Thursday, April 11, 2024

The Mutating Ngueltang

I was quite content to accept that Bhutan’s earliest coin was called Ngingtum Ghatikhab – old coin from Ghatikha. Its credentials were impeccable – its place of birth – Ghatikha, a small hamlet in the erstwhile Koch Kingdom - is still in existence in India’s West Bengal District. In 1906, on his return journey from Calcutta, India, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck - then Trongsa Poenlop - is supposed to have visited a mint in Ghatikha - ostensibly to explore possibilities of improving the quality of his variety of coins.

Bhutanese coins find their origins in the Koch Kingdom’s Silver Narayani and, above all, the Ngingtum Ghatikhab has all the qualifying birthmarks – such as the Bhutanese alphabets andselectively inscribed on its obverse and reverse. Even the metal used in the production of the coin is spot on – silver.

That all changed when someone knowledgeable suggested to me that the term “Ngingtum” could also mean “Precious Coin” – depending on how the word is spelt. It turns out that the Bhutanese spell the word in two different ways:

Old Coin

The other acceptable way to spell the word – depending on what is implied - is:

Precious Coin

Certainly, I see merit in both the points of view. However, when I began to tumble and flip the ideas in my mind – I came up with a third, even more credible, possibility - “Ngueltum”:


Silver Coin

I reasoned that the coin was fashioned out of silver. To the people who conceived the idea of the coin, if a name were needed for the coin, the most obvious would have been “Silver Coin” – because it is a coin made of silver. They could not have thought up “Old Coin” – because it was not old – it was brand new. “Precious Coin” would be overstating the obvious – I mean money is precious, that is something everyone knows.

So, until something more convincing starts to confuse me yet again, I am going to call our oldest coin – Ngueltang Ghatikhab: Silver Coin from Ghatikha. That would be in keeping with what is currently in vogue – we call our money “Ngultrum” – although a shamefully misconceived nomenclature, in addition to being wrongly spelt!

Our Nu.5 bank note, along with all the rest of the other notes, should have been correctly spelt as:


The following is how we spell the word now:


May be the people are right – it is a definite sign that the quality of our education has dropped! I had always held the view that it is not the quality of education that has dropped .... but that the quality of our children has dropped. Looks like I have to accept that the people may be right, after all!

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Record of Earliest Metal Currency in Bhutan

For me the burning question that takes precedence over when coins were first struck in Bhutan is the question: when did coins first appear in Bhutan? The answer, according to what is generally accepted is: 1619. It is written that during that year, Zhabdroong Ngawang Namgyel visited Chapcha in Chhukha Dzongkhag at which time there is an elaborate written account of the Koch Kingdom’s “Gyalpo Pema Narayan” having offered him the following Buelwa (offering):


List of Buelwa made to Zhabdroong Ngawang Namgyal by Gyalpo Pema Narayan of Cooch Behar

The Gyalpo under reference would have to be Maharaja Prana Narayan – and not Pema Narayan as quoted.

However, there are serious problems with the above record, as follows:

Firstly, it is not possible that the Zhabdroong would have had the luxury of time to go preaching in Chapcha, having arrived Bhutan less than three years earlier – in 1616. It is generally accepted that he was busy subjugating the recalcitrant Lam Kha Nga, including warding off the repeated invasions from the North by the Tibetans, in an effort to regain possession of the holy Rangjoong Kharsapani which Zhabdroong had carried off, upon his fleeing Tibet.

Secondly, according to dependable written records, Prana Narayan ruled the Koch Kingdom between 1626 and 1665. This means it is not possible that Prana Narayan would have made the above Buelwa offering in 1619!

If it was indeed Prana Narayan - and it appears that it was him who made the Buelwa - our historical records yet again goes for a toss! It means that Zhabdroong Ngawang Namgyal’s visit to Chapcha would have to have been made in, or after, 1626. If this is true, then we will need to rewrite our history yet again – we will have to record that the earliest coins entered Bhutan in the year 1626 or thereafter.

It is quite possible that a Tibetan contemporary may have made a noting of the Zhabdroong's visit to Chapcha - I am currently pursuing that angle. If anyone can speak with authority on the subject - it would be that person - namely: Tsang Khenchen Pelden Gyatsho.

Whichever year is the correct year, one thing is beyond doubt - one of the coins that would have been offered to Zhabdroong, as part of the Buelwa, would have to have been the following Silver Tangka issued by the Koch Kingdom's Gyalpo Naranarayan, in the year 1555, upon his coronation as the second Koch King.


The above Silver Tangka of Naranarayan of Koch Kingdom (a copy of which is in my collection and will be featured in my book under the category "Foreign Coins Used in Bhutan) was acquired from a family in one of the villages under Chhukha Dzongkhag adjacent to the erstwhile Buxa Duar. According to the past President of the Indian Numismatic Society, the coin is the absolute first copy of the silver Tangka issued by Maharaja Naranarayan.

Friday, March 29, 2024

My Labor of Love

My fanatical efforts towards the production of a coin book on Bhutan’s coining journey - from the earliest time to 1954 - has consumed me for the past more than fifteen years. Alas! Had I known that it would turn out to be such a stupendous challenge, I wouldn’t have touched it with a mile-long pole.

History spanning over 3 centuries neatly wrapped up in cute little cloth pouches.

Like a vigilant sentry standing guard, at the right bottom edge is the copper version of the weighty Norzang Phubchen - the first Bhutanese coin to bear 100% Bhutanese motif - reputedly introduced by Choetse Poenlop Jigme Namgyel towards late 1800.

My interest in the subject began when I realized how beguiling the journey of our coinage was – I was enthralled and captivated by the mystery and the intrigue surrounding our primordial hammered coins. Notwithstanding the bizarre theories and conjectures surrounding the issue, nothing was certain about them - no single person could say with certainty when the journey began, where it began, and how it began, including why it began.

The British East India Company officials accused our coins of being spurious, and grossly debased. The best of the acknowledged authorities on the subject confused the coins’ obverse for reverse, and vice versa. Some called them Pice, while others baptized them Rupee. Even our own Bhutanese people continue to confuse the term Trum for “Tang”. In fact, most of them are clueless about the origin of the term.

Until the early 1900s, the coins were not denominated. To this day, no one can say with certainty which of the then ruling authorities issued which of our over hundred coin varieties. Ofcourse, theories abound - but they remain merely theories, without any credible substance. Almost 95% of our hammered coins carry foreign motifs, including names of foreign rulers.

For a country that has no record of monetary transections – neither for trade nor for payment of debts, Bhutan boasts of over a hundred variety of metal currencies of different shapes and sizes. If that were not enough, currencies of close to ten foreign countries entered our country – since as far back as the early 1600s.
Koch Kingdom's first of the earliest Silver Tangka issued by Koch King Naranarayana in the year 1555AD, upon his enthronement as the King of Cooch Bihar.

I have this coin in my collection - acquired from a family in Chhukha Dzongkhag adjoining Cooch Bihar.

I have pored through tens of thousands of coins smeared with many centuries of grime and soot; I have read through thousands of pages of historical records relating to coins and coining, spanning close to a dozen countries that bear relevance to our coinage. I have subjected all of the coins in my collection to the goldsmith’s searing fire and flame; washed them and brushed them and rubbed them to a sparkling shine. I perfected the art of photographing coins - over three years - I went so far as to rig up a willowy brass pedestal for photographing them in all their splendor.

I am now almost - I repeat, almost ready to hang up my boots and get on with the job of publishing. But why do I get this sneaky feeling that I may yet again be drawn back to that world of misgiving and doubt?

Lets see!

Friday, March 22, 2024

Mr. Narendra Modi’s Visit to Bhutan

I cannot remember when Bhutan was so gripped by a sense of dread – as it is this very minute – at the possibility that the visit of the Indian Prime Minister His Excellency Shri Naredra Modi might yet again be postponed. To the disappointment of hundreds of thousands of Bhutanese who were eagerly awaiting his arrival, it has already happened once before. A second time would be twice too many!

That Mr. Modi is loved and valued in Bhutan is amply evident in the elaborate reception that has been planned for his much-awaited arrival. On a visit to Paro two days back – I was WOWED by the endless string of welcome flags that have been strung up – all the way to Paro – a staggering 57 KMs distance! I tried to keep count of the Welcome Gates that dot the landscape – between Thimphu to Paro – after 6, I lost count!

One of the first activities I performed upon putting on my mobile phone early this morning was to scan the Weather Forecast – I was pleased that the weather was going to be fine – from now to all the way to 12 noon. That is all I cared – after Mr. Modi lands, the Choichongs (as Mr. Sangay of Haa Wangcha would put it) can do what they damn well please.

The heavens are smiling!

Looks like I am not the only one anxious about the morning’s weather – Dasho Kuenzang Wangdi also sent out a groggy looking photograph in our group chat - of the sky south to his domicile – a patch of blue peeping out the otherwise cloud-spangled sky. He remarked:

Sunshine

Saturday, March 16, 2024

10,000 Bird Species Seen …. and Counting!

Retired American diplomate - Mr. Peter G. Kaestner has recently been recognized as the first birder in the world to have seen 10,000 bird species. He achieved that recognition on 9th February, 2024 when he sighted the Orange-tufted Spiderhunter in Eastern Mindanao, the Philippines. This is an unbelievable 90% of all birds recorded in the worldthe latest version (14.1) of the IOC World Bird List lists a total of 11,194 species.

Orange-tufted Spiderhunter - Peter's milestone bird

I sent him the following mail – by way of CONGRATULATIONS:

Hi Peter,
I just read the news that you have become the first person in the world to see 10,000 bird species. I write to offer you my congratulations - This is certainly a rare achievement.

So, your bird count now stands at 10,002 as of today?

Bye and take care .... here is wishing that you will record some more birds .... although I know that your quest will get harder as you climb higher.

Bye and take care

Yeshey

Incredibly, he appears to have further improved his record, since!! In reply to my above congratulatory mail, his reply yesterday (15 March 2024, 11:41) informs me as follows:

Thank you so much for your thoughtful note. My number today is 10,011. And yes, it is getting harder as I see more birds.

What an achievement - this is close to one new bird every two days of his waking life!

I take pride in the fact that Bhutan, and I, have contributed in a small way towards Peter’s phenomenal record. During an official visit to Bhutan in October of 2009 (Peter was than the Deputy Ambassador of the USA in India), the Bhutanese Embassy in New Delhi and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Thimphu, requested me to help him sight two of his life birds – the world’s rarest heron: White-bellied Heron and the illusive Fulvous Parrotbill.

The Man and his two lifebirds recorded in Lekithang, Punakha and Dochu-La, Thimphu

In less than two days of his arrival in Bhutan, I guided him to sight both his lifebirds (some birders take a lifetime to sight their life birds - that is why they are called lifebirds - because sighting them is their life's quest). Please read all about it at:


It may not be fair to say that Peter is a lucky fellow to have been able to achieve this level of success …. Saying so would be to undermine his life-long passion, hard work and determination. Then again, an achievement at this level can only be attributed to luck ….. I mean it is an almost impossible achievement! But the fact remains that he did achieve it!

So then, is he a super being? May be not – but certainly he can qualify as super normal!

Thursday, March 14, 2024

The Dream Million $$ Deal That Never Was: FINAL PART IV

Five months on the ball, and I am yet again back to Phuntsholing - plodding the dusty corridors of the Corporate Headquarters of Tashi Group of Companies - hoping to break the ice. Mr. G C Bhura is proving to be a difficult person to meet - hopefully not on purpose. But I am not the type who will give up that easily - if I am good at anything at all - I am, at being dogged!

On the third day I managed to meet the God Almighty Mr. G C Bhura. He heard me out - my exhaustive research into the latest packaging material and technology, my trip to Singapore for a tie-up with Metal Box Singapore and our management’s decision to pursue the export potential, even if we had to invest in the enterprise.

After close to an hour of intense discussions, it became clear to me that the man was more interested in giving me the cock-and-bull story rather than see my point of view. He argued that he could not risk putting the entire eggs into a single basket. I countered that the Export Division of the Royal Government of Bhutan was willing to underwrite his company’s entire orange and mango juice production. We were willing to absolve him of all risks, with firm written commitments!

It became clear to me that the MD of the Group was leading me up the garden path ---- so I resolved to take the matter final notch up - to the owner himself! Sadly, Dasho Rimp seemed even more elusive. Two days into the endeavor, I still did not have a meeting with him. But I was willing to wait him out forever, if that was what it took!

Then on the morning of the fifth day of my doing the rounds of the Tashi Corporate office, one Indian official of the company struck up a conversation with me.

“Good Morning Sir …. I have noticed that you have been visiting our office for a number of days now. I understand that you are chasing a deal with our MD - for the export of our orange and mango juice to Europe”.

“Yes La, indeed I am trying to get your management to agree to export your produce … but I have a hard time convincing the MD. So I am now hoping to take the matter to the owner. I hope to be able to convince him that there is a good deal to be had”.

“I fear that you will never have a deal”.

“Why not? I am offering the best of terms that will benefit not only the company, but also the country as well”.

“Sir, you have to understand that there are forces at play that are outside your fathoming. The opposition you will face will be near impossible.”

“What kind of forces and what kind of opposition?”

“Sir, can you keep a secret?”

“Yes, I can”

“Diverting our produce to a none-traditional market would be tantamount to depriving the Lord of the Harvests the First Fruits that He had traditionally claimed as his due. Take it from me ---- you will face the stiffest of resistance. I believe that you are wasting your time”.

To The Lord must be offered the first harvests

I was aghast!

“Are you sure that you mean what I understand you mean? And who is the Lord of the Harvests?”

“Yes Sir, I mean exactly what I am implying. As to who the Lord of the Harvest is, I will leave that to your imagination”.

Saying that the man sauntered off - leaving me totally dumb struck! - effectively ending my five months’ chase of the million dollars export dream.

What the man implied, in no uncertain terms, was that someone powerful was skimming it off the top and that he would never allow a deal that I was after, because that would mean that his fruit basket would be left with a gaping hole.

I did not need any further convincing - of the futility of any further endeavors.

END OF THE STORY
......................

END NOTE: This wasn’t the only incidence where I was faced with the cruel facts of life. I was faced with a similar situation - in the case of Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB). But in this case, I didn’t take it lying down – simply because FCB is a public enterprise and their first obligation is to the nation and the people of Bhutan. I brought powerful muscle to bear on them - eventually they had to surrender every single bag of cardamom I desired. In time, export of Brown Jacket Cardamom went on to rank as the largest exportable surplus - and the highest grosser of foreign exchange for the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Monday, March 11, 2024

The Dream Million $$ Deal That Never Was: PART III

Preparing to head for the scheduled meeting with the Marketing Head of Metal Box Singapore, I am looking out the window of my hotel - the Miramar Hotel. I am amazed - during my last visit in 1979, I was kept awake half the night by the roar of the bike gang that then ruled Singapore’s streets - called the Hellrider Gangs - the piercing din of the unsilenced bikes was unbearable. Now the bikes were nowhere to be seen or heard. I am told the government clamp down on the gangs was so complete and effective that they were now off the streets. That is how effective and iron-fisted uncle Lee Kwan Yew was!

Sitting across the Marketing Manager of Metal Box Singapore, I outlined my need and aspirations to the man who immediately realized that I was a complete novice in the field of packaging. But like the good marking man that he was, he laboriously explained to me the whole process of canning and what is involved - processes, machineries, approximate costs etc.

He explained to me that the cans as we knew then were made of thin steel sheets plated with a thin layer of tin. The cans are supplied in flattened state – to reduce bulk during shipment. At the juice factory the flattened cans are run through a kind of spindle machine that opens the tins up to a round shape….. thereafter rest of the processes are completed, including filling, sealing, printing and labeling of the cans etc.

Sprucing up rusty tin can - Preparing for the European Market

I realized that it was not going to be as simple as I had thought. In particular I realized that a number of automated machines needed to be acquired and installed at the factory - operators trained etc. It was going to be daunting but by NO MEANS IMPOSSIBLE!

Back in the office in Calcutta - I explained the whole rigmarole to my boss. He was aghast! He did not think that we should get into it - he felt that it was outside of our mandate.

I argued that someone had to do it - the factory wasn’t willing to do it. So, since we were charged with the responsibility of exports, it fell upon us to take the initiative. For me, here was an opportunity to boost the country’s exports, that too by being able to export to a developed country - so I told him that I was willing to take on the challenge.

My boss: OK then - you get on it pronto - it is your baby.

And I was ready for it - if I had the guts to conspire to thwart the global trade embargo on the South African Apartheid Regime, this was child’s play 😛

Sunday, March 10, 2024

The Dream Million $$ Deal That Never Was: PART II

Even before the swing-door closed behind the departing CEO of Arvid Nordquist HAB, I was into the office of my boss – to appraise him of the absolutely incredible conversation I had with the owner of the Swedish super-market chain.

For my Division - The Export Division - the possibility of export at such a scale was totally mind boggling!  Thus, quite obviously, the management resolved that I should forthwith start work on it - yesterday! - if it were possible. Unlike today, during the good old days, exports were the thing - we gave our all to export whatever we could - including the lowly milled wooden broomsticks.

Next day I departed for Samchi, where the juice factory was located. The conversation with the management of the factory was a none-starter - I was appalled by the total indifference to the exciting idea of exports of their produces. Instead, I was told that all marketing directives emanated at the factory’s HQ, based in Phuntsholing.

Next stop: Phuntsholing HQ of Bhutan Fruit Products Private Limited, owned by the Tashi Group of Companies. Here, too, the marketing team remained unimpressed. I was told to meet the MD of the Group – the late Mr. G C Bhura. I did.

He heard me out - with visible nonchalance. He agreed that my proposal would be a year-round assurance of market for the company’s orange and mango juices - but he expressed the view that he did not see a need to improve the packaging - he said that the market accepted their produces in its existing form and state.

I said the export market did not! He said - well, they were not so enamored by the export market - that they were doing quite OK as they were.

I argued that it was inevitable - that they were bound to have to do it at one point - that their current process was pre-historic. He agreed, but said that it was something in the future - while I was talking of the now and the present. He suggested that I might speak to the owner of the Group – late Dasho Rimp.

Next stop Dasho Rimp: He read me the book on his management philosophy. He said that the Group’s MD was at the head of decision-making chain - he said I should speak with G C Bhura.

Back to G C Bhura. This time, I threw in a sweetener to the deal - I offered the possibility of financial participation in the modernization of their plant’s packaging unit - if he agreed to abandon their existing system. He said that they could consider it - but that he needed convincing that I had money where my mouth was.

I returned to my base and put the cards on the table before my management: we could most likely have a deal - provided we helped with the modernization of the packaging unit - financially.

My boss said: How is it possible for the government to participate financially, in a private enterprise. I said why not? - doing so could result in millions of dollars in export earnings that would be to the benefit of the government.

But all things considered - I had a bigger problem facing me - I did not know a thing about juice canning plants - how much it costs and who supplied the machinery, including who supplied the empty cans, the technology, the process etc. etc.

My management’s decision: I should study the matter in depth. After a long-drawn market research, I came up with The Metal Box Company Limited, Singapore (since ceased) – the then world leaders in the manufacture and supply of tin cans for the juicing industry.

Destination: The Lion City

Destination Singapore! This will be my second trip to Singapore – my first was in 1979 when the only Super Market I knew that existed in Singapore then was the Plaza Singapura (last I know, it still exists) which I visited - strictly for window shopping – no Tiru to go beyond that 😢.

Saturday, March 9, 2024

The Dream Million $$ Deal That Never Was: PART I

As a surviving member of the dream-weaver troupe from Bhutan’s golden years - the early 80’s - I have memories of both success and toil that give courage and hope during these tumultuous times of uncertainty and doubt. It was a time when we faced challenges head on - rather than abandon ship by bolting to distant shores. It was a time when we exported Raw Timber Logs to Switzerland, Gum Rosin to South Africa, Milled Wooden Rods to Germany, Brown Jacket Cardamom to the Middle East and Pakistan, Woven Textiles to Sweden, and Fresh Fruits to Bangladesh and Thailand.

Simple was not simple and strange was stranger than fiction. The following narrative from that era should be good for some chuckles.

One fine morning during 1981-82, a suited-booted, dignified looking gentleman was ushered into my office located at 51, Tivoli Court, Calcutta, India. He introduced himself as the CEO of a family-owned Swedish company called Arvid Nordquist HAB.

I cannot remember his name - but the man gingerly placed an empty can of Druk brand Mango Juice on my table, while telling me;

“I want to import this brand of juices into Sweden and sell it through my chain of stores spread across the whole of Europe. I understand your office handles Bhutan’s external trade”.


“Indeed Sir ---- we do. Please take a seat.”

“Your Druk brand of Orange and Mango Juices are absolutely super - the taste and flavor are better than anything I have ever tasted before in my life”.

“Thank You Sir ….. I am glad that you like the juices - we produce them from top quality, naturally grown raw materials, without the use of additives. We would be happy to export them to you. What kind of quantities do you have in mind?”

“I will take every single can of the juices you produce in your factory ---- all year round.”

I gawked at the man in disbelief - he was dead serious!

“Sir, I will need few days to discuss the matter with the management at the factory - details like quantity, price, regularity of supply etc. etc. Can I get back to you in about a week to ten days’ time?”

“One other detail though - will you accept palletized break-bulk cargo or does it have to be containerized shipments only?”

“Palletized containerized shipments only, please”.

The man wasn’t done:

“One other thing - the packaging of the juices is unacceptable. Rust is visible around the top and bottom of the can’s rims …. and the labelling is too crude - European consumers will not accept them in their present state of packaging. You need to improve them”.

“What is your suggestion?”

“I suggest that you migrate to canning the juices in pop-top, pre-printed aluminum or tin-coated steel sheet cans.”

“OK Sir ---- we will look into the matter and get back to you in about a week to ten days’ time”.

“OK … please work on it …. I really want to carry your produce in my stores ----- their taste is unmatched. You can understand that I have close to a hundred product managers to handle this kind of stuff …. But your juices are so good - I, the CEO, is personally talking to you”.

“We are greatly honored, Sir”.

Bhutan's entire production of orange and mango juices to be destined for the export market?  Dang hell! What a break!

Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Un-confusing the Confusion

After more than fifteen years of obstinate probing into the bewildering journey of Bhutan’s coinage, I am finally beginning to see merit in my unbending nature in not docilely accepting half-truths and uncontested theories of probabilities - in the construct of the history of our coinage, and everything else. Too often I have been dismayed by the inaccuracies in the historical accounts put forward by those whom we considered knowledgeable and wise - time and again it has been my experience that our historians and academicians have proven to be not so learned in their dissertations. Thus, over the years, I have become wary about accepting any historical facts - whether written or oral - as dependable truth - unless I validate them with my own research and cross verification. It is for this reason that the publication of my coin book has been hanging fire for more than fifteen years - because I want to ensure that when I finally do publish my book - that it is a book that may not be absolutely flawless in its accuracy - but a work that contains the least bit of inaccuracies.

Consider the case of our following first machine-struck silver Thala, issued by His Majesty the 2nd Druk Gyalpo:

Bhutan's earliest modern machine-struck silver Thala

The Year on the reverse of the coin reads:


Sa Druk Lo

When translated to Gregorian Calendar, the Year translates to:

1928

So, lots of historians around the world began to assume, and record, the coin as having been minted in 1928. Then one day, my relentless research led me to the following record released by the Director of The Mint, USA, that included a report on the production of precious metals by Calcutta Mint during the Calendar Year 1929:

The above record clearly states that coins worth Rs. 10,000.00 – or 20,000 pcs. of silver Thalas - were minted by the Calcutta Mint, in the year 1929!

I was puzzled! 1929? But the coin is clearly dated Sa Druk Lo on its reverse – meaning 1928. So which is right – and what is correct? I went into deep delve – I read records from USA, England, Denmark, Germany, India and Bhutan. None could give me the correct answer – but I persisted. Then I hit on the truth!

The basic concept for the coin’s design was supplied by Bhutan in the year Sa Druk Lo - 1928. In Calcutta Mint where the coin was minted, the coin’s die was engraved by the famous English master engraver Mr. A P Spencer. It is said that his work of the design and engraving of the silver Thala’s die was considered his life’s finest.

Now, engraving a coin’s die is not an easy task – it is tedious, long-drawn and time consuming. Thus, it is my belief that although the designing of the coin was conceived and released to the Mint in 1928 and accordingly dated, it is obvious that it was not before a year that the coins could finally be minted - resulting in the minting date of the coins being recorded as 1929 - in the Document No. 3025 of the Treasury Department, Director of the Mint, Washington DC, USA.

Thus, we will have to accept that our earliest silver Thala was minted in 1929, and not 1928. Even then we are still not sure when it was actually released for circulation.

The perplexity of this particular coin, and the second issue of the same coin minted a year later in 1930, does not end here - there is even more intriguing matter that surrounds the coins - but the details are too lengthy for inclusion here - that will be dealt with in great detail in my book, when it is finally released 😋

Monday, February 26, 2024

Saying Thank You Isn’t Easy

I am currently engrossed in an endeavor to launch a crowd funding initiative in Japan – to raise funds to acquire a small ambulance for donation to a struggling NGO in the health sector. While everything is being readied by a generous friend in Japan, my responsibility at this end is to craft a suitably worded THANK YOU note – to be presented to individual donors for their generosity.


Thank You Note printed on Desho paper for presentation to donors

Mindful that people are going to be donating hundreds of thousands of Ngugies destined for a cause in a country most do not even know where it is located, I am trying to make the Thank You note a worthy one. The only way I can think of doing so is by printing the note on our elegant Desho – traditional handmade Bhutanese paper - made from the bark of wild Daphne trees. I mean, gold-rimmed, diamond-studded Thank You notes are beyond my means.

But boy!!! I did not realize how difficult the endeavor would prove to be – of translating the idea into a presentable product!

The entire gamut of desktop publishing services in town declined to print my Thank You note! Their reason: the rough surface of the Desho would damage the print heads of their InkJet printers. What a ridiculous reason!!! This shows how uneducated the service providers are about their profession and what they do.

For the life of me, I could not convince them that they are wrong – that the InkJet printers are, what are called, None-Impact Printers. This means that the printers print without the need for contact between the print head and the paper surface on which the images are printed. In fact, the InkJet printers DO NOT HAVE print heads – they use a series of fine nozzles to spray microscopic droplets of ink onto the paper to form the images – THE NOZZLES DO NOT TOUCH THE SURFACE OF THE PAPER AT ALL!!!

No Go!

So, in frustration, I ended up buying a brand new Epson InkJet printer to do the job – what a drag!


Sunday, February 18, 2024

Para-Gliding? Hang-Gliding? Or Cable Car?

Surprises never cease in this county … I mean Bhutan looking to invite Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for starting gliding in the country? PREPOSTEROUS! Pray, tell me, what is so complicated about gliding? It is not a high technology venture ----- neither does it require investment at a level that cannot be handled by the Bhutanese. While it is not clear what gliding they are talking about – Para-Gliding or Hang-Gliding – regardless, I happen to know that we have few hundred Bhutanese who can handle this level of investment with ease.

Let it be known that notice has been served!

Best of economies around the world welcome FDI – for the value they bring to the country – by way of finance, employment, as well as advanced technology and skills. Not to be outdone, Bhutan has endeavored to attract FDI for the past many decades. And we did attract some – sadly our experience with almost every one of our FDI partners has been that the country has come off the loser. Most of them have been shameless in abusing our sense of welcome. They broke every law in the book – and we watched helplessly, as though they were doing us a great favor.

But I am encouraged that our moment of awakening may be here!

During the get-to-know trip to the Ge-Sar on 4th January, 2024, one of the points made by His Majesty the King was that there was no shortage of investors for the Ge-Sar. But what about Bhutan? Just because investors are there for the picking, do we surrender our soul for a bagful of cash? No!!! Thus, we were told that the best of legal brains around the world were being engaged – to work out the most ideal terms of engagement that is beneficial for all.

Same goes with the FDI investment – we have to be lot more careful than we have been so far. Above all, we need to make sure that economic opportunities that are within the scope and capability of the Bhutanese, and in areas where investment level is within the capability of the locals, are reserved for the nationals.

Talking of which why is gliding the investment of choice - for attracting tourists? What about scenic Ropeway Cable Cars?


Scenic Cable Car ropeway to Phajoding top. Feast your eyes on the jaw-dropping view as you glide past the Phajoding Goemba.

For years I have been promoting the idea that someone should invest in setting up a cable car ropeway system to the ridge above Phajoding ….. construct two dozen plus tourist class cottages for the visiting tourists. The cable car ride that will glide past the lush green hillside of Thimphu will be breathtaking. It is bound to be a hit amongst Thimphups as well. We are always on the lookout for a gate-away that is not too far removed from Thimphu, and yet distanced enough from the clatter and clang of the noisy metropolis – calm, still, secluded, and supremely exclusive!

As a tourism product – cable car ropeway will beat the gliding proposal – HANDS DOWN!

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Gift

Imagine the joy of the news that I am due to receive an unexpected gift of unparalleled meaning and value – I was delighted and absolutely WOWed! Surely, with this, I would have had to have hit my life’s High Note!

Then, one day, unseen and shielded from envious eyes, the gift arrived – meticulously draped inside a bundle of shimmering red silk, containing the following:


The Gift: Canon EOS R5 Mirrorless Camera body with all the essential paraphernalia that will enable me to couple my older generation EF lenses to the latest RF lens mount on the R5 camera body. The camera projects a delicate and slender look - but the beauty comes with a whooping  45 MPEG full frame sensor encased inside a body crafted from magnesium alloy and poly carbonate with glass fiber!

There are no words that can accurately describe the joy and honor I feel – suffice it to say that I am well and truly speechless!

But this uncommon angle visit finally makes me decide on something that I have been dithering for the past one year. I can now resolve to do it, with my eyes firmly shut. It is only just - and fair, that I should share my good fortune with those who are less fortunate.

During my visit to Trashi Yangtse last year to administer a grant to support the education of three little girls, I met a school teacher who had started a bird watching club in his school. I donated a number of Field Guide Books of the wild birds of Bhutan – a handbook authored by me. But I wanted to do more, for a cause that is after my own heart. Now I need no further encouragement - the above gift encourages me not to delay the act of giving any longer. So, during my upcoming visit to the areas, I am giving away the following complete assemblage of camera gear suitable for bird photography - for the use of the school’s Bird-Watching Club at the Trashi Yangtse Primary School:


Sharing my good fortune: My gift of a complete set of camera body and lenses suitable for bird photography at a mid-pro level.

In the olden days, a joke used to be told that the only person in Iceland who knew how to make Ice Cream died without passing on the recipe to any one - resulting in a situation where no Ice Cream could be had in Iceland for many generations. It is my hope that we can prevent such a thing from coming to pass in Bhutan – I would like to encourage some kids in Trashi Yangtse to perpetuate the joy of bird photography many generations into the future – an act of conservation that may be the only means by which we can ensure that some of the bird species that are bound to go extinct, are recorded and conserved/preserved in digital format, for the benefit of future generations of Bhutanese.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2022: Need for Rethink

I just returned from an overnight trip to Punakha where I was invited to be a Guest Speaker at the on-going Cultural Tour Guide NC II Level Training at the De-suung Skilling Program (DSP) Training Center at Phadula. Of the 30 PowerPoint Slides I presented during the speak that went on for the whole day, the following was one of the slides:


The other slide was the following – to prove what some countries around the world do - in an attempt to woo back the tourists. By contrast, Bhutan chose to triple the SDF to US$200.00 per person per day – from the earlier US$65.00.

Thankfully the SDF has since been reduced to US$100.00 but there are other damaging provisions in the Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2022 that needs to be removed without further delay. If that is not done proto, the government will find that it had not only shot itself in the foot – but its belly as well. Even more dangerous, there is the possibility that we may never be able to make amends, as we wish - should we delay action any further.

All that it will take is half a day of discussion among genuinely qualified people who know better – so that the sticks in the mud are ejected and we can look forward to an era of bountiful tourism business.

Also, we need to rein in the Lucifer - DrukAir - who is strangulating the industry with its atrocious airfare. It is not only losing business for itself; it is driving away potential tourists to the country.

Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Welcome to PDP Government

The new government is now firmly on the seat of governance – we have to accept that there is no altering the fact. They may not be the government of your choice – that is not important. What is true is that they are now the men about town and all of us must respect that, and give support as best as we can.


The winning Horse

I am not so naïve as to believe that they will fulfill even 10% of their campaign promises. If they fail, it will be because you have been unrealistic in your expectations. But I am convinced that they will try their best ----- and that is all that I can expect from them – give their very best.

But I do wish that they would take on a number of initiatives on a priority basis. I talk of things that are doable - and necessary - nothing that will require billions of Ngultrums, or years of planning. I hope that they work on the following two:

1.  Reworking the Tourism policy

2.  Rationalizing the airfares of the Druk Air

The new Prime Minister’s first day in office does set out some useful priorities ---- and among them he mentions tourism. But he makes the same mistake the past government did – he is trusting that the Bhutanese embassies abroad will do the job.

I hope he will soon realize that there is more than enough in-country competence to do the job better than any paid clueless consultants or embassy staff.

Through this post, I would like to appraise the Prime Minister that the Bhutan Sustainable Tourism Society (BSTS) had already offered to help out the government should they need help. The help was offered through the now disbanded (although officially un-notified) Tourism Council Board and also to the Finance and Economic Committee of the DNT government during a meeting with the Committee in which some of the Members of the BSTS was present.

I dare say, on behalf of the BSTS, that the offer still stands – we will be happy to sort out the mess – GRATIS!

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Promoting Bhutan as a MICE Destination

Things do finally happen in Bhutan – but why does it take years for the Bhutanese Dashos to be “on the ball”? I have been shouting for years that Bhutan should tap into the MICE market – we have the ideal conditions to appeal to corporate honchos around the world… charming places like Paro, Haa, Phobjikha, Bumthang and now the Mindfulness City of Ge-SAR - are all potential destinations of appeal.

Beginning from 2018, I have been writing that we should gear up as a MICE destination:





Finally, this morning I see a mail from the mighty Department of Tourism (DoT) that they are allowing SDF waiver for MICE event participants. I would like to offer them CONGRATULATIONS on this very welcome announcement.

The DoT has finally woken up

However, I would like to suggest that the rules should provide for SDF waiver for the participants’ spouse and one child. After all we have to remember that MICE events are corporate sponsored events and the officials attending the events would want to take advantage of the corporate sponsorship and bring along their spouses and children to experience a new country and culture.

With the right amount of broadening of their minds, the DoT cannot fail to see the benefit in doing so. As I said often, the indirect benefits are more substantive than the direct ones.

Also, something that the DoT needs to clarify is that the MICE participants are allowed to overstay beyond the MICE designated period of 4 nights – but with full SDF payment, for the additional days beyond the MICE period.

Few months back a friend sought my advice – whether he should continue and complete the construction of his tourism class hotel, or reconfigure it to serve as something else. I told him that he definitely should stay the course --- because I told him that NOTHING but NOTHING, can prevent tourism from happening in Bhutan. Ofcourse – other than the lousy government’s tourism policy ….. and the exorbitant fare of the near monopoly Druk Air - the national flag carrier of Bhutan!

For example, the Rotary International is a mammoth global humanitarian organization that has over 46,000 clubs spread over 200 countries across the globe. Its global membership is in excess of 1.4 million individuals. The Rotary Club of Thimphu has already organized 2 international Rotary conferences – another one is scheduled to be organized soon.

2018: Conference of the Rotary International District 3292

2017: A throng of Rotarians from around the glob: 7 RI Districts, 38 Clubs and 108 Rotarians

In addition to being the world’s most populous countries, India and China are two countries that are in close proximity to Bhutan – they are provably the world’s second and third largest economies with thousands of corporate giants seeking new venues to host their Annual General Meetings.

In November of 2022, India’s Travel + Leisure sector awarded Bhutan “Editor’s Choice Award in the ‘Best Emerging Destination’ (international)”.

Last December, Bhutan was awarded the "Outstanding Destination Excellence Award" in the Chinese travel market.

With all that under our belt, what is preventing Bhutan from grabbing a slice of the pie?