Monday, December 17, 2012

105th National Day Celebrations: Photography Not Allowed!

The following photograph of multicolored ribbons flying off from atop the floodlight post inside the Changlemithang is the sum total of the photograph I have of the 105th National Day celebrations that is currently under way at the Changlemithang Stadium today. It was shot from outside the grounds.

The security people manning the stadium gates had strict instructions not to allow any cameras inside the stadium. I had no prior knowledge of such a prohibition being imposed although, I had a premonition of sorts when a photographer friend asked me if I had a license to carry a camera into the grounds. He said that he was denied entry into the grounds so was walking back to his car to deposit his camera. I had no intensions of walking back to my car, which was parked about 2 kms away.

I had parked my car at the Tarayana Centre since there was no parking space anywhere else. I walked down the road passing the Centenary Market and then on to the lower gates of the stadium. I was not allowed access and was told to enter through the upper gates. So I walked all the way to the Lungtenzampa bridge and then turned right to try and gain access through the upper gates a little further away from the Kisa Hotel.

Upon reaching the gates, I was told that I cannot enter with my camera.  I wasn’t alone - there was another elderly Bhutanese with a point-and-shoot camera slung over his neck and 4 tourists with cameras. They too were denied entry. The tourists were trying to call their guide to come and collect their cameras - only to find that the cellphone network had been shut down. One of them walked away to look for the driver and the guide.

The Bhutanese guy was trying to give his assurance to the security personnel that he would not take photos but that his family had already gone in and would be looking for him and would be worried if he didn’t show up. He reasoned that some of the expensive mobile phones had lot higher resolution than is camera. He argued that if photography was not allowed, they should disallow mobile phones as well. All that fell on deaf ears.

I asked the security personnel if he would allow me in since I hold a Media Card issued by the BICMA. He hadn’t heard of any such Card and, in any event, he said he had no instructions to allow Card holders in.

Bhutan must take great pride in being the only country in the world where a very public event, in a very public space is out of bounds for photographers and photography.

After I got thrown out of the National Assembly Hall some three years ago by the agents of the ROM, I completely stopped going to public functions and events because I am certainly not looking forward to another run in with them. Today too I didn’t want to go but the day was beautifully clear and I wanted one picture - just one - of the huge crowd on the stands with the blue skies in the background. No such luck! So I walked back all the way to my car and, enroute, I shot the photograph of the multicolored ribbons flapping in the winds.

I wish some one with brains would realize that imposing blanket bans on people is the easy way out to a problem. It is a way out where the people responsible are too lazy to put in hard work and imagination and would rather inconvenience the general public by resorting to imposing bans. Banning is not the answer. Regulating is - if at all it were required. Will someone please realize this soon, before some incident takes place? What the hell is the logic behind banning photography of a very public event, in a very public and open space?

Seriously, public functions in Bhutan are becoming a public nuisance!


  1. Cell phones apparently were not banned. No cell service, but the cameras still worked.

  2. But I saw some pictures taken from those pavilions posted on social networking sites already.

    May be, for common people, the camera is banned. No Bhutanese will take pictures of such national event for bad... they want to show to the world how grand it was, how beautiful it is to celebrate such event together with people from all walks of life.

    I still couldn't understand WHY we are not allowed our camera....

  3. Dear Yeshey,

    I agree with you. Why cant they let our Bhutanese registered photographers to take photographs? We know Driglam Namzha and will not take photos of the Royal straight in the face. Who is the person giving the orders? So, you photographers are 2nd Class Citizens.

    Better Luck Next Time.

  4. The government licenses photographers at a fee to authorize and legitimize taking photographs - then bans them from taking pictures in the most public places. The BICMA charges an annual accreditation fee to registered media/freelance photographers and their Accreditation Card is not even known - forget respected.

    The Bhutanese photographers need to understand why we deserve this shitty treatment.

  5. It's strange, but there were people taking pictures with cameras - those small digital cameras - and not just cellphones; may be the people at the gate only recognized cameras with visible lenses!

  6. that's ridiculous... why always ban????? that's a total nuisance..

  7. Obviously our people incharge of SECURITY thought that made their life easier!!