Friday, April 17, 2015

Roads of Doom? Part I

What is it with our roads? All of a sudden, our roads are at the center of our focus and, trouble!

Note the following media reports in Bhutan as well as in India:

“Construction of 68.3 Kms. Nganglam-Dewathang  highway: deferred indefinitely”.

“The 98Kms. Lhamoizingkha-Sarbang highway aborted”.

“Project Dantak will execute the 52km widening from Trashigang-Yadi”.

“The 546km Thimphu-Trashigang road widening work begins next month”.

“Chazam-Duksum road widening work well on track”.

“Shingkhar-Gorgan road makes it to the 11th Plan”.

“India seems not to have lost its hope of building a road through Bhutan to have an easier access to Tawang, near the Sino-Indian border in Arunachal Pradesh, from the plains of Assam. Bhutan is not willing to allow the construction of the road because of objections from China”.

“Quoting official sources, the report said that the issue was raised by Narendra Modi during his trip to Bhutan as Prime Minister—“

“The PTI report said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had been requested by political representatives from Arunachal Pradesh to convince Bhutan about the benefits it will bring to the economy of that country besides curtailing travel time between strategically important Tawang and Guwahati”.

Clearly, what is emerging is that our roads, like our hydro-power projects, have the potential to bring about our eventual doom. There is something terribly amiss - at the manner and the haste with which we are going about our road widening initiatives.

This one is funny too!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Funny Signage

What do you understand by the following signboard put up at the entrance of Lamperi Cafe?

For those of you who are photographers, tell me - what is the flaw in this photo, taken with my iPhone. I wont make this mistake if I was using a proper camera ... but shooting with a mobile phone is rather cumbersome.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Gleeful KUENSEL

KUENSEL’s Editorial of the 7th April, 2015:

For a bigger and safer airport

"It was quite a spectacle for the thousands of people, who visited Paro over the weekend. The Paro tshechu, the Royal flower exhibition and, to the surprise of many, all the seven aircraft operated by the two Bhutanese airlines were on the ground at the same time.

It was a beautiful sight, as hundreds waited, stranded in a terrible traffic jam on the single lane road that runs beside the airport."


Friday, April 10, 2015

Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)

The Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) - with a target capital of US$100 billion, is promoted by China, to free itself and its member states from the control and influence of the overlords who control the IMF and the World Bank. Already, 30 countries have been approved as Founding Members that include India and most European countries. Some more may join by the April 15 deadline. Unfortunately, there is no talk of the Land of the Thunder Dragon being part of the consortium.

Take a look at the following map that shows the countries that currently form AIIB membership. Poor Bhutan is a blotch of grey within a sea of color.

May be it is still not too late - today is only the 10th - we have 5 more days to make it to the list of Prospective Founding Members (PFMs) of the AIIB.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

‘Not a Single Neighbour That India Doesn't Have a Problem With': National Security Advisor of India Mr. Ajit Doval

Recently our firebrand Blogger Wangcha Sangey of Haa posted a withering article that supposes a number of assumptions behind the abrupt stoppage of the construction of a number of critically important roads in the Southern parts of the country.

I agree with all of the points raised in that article. Given India’s monumental paranoia about China, the road connectivity to Samtse is bound to be perceived as a threat to India’s security. Until India sheds her inferiority complex in relation to China and learns to have faith in her own greatness, Bhutan will continue to suffer.

Samtse’s proximity to the “chicken-neck” area at the tri-junction of Tibet, Sikkim and Bhutan, is its undoing. It is also for this reason that India will never do the Amochu Hydropower Project - in India’s view the proposed project has two problems with it: it is too close to the "chicken-neck" area and, of all the hydropower projects that have been planned and executed so far, the Amochu Hydropower Project will be the most profitable for Bhutan and that, fellow Drups, is not in the scheme of India’s long term strategy.

Take a look at the following map to understand and sympathize with India and why she behaves the way she does - at the possibility of a all-season highway reaching Samtse.

Mr. Wangcha Sangey of Haa needs to think on another issue that bewilders me. I can understand India’s paranoia concerning the road that leads up to the chicken-neck areas. But what is India’s interest in the Shingkhar-Gorgan highway?

I am told that recently DANTAK and RGoB officials numbering close to 20 people, led by the Secretary of the Ministry of Works and Human Settlement, visited Shingkhar in Bumthang to survey the areas. It is my belief that it has to do with the reported resumption of the construction of the infamous Shingkhar-Gorgan highway. I had reported about a similar survey conducted by DANTAK from Gorgan side, in conjunction with the CDCL people – read my post “Where In The Name of DANTAK Is This Road? – II” dated November 14, 2014:

Our Prime Minister recently returned from USA with promises of millions of dollars based on our commitment to conserve and preserve our environment. The Shingakhar-Gorgan highway is a meaningless road, does not benefit the Bhutanese people in any way and will cause huge environmental disaster. As far as Bhutan is concerned, this highway is NOT needed and its construction goes against every law and has the potential to cause grave damage to our reputation as a champion of environmental conservation. How will Bhutan justify to partners around the world - why an environmentally disastrous road that cuts through a national park and has no social or economic benefit to the Bhutanese people, is a useful and necessary endeavor? Is this the way we demonstrate our commitment to environmental stewardship, in whose cause we seek funding from the world community?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

My New Year Wish

Here is wishing a Very Happy Lunar New Year to all my readers.

New year resolutions and wish lists are not my thing - resolutions get broken and by now I know that not every one may realize all that they wish. But there are always exceptions to the rule and this year I am making an exception: I am making a New Year Wish:

I WISH that the two governments of Bhutan and India would get together and take the only sensible decision they can - a decision to abandon the Punasangchu Hydropower Projects.

In his interview to the Kuensel of 21st September, 2013, Dasho Chhewang Rinzin of Druk Green Power Corporation has said that “indecision” in the case of Punasangchu Hydropower Project I should be avoided. I would like to go one step further and add that “correct decision” is even more important, than a hasty incorrect decision. And, in the face of what is increasingly becoming obvious that the geological surprises that are being thrown up in the Punasangchu I & II project areas are insurmountable, the only correct decision, in my view, is to cut our losses and scrap the projects entirely!

Is this a preposterous idea? Not if you consider that given all the “geological surprises” that are being “discovered” in the project areas, there is every likelihood that the Punasangchu Project I & II may eventually end up in the Bay of Bengal. What then? The gravity of the situation cannot escape any one - if one considers that the final cost of the two projects will be 3-4 times bigger than the country’s entire GDP. If these two projects fail, Bhutan can never recover from the ensuing debt!

Apparently, it is not just the Punasangchu I: Kuensel also reported in their April 16, 2014 issue that even Punasangchu II is faced with “geological surprises”! To add to all that, Kuensel on 5th February, 2015 reported that the projects are now running out of budget!

Even if the two governments do not agree to scrap the Punasangchu projects, they should accept that WAPCOS (consultants to all the hydropower projects in Bhutan) has proven to be anything but competent to undertake any further investigations in the case of these or future hydropower projects in Bhutan. Thus, while we must ensure that WAPCOS is barred from future involvement in our hydro power projects based on their terrible record so far, we should now look at engaging consultants from third countries to investigate if the geological make of the Punasangchu areas is suitable for large hydro power projects. Through the engagement of better-qualified consultants, we should ascertain whether it is wise to continue with the projects - or scrap it, to prevent further losses. If the government of India has the best interest of the projects at heart, they should agree to a second opinion from an independent consultant from a third country.

The Punasangchu Hydro Power Project I started with an initial cost estimate of Nu.35.00 billion, in 2006. By 2013, the cost had escalated to Nu.98.00 billion - almost three times the initial estimate.

The project was supposed to be completed by 2015. Latest date of project completion is now deferred to 2016. Regardless, if past records are anything to go by, we can be sure that the project will not be completed even by the end of 2018. And, in all likelihood, the cost will escalate to over Nu.120 billion.

In my view the project is no longer economically viable. No one can convince me that a project that has seen cost escalation almost four times its original projection - can still be considered feasible and profitable.

The famous cost+ pricing concept is no consolation at all. Have we considered the likelihood that the Indian state electricity boards that purchase our electricity may at some point turn around and tell us that the unit cost of our electricity is too high for them to purchase and redistribute to their consumers? This is most likely to happen - given that our cost of production has gone up so high. What then?

The Bhutanese people have long been mislead into believing that the hydropower projects will make all of us rich. So far, that has remained a pipedream. On the contrary, the Punasangchu I & II have already caused a number of our mining companies to go bankrupt with losses running into hundreds of millions. Another one is on the verge of heading the same way.

One simple question: If these hydropower projects are for the benefit of the people of Bhutan, how is it that even small ancillary services like quarrying for sand and stone for supply to the projects is being allowed to be monopolized by the Indian contractors? Why is this being allowed by the RGoB even while our laws are explicit that only Bhutanese people can engage in mining activities?

There is a need for Bhutan to take a serious look at where we are heading with our hydropower projects. If we don't, it will be the cause of our doom.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Soldiers’ Logic

This morning I had to visit the Royal Bhutan Army (RBA) Headquarters in Lungtenphu, to apply for trekking permit for a trekking group wanting to trek in the Jumolhari basecamp area.

Now, I pride myself as a thinking man. Thus, regardless of how difficult or choked a parking space may be, or how constrained I am for time, I make sure that I park my car - head out. This is what I did this morning at the RBA parking: parked my car - head out.

As I was walking away from my car, a Johnny - obviously the parking attendant - walked up to me and asked that I park my car - head in. I said why??? He said because that is how it is required to be done in the RBA parking lot.

All cars must be parked - head in!

I pulled the Johnny aside and explained to him my logic and the merit of parking ones car - head out. I explained to him that if there is an emergency or if there is a fire or an earthquake and buildings are crumbling all around me, first thing I need to do is to pull out of the area in a jiffy. I can do so if my car is parked - head out. I told him that if I park my car head in, I will not be able to get out pronto because backing the car out of the parking lot requires me to drive the car backward and forward few times, before I can get out.

I asked him to give me his side of the logic as to why the RBA requires visitors to park their cars - head in. He explained to me that it has been the RBA’s experience that not many drivers are skilled at parking their cars - head out. Thus, in fairness to those poor unskilled drivers, the RBA has decided to impose this standardized rule that requires every one to park their cars - head in. I was nonplussed! But I know one does not reason with soldiers - so I turned my car and re-parked it - head in.

Dremtoen! Soldiers, how about some tactical thinking?

Monday, January 19, 2015

Unexpected Star of the Vibrant Gujarat Show

From all accounts, our Prime Minister had a successful trip to India. One paper calls him “unexpected star of the Vibrant Gujarat show”. A friend in Bengaluru, India sent me the following news clipping. I am told that Indian media is full of praise for our Prime Minister.

But the best praise for him came from a Bhutanese. She said; “I am not impressed so much by the fact that the PM impressed everybody in Gujarat. I am more impressed by the fact that he is turning out to be even better Prime Minister than the consummate Opposition Leader that he was”.

Frankly it is good for the country that our Prime Minister made a big impression on the people of India. I have only one regret: like PM Modi, our Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay should have addressed the Gujarat gathering in shudh Dzongkha :)-

Friday, January 2, 2015

Yes Minister!

I was recently forwarded a copy of the RCSC’s Press Release on the issue pertaining to the curious case of the surrender of 3 Government Secretaries.

After reading through the exaggerated and inconsequential verbosity wherein they went on to quote seven legal provisions, I realized that the RCSC completely missed the point of the surrender of the three Secretaries.

The Cabinet obviously realizes that they cannot act against the Secretaries - however grievous their crimes - because of various provisions in the Constitution, the Civil Service Act and the BCSR. That is precisely why the Government surrendered the Secretaries to the RCSC - for action. In doing so, the Government has duly recognized the RCSC’s ascendancy over matters dealing with any action against senior bureaucrats. Thus the RCSC’s strenuous sermon was totally uncalled for and a waste of newsprint.

In fulfillment of what they claim is within their domain, the RCSC should investigate the matter, seek proof from the Cabinet which they have done, and arrive at a decision. And take action! as they deem fit. It is at this point that they should provide all the justifications and quote all the rules and regulations - to back those justifications.

An atmosphere akin to that of the famous British TV Serial “Yes Minister” is developing between our bureaucracy and the government. I am not sure if events are being engineered to cause a rift between the government and the bureaucracy. As ludicrous as it may seem, there is nothing funny about it.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Wangchuk Lo Dzong of Haa

Two popular Bhutanese Bloggers - Wangcha Sangey and Passang Tshering (both have their origins in Haa) have written on the issue of Wangchuk Lo Dzong of Haa, within days of each other. The issue was also discussed in the just concluded Parliament. It would seem that the topic is currently in vogue - so, let me add my two Chettrum’s bit. I wanted to post my comments on their Blogs instead of writing out a new article but it was going to be a long one - so here goes.

Wangchuk Lo Dzong of Haa

Many have been infuriated and incensed by the matter concerning the Wangchuk Lo Dzong being handed over and used by the IMTRAT for the past many decades. Not me. I am cool about it. I absolutely do not doubt the imperatives behind such an act. But certainly it has intrigued me for years.

We supposedly needed IMTRAT to train our military. But why was Haa chosen? It is not a suitable location for a training center. It is cold, it is frigid, it was far removed from the main centers of activity and the logistical challenges were numerous.

Why was the Dzong handed over to house the IMTRAT? Didn’t IMTRAT have money to build their own lodgings? Wasn’t there any free, open space in Haa valley that could have been allocated to the IMTRAT, to build their lodging facilities?

The RBA has established its training center at Tencholing for the past few decades. So what is IMTRAT still doing there in Haa? Aren’t they a redundant organization with their key function out of their hands?

One other question that gnaws at my guts is this: if the IMTRAT is adamant about hanging on to the old Dzong, why aren’t the people of Haa and the Royal Government of Bhutan asking the GoI to build a new Dzong in place of the old one? I am sure that if the GoI can give money to build a Supreme Court building big enough to house the entire population of the country, they will be happy to give funds to construct a new Dzong for the Haaps - as compensation for the confiscation of their poor old Wangchuk Lo Dzong.

I think we need to go beyond the rhetoric and look at the issue with a sense of intrigue, rather than a feeling of loathing.

PS: Please note that I spell the name of the Dzong without “c” in Wangchuk.

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Yarn About Two Yarns

In my capacity as the Secretary of the Rotary Club of Thimphu, I came in contact with an interesting Japanese gentleman named Genji Nosaka. He is the Chairman of a museum in Fukui, Japan called “Bhutan Museum Fukui”. The museum is dedicated to promoting friendship between the people of Japan and Bhutan. It has exhibits that help create awareness about Bhutan’s rich cultural heritage among the Japanese people. I met him twice.

During his last trip, he gave me an intriguing assignment to perform. He and his wife handed me a bundle of creamy white yarn and requested that a fabric be created out of it. He had one very precise condition: the textile that I create must be of a fusion between his yarn (known as Kouzo) and a Bhutanese yarn of my choosing! In the enmeshment of the yarns, the Kouzo must form the Warp and the Bhutanese yarn must be woven as the Weft.

And what is the idea? The idea, according to Genji-san, is that such a fabric produced by bonding two natural fibers grown in the two respective countries will be symbolic of the strong bond and friendship that exists between the people of Japan and Bhutan.

And the purpose? It will serve as an exhibit that he will hang on the wall of his museum.

What an IDEA! The more I thought about this, the more I was convinced that the idea was refreshingly ORIGINAL! - very ingenious and creative and infinitely sensitive. I loved it! So I decided to devote time and thought over the matter.

First I needed to think of what yarn/thread to use to create this symbol of friendship. Then I needed to find someone who could do justice to the weaving that has to be top notch!

After days of brooding over the matter, I had the answers! For yarn, I will use Zocha Kuip (Kui kromen in Khengkha) - a yarn derived from the fiber of the bark of Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica).

Having decided on the yarn, the answer to finding a master weaver was simple - I already knew a master weaver in Langthel, Trongsa who weaves Nettle clothing. Her name is Ms. Sundu Choeden. I called her up to find out if she was at home - she was. So I drove to Langthel to hand over the Japanese yarn and ask if she could weave what I had in mind. She looked at the yarn lovingly and exclaimed; “what beautiful yarn!”. She agreed to weave the piece and so we sat down to decide on the size and the pattern to weave into the body of the fabric. The results are the following.

Fusion Fabric Design 1

Fusion Fabric Design 2
Close-up of Design 1's Pattern

Close-up of Design 2's Pattern

Although a single strip of fabric was woven, it was divided into two different panels. This way it was possible for the master weaver to integrate two different patterning designs so Mr. Genji-san has an option to choose from and not be limited for choice.

The patterns of the fabric is also woven with Zocha Kuip that has been dyed with natural dyes.

The fabric is currently on its way to Japan. Pre-shipment images I sent him received glowing appreciation from Mr. Genji-san.

Kouzo yarn:
Kouzo yarn is derived from the bark of Paper Mulberry (Broussonetia kazinoki Sieb.). It is a temperate deciduous woody plant. It is popularly called Paper Mulberry because it is a raw material for Japanese paper that is mainly used for printing currency notes.

Balls of Kouzo yarn

 Nettle yarn:
In olden days, Bhutanese use to grow cotton but we don’t anymore. The other yarn that we used those days from which to weave clothing was harvested from the wild - Stinging Nettle (Urtica dioica). The plant was stripped of its bark from which a fine fiber was produced which was spun into yarns.

Zocha (Nettle) yarn

Weft & Warp:
In weaving, the thread or yarn that runs horizontally is known as the “Warp”. In Bhutanese it is called the Muh. Similarly, the thread or yarn that runs vertically or diagonal to the Warp is known as the “Weft”. In Bhutanese it is known as the Poon.

 Weft & Warp

UPDATE: One reader called me up to say that in some parts of Pemagatshel in Eastern Bhutan, some bit of cotton is still grown from which a textile design known as Kamtham is woven.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Viagra versus Cordyceps

Most of you know Viagra as a wonder pill that helps correct erectile dysfunction in human males. But how many of you know that mountain climbers who climb Mount Everest also take it? That is right - they do! The reason is simple: the drug dilates the pulmonary vessels, which in turn helps to move more blood into the pulmonary veins that result in improved exchange of oxygen in the lungs. In plain English, it means it gives the mountaineers much needed stamina.

Don’t ask me if the mountaineers suffer from any embarrassing side effects such as: erectile over-function. I have no idea.

I cannot afford Viagra or know where to buy them locally - so I depend on good old home grown Cordyceps. When I am trekking the high altitudes - like my last Snowman Trek when I trekked 28 days continuously - I take half a teaspoon full of ground Cordyceps, every night.

 In the case of this wonder worm, I can vouch that it is effective - and has no side effects whatsoever!

Saturday, November 29, 2014


So you think you know Bhutan?? Lets see how many of you readers can correctly identify this place in the photograph.

Five readers attempted to ID this image - three got it right - it is indeed Trashigang Dzong.

One said it was Lhuentse and another likened it to Trashiyangtse. Both were wrong.

I thought that someone would say it was Dagana Dzong - the roof pattern of these two Dzongs are almost similar.

Friday, November 28, 2014

BHUTAN: Land of Butterflies, Spiders, Crickets & Birds

One of my readers in India sent me a mail thanking me for posting new articles on the Blog. He said he is very "pissed" whenever he did not see a new post on this site. Another reader from Bangkok sent me a mail expressing happiness that I have resumed posting on the Blog - after an extended sabbatical! So, even at the risk of being an overkill, here goes some more - for their's and others' viewing pleasure :)-

I hope you are reading this, David?


Rufous-vented Tit (Parus rubudiventris)

 Wallcreeper (Tichodroma muraria)

Thursday, November 27, 2014

BHUTAN: Land of Birds & Butterflies

Here are some more butterflies. I am throwing in some birds too - for those of you who prefer them to the Lepidopterans!

White-browed Shrike Babbler (Pteruthius flaviscapis)

Red Junglefowl (Gallus gallus)

Yellow-bellied Fantail (Rhipidura hypoxantha)

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

BHUTAN: Land of Butterflies

It has been a while since I posted any photos on this site. So here are some of butterflies that I photographed during my recent trip to the East.

Some of you may not be aware that Bhutan has over 800 species of butterflies. For a small country the size of Bhutan, that is a huge, huge number. Compare that to 679 for North America and 440 for Europe.

Nature's splendor is reflected in their delicate colors and complex patterns. I wish I had some funding available to me - I would like to spend the next 5 years photographing them. Someone needs to do it before climate change renders some of them extinct even before we know and see of their existence.

Are there some rich uncles and aunties out there who want to help me realize my dream? :)-


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Wandering Tsampa

While driving back to Thimphu from my recent trip to the East of the country, I had barely begun my descend into Trongsa over the Yotong-La pass when I passed someone walking up towards the Pass. I shook my head: there goes one of those glib Sadhus from the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh who make fortunes in Bhutan - reading palms and foreheads of the gullible Bhutanese.

I continued to drive on until it suddenly hit me that the man was clothed in all white. I remember that Andhra Sadhus wear saffron. Also the man was carrying a traditional Bhutanese cane-frame backpack. Sadhus don’t carry those. Even more surprising, the man seemed very comfortable in the near sub-zero temperature of the Yotong-La Pass at 6.30AM in the morning - a scantily dressed Andhra Sadhu would be dead meat at this temperature levels. In any event Andhra Sadhus’ preferred mode of transportation is Druk Air - walking on foot would be so terribly infra-dig!

Something was not right - so I turned my car and headed back towards the Pass. I was right - the man was not a Sadhu from Andhra. He was a wandering Tsampa! I stopped my car and struck up a conversation with the man. He tells me that he is a Tsampa from Mongaar.

 Tea break for the wandering Tsampa from Mongaar.
Please note the traditional cane-frame backpack and the one-legged resting stick

He was a young and good-looking guy on a personal quest to offer prayers for the benefit of all sentient beings. He has already walked to most of the holy places in Bhutan and he was now heading towards Bumthang where he hopes to pray and meditate for the next few months, until he embarks on another walk towards another holy destination.

He had actually intended to prostrate all the way to Bumthang but a medical examination at Thimphu revealed that he had ulcer in his stomach and his lungs were near collapse. His condition caused him great pain due to which he could not perform prostrations. That did not deter him - he was determined that he would continue to recite his prayers - by walking to every one of his destinations. Neither will he accept any ride - from any one - on any form of transportation.

Amazingly, he was not wearing any warm clothing and yet, the bitter cold did not seem to bother him. There was a wonderful look of peace and clam on his face - something that I thought was unusual given that it was bitterly cold and he was suffering from ulcer.

I served him hot tea from my flask, which he gladly accepted. I was of a mind to remove my Patagonia R2 jacket that I was wearing and give it to him but he wouldn’t know how to care for it and damage it in no time. Thus, I decided against it. Instead, I gave him Nu.1,000.00 and asked him to buy himself a woolen sweater when in Bumthang.

As I continued my journey towards Trongsa, I wondered what it was about religion that drove people to such meaningless acts of lunacy. Here was a man with his innards infested with ulcer and holes in his lungs. And yet, he wants to walk the length and breadth of the country - and pray in bitter cold - in the hope and belief that it will benefit all the sentient beings of the world. What benefit, exactly? And who elected him to take on the responsibility of saving the sentient beings? Poor blighter! If I were to ask him, he would provably tell me that he wouldn’t give two hoots if, one of these days, he is mauled to death by a bear while walking through the alpine wilderness. Or, bleed to death from the ulcer that is wrecking havoc on his innards.

Religion seems to teach some strange ways in which to earn merit for the afterlife or how to save sentient beings from burning in hell. It seems to promote the idea that the afterlife is more important than the now and the here. It is as if preserving the unknown afterlife is more important than the visibly miserable present.

During my trip to Tongmejangtsa, Trashiyangtse, I was told that the village would not rear pigs because they have been told that it was against the religion. They wouldn’t rear chickens either, for the same reason. They have no problem rearing cows though. The reason? Very funny one! - but that is a story to be told another day.

Practice of religion, particularly by those who are incapable of analytical thinking, can lead to some seriously dangerous misconceptions. That is the reason why I completely support our law that prohibits religious personalities from participating in politics.

Oh Compassionate Buddha - please hasten the process of human evolution before your teachings are contorted any further and humanity is put to peril!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Have Common Exams, Will Pray!

During my recent trip to Tashiyangtse, I ran into a group of students from the Tongmejangsa Middle Secondary School - in Tongzhang village.

They were all in their regular clothing. This was rather strange since at this time of the day they should be in their school uniform. I stopped my car to ask them why they were not in their classes. They chorused;

Dhari Lhabab Duechen iin la” (To-day is Day of the Descending of Lord Buddha).

“OK .. so it is a holiday and you have no classes”.

“Yes, Sir … I mean No, Sir”.

“So where are you guys headed?”

“We are going to the Lhakhang (temple) to pray and offer butter lamps”.

“Ahhh Haa goi (Ahhh I know) - your Common Exams are due soon so you are going to pray to God and ask him to help you pass your exams, iinosh (correct)?

Iin la (Yes, Sir)”.

“You think you all will pass?”

They are all full of smiles but none offer me an answer.

“So you think you all will pass?”

Mashey la (We don’t know, Sir)”.

“OK … but you have studied and are prepared for the exams, right?”

“Yes, Sir”.

“Good, then I can assure you that you will pass even without prayers and butter lamps. You know why? Because in the world of the old and the wise, there is a saying;

“Siba Lhaghi Sibi ---- Mapa Rung Ghi Ra Siggo”.

“Do you know what it means?”

“No, Sir”.

It means; “It is God who initiates the shiver but it is mostly oneself who must shiver with vigour”.

“Let me explain further. You must have seen your village Pawo or Pammo, Ngeljorpas (Mediums, Oracles etc.) perform their acts. They start with a slow shiver of their body but as the ritual progresses, the shiver gets increasingly vigorous - until they collapse with exhaustion. That signals the end of the ritual”.

“Do you understand now?”

“Yes, Sir”.

“Actually there is a Chilip (English/White-man) equivalent to this Bhutanese saying”.

Gachii iina la? (How does it go)?"

“It goes like this: “God helps those who help themselves”.

“Do you know what this means? This means that you should study hard if you want your prayers and butter lamps to help you pass your exams. If you don’t study, all the prayers and butter lamps in the world isn’t going to help you pass your Common Exam”.

Ha goyi ga (Did you understand)?”

Goyi la (Yes Sir, understood, Sir).

“OK .. you can go”.

As they plodded away, I noticed that they all wore similar kind of rubber flip-flops. I called them back and asked; “Why are you all wearing the same kind of flip-flops?”

“Uniform iin la”.

Wai, iina? I have never heard of this as a part of school uniform anywhere else in the country. We used to have black leather shoes called “Naughty Boy shoes”. You don’t have them any more?”

“Yes, we have, Sir. But we only wear them when it is cold. Rest of the time we wear these”.

Strange! This is a first for me.

Even more strange, how did these young minds come to believe that offering prayers and lighting butter lamps at the local Lhakhang would help them get through their Common Exams? This is bad influence. Simple and gullible minds will believe any old thing but the problem in the East particularly is exasperating, according to one Livestock Officer who tells me of his losing battle with religious misconceptions and how it is interfering with his work.

But this is a story to be told another day.

As the kids walk away towards the Lhakhang in the distance, I hear one of them muttering “God helps he who helps himself ….. God helps he who helps himself ….. God helps he who helps himself”.

I shake my head in sadness - there go a bunch of potential social misfits of the future! As one village elder in Chaaskar told me, education is now a paradox - anyone without it is supposedly a nobody - but most of those who are with it are either crushing stones by the roadside, working as a Khalasi, gyrating wildly in some Drayangs in the urban cities or engaged in abuse of substance and gang fights!

So much for "Basic Education For All"! But this too is a story to be told another day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Where In The Name of DANTAK Is This Road? - II

I am told that on November 13, 2014, the representatives of DANTAK and CDCL (Construction Development Corporation Limited) conducted a joint inspection trip of the Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway - from Gorgan side. Thus there is no longer any mystery as to which road KUENSEL was referring to, when it reported that “DANTAK will also construct a new 56KMs segment of the highway between Bumthang and Lhuentse”. Good old Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway is once again in the limelight.

For the record, CDCL was/is the contractor who worked on the construction of the infamous Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway/farm road, for the past few years.

In less than three days of the announcement, DANTAK the new contractors that unceremoniously replaced the hapless home-grown CDCL, has already moved in to take charge of matters. And word is spreading fast. One Gorgan resident tells me that DANTAK plans to complete the construction of the 56KMs segment of the highway between Gorgan and Singmala in just one year! Obviously, the poor blighter is blissfully unaware that it is the DANTAK’s unstated institutional policy to stretch all projects into oblivion. But the humble roadside restaurateur can be forgiven because his aspirations are greed-driven: he thinks he will see untold riches when the road construction is completed. So much for national interest - precisely why I subscribe to the view that all roads to GNH must necessarily be paved with GPH.

So then, what of the custodians of our environment - the National Environment Commission (NEC) and the Wildlife Conservation Division (WCD)? They have been successful in stalling the project in the past - on grounds that the construction of the road through protected areas and the tiger corridor is illegal and NOT PERMITTED as per rules already in place. Are they likely to be as effective this time round too? Will they put up a worthy fight for which the law gives them the right and the duty to protect and to speak for, the environment? Will the powers that be ignore them, and the law, and bulldoze the project through? We will have to wait and see.

In the meantime, it is worth examining all that is wrong with this shadowy project called “Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway”.

First, the misbegotten highway was wrongly christened! This is a road that starts from Gorgan towards Shingkhar. Thus, it should have been named “Gorgan-Shingkhar Highway” instead of Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway.

Second, Shingkhar-Gorgan road stands out as a unique case of happy amicability between the victor and the vanquished - a rarity, however fishy! This is the only initiative of the DPT that the present government seems to want to carry through, from where the DPT left off. Other than this, the victorious PDP government chose to dismantle most of every undertaking the DPT government initiated during its tenure - Pedestrian Day, Tobacco Ban, Education City Project, Car Quota for Civil Servants etc. etc. and etc.

Third, the segment of the road from Gorgan to Pelphu Goenpa has since been constructed. If that were not enough, for good measure, DANTAK is now being engaged to RECONSTRUCT it! Curiously, environmental clearance for the construction of the road from Shingkhar to Singmala that would meander through 11-12 KMs of one of the world’s oldest and most pristine Fir forests - was sought and obtained. For the life of me I cannot understand why clearance for the road upto Singmala was sought because, by itself, this stretch of road serves no purpose whatsoever. Thus its construction is meaningless and a waste of resources.

Fourth, the WCD has categorically stated that environmental clearance for the construction of the remaining portion of the road between Singmala and Pelphu Goenpa will not be forthcoming - on grounds that the road cuts through protected area and the laws, as they stand, do not permit it. I am not aware that the Parliament that is currently in session has an agenda that deals with the revoking of the rule that will open up the possibility of an award of the environmental clearance. In the absence of the all-important environmental clearance that, as of now, seems unlikely, how do they hope to get the highway done?

Fifth, even while the WCD has made it public that they will not issue the environmental clearance for the segment of the road between Singmala and Pelphu Goenpa, the DANTAK and the Government of India is going full throttle with the plans to see through this illegal and environmentally disastrous project. One has to wonder: what gives them this level of confidence? How do they hope to circumvent the rules?

This is not a simple case of building a road - a whole lot of issues are at stake. Central to the issue is that rules will be broken, fragile ecosystem will be imperiled and those who profess to be the custodians of the law and justice, will be seen to be the transgressors of the very law they have been entrusted to protect. Tragically, no tangible benefit will accrue to any Bhutanese - whether Lhuentsip, Mongarpa, Trashigangpa or Shingkharpa!

A whole lot of people and institutions will be put to test. The manner in which the concerned officials will deal with the issue will prove if they deserve to be where they are; whether they have the courage to do what is required of them - whether they truly understand what it is to be of service to the Tsa Wa Sum.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Where In The Name Of DANTAK Is This Road?

The front-page issue of the Kuensel dated November 10, 2014 carries a news item that in part reports; “DANTAK will also construct a new 56km segment of the highway between Bumthang and Lhuentse”.

Hello, excuse me! what segment and what highway? There is no highway between Bumthang and Lhuentse. Except for the ancient, rarely used annual migration trail, there is not even a farm road between these two Dzongkhags.

Ofcourse, the erstwhile DPT government attempted to build, what came to be infamously dubbed, “Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway” that was intended to connect Lhuentse with Bumthang. It was initially promoted as a highway. However, because the road was cutting across a protected area and splitting a tiger corridor into two and breaking all the rules in the book, the environmentalists made a hue and cry which forced the erstwhile government to downgrade the proposed highway to that of a farm road. That still did not appease the conservationists - eventually forcing the DPT government to scrap the whole idea, in deference to popular sentiments.

Now, I wonder if the “56km segment of the highway between Bumthang and Lhuentse” is the resurrection of the infamous Shingkhar-Gorgan Highway? Even if it were, why is DANTAK involved? More importantly, why is government of India involved in this environmentally disastrous project that is illegal and of no benefit to any one, atleast no one in Bhutan? India should already be feeling ashamed and guilty for all the environmental damage their hydro-power projects have caused in Bhutan.

I am intrigued and I have been intrigued for a long time - with respect to this foolhardy idea of a road. I simply could not understand why anyone in his right mind would want to do this road.

Never in my wildest dreams did I suspect that India was the grand puppeteer pulling all the strings from behind. However, if it is true that the road is being done at the behest of India, then I would say that the veil of mystery has finally been lifted and all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle have fallen into place!

Now that the bully is openly in the fray, I wonder if the organizations such as National Environment Commission and Wildlife Conservation Division will still be allowed to do their job or be told to take the highway?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Hail To The Modern World’s Most Tested Monarch

Today is November 11, 2014. More significantly, it is the 59th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, IVth Druk Gyalpo of Bhutan. Numerous celebrations are being planned around the country to honor the nation’s and the modern world’s most tested Monarch. Sadly, I will not be fortunate enough to participate in the celebrations because, even as I write this, I am camped by a dusty farm road somewhere in the wilderness between Yadi and Chaskhar in Mongar, Eastern Bhutan.

On this happy occasion, I am trying to attempt to compose an article to pay tribute to my King but the conditions are not the most idyllic! I am distracted by a cacophony of bird calls - three of which I can recognize - those of the Collared Owlet, Slender-billed Scimitar Babbler and White-crested Laughing Thrush. Even worse, the monstrosity called Bolero - an Indian SUV - keeps screeching past my campsite - spewing dust and smell of burnt rubber. To top it off, my PowerBook battery is about to run out and Yadi town is experiencing a power outage. And I remember that my headlamp had already been flashing out three short red blinks in quick succession - indicating that it is running out of juice too! Way to go!

This is a most tumultuous setting in which to compose a tribute to a beloved King and yet, perhaps, this is most fitting. For, this is a King who has lived, and survived, all the tumultuous phases since his coronation. And there have been many such times. Suffice it to say that His Majesty has fulfilled His duties to the hilt - and some more. He has overcome every single challenge thrown His way - to preserve the nationhood of this country - His most important and challenging duty. Therefore, it is perhaps proper, and appropriate, that we honor Him for not having failed in His duty - rather than for performing it. After all, accolades are offered to those who perform beyond their duties, not merely for performing it.

Few perhaps understand what it would have taken to “preserve the nationhood of this country”.

Bhutan is a small landlocked country with neither economic power nor military muscle and with a population size comparable to that of a small Indian gully. Even worse, it is wedged between two of Asia’s most fractious nations of proven atomic capability and with competing ambitions for regional dominance. Bhutan’s geographical positioning as a buffer state (supposedly) between these two giants makes our position even more perilous.

Bhutan’s positioning as a buffer state between China and India is most often spoken as something of an advantage - in Bhutan’s favour. Sadly, not many understand that therein lay our vulnerability! This is where I am stuck by a sense of wonder - at the skillfulness and the political and diplomatic finesse with which our monarchs dealt with the giant to the North as well as to the South. While Tibet and Sikkim got selectively gobbled up by China and India, Bhutan to this day remains an independent state - all thanks to the superior minds and statesmanship of the Wangchucks. During this occasion of celebration and merry making, let us give ourselves a moment of quiet and stillness, close our eyes and contemplate: can we fathom even a fraction of what it would have taken our Kings to “preserve the nationhood of this country?” I doubt it.

Big and powerful nations such as the US employ economic might and military muscle to dictate their terms on other less powerful nations. If economic sanctions do not work, they carpet-bomb the erring states into submission. The powerful nations of this world are back to the primeval ways - smash and grab. Rich and powerful nations have it easy.

By contrast, for small poor nation states such as Bhutan, without the benefit of military muscle or economic might, the task is more difficult. We have to depend on more subtle and civilized ways to fend off the ever-present threat to our nationhood from colonialist designs of more powerful nations. We have to depend on our guile, craftiness, shrewdness, intelligence, sense of anticipation and diplomatic skills, to navigate our way out of the many entrapments laid out on our path.

If Bhutan today survives as a proud, independent state and Bhutanese as a race, we owe it to our successive Monarchs who have been selfless and vigilant in the discharge of their duties. Those of us with a sense of history know that our IVth Druk Gyalpo remains the most tested, but no less credit is due to our past Monarchs. Therefore, on this auspicious day, let us pay homage to the Wangchuck Dynasty as a whole and His Majesty the IVth Druk Gyalpo in particular, for the many silent battles he fought, and won - unknown to his subjects.

May our Kings live long and continue to direct our future.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

WATER: The Next BIG Trouble: III

For every conceivable human activity, we need water. Unfortunately, while the human population growth places increasingly higher demand for it, its availability is dwindling at a pace that is scary and imminently disastrous. Our traditional and most dependable sources of fresh water are under threat of drying up, as a result of climate change brought on by global warming.

This most vital of our resources is now on its final journey of exhaustion.

Today Bhutan is very rich in free flowing fresh water. A tributary of the Puna Pho Chhu seen between the villages of Threga and Lhedi (3,772 Mtrs.) en-route to Lunana

Due to global warming, glaciers are melting and mountain tops are becoming bare of snow and ice. The Puna Mo Chhu is partly fed by this glacier melt. To the base of it is one of the two Tari Tshos. The other Tso (lake) is located at the base of Tarigung (7,300 Mtrs.) which is the origin of Puna Mo Chhu

This is how Mt. Jumolhari (7,326 Mtrs.) looked in April of 2004

Five years later, in December of 2010, even in the thick of winter, Mt. Jumolhari has not much snow on it. In part, Pa Chhu is fed by the snow melt from this peak

When the Jichu Drake was fully clad in snow, this is how it looked years ago

By February of 2011, this is how Mt. Jichu Drake (6,794 Mtrs.) looked. Even in the thick of winter, three fourths of it is now without snow. Pa Chhu may be history when the snow on this peak disappears and the lake at the base of it dries up

Strangely, while we are acutely aware that water is becoming more and more scarce, we remain blasé about the disastrous consequences it will bring upon us. We are smart enough to have seen and documented the receding snow-lines and melting glaciers, but few seem to want to talk about what would be our fate, when our rivers finally exhaust themselves completely into the plains of India.

Consider the following:

1.   There is no known substitute for water. I repeat, THERE IS NO
      SUBSTITUTE FOR WATER. If our water reserves are gone - it will be
      gone forever! It is like death - once you die, your life ends for eternity.

2.  Most of our glaciers are receding and the mountain peaks that feed our rivers are
     becoming bare of snow and ice. Over time, there will be no glaciers and
     snow-capped peaks to feed our river systems - meaning our rivers will run dry
     of water.

What then?

The only way to halt the imminent demise of our water is to reverse the process of global warming. Unfortunately, this is a process that I believe cannot happen. Humankind would be fortunate if we are able to maintain the rate of environmental destruction at its present level. For a while I thought that with a concerted effort, we could reduce or even halt environmental destruction. However, I am now convinced that it is an impossibility. I have understood that no meaningful gains can be made unless we completely demolish the very way we manufacture, market and consume. That, unfortunately, is not an option that we are willing to consider - because we have invested trillions in the processes that ensure commercial and industrial success, rather than environmental stewardship.

We are doomed to failure - unless nature rebels and does unto us that which we do unto it: teach the human race a lesson so humbling that we will learn to be mindful of the consequences of our mindless acts of violation. Actually, there are signs that it may already be happening.

In the meantime, we still need to worry about our waters. It is foreseeable, beyond any doubt that our rivers will eventually dry up. So - is there something we can do to halt the process? Yes, there is! Thinking out-of-the-box can be a start.

We have so far been mesmerized by the promise and allure of untold riches that we will derive from harnessing our waters for hydro-power projects. In truth, after four decades of being into the business, we are nowhere close to being even remotely rich or economically independent. Thus, it is time that we look at water as something more than merely energy to drive turbines of the hydro-power projects. In the face of widespread global scarcity, water resource - particularly unpolluted fresh water resources, could offer much greater gains than being used merely to turn turbines of hydro-power projects whose immediate as well as long term benefits remain questionable. In my view, water is destined for great things in the future. But we need to have the vision to plan and act now before it is too late. There is a need for a paradigm shift - we need fresh thinking - a dramatic departure from the old thinking that hasn't worked, atleast in the economic arena.

As a source of energy to drive turbines and produce electricity, water has alternatives. By contrast, for the human beings as well as all the living creatures on this earth, THERE IS NO SUBSTITUTE TO WATER. If we do not manage and preserve what we have today, we will lose it forever. Once it is gone, it is nothing more than saline liquid.

.......... to be continued