Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Obeisance To The Fourth Druk Gyalpo: Champion of Environmental Conservation

One day in 1970, Mr. Stuart Filby - my principal at Paro High School - asked me to walk with him in the school orchard located at the southern edge of the school. There was an unusual solemnity about this domineering taskmaster as we silently wove our way through the haphazard line of fruit trees of apples, peaches and plums. After a while, he sat down on a tree stump; I took my place on the grassy floor of the orchard.

“Yeshey,” he said, “I have been asked to head the newly established Ugyen Wangchuck Academy where the Crown Prince will complete the rest of his studies. I will be leaving soon. A number of Bhutanese students from schools in Kalimpong and Darjeeling will be joining the Academy, along with few I have chosen from this school. Unfortunately, you will not be among them. I am sorry - but it is for your own good. You certainly qualify to be in that group. But I am afraid that if I take you, His Highness will surely kill you half way through the year."

This is how I first heard of Crown Prince Jigme Singye Wangchuck, my future King. I was so incorrigibly naughty and mischievous that my school principal had no doubt that His Royal Highness would surely do me in.

Soon after, His Royal Highness ascended the Golden Throne as the IVth Druk Gyalpo and got busy with the affairs of the state. Meanwhile I, the incurable laggard and prankster, continued to make life hell for everyone - teachers and students alike.

A few years later, I joined the civil service, in fulfillment of the rule that required everyone to devote 14 years of service to the country as restitution for the free education we received from the government. It was during my tenure at the Export Division of the Ministry of Trade and Industries that I became aware of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck’s environmental bend of mind.

It is my belief that the environmental awakening in His Majesty took place sometime towards the end of 1970’s, when a series of measures to protect and conserve our natural resources were put in place. I think it was also around this time that His Majesty promulgated the now famous conceptual philosophy of “Gross National Happiness”.

In 1979, His Majesty commanded the seizure of illegal plantations, mostly in the South, where thousands of acres of public land were deforested and turned into unauthorized cardamom plantations. In the same year, he nationalized the timber trade that was causing large-scale deforestation, mainly in the North, through rampant and unplanned logging operations. I was privileged to be in the thick and thin of this conservation initiative, in my capacity as the head of the export section of the Export Division, Ministry of Trade & Industries. I, and my division was put in charge of confiscating the cardamoms and the raw lumber, and arrange for their disposal.

His Majesty introduced a number of watershed management polices, in recognition of the importance of water as a precious national resource. He declared thousands of acres of wilderness as wildlife sanctuaries and national parks, to prevent the areas from human exploitation. In recognition of his contribution to conservation, His Majesty received the much-coveted recognition when the world community awarded him the “Champion of Earth Award” in 2005 and the “J. Paul Getty Award for Conservation Leadership” in 2006.

However, His Majesty’s definitive contribution to the cause of environmental conservation has to be the constitutional requirement that Bhutan must maintain, in perpetuity, 60% of its land under forest cover.

On another front, the Operation All Clear carried out in the winter of 2003 was likewise an act of conservation - of Bhutan’s nationhood - that will go down in history as the pinnacle of His Majesty’s achievement. In his capacity as the Supreme Commander of the armed forces and servant and protector of the people and nation of Bhutan, His Majesty personally led the flush-out operations against Indian militants camped in the tropical jungles of Southern Bhutan. When the operation was announced, I was lodged at the Maurya Sheraton, in New Delhi. I called up a friend in Bhutan to confirm the news. I was told that the operations were in progress, even as we spoke. A chill went through my body, because I was in no doubt of the series of events that would follow, should this operation fail.

Months after this successful military campaign, information of His Majesty’s years of meticulous planning of the operations began to filter out. It became clear that we had a monarch with an uncommon intelligence, discipline, clarity of purpose and an unparalled sense of duty; proving, what one senior Royal Family Member had once told me:

Drubi gii mii su drog ra mengo. Ngachara gii Zhab lu bjangshi cho me zambuling di na lu mi chiig ra med”.

Forty-four years after first meeting His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, I had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet him once again - this time in a more sociable setting. I had met him few times during school days when we played soccer together at the Paro Ugyen Pelri Palace grounds.

In 2014, I was privileged to be an invitee (one of the two outside the Royal Family) at a lunch hosted by His Majesty for a visiting diplomat. His Majesty spoke to me of his encounter with the White-bellied Heron and how his eyes were nearly damaged when he attempted to capture the bird with his bare hands. His Majesty asked me if I had photographed the endangered Palla’s Fish Eagle and the elusive Snow Leopard. He had obviously heard of my photographic jaunts into the frigid alpine regions of the country, during the thick of winter. He asked me to tell him of the coldest place I had been to. I recounted my journeys and experiences in minute detail - only to be told with a smile that he did not believe a word I said. Obviously, my accounts of my travels sounded too outlandish to be credible.

One Australian recently asked me;

"What do you think is the best about Bhutan"? 

I replied;

“Our natural environment which is largely intact”.

His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo has carved out a place for himself in the hearts of every Bhutanese - for his selfless service for the preservation of the Bhutanese people and the nation state of Bhutan. I am in no doubt that without His Majesty’s unrelenting care and protection of our natural surrounding, the state of our natural environment would be no where near what it is today.

Therefore, in this year of his 60th Birth Anniversary, I pay obeisance to His Majesty for his service to the people of Bhutan and wish him good health and long life so that he is around to give protection to our environment that is coming under increasing danger of being devastated.


The pair of avocado above was supposedly grown from the seed of an avocado consumed by
His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. The owner of the avocado tree tells me that
a couple of nuns picked up the seeds from Yap Ugyen Dorji’s zimchu in Punakha where
His Majesty had paid a visit and ate the fruits.

Each of the avocados weighed just a little under a kilo each.


  1. May I join you today 11th November 2015 with your well-said: "monarch with an uncommon intelligence, discipline, clarity of purpose and an unparalled sense of duty", and "MAY YOUR MAJESTY LIVE LONG AND HAPPY".

  2. Me too...His Majesty Ku Tshe Ring Wa Sho....