Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The Copper Coins of 1951 and 1954

In 1951 and again in 1954, two pretty copper coins were struck by Bhutan. Although the coins’ dies are not nearly as nifty as those done by the Englishman A P Spencer for our 1928 and 1929 silver Thalas, nonetheless, to me the coins look pretty neat and well struck.

Same same but different

While the designs remained the same, the die was re-cut for the 1954 coin. The rendition in detailing has certainly improved in the later version although to the untrained eyes, they look identical. But there are distinct differences.

The differences between the two coins are in the eyes of the Sernga (Gold Fish), Apex/Protoconch of the Doongkar (Conch Shell) and the Bumpa’s (Vase) cap handle. The following comparison chart will show the differences:

Clear and visible differences

It took me a while to get hold of both the versions of the coins.  For some inexplicable reason, the 1954 version is in abundance - it took some doing to find the 1951 version. Some shopkeepers in Thimphu whose shops I often frequented in the hunt for the coins, looked sullen every time I approached them and requested to take a relook at their collection of old coins.

Equipped with a magnifying glass, to the shopkeepers I must have looked like some spook from another planet 😂

I am now waiting for the shipment of a Matam that was struck by one of the Wangdue Dzongpens - it is laboriously trudging its way all the way from Ontario, Canada.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Gift of Oxygen

Yet again, for the Rotary Club of Thimphu, the season of giving is here. This time it is our belief that we have done one of our most meaningful humanitarian services to date - gift of oxygen.

Yesterday morning at about 10AM, a motley of Club Members gathered at the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Referral Hospital in Thimphu - to donate and handover 17 units of Oxygen Concentrators to the officials of the JDWNRH. Personally, this project has been most gratifying - I mean supplying oxygen to the weak and the frail and the dying - what can be better?

Gift of life: 17 units of Oxygen Concentrators - all set to be donated to JDWNRH

According to reports, the JDWNRH had only 4 of these machines - with our supplement of 17 more, few lives should certainly be saved. That too in the comfort of their homes - because what we supplied are the portable variety - that which can be taken home so that patients do not need to spend uncomfortable days and weeks at the hospital.

What are Oxygen Concentrators
Oxygen concentrators are widely used for provision of oxygen in healthcare applications, especially where liquid or pressurized oxygen is too dangerous or inconvenient.

An oxygen concentrator takes in air and removes nitrogen from it, leaving an oxygen enriched gas for use by people requiring medical oxygen due to low oxygen levels in their blood. Oxygen concentrators utilize a molecular sieve to adsorb gases and operate on the principle of rapid pressure swing absorption of atmospheric nitrogen onto zeolite minerals and then venting the nitrogen. This type of adsorption system is therefore functionally a nitrogen scrubber leaving the other atmospheric gases to pass through. This leaves oxygen as the primary gas remaining.

Portable oxygen concentrator
What the Club supplied to the Jigme Dorji National Referral Hospital, Thimphu under this donor-funded project is the portable variety of oxygen concentrators that typically plug into an electrical outlet.

The principal purpose of this donation is to meet the growing demand from the home based users. The hospital will loan out these concentrators so that the congestion in the hospital treatment room can be freed, for better healthcare service.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

I Am Not The Whole Difference

Dear Steve,

Thank you for your prompt reply to my yesterday’s mail. I am glad that both you and Nancy are keeping well.

I have a concern about the item below in your email: "I resign from the Rotary at the end of August 2020".

Please explain what this means with regard to our planning for the possibility of a Global Grant application and an agriculture development project that would certainly require implementation well into year 2021.

Are you stepping back from Rotary and the plan for involvement with a Global Grant application?

Hope to hear from you soon.


Yes, I will be resigning from the Rotary. Initially I had decided that I would only resign from the post of the Club’s Secretary. However, as I began to contemplate more, I realized that given my character, a total severing of the umbilical cord is the only way to go. If I still remain in the Rotary, I will be drawn into involvement, one way or the other. And given my level of commitment and passion, I will not be able to resist getting involved. Let me explain.

I should be actually resigning at the end of RI Year: June 30, 2020. However, since I am organizing a Rotary Conference in Thimphu during the last week of July, 2020 on behalf of the Club, I need to be around to tie up any loose ends. I am sure that the event will spill over into August.

I have been the Club Secretary since the last close to 5 years. I have put in 16-17 hours of work every single day - Saturdays, Sundays and holidays included. Such dedicated and passionate involvement became a norm with me - only for one single reason - the realization that the ROTARY world offers immense and bountiful possibilities to countries with limited resources, such as ours. So, I went head long into it - the Rotary Club of Thimphu was my world, my oxygen, my family my entire life’s focus, my very high note.

In other words, I ignored every thing else – my responsibilities and obligations elsewhere. Also I realized one thing: that I am not the SOLE INHERITOR of this wonderful country. I can make a difference – BUT I AM NOT THE WHOLE DIFFERENCE. There are over 500,000 capable adults that can share the burden. And it is important that I offer that opportunity to others who can be as adapt, if not more, than me.

I know your concern arises from the fact that your Club and ours are all primed to implement a GG project in the agriculture sector. Trust me, because of my imminent planned exit from the Club and the Rotary, I have been preparing for it.

You will be happy to know that on 3rd January, 2020 our Club had a meeting when we discussed your project and the need for appointment of a Chair for the same. On that day we appointed the Chair who will spearhead your project. The Rotarian’s name is Ms Kesang Tshomo and she is Project Director of Bhutan’s RDC, Yusipang. Currently she is working with the field agriculture offices to gather data that you need to discuss with your DRFC Chair.

Once she has the data and submits to you, please tell us to go ahead and I will walk the new Chair Tshomo through the GG application process. You will have no problem, I can assure you.

For your information, since its Charter on 24th April 2012, the Rotary Club of Thimphu has brought in over Nu.140.00 million worth of meaningful projects that benefitted the country and the people of Bhutan. No one in the Club is in any doubt as to how meaningful the Rotary is to the people of Bhutan. Thus I assure you that there are many in the Club who recognizes their responsibilities to the Club and, by default, to the country and the people of Bhutan.

I hope I have been able to reassure you that my departure will change nothing in the way the Rotary Club of Thimphu will function.

Bye and take care

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Hammered “Sa” Coins Of The Wangchuck Dynasty

Historical reports show that striking of coins in Bhutan existed as far back as  1790. Of the huge variety of coins that were struck, the “Sa” coins – hammered coins with the word “Sa” is credited with the Wangchuck Dynasty. For the record, when I refer to the Wangchuck Dynasty I am also including the period when Jigme Namgyal became Trongsa Penlop.

The earliest of these coins would have been struck by Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal in the 1860’s when he captured some Cooch Beharis and brought them as slaves and put them to work to hammer coins. Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal, also referred to as the Black Ruler, would have stuck his coins at his mint in Enduchhoeling, Trongsa.

The following are few of the many variations of “Sa” coins that would have been struck by Trongsa Penlop Jigme Namgyal, and later on by his successor Druk Gyalpo Ugyen Wangchuck, followed by His Majesty the Second King Jigme Wangchuck.

The Coin Die on the left above belonged to Druk Desi Kiptsep Dorji Namgyal. This die is currently in the possession of the Desi's descendants. The hammered coins on the right depict a variety of design variations but all bearing the mark "Sa" credited with the Wangchuck Dynasty

It is difficult to say which of the many Penlops and Druk Desi’s hammered which coins. But one coin that can be identified with Daga Penlop is the following:

One of Daga Penlop's many hammered coins

Other earliest hammered coins are the following:

 This coin is supposedly from the year 1790 - 1840. Strangely it has a "Sa" marked on its Obverse. If this is true then there is something wrong with the recorded history.

1835 - 1910

The following coins may be the last of the coins hammered by the Wangchuck Dynasty - before the milled coins were introduced in 1928 and there after. However, Nicholas Rhodes who is an authority of repute in matters related to Bhutanese coins wrote that even after the Wangchuck Dynasty came into being as of 1907, there were two other persons who retained the authority to officially strike their own coins - Paro Penlop Tshering Penjor and Gongzim Ugyen Dorji. Of the two, Paro Penlop Tshering Penjor was said to be a very artistic person. Thus, given the artistry of the coins' designs, Rhodes believed that the following coins could have been struck by him. But nothing is certain any more.

Last of the Wangchuck Dynasty's hammered coins: 1910 - 1927

As of 1927, Bhutan stopped hammering coins. Instead milled coins came into being - initiated by the Second King Jigme Wangchuck. Two of the earliest milled coins were the following:

Silver Thala of 1928

Bronze Zangtam of 1928 - two sizes of these coins were issued

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Over The Moon

There has rarely been a day that I was as happy as I was few days back. Two things made my day - which occurred on the same day:

I received a gift of a very authoritative book on Bhutan’s coinage titled “The Coinage of BHUTAN up to the mid 20th Century” autographed by the Belgian author Kris Van Den Cruyce, a collector of Bhutanese coins and a numismatist:

If that were not enough, a selfless couple friend gifted me a set of two very rare Bhutanese coins: the silver Thala of 1928 and another of 1929, both of which are in mint condition:

This silver Thala is Bhutan’s first milled coin, minted in 1928 under the command of His Majesty the Drukgyal Ngipa. An Englishman by the name of Albert Pearson Spencer rendered the engravings of the coin’s dies. Historians acknowledge that the engraver’s work on our Thala’s dies was his best work ever. Unfortunately there was a mistake in the word "Druk". The Ba-Ra-Ta-Da was erroneously rendered.

To correct the error on the coin of 1928, another order was given to mint some 30,000 more of the silver Thala, the following year – 1929. This time the word “Druk” was correctly rendered as seen from above. Sadly, there was a mistake in the year of coinage. The year of minting was marked as “Tsa Druk Lo”. The Year should have been marked as “Tsa Druel Lo”

I spent two days (my PhotoShoping skills are very poor) recreating the 1929 Thala - as it should have been rendered.
The silver Thala of 1929 should have been marked as above

I am now looking to own the other 2 Zangtams coined in 1928. Two sizes of these coins were released that year. The larger of the two measured 26.5mm in diameter while the smaller one measured 25.1mm. The larger coin weighed 7.0g and the smaller one weighed in at 4.9g.

This coin is perfectly minted! The word “Druk” is rendered correctly and the year of coinage is also spot on.

It baffles me - if the dies for this Zangtam was correctly rendered, how did it happen that there was a mistake in the silver Thala? After all, they were minted in the same year, in the same mint and the dies were produced by the same engraver.


Saturday, February 1, 2020

Misconception About Vehicle Quota

I just read today’s Kuensel article on vehicle quota. It is so sad ….. clearly some of our lawmakers seem absolutely clueless about the reason behind the award of vehicle quota. Some have even gone to the extent of saying that the quota is given to public employees for long years of dedicated service to the Tsawa Sum. I do not intend to contest this claim - after all we all know the truth.

My endeavor with this post is to inform the misinformed lawmakers.

The Honorable MP’s and NC’s should know that the vehicle quota is NOT given for long and dedicated service. It is given for attaining a certain position - irrespective of whether one has put in long years of service, or whether one has been dedicated or hard working, or merely shamming all one’s life. Integrity, service and dedication are not prerequisite, to be entitled to vehicle quota. I know of public employees who did not know how to execute a print command on the computer keyboard - and yet he got his vehicle quota.

Frankly, let us forget this line of argument - lets get down to brass tacks.

The elected MP’s and NC’s do not need to put in a day’s work in the service of the Tsa Wa Sum, and yet they are entitled to vehicle quota. So then, tell me, is vehicle quota really given to people with long and dedicated service to the Tsa Wa Sum?

The Coronavirus Has The World Shaken

Hi John,

Thank you for your mail a few hours back.

Indeed this Coronavirus is extremely worrying but like you say, July is a long way away. China is a disciplined and determined country with the resources to tackle this with grit and determination. The Chinese government has the courage and resoluteness to do what needs to be done ... so I am confident that they will contain it. My worry is other countries where the virus has found its way – these countries might lack the single-mindedness that is called for, in tackling this dangerous virus.

Bhutan is fortunate in that our government is headed by a medical doctor – he and his cabinet has initiated plans and programs on a war footing and we are certain that we are prepared and sufficiently shielded from the threat of this dangerous virus. Thus thank you for your concern but we are certain that we have been proactive enough to ward off any threat to our lives. As you have read on the TCB website, we are all braced to face this threat with caution and preparedness.

But the world must pray for China and the Chinese people – what they are currently going through deserves all our sympathy. They are the world’s biggest economy. Thus what affects them affects everybody at a global scale. The faster they resolve this virus problem, the faster our recovery will be.

As you know, Bhutan’s most important industry is tourism. I am under no illusion that we will not be hit – we will be, as a result of this outbreak. My only hope is that China will live up to its reputation for swift and determined action, and that damage to us and the rest of the humanity will be minimal, and short lived.

Bye and take care


Thursday, January 30, 2020

The Declining Bhutanese Probity

This will be my 13th article on the reprehensible vehicle quota issue. Perhaps this will be my last – or there will be more, depending on how the issue pans out over time. But while doing the 12th article, there was a moment of awakening which made be feel so terribly sad.

I became eligible for a vehicle quota in 1979. But I had no money to be able to afford a car. Five years later, in 1984 I gathered up my courage and approached my late uncle to give me a loan so that I could buy a Toyota Corona Sedan, the price of which was then Nu.68,000.00 c.i.f Phuentsholing. I needed Nu.34,000.00 as down payment - the balance 50% of the cost would be financed by the Bank of Bhutan. My uncle did not believe that I was in any condition to repay the loan - so he did what a loving uncle does for his most favorite nephew - he said that I could have the money - FREE!

Four days later I went to the STCB to make my down payment, only to be told that the price of the car had gone up by Nu.4,000.00, which meant that my portion of the down payment would now work out to Nu.36,000.00. I was short of Nu.2,000.00, which money I did not have. Thus ended my dream to ever own a car bought on quota.

What struck me was that those days we never dreamed of selling our vehicle quota. Where the people of that era more principled? Where we more law-abiding than those of the present lot? Is the present generation poorer than those of us those days, that they need to supplement their income by selling vehicle quota illegally in the black market?

Has the quality of Bhutanese people been dropping with the passage of time? If this is true, then I would be right in saying that it is not the quality of education that has dropped – it is the quality of students that has dropped. The quality of students has dropped because of the drop in the quality of people (parents), resulting in poor quality of parenting.

What is with human race? Even as we say we are making progress, we suffer decline – in morality, discipline, integrity, value, sense of duty, patriotism, quality of life, spirit of volunteerism, and sense of charity.

That provably explains why, even as we make progress in medical sciences, we are overwhelmed with illnesses that boggle the mind.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Gross National Hypocrisy: How the Vehicle Quota Hurts Bhutan

I have spoken to a number of Cabinet Members; I have spoken to politicians of the ruling Governments and those in the Opposition. I have spoken to bureaucrats, and even to one Member of the Pay Commission, about the shameful corruption that is the vehicle quota, and the need to scrap it from our system. Nothing has come of it – mainly because all those with whom I pleaded benefit personally from its perpetuation, while the nation continues to be deprived of hundreds of millions in lost revenue, year after year. The only door that I have yet to knock is the door of God - I would, only if I knew where His dwelling is.

Every year we squander away hundreds of millions of Ngultrums through loss of revenue - caused by award of vehicle quota to people who have not earned it - money that could have been used to build schools, improve roads and provide safe drinking water, or acquire much needed medical equipment. Thus far, no one has shown courage and selflessness to do something right – all have chosen to allow a most vile evil to go on unchecked, because they all benefit from it.

Perhaps it is that people do not really understand how vile this vehicle quota is. Thus I volunteer to point out the following.

There are a number of players that must be listed – as those contributing to the perpetuation of the blatant corruption that is vehicle quota:

Royal Government of Bhutan
The Royal Government of Bhutan has to take the TOP slot. It is the government that is sponsoring this shameful corruption.

Members of the Pay Commission
I believe that the past 4 Pay Commission Members should rank in the second place. They were charged with the responsibility to examine/re-examine the validity of the public employees’ entitlements. All of them know of the loss of revenue this evil is causing to the country and yet they did not act – simply because the perpetuation of this evil means money into their pockets.

The Seller of the Quota
The quota was awarded so that the recipient could buy a vehicle at a cheaper price. It was not given because the recipient could sell it in the black market, for monetary gains. The seller is thus a law-breaker.

The Buyer of the Quota
The buyer is an even bigger criminal - because he/she buys the quota with the intension to cheat the country its just due. He/she is guilty on two counts - one for evading Import Duty, and another for collaborating in an illegal enterprise.

The most evil thing about this vehicle quota is that it has a multiplier effect:

Every quota doled out generates two vehicle imports. The quota seller sells his/her quota and with that money he/she buys a smaller car for himself/herself. The quota buyer buys another car. The net result of this is that the population of vehicles increase disproportionately. This causes traffic congestion and parking problems. Even worst, the increase in number of vehicles means that we need to import more fossil fuel. The import bill of fossil fuel is such that I suspect we import more energy than we export, effectively dismantling the myth that hydropower generation is a gainful enterprise.

According to the RSTA Bhutan’s total vehicle population at the end of December, 2019 stood at 106,681. Of this, 55,801 are in Thimphu – which is more than 50% of the national total. Considering that Thimphu has a human population of 115,000 persons, this translates into 1 vehicle for every 2 persons in Thimphu.

Now imagine the quality of air of Thimphu municipality. Particularly since Thimphu is in a narrow valley boxed in by high mountains, imagine the level of toxic particulates that remain trapped and suspended in the air - that which is inhaled by unsuspecting humans.

Imagine the quality of Thimphu’s Wangchhu – resulting from release and dumping of thousands of tons of harmful waste from vehicle workshops and car wash facilities.

Recently it was discovered that 70% children between 1-4 years tested in Thimphu had EBLLs (Elevated Blood Lead Levels). This is extremely, dangerously high. There is an effort underway to determine the source of this poisoning. But there is paucity of funds to take the study forward.

We could perhaps consider spending some of the savings from doing away with the vehicle quota - to buy testing equipment and supplies to undertake research to find out what is the source of EBLL. Consider that the damage caused by EBLLs is permanent!.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Words Matter

Yesterday I overheard a friend explaining to someone over the mobile phone that the correct word to use is “subconsciously” and not “unconsciously”. Hours later, I was still intrigued – was the friend correct? Is the word “subconsciously” more appropriate than the word “unconsciously”.

Both of these words describe a state of mind when one is not conscious of one’s actions. Thus, both of these words should be acceptable. However, in my thinking there is a fundamental difference: the state of being unconscious is when one enters a state of suspended consciousness – a state of comatose – dysfunctional consciousness.

“Subconscious” would be a state when the consciousness is functional but at a “sub” level. In this state, actions are possible but without one’s knowledge. Thus, I agree that the correct term to employ would be - “subconsciously”.

Similarly, there appears to be complete incoherence in the interpretation of the words: “government land”, “state land” and “public land”. Few in Bhutan stop to ponder over the consequential implications of the choice of one of these words – when referring to land not privately owned by individuals or households or institutions.

I never say: “I am a poor man”. I always say: “I am not a rich man”. One might argue that the two means the same thing. Think again – the implied connotations are vastly different.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Narrowing The Gap – W I D E R!

Few nights back a number of us long time friends and acquaintances were gathered at a bar for a friendly session of drinking - some beer, some whiskey and one among us, plain hot water.

As the evening progressed, there began a vigorous discussion on a number of topics – both relevant as well as the utterly silly. Dehydrated conditions caused by the room heater combined with copious amounts of whiskey and beer, invariably lead us to loosen our tongues and emboldened us to speak on matters normally considered unseemly.

One member of the group asked:

“Wai, one of the campaign promises of the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) was that you would narrow the gap between the rich and the poor. What happened?”

One of the senior most members of the DNT who was present, interjected:

“Yes wai – we are certainly on the job. We are narrowing the gap – WIDER!”

That got us all guffawing. I mean it was incredible that such a senior member of the ruling party would say such a thing.

I asked the Member: “This is an incredibly honest admission – can I put it down in my Blog?”

He said; “Yes, please do by all means!”

The discussion on “narrowing the gap” took center stage because one of the group members that evening was on the phone with another political party member – negotiating a price for a vehicle quota – this time for a Toyota Prado. The price on offer for  the right to ownership and import of a duty free Prado was Nu.2.2 million. The speaker on the other end was asking for Nu.2.5 million. The deal couldn’t be concluded because they could not agree on the price for the quota. But it certainly opened up a vigorous discussion on the reprehensible practice of awarding vehicle quotas to some section of the Bhutanese society, and the shameless trading of the piece of paper with wanton abandon.

One can attain great fame by being able to achieve great things in life. But that is not the only route to attaining eminence - one can also do so by being able to have the courage to undo evil and injustice in society. Vehicle quota is one such unfair practice that causes immorality and breeds class segregation among equals.

I urge the incumbent government to have the courage to dismantle what you know is corruption among those who have been charged with the responsibility to be the custodians of morality and good practices.

You may never have that chance ever again. CARPE DIEM!

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Mighty Gungchen Taag (Tiger Mountain)

I have been chasing this long shot of the mighty Gungchen Taag (6,784 Mtrs.). Finally this morning I managed to get the shot that I would say is closest to what I have in mind. This morning was the 7th attempt.

I have been to the base of this mighty peak – and got snowed in and stranded for a total of 5 days. I was camped at a place called Lingmithang – about 2 hours trek from Laya village. But I could never get the shot I liked. The following is the best image of the peak I could get from Lingmithang – not quite to my liking.

Gungchen Taag as seen from Lingmithang, Laya

During a trip to Wangdue last year to photograph the perilously located Gaselo village, I passed by a location from where I could see the peak looming large in the distance. Since then I made 6 trips to scout for a suitable location from where I could shoot the full view of the peak.

Taking a picture of the peak itself I could do – from a number of locations. However I wanted something interesting to be included in the image. Looking around I realized that if I could locate the right location and height from where to shoot – I could include Nobgang Monastery in the scene. That is precisely what I managed to do in the following scene.

The mighty Gungchen Taag shot from Wangdue with Nobgang Monastery in the foreground

According to the weather forecast, we are supposed to have 3 clear, rainless days. So I headed for Punakha and reached the location from where to shoot – by 6.30AM, only to find that entire Wangdue valley and the Lhakhang was blanketed under a thick layer of mist.

Wangdue valley completely hidden under a blanket of mist

PS: Few would recognize that this shot was of Wangdue valley. To make sure that readers would see that this was indeed in Wangdue, I moved to a different location so that I could include the two iconic Wind Turbines in the frame. With this there should be no doubt as to where the shot was acquired. This lesson is intended for those of you who are serious photographers - the photographs must speak for themselves.

The mist covered Wangduephodrang Dzong

Damn!!! The weather forecast was accurate about clear skies – but nothing was mentioned about the rising mist. Well, nothing to do but wait. The mist cleared up after nearly 2 hours and I began shooting. The image of the mighty Gungchen Taag with Nobgang Monastery in the foreground was shot exactly at 8:13 AM this morning.

People only see the beautiful images – they are clueless about the pains that go behind acquiring the images.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Some Of Those Who Share The Planet With Us

Imagine there are more than a trillion other life forms on this earth that share our living spaces. Some of them are the following. I present 10 of the hundred odd images I have of these beautifully patterned Lepidoptera.


You may have never seen these beautiful Moths, and it is likely that you may never see them. Some of them are likely to go extinct, caused by human recklessness.

Someone rightly said: If the mother earth is to survive, the human race has to go extinct. Alas, I fear there is no such luck - we will annihilate everything before we go extinct.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Taking Tourism To The Top

Recently in a WhatsApp group chat a number of Bhutanese tour operators were ecstatic that Bhutan beat Costa Rica hands down as the better travel destination - in an Internet poll set up by the Lonely Planet. I thought over it for a moment and realized that the Bhutanese tour operators’ gloating over the result had nothing to do with a sense of achievement - it had to be an expression of a sense of patriotism. After all, Bhutan has been among the top travel destinations for the past many years.

If you ask me, quite frankly, getting to the top can also be accidental. All of us have to be frank with ourselves and admit truthfully whether we have worked hard enough to get there.

But what will not be accidental is BEING ABLE TO CONSISTENTLY MAINTAIN THE TOP POSITION. Now this requires genuine hard work - to consistently remain at the top. No lucky accidents can keep us at the top.

Unfortunately a season of confusion is upon us. The oft-repeated myopia that is the government’s professed “Flagship” programs has become a dangerously fatal distraction for the Tourism Council of Bhutan. In its chase for the cows in the wild, it is loosing focus on the cash cows that sit by its side - calmly churning out milk and butter.

The tourism sector has generated US$85.41 million in tourist revenue, in 2018 out of which US$26.29 million is direct revenue firmly in the government’s pocket. And yet, I am told that the government won’t allow TCB to appoint additional inspectors to help fatten the cash cow in hand. The TCB has few dozen rules and regulations to improve quality in service delivery in the tourism sector - but it has no manpower to help it regulate and enforce the rules. A regulatory authority that regulates the tourism activity in the whole of the country does not even have 5 inspectors to monitor, inspect and enforce regulations. Is this how we are going to take tourism to the top?

Incidences of guides being underpaid and ill-treated have been reported. Hoteliers have for years accused tour operators of none-payment. Tour operators have countered that hoteliers are often unprofessional in heir dealings with them. Tourists have complained of poor quality meals being served to them. I have personally seen a guide so thoroughly drugged out of his mind that he remembered that he was guiding a group for a Tsechu in Bumthang but he could not tell me which Tsechu it was that his group was supposed to attend. I have seen guides not wearing their badges, even when the rules explicitly require them to do so, when guiding tourists.

There are enough rules and regulations to remedy all of the above problems, and more. But through lack of monitoring, inspection, regulation and enforcement, the problems have persisted year after year. The government needs to empower the TCB with adequate number of inspectors to regulate and enforce the rules. The TCB overseas Bhutan's most important industry - it needs the teeth and muscle to keep the industry on track. It needs to be equipped with the most basic tools to make it effective.

The TCB recently introduced drug test for the tourist guides. This is a small but very important move towards disciplining the most vital component in the tourism service chain - the guides. The guides’ role in the improvement of our tourism industry has to be recognized for what it is - critical. The guide is the face and soul of Bhutan’s tourism industry. Let us honor them but let us also keep them honest. Those who fall by the wayside - well, RIP.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Bhutan Bird Festival: Zhemgang November 11 – 13, 2019

I just returned from the Bhutan Bird Festival that was held in Tingtibi, Zhemgang from 11th to 13th November, 2019. I was invited by the Dzongkhag’s organizing committee to sit on the judging panel which invitation I accepted readily – after all, the event was happening in my Dzongkhag and there is no reason why I should not be a part of the event. I contributed in kind and in cash – to make the event a success. And success it was – I was truly impressed by the superlative effort put in by the organizing committee – they did a fantastic job. It was all too evident from the arrangements they made – the grounds they cleared and leveled, the variety of indigenous products on display, the food stalls serving out Khengpa dishes - very impressive indeed. I dare say that few events would have been organized with this level of efficiency and competence. I hope they do an equally good job next year.

The Billboard of the Bhutan Bird Festival 2019. Don't miss the name of Rotary as one of the sponsors

The Honorable Prime Minister at the inaugural ceremony on 11th November, 2019

One of the most interesting structures at the festival grounds - the unique Bubble Pavilion 

 Cultural show during the festival

I contributed 11 high-resolution images of birds found in Khengrig Namsum areas – out of which 4 of the large prints were paid for by me personally. The large prints of the bird images that were on display attracted considerable attention from the public - with some hilarious and unexpected remarks from the public. I overheard a youth in a group of youngsters who were looking at the photos in the bird gallery comment that: 

“It is funny - I see 11 different bird photos – but strangely they all have the same name: Yeshey Dorji”.

The following are three of the eleven images that were on display at the festival ground:

Obviously the youth confused my name for the names of the birds

I profited too - on my return journey back to Thimphu, I managed to acquire the following four brand new images to add to my collection of bird images:

Asian Pied Starling

 Great Cormorant

 Indian Roller

Jungle Babbler