Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Biodiversity Bill

I am encouraged to read in today’s KUENSEL that there is a discussion going on and perhaps even the possibility of the adoption of a Biodiversity Bill during the ongoing Parliamentary sessions. I am encouraged to note that the Khenpa Chair of the Committee who worked on the Bill has the institutional memory to draw upon – to ensure that the Bill does not turn out to be another Forest and Nature Conservation Act of Bhutan.


Millions of cubic meters of timber are rotting inside the deteriorating quality of our forest stand, while we are importing billions of Ngueltrums worth of timber from countries like Malaysia. Ground waters are drying up ….. because the unproductive trees are drinking them up.

Hundreds and thousands of farmers are driven out of their farmlands – creating Goongtongs and huge pressures on the already overburdened urban infrastructure. As a result, developmental activities are, by necessity, centered in urban centers – to keep pace with the pressures brought on by the migrating rural population. Little wonder then that there is no money left to take development to rural communities.

I hope that the Parliamentarians have the common sense to read through the Biodiversity Bill, as if their money were at stake, so that something useful is passed into law – not one that takes away the birth rights and the just entitlements of the human society.

Please bear in mind: when conservation is at the cost of human development - conservation will eventually suffer.

Sunday, December 5, 2021

Repeat of History?

…….. Around the same time, strangely, Bhutan emerged as the world’s largest grower and exporter of brown jacket cardamoms – something that is totally IMPOSSIBLE – given that India, Nepal and Sikkim were much bigger growers of this variety of cardamom! How it came about is rather ticklish – something that I am still unwilling to write about :)

The above is the last paragraph of my post on Bhutan’s export of brown jacket cardamoms, about which I blogged on May 17, 2017. Please read the full article at:

http://yesheydorji.blogspot.com/2017/05/the-curious-case-of-bhutans-cardamom.html

When writing out my last post on this Blog relating to the Ministry of Agriculture’s “Buy-Back” scheme, memories of one particular aspect of Bhutan’s cardamom export business during the late 70’s and early 80’s came flooding back.

I was the Head of the Third Country Export Section of the Export Division under the then Ministry of Trade, Industries & Forests. I handled all the exports to the third countries – countries other than India.



In 2017 when I was writing out my blog post titled “The Curious Case of Bhutan’s Cardamom Export”, I did not wish to write about the “ticklish matter” – but today I think I need to write about it, so that a repeat of history is averted. I hope this will serve as a caution to the Ministry of Agriculture. By the way, then too the Ministry of Agriculture was the parent Ministry of the Food Corporation of Bhutan that was in the thick and thin of the events I am now going to narrate.

Those days Bhutan was happily exporting millions of Ngultrum's worth of brown jacket cardamoms. The export was routed through an intermediary in Singapore. Why such a round-about route was necessitated is given in my article of 2017 of which the link is provided above.

One day, as the person responsible for all third country exports, I represented Bhutan in an international conference on GSP (Generalized System of Preferences) conducted by the UNCTD – now called WTO of the UN. I cannot remember where the meeting was held.

During the meeting, when Member countries’ export figures were presented, to my consternation, Bhutan was listed as the world’s largest exporter of brown jacket cardamoms – over all other growers of the world. Certainly for a country our size, our export figures would have been pretty impressive – but NO WAY we can be the biggest. Ours would be minuscule compared to India’s or Nepal’s or Sikkim’s. Whatever the reasons, I was intrigued and when I am intrigued, I get to the bottom of things.

I began a systematic investigation into how we came to be declared as the biggest grower and exporter of brown jacket cardamoms. This personal initiative (I was not required by my organization to undertake this exercise) was necessitated by one other situation that I was faced with – the FCB’s blatant refusal to surrender their stock of cardamoms to me – even at a price better than they were offered by others. They claimed that they had no stock to offer me - total bullshit! I had a Letter of Credit amounting to over US$ one million – but not enough cardamom to meet the export obligation.

I was not about to sit idle and tweedle my thumbs - I went on an offensive. I did what I had to do – I will not go into the details of what I did. Eventually the FCB was left with no choice - but handover their entire stock to me. Unfortunately, their entire stock fell far short of what I needed - I had to make up from other sources - which is another calamitous story, to be told another day.

Back to the main story.

I met the Department of Agriculture’s officials to find out what ought to be our rough annual production – based on the acreage of land under cardamom plantation. There was a humongous gap between what we exported and what we could have produced.

Next stop – the entry and exit points for all export/import goods – Samtse, Gelephu, Sarpang, Samdrup Jongkhar and Phuentsholing. From these regional exit points, I gathered what volumes were dispatched and what was received at the central store of the FCB in Phuentsholing.

Figures from Phuentsholing Gate showed that there was huge, huge, disparity in what was dispatched from the exit points – and what entered Phuentsholing gate. Since FCB had their central store in Phuentsholing, all cardamom purchased by their regional offices had to come to the Central store in Phuentsholing.

Records showed that the FCB bought more than three times our national production capacity. How is that possible? Where did the excess tonnage come from?

It did not take me long to figure out what had happened.

AAA.  The FCB was the only agency to which the growers would sell their cardamoms – because under the directives of the RGoB, FCB was mandated to offer, what used to be then known as “Support Price”. The “Support Price” was more than generous so that farmers are encouraged to grow more. What the RGoB did not realize was that the “Support Price” was much, much higher than those offered by Indian traders – a situation ripe for manipulation.

BBB.  The Export Division of the Ministry of Trade, Industries & Forests was charged with the responsibility to export the cardamoms, and earn most urgently needed foreign exchange. During those days there was a strong push towards earning foreign exchange, something that does not seem to be the case today. The Export Division did a sterling job of exporting so much so that Bhutan shot up to number one position – as the world’s top exporters of brown jacket cardamom – even while being clueless that we were exporting far in excess of what we are capable of producing.

CCC.  During that period, there was a ban on export of brown jacket cardamom out of India. Thus the Indians could not export their cardamom outside the country. They would have not bothered about the prices in the international market – all that they would have been concerned about would be an opportunity to export their "black" money and park them in offshore accounts – through over invoicing of their exports.

Enter Bhutan – with its benevolent “Support Price”. The support price was way higher than prices offered in the Indian cardamom market.

The Indian traders in Phuentsholing, Jaigaon and Siliguri entered into deals with some unscrupulous Bhutanese traders and even FCB directly – and started to dump Indian cardamom into the stockyards of the FCB – as Bhutanese cardamoms.

Bhutan’s “Support Price” ended up supporting the purchase of Indian cardamoms which was fetching much lower prices in their own markets - for export by the Export Division, in the process helping Bhutan achieve the unachievable – top place as the largest exporter of brown jacket cardamom in the world.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Clueless About Buy-Back

The confusion continues – no wonder Bhutan’s agriculture sector has seen consistent negative growth over the years. They are simply clueless what they are thinking, what they are doing and where they are headed.

The Agriculture Ministry DID NOT sell the vegetables to the farmers – that they need to implement a BUY-BACK scheme. In my thinking, given the difficult times faced by the farmers during these trying times, what the Ministry is doing is providing them RELIEF. Unfortunately even that, I suspect, the Agriculture Ministry is clueless as to why they are doing it – whether to prop up the falling prices due to overproduction, or to absorb the unsold production, caused by constriction in the market. Or, simply to offer ready market to the farmers, for their produce.

If the government is providing relief, then it cannot be termed a LOSS. Providing support to the citizens in times of difficulty is not a loss – it is SERVICE.

Another famous coinage of the Ministry of Agriculture is: HUMAN-WILDLIFE CONFLICT.

There have been incidences of thousands of Goongtongs in hundreds of villages over the past many decades, caused by wildlife predation. Villagers have abandoned farm work and have been forced to leave their farmlands fallow. Urban centers are clogged with thousands of migrants from rural villages. Host families in the urban centers are burdened with additional mouths to feed – causing them to resort to unlawful activities to make ends meet. And yet the Ministry of Agriculture insists that there is human-wildlife conflict.

The Ministry is blind to the fact that the Nature Conservation Act does no permit conflict – it espouses total walkover by the wildlife. This is proof that the people at the Ministry of Agriculture have always been clueless about the guiding principles behind CONSERVATION.

For their information, conservation is all about maintaining a balance – a state in which there is equilibrium. It is not about giving primacy to some species over others.

The Ministry of Agriculture’s confusion does not end here – there is another even more appalling – their National Organic Program (NOP). They said the country would go 100% organic by 2020. Less than 1% of the total arable land was certified as “Organic” by that year. This aspiration has now been pushed back to 2035. But that is not the confusion.

The confusion is that the Ministry of Agriculture is actually supplying the harmful synthetic materials such as fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, insecticides, fungicides and rodenticides, to the farmers. In fact since the establishment of the NOP, the KUENSEL reported last year that while the consumption of the synthetic fertilizer has remained stable – the use of pesticides had in fact increased even more - at an average annual growth rate of 11.8%.

This is in total conflict with their stated aspirations for 100% organic farming by 2035. What are they thinking - that is, if they are?

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Tourism Is Half A Century Old

Today the 1st of December, 2021 marks the Golden Jubilee Day of the creation of the progenitor of the Regulatory Authority – The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB). It was on this day that the Department of Tourism was established.

“Under the Royal Command of His Majesty the King, a new Department viz. Department of Tourism is created under the Ministry of Finance with effect from 1.12.1971."

Order establishing the Department of Tourism

The brusque announcement signed by HRH Ashi S C Wangchuck did not give any details as to what the Department was all about, what were its roles, functions and responsibilities. But the veil began to lift when, on 7th June the following year (1972), the 36th National Assembly adopted a Tourism Act. The resolution was worded thus:

22. Matter relating to Tourism Act

In view of the likelihood that, despite being in its initial stage of development, Bhutan would attract a large number of tourists, the Cabinet had prepared a draft of rules governing tourism in the country. After due consideration of the same, the Assembly accorded its approval.


Father of modern Bhutan

In a Zomdururu at the Dusit D2 yesterday evening to which I was also invited, the happy occasion, which Damcho Rinzin of TCB described as the “Eve of the Golden Jubilee” was celebrated – attended by the incumbent Chair and Members of the TCB Council, and some pioneers and stalwarts of the industry. The Dinning Hall of the D2 would have truly reverberated, had the occasion been attended by the “first timers” of the industry:

1.  Tsogpoen Jigme Tshulthrim – surviving first head of the DoT/BTC – from 1985 to 1991.

2.  Karchung of Lhomen Tours – first trekking guide (1974)

3.  Nawang Dorji of Nawang Builders – first cultural guide (1974)

4.  Karma Sonam – first waiter to serve lunch to the first tourist group – at Zem-La (1974)

5.  Current fort holders of the first private sector operators - BTCL (1991)

The DoT was an organization that was conceptualized by one of human kind’s most brilliant minds – the 3rd King His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, towards the twilight years of his reign. However, giving shape and form to a concept requires no less genius. The prodigy successor His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck provided that brilliance – in the form of a business philosophy that came to be known as – no, not the GNH – that came later – a business stratagem that came to be known as the Minimum Daily Tariff.

Tourism was a concept that came into being towards the end one reign – but took shape at the start of another. From its baby steps in 1974, tourism in the country has remained to be guided by the principles behind the inimitable philosophy that is the Minimum Daily Tariff. The unflinching enforcement of this philosophy has meant that the country remained fortified from the ravages of mass tourism.

Even after 50 years, Bhutan can still proudly talk of our pristine environment and cultural purity that other countries have long surrendered, at the alter of greed and self-indulgence.

In recent times there have been attempts at dismantling the time-tested Minimum Daily Tariff that has helped regulate and monitor the tourism industry for half a century. No doubt the government recognizes the ulterior motives behind the efforts of this self-interest group.

Certainly the tourism industry has had a long journey but it is a child that is taking a long time in maturing. It is clear that the girl child that is the tourism industry has not yet graduated from puberty to womanhood. The industry still needs the government to hand-hold it to maturity.

The girl child is not yet ready to be thrown to the wolves.

Our tourism is an industry that can be called a net-gain industry. Here there is no need for the payment of punishing 10% interest on borrowed capital. We get to keep all that we get. Even better, there is no parallel to the tourism industry – in the provision of employment and benefits that encompasses practically every section of the Bhutanese society.

Until the industry matures and is ready to combat the market forces with competence – the government has a responsibility to continue to provide it direction, stewardship and wise counsel.

Without government control and regulation – the bloodhounds will take over.

Monday, November 29, 2021

1875: Bhutan’s External Trade Statistics

One of the most successful British India government’s initiatives to keep Bhutan away from the ambit of Chinese influence was to start trade fairs in a number of places within the Duars bordering Southern Bhutan - principal among them were Darranga, Subankhala, Charigaon, Udalguri and Mongoldoi. These annual events attracted Drukpas from Bhutan, Khampas from Tibet, Monpas from Tawang, and Manipuris from the North-East, among others.

These annual trade fairs also served to keep open the trade routes to Tibet for the British colonizers. To a large part, their commercial interests prevented them from harboring colonial designs on Bhutan. It is clear that British Indian administration attached great importance to Bhutan’s role as a dependable ally, rather than as a renegade tributary state.

Trade figures of some of the goods traded by Bhutan, and their corresponding values, during these fairs in 1875, were as follows:


Look at the amazing prices: Gold dust was sold at Nu.20.00 per Tola – the current ruling price is around Nu. 48,000.00 per Tola. Musk at Nu.10.00 per Tola was valued at 50% of gold. Ponies were then sold at Nu. 60.00 each – the best of them today fetch close to Nu.100,000.00.

Another amazing thing is that we sold onions – I was under the impression that onions were a recent phenomenon that did not feature in the Bhutanese diet before the 19th century. Another shocker – we exported chilies – we now import them.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Hydropower Projects: A shift in Thinking

Yet again there is discussion happening on our failed hydropower projects.

Discussions are good, provided they culminate in sound policies. But all indications are that no sound polices or thinking are emanating from these discussions. A case in point is the contemplated barrage for the Punatsangchhu I, in place of the failed Dam.

I have said many a time before: I am not against hydropower – but against the manner in which it is done in Bhutan. No sane Bhutanese can or should support any project that vandalizes the environment, result in human displacement, and with cost overruns that total close to 400% at 10% annual interest.

My view on the Barrage Project for Punatsangchu Project I:

It will be nothing more than a depository for trillions of tons of debris that will be deposited into it by the annual flooding of the Punatsangchu.

One of the issues that remained conspicuously silent and un-discussed with the P1 Dam project was the issue related to the silting and de-silting of the Dam, even if it got built. Did the Project Authorities have a foolproof plan as to how they were going to tackle the mammoth problem?


In my thinking any discussion on Kholongchu Project is futile – that project is not likely to happen given the compulsions surrounding it.

The law makers need to know something at this point in time so that they may make informed decisions. The inefficient design, planning and implementation of the projects have a direct bearing on the cost to the Bhutanese home energy consumers.

The government can absorb it – the project can absorb it – the industries that consume the energy can absorb it by passing on the additional cost to the consumers. The only persons who cannot absorb the high energy cost, resulting from the inefficiency of the project authorities will be the poor people.

It is therefore poor people like me who have to resort to whaling cries of woe – year after year.

The planners and lawmakers should now stop talking of new hydropower projects. In fact they should stop talking about hydropower projects entirely.

Instead, let them talk about constructing a water storage reservoir on the Wangchhu – to augment water supply to the two existing projects downstream - during the winter months. Bring to focus the import bill of electricity during the winter months.

The lawmakers should talk of cheaper funding sources – not sources that charge us 10% annual interest rates.

Remember, India got their funding from Japan for their Bullet Train Project. They were charged only:

0.01%

Let us wisen up!

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Not All Forest Lands Are Tree Lands

Hi ………..,

Thank you for your mail. The pleasure is entirely mine.

I will leave it to the vast experience of PDG XXXXX and your own spirit of giving - to decide how the monies for our planned project are to be channeled.

I am in no doubt that this project will be impactful and, even better, the impact will be visible and will hopefully encourage even more committed actions from the authorities. They sometimes tend to be carried away by their own verbosity - rather than translating them into real actions on the ground.

You may have seen during your visits to Bhutan that the mountaintops surrounding the population centers such as Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Wangdue - are shorn of mature trees. The reason is that the construction of massive Dzongs and temples in these places exact a heavy toll on the surrounding environment. Tens of thousands of trees are cut down for conversion into timber for the construction of these massive structures. Quarrying for stones for masonry work has scarred large tracts of hillside in these areas, rendering them infertile to bear or support trees, without the intervention of the human society that has been responsible in the first place to render them thus.

The Bhutanese people proudly claim that we have 70-80% forest coverage and that these naturally standing forest stock help sequester carbon dioxide by the millions of tons. What we misinterpret is that not all the claimed 70-80% forested land is populated with trees - but land that remain un-harvested. It is untrue that all un-harvested land are made up of trees - but steppe land and grassland and marsh land and alpine wilderness that do not contribute to carbon sequestration.

Alpine wilderness without trees

Thus, even to validate that Bhutan contributes to the well being of the human race through conservation of our forests - and helping in sequestration of the CO2 being released by the people in the industrialized nations, Bhutan needs to plant trees - even if only to make our claim good.

Sorry for the long winding mail - but I wanted to impress upon you just how profound your contribution will be to Bhutan and the human race, through this planned tree plantation project, in partnership with the Rotary Club of Thimphu.

Bye and take care…. and please keep safe.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Whether To Or Not To

Once again it is that time of the year when I have to go through moments of painful indecision – whether to or not to – start the room heater in my office. Talking of which I realize that I do not have a heater – the one I have is for the sitting room – just too big for my small home office.

Frustrated!

Indecisions notwithstanding, I do have to start the heater at some point. I mean this is already third week of November and my fingers are beginning to freeze and my trouser feels chilly against my thighs as I start work around 5.30AM. It does not help that my lodgings is located at the extreme north of Dechencholing.

The electricity bill is what I dread. Last winter months my bill was upwards of Nu.9,000.00 per month. I whaled about it and I suppose I will do the same this winter as well. Regardless, I know that my pleadings will fall on deaf ears and will be unfelt by the hearts of stone.

Despite so many rumblings, something that remains unanswered is this:

Why is a country that supposedly has electricity as its highest exportable surplus – is something the common Bhutanese people cannot afford - that they have to queue up at the fuel stations for hours to buy imported energy, trucked from across thousands of miles away?

If hydropower is so beneficial, why is the benefit not accruing to the people of Bhutan? What is the catch? Why is imported energy cheaper than homegrown one?

My readers who have commented on my following blog on the subject are providing some answers and reasons why our electricity is so expensive:

https://yesheydorji.blogspot.com/2019/08/being-penalized-for-not-using-domestic.html

The fallacy surrounding the claim that hydroelectric energy is the cheapest and most environmentally friendly is now under serious debate. The destruction caused to the environment both during and after the construction is so great that thinkers around the world are now hesitant to list hydroelectric as environmental friendly.

If it is cheapest, why are we not able to afford it?

If it is environmentally safer, why is so much destruction caused to our landscape and natural environment? Why is the fact that huge amounts of greenhouse gas Methane will be released into the atmosphere by these projects that cause 86 times more damage than CO2, is concealed?

On this Blog, I have 65 articles on hydropower related matters - second highest after photography at 102 articles. You can read them all at:

https://yesheydorji.blogspot.com/search/label/Hydroelectric%20Projects

The problem is that it does not matter to the rich and the powerful – they can afford it. Quite obviously the poor people do not matter.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Chasing Nirvana

Dear ……….. ,

Thank you for your mail.

It may come as a surprise to you – but I had never intended to be a Rotarian – I was shooting birds in the Eastern parts of the country when some cheeky fellow nominated me to be a member when the Rotary Club of Thimphu was being formed, in 2012. But once I got to understand the mechanics of how Rotary works, I realized that here was an opportunity to do real good for my community. Rotary institution is like no other.

I began with the belief that I owe it to my community – to sacrifice time and money – because I realized that the Rotary institution can, and has, brought meaningful impacts to nations and societies. But over time, I came to the realization that I am among only less than a handful who thought on those lines. Yet I continued to keep at it – with the belief that I cannot lose heart because some idiots are incapable of doing their jobs – only to come face to face with the reality that I am up against a whole gaggle of them, who couldn’t care less.

Finally the question – how much can one man do and for how long?

I put my own business and personal interests on the back burner for the past six and a half years (that is how long I have been the Club Secretary) – at the end I am getting more and more burnt out and, even more dangerous, I am getting terribly disillusioned and beginning to wonder if there is any merit in the Rotary maxim “Service Above Self” – I am beginning to arrive at that dangerous threshold where I am wont to imagine that this one has begun to sound muted and lacking in resonance. But I know that that is not true - I am still of the firm belief that the Rotary dictum has not lost its sheen – it is the mindless beneficiaries who cannot fathom their good fortune that there is an organization called Rotary that can bring meaning into their lives.

In closing, you have understood correctly – YES, I am leaving Rotary and going to do some serious photography work and finish my coin book and work on the second edition of my bird book.


Star-spangled night sky at Sinchae, Lunana. My Cabela's Extreme Weather dome tent is all lighted up from inside - under a night sky dazzled by a trillion shimmering stars.

I am going to go on treks and lie on my back atop a freezing peak and photograph a few trillion stars dazzling up the night skies.

I am going to chase Nirvana.

Bye and take care.


Saturday, November 13, 2021

BREAKING NEWS

Energy Globe Award for Rotary Club of Thimphu’s BHUTAN2020 Project

During an official ceremony on 10th November, 2021, Rotary Club of Thimphu’s signature project “BHUTAN2020”, in collaboration with Disaster Aid Australia (DAA), was awarded the “ENERGY GLOBE AWARD”. The project, which was launched in Toronto, Canada in 2018, was assessed for the award - against hundreds of thousands of other projects implemented around the world.

This achievement is even more significant considering that the Club is being recognized during a time when the entire humanity is rendered asunder by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More on the award at the following:


WHAT IS THE AWARD FOR
The Energy Globe Award honors the best projects addressing environmental issues since 20 years. This award takes place at an international level. The independent Energy Globe Foundation, Austria, organizes the award.

The one million dollars BHUTAN2020 project is the Rotary Club of Thimphu’s single largest humanitarian project ever – we have never done or are ever likely to do a project at this scale.

Under this project, the Rotary Club of Thimphu, with funding from the DAA, pledged to donate 120 patented SkyHydrant water filters to a like number of Bhutan’s largest schools.  Given that water quality is poor in the South, our emphasis is for schools in the South of the country.

So far 111 of these filters have been installed in schools spread across the country – not a single one of the 20 Dzongkhags (Districts) have been left out.

The project is nearing completion – only 9 of the 120 filters remain to be installed. Of that 3 are already in the country – ready for installation.

Provided the precious civil servants and the related government agencies are willing to do their part, the Rotary Club of Thimphu is all poised to embark on the Phase II of BHUTAN2020. Our international partners are firm in their commitment that they want to extend the project beyond 2023. Even more encouraging for thousands of Bhutanese children, our international partners have agreed that Phase II will be all encompassing - the project will henceforth include children of qualifying private schools as well.


Launch of the Project BHUTAN2020 during the Rotary Convention in 2018


Three models of the patented SkyHydrant water filters that are being installed in 120 schools across Bhutan



Logo of the Award Winning Project



The Club officials hand over a number of SkyHydrant water filters to the officials of the Ministry of Education


Even as my time with the Rotary is nearing its end, and I have sworn to severe all ties with the great institution called Rotary by end December 2021, it is my hope that this project will continue to see the light of day. There is no reason why it shouldn’t – provided each player is willing to do his/her part.

In parting I would like to say that Bhutan missed out on a rare opportunity to recognize one of its own – but we are happy that the Energy Globe has seized the opportunity to do so – we thank the organization.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Layap Girl: Amazing Grace

One of my photos of this young Layap girl that I took in Punakha in 2001 seems have managed to get itself a whole lot of attention in recent times. This is not quite true actually - she featured on the official Poster of the Tourism Council of Bhutan, some years back.


Photographed in March, 2001

It was a joy to photograph this girl - she was so natural and she had all the right angles to present. And she moved with an amazing grace and posed with a practiced composure that would put the most seasoned model to shame.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

All I Write is Not Necessarily BLOGGED

I am not sure if what I wrote made any difference but in posting this blog, I want to prove to a friend that I do not have to write about every important issue on my Blog – I can, and do, outside of it. A few days back, a friend accused me of going on and on and on about “Ladoog” - while, according to him, I could channel my energies towards highlighting some important issues that remain neglected. It is my hope that with this blog post, the next time the friend sees me, he will look at me with downcast eyes - in meek subservience.

On 19th June, 2020 I wrote to the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB), as a concerned citizen, pointing out two important issues that could have long term implications if not averted - but those that had every indication that they were gaining primacy among people in the decision making process. One concerned the very important tourism sector, and the other, the watchdog organization responsible for the health of the country’s environment.

The following is what I wrote – quoted here verbatim:

ISSUE A: Waste Management & Stray Dogs Population Control Flagship Program under the NEC

This is a direct conflict of interest. A regulatory authority such as the NEC cannot be the implementing agency for waste management. There is every chance that this project might fail because the NEC as the implementing agency is bound to cut corners in its stewardship and oversight responsibilities. Simple reason: officials who are supposed to regulate and monitor are the same ones who are implementing the project.

The government might wish to consider delinking the Waste Management & Stray Dogs Population Control Flagship Program PMU from the NEC and an independent body set up – sans the officials of the NEC in the PMU. This way we can expect better monitoring, regulation and stewardship from the NEC – and ensure that activities of the Waste Management & Stray Dogs Population Control Flagship Program PMU are in line with the provisions of the law.

Charging the NEC with the responsibility to implement waste management projects is akin to asking the Drug Regulatory Authority to set up medical supplies shops.

ISSUE B: The possibility of hoteliers being allowed to book tours 

There is a sense in the market that the tourist class hotels are likely to be allowed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) to book tours in the regional tourists segment. There are a number of problems in this:

aaa.  The standing rule of the RGoB is that each business activity is separately licensed. Thus the rule does not permit hoteliers to venture into tour operation activities. Operation and conduct of tours is separately licensed, under the category of “Tour Operator”. Thus if a hotelier is desirous of entering the tour operation business, the law requires that they obtain a tour operator’s license – which is simple and without hurdles.

bbb.  The TCB is not vested with the authority to determine which business entity can conduct what business – that is within the purview of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA). Thus the TCB determining that hoteliers can engage in tour operators’ business is overstepping their mandate – it should be in the domain of the MoEA.

ccc.  It is most likely to cause unnecessary and avoidable rift between the hoteliers and the tour operators because of a number of impracticalities of a joint operation - the most serious among them being fixing accountability in the event of problems and failures.

ENDNOTE:

The Logo of NEC looks sharp and clear because I digitized it - GRATIS - when I was contracted to Edit the book "WATER Securing Bhutan's Future" for the ADB/NEC.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Images With A Story To Tell

In my many years as a photographer, there have been photographic situations that beg to be told and recounted. Unfortunately, until I stumble upon a particular photograph with a story to tell, I am not able to remember them all. Some that I remember with some interesting, if at times tragic, sorties are the following.

Lets us begin with the uncommon:

A LIVING BUDDHA OF COMPASSION

One day I was on my way from Sengor to Kurichu where I was headed to try and photograph a breeding couple of the rare Palla’s Fish Eagle. When I reached Thridangbi, I saw a large cornfield with ripe corns ready for harvest. I noticed that there were a number of macaques calmly feeding on the ripe corns. Close by an old man stood watching the whole scene with a Buddha like calm.

I asked him; “Whose cornfield is that?”

The old man said; “Mine”.

“So why aren’t you chasing away the monkeys?” He replied:

“Let them eat - I will be harvesting the corns in a few days time – until then how much can few monkeys eat? Like us humans, they have every right to gather their food from wherever they can. You must remember that they mean no harm. Theirs is not an act of destruction - as far as they are concerned, my cornfield is a source of easy food – so why shouldn’t they feed on the corns? There is no malice behind their act.”

Now here was a Bodhisattva at whose feet I would shamelessly prostrate in obeisance.

I was truly humbled by such an uncommon act of charity. I was tempted to spend few nights in his company – and try and unravel a mind that truly belonged to a Buddha. But I had to go and photograph a rare bird – which, alas, I did not succeed in doing.

Man with a heart of a Buddha

MADAM HOITY-TOITY

During one of the many Paro Tsechus I have attended for photographic opportunities, I chanced upon a nicely turned out and well-packaged young girl. She caught me photographing her and gave me a glare, grumbling:

“You know, you have to ask my permission to take my photograph”!

She walked away with a haughty look on her face. Well, I am a licensed professional photographer and I am allowed taking pictures of any one as long as it is in a public place. However, no point arguing – so I let it pass.

Few years later, she saw her photograph appear on the cover page of Bhutan Airlines Inflight Magazine: KUZUZANGPO la. She went to great length to track me down – to ask for a print of her photograph. She loved it she said. I gave it to her – sans the haughty look.

Good looking but grumpy

THE TRAGIC ONE

One time I was coming down from Pele-La where I had gone to try and photograph the famed Satyr Tragopan - considered one of the 10 most beautiful birds of the world. When I reached Kelekhar, I saw this very beautiful, dignified silver-haired old lady sitting on the doorsteps of her home, which was bang close to the road. I stopped and told her that I would like to photograph her. She agreed. I asked her permission because she was not in a public place – but in her home.

Few weeks later, the KUENSEL reported that her relatives had bludgeoned her to death – to rob her of her cash.

Her family did her in for her cash

A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY

I had an assignment that called for photographing HH Gyeltse Tenzin Rabgye and a statue of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. I went to Tango Monastery to acquire the images. The Truelku was a young boy then and loved being photographed. That was not a problem.

One of the senior most Lopoens of Tango went to great trouble to extricate a statue of the Zhabdrung from the alter room so that I may photograph it. I must say that it was a very nice statue. I did my work and delivered the images to the clients.

Nearly a year later, I got to know that the statue I photographed was NOT that of the Zhabdrung – but someone else. It nearly caused a disaster – because my image was the central image around which an exhibition relating to the Zhabdrung was planned in Thimphu. Fortunately the mistake was discovered just at the nick of time and the situation was saved.

That is why I say that even the most primary source – in this case a most learned source - needs to be verified.


Oooops ... I am not the Zhabdrung

REGULARLY STRIPPED NAKED

Aap Tham (Tham means weaver) Dawa was a bashful person – even when he was in his late 70’s. I had to go to Bumthang to photograph him for an article. I met him and got the photos I needed. But I was intrigued – why was a man in a woman’s profession. He said he loved weaving. So I asked him - Was it enjoyable? He said in the beginning it was torturous!

Apparently he was the only male weaver in the court of HRH Ashi Choki in Wangduechholing Palace – rest were all women much older to him. He said that the ladies would gang up on him and gag him and strip him naked every once in a while. While the women around him giggled and guffawed, he would quietly weep in a corner in frustration and shame. However, over time he got used to the pranks.

I met two of the naughty lady weavers who contributed to his misery – Aum Lemo and Aum Naley. When I got the three of them together for a conversation, they looked at him with eyes of longing and adoration - it was obvious that they cared for the man deeply.

Aap Tham Dawa

He passed away a few years back.

24 YEARS APART

Feast your eyes on this truly organic Bhutanese woman – wholly grown and cultured without pesticides and weedicides. I photographed her in 2010 at the Paro Tsechu grounds. Passu of the famed Passu Diary tells me that some unknown photographer had photographed the same lady – 24 years back in 1986 when she was barely 16 years old – at the same Paro Tsechu grounds. You can see that she is still wearing the same set of “Jurus” as the Parops would call it. The image was featured on the cover of a publication titled “Arcarama” of 1986.

Passu is intrigued – how can it be that two photographers are attracted and drawn by the same person – nearly two and a half decades apart? He is convinced that all photographers see and think alike.

I do not know about that – but I still call the lady “Ngi gi Aum Jarim” every time I meet her at Kawajangtsa.

Aging gracefully

TWO DECADES APART

I photographed this young girl child in Punakha in the year 2001. Twenty years later, another photographer – Karma T Dorji of the DrukPro design house photographed the same girl in her village in Laya - last month.

Ravages of time and march of age

My photograph of the girl child of 2001 was selected as one of the faces to represent Bhutan and featured on a poster produced by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. It intrigues me – would the TCB consider featuring this grown up girl on another one of their posters? I doubt it – at this ripe age, her unbridled innocence that had drawn my attention to her is no longer an element that went on to make the whole of her, in 2001.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

FRUSTRATED But Life Must Go On II

I generally log on to the Internet any time from 3.30AM or 5.30AM to start work. But today I am logging on only at 8.31AM. I have been struggling to fight down an urge to do something that would impact many thousands of people.

Would I be doing the right thing in contemplating to do what I have a strong urge to do? Would my behavior be any less irresponsible than those of the few who compel me towards the option that is open to me?

It is a very difficult decision – I know it is not correct that because of some idiots I should imperil few thousand people. And yet, for how long can one continue to condone irresponsibility and mindlessness and abject disregard for duty and ownership of stewardship? Because I am fully aware that the problem is not merely superficial – it is almost pathological and deep-rooted.

It is not just one or two spokes in the wheel that are dysfunctional – nearly all of them are none performing.


The state of Bhutan's civil service

Under the circumstance, what duty of a higher calling would I be performing - in continuing to suffer heartburn on a daily basis, year after year?

Sunday, October 31, 2021

FRUSTRATED But Life Must Go On

Putting in 16-17 hours of work everyday for the past six and a half years in the belief that it will make a difference in the lives of those who are less fortunate and who stand in need for things that I am fortunate enough to be able to help provide, is, by everyone’s account, a meritorious act that is guaranteed to reserve me a berth in the heavens in my afterlife. The long-drawn-out journey has not sapped my energy one bit – but same thing cannot be said of my emotional wellbeing – it has taken a severe beating. I am frustrated but I refuse to be maimed by the experience.

At the end of my journey with the Rotary, which should have terminated at the end of June this year – I have come to realize that I too have been as stupid as – Tenzin Rigden. As intelligent and smart as he is acknowledged to be, he committed a terminal error of judgment:

Sending the world’s laziest people – to a nation filled with the world’s hardest working people – Japan. For crying out loud – WHAT WAS HE THINKING?

In the same vein – what was I thinking? That I can make a difference to a people who have been anaesthetized by Kidu – from cradle to grave? – to a bunch of people who has become accustomed to getting everything free on their platters – without putting in an iota of effort to earn what they receive?

As the prime mover and shaker in the Rotary Club of Thimphu – I have on number of occasions had to deal with civil servants – the only lot of people in Bhutan today who remain absolutely unaffected by the pandemic that has ravaged every other sector in the country. The civil servants remain stoical in their incompetence and lethargy. This lot simply and utterly fail to come to grips with the difficulties that the nation is currently going through. They are still chasing their fat salaries, their TA/DA, their undeserved car and duty free quotas, while other Bhutanese suffer the debilitating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recently, His Majesty is supposed to have, finally, come out and said a mouthful to the civil servants. As we all know, He has been gearing up for the moment – please read the following to know what I mean:

https://yesheydorji.blogspot.com/2018/12/that-creed-of-humanoids-called-civil.html

Unfortunately, as part of the whole, I too must suffer because of their greed and incompetence – and I am suffering. I can act – but if I do, the repercussions would be not that which I aspire for. But I do have a choice – I can always opt out any time I want, and I am doing so.

But His Majesty cannot – He is the last stop. The luxury of giving up is not in His job description. Thus He too must continue to suffer – the pain and frustration of helplessness - in the face of so much mindlessness and irresponsibility.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Death By Ladoog IX: FINAL POST

LAYERING

In my rush to close the series of articles on Ladoog, I omitted to write on one important element: LAYERING.

The concept of layering is pretty simple but effective. What it means is that your trekking clothing is categorized into three categories: Base Layer, Mid Layer and Outer Layer.

Base Layer: generally thermal with good wicking properties

Mid Layer: of much thicker material – mostly Fleece

Outer Layer: heaviest of the three categories/layers – most often Down


When trekking, you wear the clothing in order of the above. At extreme altitudes, generally you start with all the three layers on. As you progress on your trek, your body begins to heat up and you feel hotter than warm. So the first layer that comes off is – the outer layer. Further up, the heat and the sweating gets even hotter – at this point your mid layer comes off … so you are now left with the base layer. As a rule, you should always keep the mid layer on – because it is not good to expose your body to the elements – the base layer is very thin, and most often soaked with sweat. You do not want to expose your wet clothing to the chilly wind.

After the summit or the high pass, you begin to descend or your trail is over a flat, level ground. Your body begins to cool off – at this point the reverse order is implemented. You put on the mid layer. As your body cools off even more, you resort to putting on the final, outer layer.

It is at the camp that you really need to put on warmer clothing since inactivity means you will feel the cold even more severely.

........................... End of Series

Friday, October 29, 2021

Death By Ladoog VIII

UPON RETURN FROM THE TREK

If you are reading this – it can only mean that you have survived the trek and that you are hail and hearty. CONGRATULATIONS! I have no doubt that you are in agreement with me that our alpine regions are truly awesome and breathe taking.

Post trek, there is nothing much to be done – but to clean and pack away your trekking gear – until they are needed for your next trek whenever that is likely to be. But there are still few tips I need to give you – before I finally close this series of blog, after this post.

THE CORRECT WAY OF WASHING/PACKING A SLEEPING BAG

You must wash and dry your sleeping bag after a trek. You can either do it at home or give it to a dry cleaner. If you are washing it at home – you can either do it with hands or you can do it in a washing machine. If you are washing it in a washing machine – make sure that you are using a “FRONT-LOADER” washing machine. YOU MUST NOT USE A “TOP-LOADER” – or your bag will be shredded to smithereens!

Thereafter dry out the bag – make sure that it is absolutely bone dry before you pack it away. If it is not, you run the risk of mildew formation, which would ruin the bag forever.

Same thing with the tent – make sure it is bone dry before packing it away.

Metal tent stakes or pegs: they have to be cleaned of earth – with water and oiled before packing away. This will prevent the formation of rust.

FINAL IMPORTANT TIP

When stuffing sleeping bags or down jackets into their holders, NEVER stuff them by folding or rolling them. Stuff them freely by disorganized pushing them into the sack. You don’t want “Memory” to form on the bag or the jacket.

How to pack sleeping bags correctly without running the risk of "Memory"


Trekking is a healthy lifestyle – ENJOY!

Thursday, October 28, 2021

Death By Ladoog VII

ON THE TREK
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.

PEP TALK
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.

WHAT TO DO AT THE CAMP SITE

TENTS
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.

GROUND SHEETS
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.

DRINKING WATER
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.

TREKKING BOOTS
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.

WATER FOR COOKING
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.

BATTERIES
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.

HYDERATION
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.

ALCOHOL
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!