Thursday, October 28, 2021

Death By Ladoog VII

We are now packed and ready to go on the trek.

Before undertaking the trek, there are two important things that need to be ascertained:

1.  Medical history of the persons going on the trek
2.  Have they been to altitudes above 8,000 ft., before in their lives.

I organize high-end treks and I follow the following rules:

AAA.  I employ experienced guides at close to 3 times the going rates for trekking guides. The guide needs to have good trekking experience – but above all he has to be a person with uncommon common sense. He has to be capable of thinking fast – and logically - in emergency situations.

BBB.  I am not convinced by trekkers from outside when they tell me that they have done many treks in their lives. That may be so but conditions are different all the time – altitudinal variations are different. Don’t forget the highest altitude in Switzerland is only 4,600 Mtrs. So when a Swiss trekker tells you that he has been to the highest altitude in Switzerland – you can tell him that is child’s play.

CCC.  I always make sure that trekkers arriving Bhutan get 3 days of lolling around at Thimphu or Paro – for acclimatization. If I am able to, I try and convince them to complete their tours to other cultural sites before embarking on the trek – so that their bodies have more number of days to get used to the changed atmospheric pressure of Bhutan. A human body can adapt - but it needs time.

DDD.  Before starting for the trek, I unfailingly take them for a test run. They have a choice – Taktsang or Chele-La. I make them trek either of these two sites before beginning the actual trek. If someone is affected at these altitudes, he/she will NOT BE GOING on the trek.

Just before the trek starts, I give a little pep talk that set out the rules to follow on the trek:

AAA.  The Guide is the ultimate authority on the trek. He has the final say – the support team including the trekkers, has to listen to him and heed his decision.

BBB.  The Guide sets the pace of the trek. It has to be understood that you are not on a competition – you are here to have an enjoyable experience – not to outpace someone. You must take easy and even paced short steps – NO RUSH. The rule is that you should not tire yourself out. DO NOT get into a situation that causes you to do hard breathing.

CCC.  Stay with the group – do not stray - do not lag too far behind or go ahead too far. In the wilderness, you can get lost within a blink of an eye.

DDD.  Protect or shield the important points from where heat escape: head, mouth, nose, ears, fingers and legs.

EEE.  Start your trek early – on my own treks, I have always insisted that we leave the camp by 7.00 AM latest - breakfast should have been done and camp collapsed and we are on the road by then.

The reasons I insist on early trek are:

AAA.  There is no sun boring down you neck – so the trek is easier and there is not much sweating. A good bit of the trek would have been covered under favorable conditions.

BBB.  Starting early means YOU DO NOT HAVE TO RUSH. It also means, most importantly, arriving at your next campsite early. Arriving early means you have ample time to do what needs to be done – locate a good camping ground, set up camp, gather wood for the evening campfire, search out water source – all without scampering. If you start late, you arrive late – leaving you with precious little time to do what needs to be done, with care.

CCC.  Towards the end of the day’s trek, let the support team and the pack ponies go ahead of you. This way when you arrive the camp, everything would have been set up and hot steaming tea and snacks would be waiting for you. One of the most irritating things is to have to wait around for the camp to be set up.


The guide has to inspect every tent that has been pitched. He has to make sure that the tents are pitched in the right way – a slack tent is trouble – the tent’s outer shell has to be drawn tight so that rain water or snow has no chance of gathering atop it.

Cabela's Extreme Weather Tent - the tent of my choice - I take this on my treks. From the tent spikes you will realize that this tent is designed for serious stuff.

The guide has to make occasional inspections in the night - to ensure that the ponies have not stumbled over the tent's stay wires and slackened the tents. My above tents have no stay wires - so there is no danger of ponies tripping over them.

The ground sheets on which the tents sit must be of good, thick quality so that there is no seepage of moisture into the tent from the soggy ground underneath. The ground sheets I use are imported from Malaysia and they weigh over 5 KGs. each - heavy certainly, but your tent floor will remain bone dry through out the trek. A wet tent floor means BrrrrrrrrrrrR!

Make sure that the edges of the ground sheets are folded up slightly – so that in the event of surface water running around the tent – it does not run over the ground sheet and wet the tent’s floor. This will be trouble.

If you are the type who needs intake of water in the middle of the night or early in the morning, make sure that there is free-flowing water available to you. Remember that at high altitudes, the water freezes, turning into lumps of ice – not good for drinking. What I have done is that I take my drinking water to bed with me – inside my sleeping bag. That way the water will remain liquid. The trick is to use hot water bags – that will keep you warm, while at the same time keeping the water liquid and drinkable.

My experience has been that you cannot leave your boots outside – they freeze turning into hard lumps. So make sure that you protect your boots, so that they are supple and pliable when you want to wear them on, the next morning.

I have been to some seriously high altitude locations where every morning you find that the water has frozen inside the Jerri can – meaning no water for brewing the morning tea or cooking your breakfast. Thus I have always required my trekking support team to heat pots of water before going to bed and keeping the heated water inside their tent. This way when they wake up in the morning, they have liquid water to brew morning tea and cook breakfast. They do not have to wait for the water to defrost. You have to plan in a way that there is no delay in starting a new day.

The efficiency of the batteries inside your camera and lamps drops to about 40% at high altitudes – due to cold. Thus make sure that your batteries are protected and kept warn. I generally wear them around my body – in the night I take them to bed – inside my sleeping bag.

Calculate your battery power requirement – then multiply by 2. Carry more batteries then you need – remember you may have to extend your trek for unforeseen reasons – and remember that battery efficiency drops dramatically at high altitudes.

Trekking means you loose lots of body moisture. Make sure that you replenish loss of body moisture - by drinking water at regular intervals. Hydration also helps your organs to function well and it helps you to get your required quota of sound and restful sleep.

Absolutely a NO NO NO NO NO. You must stop the intake of alcohol on the day you start your trek. You must also make it absolutely clear to your support team that CONSUMPTION OF ALCOHOL ON THE TREK WILL NOT BE TOLERATED!

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Death By Ladoog VI


It is now time to start packing for the trek.

You have to be imaginative about your requirements. Too many items would mean extra load that you do not need – too less could mean insufficient gear to keep you warm and toasty during the trek. Typically, my packing list would run as follows:


Sleeping tent with moisture proof thick plastic groundsheet – my choice is Cabela’s

Sleeping Tent for the support team

Kitchen Tent


Collapsible, low-lying, sturdy camp kot (something like GO-KOT Camping Cot).


Inflatable - light and well insulated to prevent moisture from seeping in from below the ground. Therm-A-Rest brand is a good choice.


Most people mistakenly prefer sleeping bags that are suited for extreme high altitudes – say for -40 Deg. days. I, on the other hand, have a different idea. I choose my bags rated for a maximum of -0 Deg. days. My logic is that we would be gaining height gradually and thus we do not need bags that are rated for extreme weather at the beginning of the journey. Thus, my bags are rated at -0. Extreme weather bags that are rated at over -40 Deg. are very expensive. I buy -0 Deg. bags which are affordable. Then, to compensate as we climb higher and face colder conditions, I carry four numbers of fleece blankets. As it gets colder as we climb higher, I keep adding layers of blankets over the sleeping bag.

Buying bags that are rated for very high altitudes has another problem – they cannot be used for low altitude camping trips. This means you have to buy additional bags for low altitude trips. This is a waste of money. My choice of bag is Marmot for the -0 and Feathered Friends – for the extreme altitudes – I have one that is rated at -60.


You need to use bag liners – so that you do not soil the interior of the bag. Also should the duration of your trek be long, you can wash the liner. They have to be of silk material.


I pack four down pillows by Feathered Friends of USA. They are highly packable and soft like the belly of a nun.


You need a headlamp for yourself and each of the team members, and a tent lamp and a kitchen lamp. They have to be of high lumens. Do not make the mistake of getting the solar-charged variety – go for battery-powered variety. Buy high power rechargeable batteries – and carry good number of extra batteries on the trip. You will never face a situation of darkness or lightlessness. I prefer TheSeige by StreamLight of USA, rated at 540 lumens.


On a trek, you do not carry too much clothing – just the bare minimum. But what you carry has to be top class of dependable quality made by proven industry leaders with long history of producing technical clothing. My preferred brand is Patagonia of USA. I suggest the following items:

List of Clothing I carry on my treks to the extreme regions


When beginning the trek, pack one extra Base Layer Thermal in your rucksack, including a face towel. The reason is that you do not want wet clothing against your skin – that is dangerous! As you trudge up the mountain side in the mid-day heat, you will begin to sweat profusely resulting in sweat-soaked base layer against your skin. Do not allow wet thermal to cling to your skin –immediately remove the wet thermal with that of a dry one.

Make sure your gaiters are properly tied – you do not want a pebble getting into your boot and causing blisters – that will be the end of your trek.


This is one of the most important items that deserves very, very careful consideration. Unfortunately, my experience is that there is utter misconception among the Bhutanese trekkers about what level of boots you need on your trek.

The technically sound trekking boots come in three levels – Light, Medium and Heavy. Somehow the tendency to believe is that heavy trekking boots are the best for you – WRONG!

You have to remember that the Westerners set the standards. What is to be remembered is that trekking in the West is different than in Bhutan. There they have to carry the load on their own backs. In Bhutan, we use ponies to carry our loads.

Because they have to carry the loads on their backs, they decide on their boots – based on how much load they would be carrying. Thus the theory in the West is that – heavier the load you have to carry, heavier the boot type you need.

In Bhutan that theory does not apply – because there is no load on our backs when we are trekking – other then 2-3 Kgs. in a smallish rucksack. Thus at most, Bhutanese people should opt for light to medium weight boots. But make sure that the sole is of a good quality – my choice is Vibram brand. Your boots also has to be waterproof (Gore-Tex) and ankle height – so that you can prevent ankle twist as you go down hill over pebble-ridden trail.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Death By Ladoog V


We now understand the perils of AMS and how to prepare for and avoid it. I have also walked you through when to go, for what. It is now time to deal with the real deal – preparing for the trek and actually heading for it. But first let us begin the process of planning for the trek.

The process of preparing for the trek involves the following:

1.  Deciding on a contractor to provide pack ponies (transport) for the trek;

2.  Number of pack ponies/ridding ponies;

3.  Deciding on whether Yaks or Mules;

4.  Decide on the type of food to pack – based on duration and

     the highest point to which you are expected to climb to;

5.  Assess food and ration requirements based on number of people and duration of trek;

6.  Trekking support team; and

7.  Check the weather forecast.


It is preferable that you opt for a contractor who is also the owner and driver of the ponies. They care for the animals better – thus there is less risk of ponies going missing or careless accidents.

If possible, choose a younger person – but there is no substitute for experience. However, in situations where strength is called for – younger guys perform better. But in terms of getting out of sticky situations – experience is called for.


It will be determined by the number of days and number of people in the trekking group. This can be worked out a few days before the start of the trek when you begin to start packing your stuff.

TAKE CARE that you do not overload the ponies – that is a bad idea. Keep them springy and agile – with reasonable load. This way, you can avoid accidents that can be costly.

My pack ponies on the trek between Rigona to Nob Tsonapata, from Sinchuloompa. Generally this route is out of bounds for trekkers - but I brought to bear some muscle power to allow me to take this route :)-

As a rule, I always insist on taking along a ridding pony for every 4 trekkers and an additional un-laden pony for every 6 trekkers. The ridding pony will be required in case you have accidents on the trek – or should a trekker fall ill. The extra un-laden pony is for the same reason – in the event of unforeseen accidents. It is less expensive to pay for additional transport than be stranded in the wilderness for want of it.


For me this has always been a simple and straightforward decision – mules. Yaks are a moody lot, with unpredictable mannerisms. And they are terribly stubborn! They spook easily and can scamper off in all directions offloading their baggage all over the places and at times off the cliff into the ravines.


AMOUNT: This will depend on the duration and difficulty of the trek. I have one thumb rule: I pack X2 times the food needed. One is never sure what will happen in the high altitude wilderness – you could be stranded for all sorts of reasons and for days. Thus I always take food twice the amount that is needed. Your chances of survival are so much better if you have nourishment to sustain you.

Don’t be penny wise but pound-foolish.

TYPE: The general rule is that you pack food that are rich in carbohydrates that provide calories needed to give you energy. Examples are oat bran and good old white rice - and ofcourse energy bars - if they are available.


Select wisely. They have to be young and enthusiastic and hard working. Lazy bums should be shunned like as if they were lepers.

The support team can be either your weakest or strongest link.

Unfortunately, 99.9% of trekkers pay scant attention to their support team. This is absolutely the wrong approach. I have always believed that on a trek to the high altitude regions, your support team must perform with the utmost efficiency – thus they are more important than you.

If they fail, you have not a rat’s ass of a chance at success. If you fail, they are around to deliver you to safety and on the road to recovery.

If they freeze to death, you are a dead meat alongside them.

Therefore, one of the rules I have followed all my trekking life is that they wear the same brand of clothing I wear, same trekking boots I wear. Carry the same lighting system and even the sleeping bags they sleep in are technically as efficient as mine.

In fact, my pony man in Haa – Aap Semba - wears the same trekking boots I wear – worth Nu.23,000.00 for the pair. I bought it for him – on the condition that I am allowed to deduct the cost from trekking service that he would provide me sometime in the future. To date that future never came. But hopefully one day it will. If not, it will be my gift to him for the efficient service he had always rendered to me.


Although not always reliable, it is a good idea to look at the weather forecast and plan your trek on days when the weather is predicted to be good and fair.

SNIPPET: This Aap Semba of Haa is so efficient and hard working and ever ready to please - that on one of our treks together - this time for photographing the rare and endemic White Poppy (Meconopsis superb) only found in the North of Haa - he suggested as follows:

"Dasho where is the need for you to put yourself through such gruelling hardship - why don't you sit by the fire and in the comfort of your tent. I will go and gather up all the flower you need. You can do your photography - no need for you to venture out in this terrible weather."

Ofcourse he does not understand that the follower is so rare that he should not uproot them.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Death By Ladoog IV


Once you decide that you want to go on a high altitude trek, the first thing you do is decide when you want to go. As a rule this is determined by the purpose behind the trek. The purpose could be any of the following:

1.  Tourism

2.  Landscape photography

3.  Bird Photography

4.  Botany

5.  Pilgrimage


Under this, I would include trekkers – those people who love trekking in the mountains. I would choose mid October to mid December, and late March to early May. Ofcourse the duration of the trek is also a factor, including the highest point that the trek will attain.


Here too I would choose the above months. The reason is that these months will be that time of the year when the skies will be clear, there will be no rains and there is less likelihood of being snowed in.

However, if the trek is likely to touch over 5,000 Mtrs. you will have to begin the trek during mid September so that you cross the highest point before the heavy snow starts. Once again the duration of the trek is a factor that must be kept in mind. Regardless, what is important is that you plan in such a way that you pass the highest point in your trek, before the onset of the big snows.

View from Bonte-La Pass at 4,980 Mtrs. One has to scale this high pass to get to Soe Yaktsa from Jangothang. You can see the tip of Jichu Drake on the left.


Not many people go to high altitudes for bird photography. One reason is that the birds migrate to lower altitudes during the cold months. However there are bird species that live only at high altitudes – such as the Bja Oro (Common Raven – Bhutan’s National Bird) or the Lammergeier. In Bhutan I have spotted and photographed these two birds in Gangkhar Puensoom and Lingzhi. Thus October and March should be the months of choice. Both these places are likely to be open during these months. I have done Lingzshi in February!


This requires that that alpine flowers are in bloom. So June – August are the most likely months – in terms of productivity. But I can tell you it will be WET and SOGGY. Pack a bloody good ground sheet and make sure your rain gear is top notch!


Here too I would choose the months between October to November and March to May. The reason is that these months will be that time of the year when the skies will be clear, there will be no rains and there is less likelihood of being snowed in.

No reason why your quest for Nirvana should not be an experience in blissful enjoyment.

But one thing you have to keep in mind – DESPITE YOUR BEST PLANNING AND FACTORING IN ALL PROBABILITIES, you can never be sure.

In nature, be prepared for the unexpected!

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Death By Ladoog III


First and foremost, when planning a trip to high altitudes you need to ascertain:

What is the highest altitude that you will attain on the trip?

This is important so that you know that you are, or are not going to, scale beyond 8,000 ft. altitude. If your trip is going to be lower than 8,000 ft., there is not much to worry – but if it is going to be over 8,000 ft. you need to be concerned.

Grading/Classification of Heights
Graphics by High Uinta Pack Goats

The threshold of 8,000 ft. is the point beyond which it is said that most will begin to experience AMS, if someone is susceptible.

The other thing you need to know is on which day of the trek the highest point, or the threshold of 8,000ft. will be attained.

If it is on the first or second day – you need to be seriously worried. The reason is that you are obviously going to gain height too soon, too quickly. This is not good – you are not giving your body the time needed to adjust with the changed barometric pressure around you.

If you must still continue with the trek, you should rest at the highest point for a few days – to allow your body to make the adjustments. If you feel OK at the highest point after the rest, then it is certain that you have most likely overcome the threat of AMS. You can continue. However, if there are signs of AMS, then you should descend – down to a lower height and take a few days rest and reattempt the trek. Or terminate the trip entirely, if you feel unsure.

If the highest point is gained on the 3rd or 4th day – the worry is less because it is then obvious that your climb has been gradual and that you had sufficient days on the trek to enable your body to make readjustments to the thinner air around you, as you gain height.

Once you reach the highest point and if you should begin to experience AMS symptoms, you should immediately DESCEND to a lower height. But at this point the important thing is to decide:

Which direction is the more effectual way of making a quicker descend – backwards or foreword?

It is not necessary that you should descend through the same route that you took to arrive at the high point. It is possible that going forward may be the more efficient route. In other words, the descend to a lower height may be attained faster by going forward – may be the trail downhill on the other side is much more steeper – meaning that you will descend faster.

The IMPORTANT thing to remember is that you NEED TO DESCEND IMMEDIATELY.

The following are the golden rules when trekking in high altitudes:

Do not gain more than 1,000 ft. each day.

For every 3,000 ft. height gained, give yourself a day of rest before going up further.

"Climb High but Sleep Low". This is the maxim used by high altitude trekkers. You can climb more than 1,000 feet in a day - as long as you come back down and sleep at a lower altitude.

If you begin to show symptoms of AMS, don't go higher until symptoms decrease:

"Don't go up until symptoms go down".

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Death By Ladoog II

I am truly concerned by the Bhutanese people’s poor knowledge, or total lack of it, related to Ladoog. Thus I am going to do a series of blogs on matters related to the subject. It is hoped that in so doing, that atleast some of the Bhutanese people will benefit from the transmission of my personal experience and expertise of nearly 7 years of continuous trekking the extreme high altitude regions of Bhutan.

In my 6-years assignment for the government to photograph the high peaks and lakes of Bhutan, I have trekked to almost all the high peaks of Bhutan. One of my treks was for a total of 43 days, without a break. I have trekked over the Gosoong in Singye Dzong, summating over a Pass that is over 5,000 Mtrs. or 16,500 ft. I have climbed to almost the summit of Masagung (7,194 Mtrs.) – when my Bjop horseman from Soe Yaktsa pleaded:

“Dasho – please let me know when you are done – I am feeling so cold I cannot stand it any more” – promptly sticking his head into a hole in the ground to shield himself from the vapor freezing chilly wind battering the mountain side, as I proceeded to plod up the frigid face of Mt. Masagung.

I have trekked to Chundugung, Gonzola, Doklam Plateau, Sinchu Loompa, Chundu Laatso and Nob Tshonapata, in the north of Haa.

Singye Dzong, Terda Lhatso, Gosoong, Tsokar and Tsona in Lhuentse areas of the East.

Sangyegung, Jumokoongkhar and Nagchung-La in Merak, Trashigang.

Juele-La, Dhur Tsachu, and one third the height of the great Gangkhar Puensoom at 7,570 Mtrs., in Central Bhutan.

Masagang, Tarigung, Gung-La Karchung, Keche-La, Gungchen Taag, Jumolhari, Jichu Drake, Ngele-La, Bontey-La, Lingzhi Dzong, Tserimgung, Lunana, Gungchen Singye – traipsing shores of Lugo Tso, Rapsthreng Tso and Thorthorme Tso in Lunana and Tsophu Tso in Jangothang in Western Bhutan.

Two trips to Phangu – one of them by helicopter – Bhutan’s richest Cordyceps growing area above Thanza, in Lunana regions of Western Bhutan.

All my above jaunts into the frigid regions of Bhutan’s alpine regions should tell you that I am qualified to speak on matters related to AMS.

Beginning from my next post, I am going to tell of some measures I take to battle the frigid weather conditions and traversing the perilous trek routes – to get to where I want to go – at the bases and above the waist lines of the virginal snow capped peaks and frozen lakes of the country’s extreme North.

For additional reading, try the following:

For proof of the pudding, the following are three pages from hundreds of pages of notes taken down in minute detail, during my many treks. These ones on show are from my trek to Signye Dzong - in November of 2006.

Notings of my trek to Singye Dzong in winter of 2006

Over a dozen note books containing details of my many treks to the frigid regions of Bhutan

Imagine, no one dares to go to Singye Dzong in November - except this mad photographer. But clear blue skies, a trillion shimmering stars in the night sky and, frozen, wilting grass blades laden with ice and brooks lined with sparkling frozen banks - they make for great photography!

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Death By Ladoog

It would be incorrect to say that the incidences of death by Ladoog is a modern phenomena. I can say it with certainty that it would have happened in the past but remained unreported or, the cause is bound to have been misinterpreted or misunderstood, which is still the case.

Ladoog in Bhutanese literally translates to “mountain poison”, or sickness of the mountains. Most Bhutanese believe or are told that it is caused by the release of strong or pungent smell by the medicinal herbs/trees that grow at high altitudes.

This is a total misconception.

People have also irresponsibly propagated the idea that Ladoog can be cured by chocolates and wheat Sampa diced with sugar.

This is yet another total nonsense. Sugar provides instantaneous but temporary energy – thus misleading people that they have the energy to climb.

Even educated people believe that the Ladoog can be cured by Diamox or that simulation by Gamow Bags will cure altitude related sicknesses. While I agree that Diamox can help accelerate acclimatization at high altitudes, it is NOT A CURE. The Gamow Bag mimics a lower altitude by increasing air pressure around the affected person put inside the Bag. In fact I advise trekkers destined for high altitudes that they should not take the tablet because in my view taking this tablet can result in a false sense of safety. Not many can afford Gamow Bags.

One must know that Ladoog can be fatal. It can kill within hours.

Last week a friend faced a near death Ladoog experience in Laya, unknowingly. My instinct nudged me to call her and find out how she was doing since I hadn’t spoken to her in a year or so, only to find that she was returning from a trip to Laya at an altitude of 3,800 Mtrs. or nearly 12,500 ft. When she recounted her experience to me over phone, I realized that she was clueless about what Ladoog was all about. She had no idea that she was hit by Ladoog. Fortunately, she was lucky that she had an uncommon instinct that told her that something was seriously wrong. She descended to Punakha – and spared her parents the painful experience of having to go through the motions of her last rites.

This article is the result of my conversation with that friend and how utterly ignorant people are about Ladoog and its consequences.

“Ladoog” I believe is a collective term used by the Bhutanese to describe the following three different forms of altitude related sicknesses:

Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS)

High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)

High Altitude Cerebral Edema (HACE)

All the above three can result in fatalities. That is as certain as night and day. There is absolutely no cure.

Symptoms of different types of AMS

A person will begin to experience the above conditions once he or she crosses the threshold of 8,000 ft. altitude. The barometric pressure at high altitudes causes the conditions described above. Higher one climbs, thinner the air gets, resulting in lesser supply of oxygen than that which people are generally used to.

The other reason why people get hit by the above conditions is because they gain height too quickly – before the body is able to adjust to the barometric pressure of the location at which they are. That is the reason why I insist that trekking groups coming from low lying areas and landing in Paro should acclimatize for atleast 3 days – either in Paro or in Thimphu - before they are allowed to undertake a trek.

The human body must be allowed to acclimatize with the changing barometric pressure around them. This means gaining height must be done gradually.

There are so many misconceptions surrounding altitude related sicknesses – I believe that the BBS should do a program in all the national languages – to educate the people on AMS related matters – how to prevent them, how to prepare for and how to avoid them. This has become important in recent times since I notice that people have taken to trekking to high altitude pilgrimage sites. BBS would be doing a service to the nation and in the process avoid preventable deaths. This has become an URGENCY.

I suggest that the tour operators who are conducting these pilgrimage tours should be required to be TCB certified operators with proper grounding in the knowledge related to AMS. The pilgrims should be made aware of the AMS related matters – so that they can make informed choices.

I have already seen 3 altitude related deaths – one in Jele Dzong in Paro, one in Singye Dzong in Lhuentse and one in Nagchung-La Pass in Merak. The girl who died in Singye Dzong was on a pilgrimage along with 16 other women. Despite my repeated requests to the group to descend to a lower altitude, the young girl succumbed to the condition – she was only 28 years old.

It was sad and such a waste of precious life.

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Deciding the Obverse and the Reverse of the Ser Nya Maartam

Our Maartams were hammered a few centuries back – thus it is impossible to say with any degree of certainty which side of the coin was intended to be the obverse and which side the reverse.

I was for a moment perplexed as to how to decide on the following coin’s sides. Outside historians call this coin “2 Fish Coin”. But I am changing that. I am going to call this variety of coins – the “Ser Nya Maartams” because one side of the coin depicts one of our Tashi Taag Gye (8 Lucky Signs) – the Ser Nya. The other side depicts the Bengali/Assamese term “Dhra”.

Ser Nya Maartam with a Cross on the Obverse

In truth, there appears to be an accepted convention in the minting world – that the obverse side should hold the more important information or that the start of the information should begin at the obverse of the coin and end with the reverse of the coin. This would imply that we should designate the side with the important information as the obverse and the other as the reverse.

Thus, since the Ser Nya is more important to the Bhutanese than the Bengali/Assamese “Dhra”, we should, therefore, designate the side with the Ser Nya as the obverse of the coin.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Thank God That Things Happen For a Good Reason

After many years of research and examination of evidences, I finally decided that I had done enough. I could now begin to put together my book on the coining journey of Bhutan. The delays have been monumental, given the conflicting reports on Bhutan’s coinage.

I believed that I had them all sorted out, only to realize that there was yet another problem that had almost escaped my attention.

Historians put the date of Bhutan’s coinage from 1790 to 1910. Thus I had finalized my dates accordingly. Then to my consternation I discovered that the starting date of our coinage should be 1711. If that were not enough, this morning as I was putting the dates to some of the hammered coin varieties, I realized that the dates are yet again wrong. Wrong because as of the beginning of monarchy in 1907, the posts of Punakha Dzongpoen, Wangdue Dzongpoen and Daga Poenlop ceased to exist. Only the posts of Choetse Poenlop and Paro Poenlop exist to this day. Thus the abolished regional rulers ceased to have authority to hammer coins.

Consequently, my following dates pertaining to the three Dzongpoens’ coins would be wrong. It is now being corrected as follows:

Corrected dates

Trongsa Poenlop’s coining date for the hammered variety should actually be upto 1910. However, I am keeping it at late 1800 since around that time Trongsa Poenlop Jigme Namgyel began to hammer a different variety of coins called Norzang Phubchen – in silver and copper. Beginning with this coin, every coin – in except one coin variety - the Cooch Behari alphabets were entirely done away with. These coin varieties hammered until 1929 is distinct from earlier hammered coins.

Thursday, October 7, 2021

How Some Of Us Think

In 2011, I photographed the face of the Buddha Dordenma at Kuenselphodrang, as the scaffolding to mount the Third Eye was being dismantled by the Chinese workers. That was when I noticed the scar on the left face and ear of the Buddha.

Scars on the face and ear of Buddha Dordenma

I brought the matter to the attention of the then Prime Minister JYT with an appeal to order the correction of the flaw. The Buddha Dordenma project is a monumental project and such shoddy work cannot be accepted. The serene face of the Buddha should not have scars on it.

The Lyoenchen called the Lama or some person who was in charge to explain the shoddy work.

I am told that the Lama or the person in charge responded to the Lyonchen saying that the flaw became visible because I had a very good set of camera gear.

To the person, it did not matter that there was a flaw – what mattered was that the flaw was detected only because I had a good set of camera gear.

Strange way of thinking.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

A Great Loss: Sad Demise of Dr. Diana Natalicio of UTEP

I was greatly distressed when Rotarian Dawa Penjor from Gelephu called me up to inform me of the sad demise of a great educator and one of Bhutan’s most valuable friends in the US. I had met the distinguished lady twice. And I continued to be in her company – as a co-Council Member of the Bhutan Foundation’s Advisory Council.

It was due to this great lady that many of us Bhutanese parents could afford to send our children to one of US’s top ten universities - University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). My youngest son spent five years in this great institution of learning. Without her love and special consideration for Bhutan and the Bhutanese, I could not have afforded to educate my son in UTEP.

I was truly grateful for this lady for her special love for Bhutan. In fact I wrote to the erstwhile PDP government – on three separate occasions (last request was sent to the government on June 28, 2018) – requesting the government to invite the lady to Bhutan as a government guest – to show how grateful Bhutan is about her competent stewardship of the institution where preferential treatment is accorded to our children – in preference to all others. The PDP government wasn’t interested.

In desperation, I spoke to the Members of the Rotary Club of Thimphu – requesting them to allow me to invite her as our Club’s guest since the government was not interested. The Members agreed. Sadly by the time I was ready to send out the invitation, a decision had already been made by UTEP to fund the travel to Bhutan of the President Dr. Natalicio accompanied by Dr. Catie McCorry Andalis, Associate Vice President and Dean of Students. All travel arrangements had already been made and air tickets already purchased – at their own cost. A great opportunity to show gratitude was lost to Bhutan.

And now she is no more.

Dr. Natalicio’s last visit to Bhutan was in October of 2019.

I blogged about UTEP and Bhutan connection. Please read about it at the following:

Dr. Diana Natalicio

UTEP President Dr. Diana Natalicio, far left, with the erstwhile Secretary of the Royal Civil Service Commission, Dasho Bap Kesang, far right, and Director General of the Cabinet Secretariat, Mr. Sonam Wangchuk (center), in Bhutan in March 20, 2007. An MoU was signed offering scholarships to Bhutanese students.

May her soul rest in peace.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Two New Discoveries

Two new discoveries have puzzled me greatly. One is that there is also a “Sa” imprinted on the Tibetan silver Sichuan.

Sa counter-marked on Silver Sichuan Rupee of the flat nose minted for Tibet

Our ancient Maartum with "Sa" is the most abundant coins currently available in private collections and in handicraft shops. And it was coined earlier than the silver Sichuan which was minted sometime during early 1900's. So it has to be that the Tibetans (rather Chinese since the coin was minted in Sichuan) borrowed it from Bhutan. But what is the connection?

Bhutanese "Sa" Maartum

The other discovery is the term “Nyingtam Ghatikap”. The terms translate to: Old Coin from Ghatika. This means that our silver coins were hammered in a mint located in a place called Ghatika. As you know if a person from Chapcha is named Tshering, he would be called Chapchap Tshering; Dagap Thinley; Sharchop Pema etc. Likewise a coin hammered in Ghatika would be Nyingtam Ghatikap.

There is a place called Ghatika in West Bengal, India. But I am now trying to find out if there was a mint there during the ancient times.

Location map of Ghatika

According to History of Bhutan by Bikram J. Hasrat, the term he uses is Ngultrum Ghatikha. But a knowledgeable person in Bhutan says that the term should be: Nyingtam Ghatikap. The term Ngueltrum came much later. The person says that his late father would pronounce the terms as Nyingtam Ghatikap.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Earliest Bhutanese Coins: Obverse & Reverse

Bhutan’s coins were hammered some 310 years back – thus it cannot be said with certainty which side of our coins was intended to be the “obverse” and which the “reverse”. Thus I believe that we will have to rely upon our own power of reasoning as to which should be which.

In an article by John Deyell titled “Reflections on “Obverse” and “Reverse” in numismatics, he writes:

“The implication is that each has a “front” side that is by the standards or conventions of the industry somehow more significant, higher-quality or otherwise of greater importance, than the other side, the “reverse” side. Where the medium bears information, as is the case with coins, banknotes, printed pages or discs (double-sided DVDs, etc.), the obverse or front is the side on which the message begins and the reverse carries the remainder of the information.”

…. and ends with:

“The only solution is for scholars to define obverse and reverse in terms of the priorities they consider most important and then be consistent in their own work”. Probably a good last word on the subject!”

I had difficulty in deciding which should be considered the obverse and which the reverse of our coins – or more simply which should be the front side and which the back side. I spent many months brooding over the matter. I consulted a number of experts, writers and historians across the globe. But at the end of it all, it was really very simple - there was nothing so complicated about it.

We should simply follow the Koch Kingdom's scheme.

As confirmed to me by Mr. S. K. Bose, Past President of the Numismatic Society of India, in the scheme of things thought up by the Cooch Beharis from whom we borrowed the idea of our earliest coinage, the side with the "Cha" is the obverse or the front of the coin and the side with the “Ndra” is the reverse or back of the coin. The reason why the "Cha" side should be the obverse is because it carries the name of the Hindu God “Shiva”. Thus, in the scheme of things of the Cooch Beharis, the side with the name of the God Lord Shiva takes precedence over the side with “Ndra” which is part of the name of the ruler of the Koch Kingdom who issued the coins.

Half Silver Rupee of Maharaja Devendra Narayan of Cooch Behar

Thus for us too this rule should apply – because Lord Shiva is also considered God in our religion. He is known in our religion as “Lha Wangchuk Chenpo” – sometimes also called “Wangchen Deva” or simply “Maha Deva”, among others.

Bhutan's silver "Sa" Ngueltum - one of the very few coins with full die-sized planchet

The side with the "Ndra" cannot be considered obverse for the Bhutanese since it carries the name of a Koch king. This will be in keeping with the order of importance - God first!

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

What the Dang Hell Is Gya Chila??

 Hi .................,


I cracked the mystery of  “Gya Chila”!!


I went to speak to someone called Lam Kesang Chhoephel. He is the CEO of APIC (Agency for Preservation of Indigenous Crafts). He is a qualified and learned Lama. So I asked him if he had ever heard of “Gya Chila” …. He said never. But as we dwelled over the matter and began to wonder what would be “Gya Chila”, he came up with:


“This cannot be “Gya Chila”. It has to be “Ja Chila”. Sometimes foreigners tend to grasp our words wrongly. As you know, Ja is short for “Jaggar” which as you understand means India or Indian. So it must mean Poenlop of India – "Ja Chila".

I totally agree with him!

As I said in my earlier mail, if a regional ruler is a Lam, he would be called “Chila” and not “Poenlop”. That is why the title of the first Mangde regional ruler Chogyel Minjur Tempa was called “Choetse (Trongsa) Chila” because he was a Lam. Whereas Jigme Namgyel was called Trongsa Poenlop or Choetse Poenlop.


The Ja Chila under reference must have been a Lam or Lama. He would have been appointed by the 8th Druk Desi Druk Rubgye who ruled between 1707 – 1719.


“This strengthened the position of the Bhutanese who stationed in Cooch Behar their agent named Gya Chila along with an escort. Bhutan went a step further and struck the Ngutam (a silver coin) for circulation in Cooch Behar thus undermining the independence of Cooch Behar as a State.”

I will reply to your other mail tomorrow.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Re-Christening Bhutan's Earliest Silver Coin

 Dear Mr. Bose,

Good Morning … I hope you are continuing to keep well and safe.

Regarding my yesterday's mail to which was attached a .pdf file about my views on the coinage of Bhutan’s earliest Maartams, I believe that I may have made a mistake regarding my views on Bhutan’s silver “Ma” Maartams. I feel that others may be right – that the silver “Ma” Maartam may indeed be Bhutanese. I came to this conclusion after realizing that I failed to look at the Maartam’s obverse where the Bhutanese numeral “1” is inscribed.

I took a careful re-look at the Maartam’s image and I find that if I consider the coins obverse, I can see a perfect Bhutanese number “1” inscribed inside the CHA. The number there is a perfect Bhutanese “1” - as written by the Bhutanese. It is no where close to how the Bengalis/Assamese would write. The Assamese/Bengali 1 is written completely differently - from how the Bhutanese write ours.

Bhutan's earliest silver coin

A comparative study of the Assamese/Bengali/Bhutanese number 1 and alphabet "Ma"

Finally, in my upcoming book I am going to rename the “Ma” Maartam as “Ma” Ngueltum. The reason is that "Ma" Maartam actually means red coin whereas “Ma” Ngueltum would translate to: “Ma” Silver Coin.

There is a term “Nyingtam” which means old coin. As the oldest coin, the “Ma” Ngueltam could also be called “Ma” Nyingtam but I think “Ma” Ngueltam would be more appropriate.

Bye and take care

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Say No To Plastics

In a landmark decision during the Club’s Weekly Meeting on Friday the 3rd of September, 2021, the Rotary Club of Thimphu resolved as follows:


Rtn. Yeshey Dorji proposed to the Members that our Club should henceforth decline all and any projects that have components of supply of non-biodegradable Shed Nets, Green Houses and Mulching Plastics. He said that supporting projects that require these environmentally harmful plastics is in conflict with Bhutan’s environmental friendly image. He said that the Club could, however, accept the donation of plastics that are bio-degradable and harmless to the environment.

The Club President and other Members present in the Meeting agreed with the proposal and said that we should do nothing that would contribute to environmental degradation. Additionally the Members were reminded that as of this Rotary Year 2021-2022, Rotary International had adopted a new and its 7th area of focus – ENVIRONTMENT. Thus in keeping with the Rotary International’s endeavors to support the protection of the environment, all the Members agreed that Rotary Club of Thimphu will forthwith not support any agriculture projects that have components of supply of non-biodegradable shed nets, green houses and mulching plastics.

Over the last six years, the Rotary Club of Thimphu’s contribution to the country’s agriculture sector has totaled over Nu.13.00 million. Of that quite a substantial amount went into supporting the supply of shed nets, green houses and mulching plastics.

One of the many large greenhouses donated by the Club in support of agriculture production

The government talks of organic farming but they officially supply fertilizers and weedicides and pesticides. They make a show of banning plastics but subsidize the installation of shed nets, green houses and mulching plastics. They are mindless about where these plastics will ultimately end up.

Today because of the irresponsibility and poor stewardship of the agriculture sector by the people at the helm of things, the country is strewn with thousands of miles of plastics that will ultimately end up inside the belly of the mother earth. If we cannot contribute to the improvement of the health of the environment, let us not contribute to its deterioration.

Let us be more responsible than our government has been – Let us stop the use of non-biodegradable plastics in agriculture production.

Monday, September 6, 2021

The Rotary Club of Thimphu Is Yet Again At It!

As always we are frantically busy delivering humanitarian service during these painful times. This time it is a small school in Samtse – a school by the name of Sang Ngag Choeling Lower Secondary School - with students numbering a little over 300. To safeguard the children from the COVID-19 virus, the school authorities requested the Club for Hand Washing Stations and some Face Masks. And we were happy to oblige. The school Principal picked up the PPEs a few days back from our office in Thimphu.

The Club President, Club Secretary and Community Service Director of the Club hand-over two units of Hands Free Hand Washing Station and 1,005 Nos. of reusable fabric Face Masks to the Principal of Sang Ngag Choeling Lower Secondary School

Not to be outdone, the Lakhu Primary School in Punakha wanted us to help with electrification of their bathrooms and toilets. Few hours back, our Executive Secretary conveyed to the school Principal – to go ahead and start the wiring and purchase of whatever is needed – to electrify their toilets and bathrooms. Our Club Members approved the needed budget during our last Weekly Meeting on Friday.

By this afternoon, our Club will be delivering 4 more hands-free Hand Washing Stations to Gelephu based “Friends of the Frontliners” – a group responsible for initiating the construction of a soon to open 200-bedded Quarantine Center in Gelephu. Two of the stations are due to be installed at this Center and the other two will be installed at the entry gate at the border adjoining the Indian border. The request was generated by our Gelephu based Club Member Rtn. Dawa Penjor who is a Member of the  group “Friends of the Frontliners”.

4 Nos. of hands-free Hand Washing Station for the Friends of the Frontliners” of Gelephu

Few months back the Club had donated 83 of these hands-free systems to Thimphu Thromde - for installation at places of mass gathering and heavy human traffic.

In the coming days we will be handing over a 12,000 ltrs. capacity SkyHydrant water filter to the newly opened school in Phadhuna in Punakha, established to accommodate the relocated students from Phuentsholing numbering some 887 students. The filter is already installed and was ready before the children arrived.

It is getting a little hectic – but hey!, this is SERVICE TO THE TSA WA SOOM – at its humblest!