30, 2019

The March Of Money: Part XIII

A curious and enquiring mind is the highest gift nature can endow a person. Such a mind is always questioning, learning, assessing and generally brimming with energy and inquisitiveness. The human civilization owes great debt to these minds.

I too have an enquiring mind that churn information like a high powered blender. When it goes whizzing, I am propelled on a journey that traverses the Cosmos and the Milky Way, and beyond.

Recently I was pushed on a journey of discovery – that of the monies of Bhutan. And look what I have discovered.

Along with the silver Thala two Bronze coins were also ordered on the Calcutta Mint of Government of India, by His Majesty the Drukgyal Ngipa, in 1928. These coins were among Bhutan’s first what are called “milled” coins. Before that all our coins were, what are known as, “hammered” coins.

Look at the superlative quality of the engraving on the coin. The engravings were rendered by an Englishman by the name of Albert Pearson Spencer. Strangely, the word “Druk” is correctly spelt on the obverse of this coin, while there was an error on the Thala milled the same year, same time and in the same mint.

Zangtam of 1928 - Bhutan's first milled coin. Two sizes of these Zangtams were issued. The larger of the two was 26.5mm in diameter while the smaller one measured 25.1mm. The larger of two weighed 7.0g while the smaller one weighed 4.9g

Zangtam is interpreted thus:

Zang  = Bronze
Tam   = Coin

The other unique coin I came across during my relentless search is the following coin. I have never seen nor heard of it before in my life. Coin historians tell me that this type of coin is known as “Gold Washed Coins”.

Gold-washed Maartam

I cross-checked with experts and they tell me that it is indeed Bhutanese in origin. Most likely gold-plated Maartam.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Have We Learnt Our Lesson?

Dungsam Cement Corporation Limited, the country’s biggest cement plant was conceived and initiated by the RGoB in 1982, with grant assistance assured by India. It was not until 2007 – an incredible full quarter century since its conception - that construction on the project began. This project has the potential to single-handedly assure the country all its Indian Rupee needs.

My view is that India delayed Dungsam because Bhutan was dragging its feet on India’s push to do the Punatsangchhu project. I believe that eventually Bhutan succumbed to the carrot and stick cajoling by India. What seemed like a worthwhile compromise was arrived at: Bhutan agrees to do the Punatsangchhu project and India swiftly agrees to make available the funds for Dungsam Cement.

Dungsam Cement starts full steam in 2007 and less than a year later, in 2008, Punatsangchhu-I starts. Since then it has been downhill all the way for Bhutan.

Dungsam Cement is driven into the ground from day one of its coming into production, with all sorts of excuses. Today it is a mortally wounded behemoth. Eleven years after it began construction, the Punatsangchhu-I is now in a state of comatose – a phase of deep slumber. The Project authorities enlisted the help of God – but so far He remains stoically unimpressed. In the meantime, the cost has escalated more than three times, at 10% interest. All that the Project authorities can do is wait for the annual flooding of the Punatsangchhu, and eventual collapse of the right hill of the project’s dam site. Or even a GLOF caused by global warming.

Alas! I fear that history is about to be replayed. In recent times, people have begun to speak of Sankosh and Kholongchhu Hydropower Projects in the same breadth. A situation akin to the early days of Dungsam/Punatsangchhu-I standoff is upon us. Kholongchhu project has been stalled – while talk of Sankosh Hydropower Project is gaining steam.

Quite obviously the bitch that bore the Satan is on heat once again! But hopefully Bhutan has learnt its lessons well. I pray to God that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past.

Unfortunately, at times, God has the tendency to go on an extended siesta.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Being Penalized For Not Using Imported Energy?

For the past many years I have been wailing cries of agony and frustration – at having to pay electricity bills upwards of Nu.9,000.00 per month, during the winter months. For the more than average Bhutanese, that is a whole lot of money. I want to know who can sanely explain that one energy source that is the country’s biggest exportable surplus – is also the energy source that is outside the reach of the ordinary Bhutanese people. Thousands of Bhutanese spend many useful hours – queuing up at the fuel stations – trying to buy energy source that is imported at great cost to our foreign exchange reserve.

From where I stand, it is totally illogical: how is it possible that energy imported at great cost is cheaper than what we say we produce in abundance, at home? Is there something that I am unable to comprehend? What came to mind was a documentary film titled “The Economics of Happiness”. This film also makes the same point that I am making: How is it possible that something produced 15,000 miles away, then trucked and ferried across the seven seas, is cheaper than that which you produce in your own back yard?

Am I so dumb or what? Is there some kind of rocket science involved here that is beyond my fathoming? Before I go completely berserk wondering, and wondering I decided to speak to someone senior in the industry, to try and get a bearing of what the hell is involved. That was a mistake – I came out from nearly an hour of meeting and talking – completely bewildered at the skewed logic of the government.

In plain simple language this officer explained to me as follows:

Bhutan exports 70% to 75% of our electricity production to India

Of the remaining 25% to 30% that is consumed locally, 70% of it is consumed by the industrial sector at Pasakha and elsewhere.

The industrial sector gets power at a subsidized rate of around Nu.2.00/kWH

Domestic and other consumers are charged from Nu.1.28/kWH to Nu.4.02/kWH

I asked this officer two simple questions:

1.  The industrial sector is said to consume 70-75% of the domestic electricity requirement. By implication, the largest share of subsidy allocated by the government goes towards subsidizing consumption by the industrial sector. Now consider that this sector has traditionally declared dividends of upwards of 100-300% every year.

Is it possible that the government is able to provide subsidy to the industrial sector, because it is exacting the cost on the poor domestic consumers? Is it possible that the industries are making such huge profits, at the expense of the poor Bhutanese people? Is the common man contributing to the huge profits these industries are able to make?

2.  I fall under the LV Block-III Bulk consumer category. This means that I meet all my energy needs from electricity generated in country – I do not contribute to increase in import bill. Why am I being penalized for this by charging me a higher rate? Shouldn’t my subsidy be higher because I am meeting all my energy needs from local energy source? Am I being penalized for NOT using imported energy?

This officer replies; “I do not know.”

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.