Sunday, November 26, 2023

A Goat In Place Of A Sheep

The proverbial storm in the tea cup is yet again brewing with the customary zeal – the spirited ado about nothing!

Bhutan’s fourth elections is days away and the nation is abuzz with a million inconsequential questions: Who do you think is going to win? Are you voting? Who are you going to vote for this time? Do you think Dr. Lotay is likely to come back? So forth and so on ……

The five political parties and their promises

Most offer the view that the PDP will most likely emerge as the winning horse. Their logic: people believe that the vote bank of their traditional rival – the DPT – would have been halved and quartered by the two new political parties entering the fray. However, they say that PDP had better pray hard that the DPT does not end up in the final round – the DPT emerging from their ten years of having been made to languish in the Bardo (purgatory) could very well curdle the milk for them.

Others think that the Southern voters will be the king makers given their astuteness and remarkable capability to think collectively - they think objectively while the rest of the Bhutanese tend to be sentimental about their choices.

As for me, I remain unimpressed – for me it would be nothing more than a goat in place of a sheep, or vise-versa. As long as the Captain of the Ship has the rudder firmly within His grip, things should trot along reasonably OK. My worry is something else.

In 2018 when rumor was rife that Dasho Chhewang Rinzin, the incumbent Managing Director of DGPC was joining politics, I gawked. I promptly went to see him. Sitting across the table and sipping black tea, I asked him:

“I understand that Dasho is joining politics. Is that true?”

He said; “Yes, you heard it right - I am told that such a rumor is doing the rounds in certain circles.”

“Are you? But why? I mean, look behind you. The Bura Marp and the Patang hanging behind you are the symbols of the highest honor any person can hope for. What more can you hope to achieve? What greater honor can there be – above and beyond that which you are already decorated with?

I agree that we need good and capable people in the political arena. But that is not to say that the bureaucracy should be drained of them. We need equally capable and dedicated people in the civil service – after all you are the ones who will implement the plans and programs conceived by the political leadership. We need people with strong character in the civil service – people who have the wherewithal to implement and carry forward the plans and programs; people who can ably keep the politicians in the straight and the narrow.

Why is it important that the smartest and the brightest must join politics? Isn't the bureaucracy important?

Afterall, when the dream merchants have dusted and gone – when the winning horse has galloped away with the booty, you will still be around - to try and mop up the bloodied floor and pick up the litter of carcasses - to give hope that there will be another day – a new day when renewed attempts can be made to mend and patch the broken promises – when new dreams can be dreamed, if only to be broken, yet again.

Thursday, November 23, 2023

Is It A Forgery Or Is It A Forgery?

Hi Kris,

Thanks …..

Your classification of “FORGERIES” is rather intriguing for me – in the sense that, in the context of Bhutanese coins, what exactly is a forgery? From what I understood is that forgery is:

“The action of forging a copy or imitation of a document, signature, banknote or work of art”.

My understanding is that Bhutan’s coining journey began as a limited forgery – right from the first coinage. In some cases, they were exact copies of the Koch Narayani. From what is apparent is that Bhutan continued to forge some select Narayanis right to the early part of 1900’s.
Silver Half Rupee of Rajendra Narayan of Koch Kingdom: 1770-1772. This coin has a distinctive (X) on its reverse. The Raja was put on the Koch Kingdom throne by Bhutan. This is one of the coins forged by Bhutan. But it may not qualify as a forgery because Bhutan issued the coin mostly in copper, while all the Koch Kingdom’s coins were hammered in silver.

Also, please note the following interesting revelation:

The East India Company accuses Bhutan of producing spurious Narayanis

From the above, the East India Company that ruled most of India during the period under reference believed that Bhutan was forging Narayanis. They were wrong – I believe that Bhutan was actually hammering away real Narayanis using dies acquired forcibly from Koch Kingdom. Now, what is not clear is whether the Bhutanese were aware that they were committing forgeries – or they believed that they were producing money for use in trade with the people in the southern borders of Bhutan, as legal tender. Whatever the case may be, the act would still tantamount to forgery – whether done knowingly or unknowingly!

As one of the recognized authorities on Bhutanese coinage you would have noticed that it sometimes becomes difficult to distinguish the Bhutanese coins from that of Narayanis. To me only very few coins can truly be said to be Bhutanese - authenticated by the all-Bhutanese motifs on the coins.

Under the circumstance, I am not sure that any one coin verity can be said to be a forgery – because we do not know if those were coined by unauthorized persons, or were hammered by a ruling Je/Desi/Poenlop/Dzongpoen. Even more confusing, can we pass off a complete forgery as a legit coin - just because it was coined by a legitimate authority?

What do you think?

Bye and take care


Monday, November 20, 2023

The Edifice of Disgrace

As a Khengpa (a person belonging to the Kheng region of Central Bhutan) I cannot help but feel a sense of affinity towards anything even remotely related to Kheng. Thus, when it was announced that the Bhutan Bird Festival would be held once again - after having been suspended for the past three years due to COVID-19 pandemic, I decided that I want to attend the festival - if for nothing, at least to add to the number. Even better, my two American guests also agreed to attend the festival - all three days - from 13th to 15th November, 2023.

First thing upon arrival at Tingtibi on the evening of 12th November, 2023, I headed straight for the festival grounds - to check things out. I did not get past the Welcome Gate - one look at the Gate and I was dumbstruck - my heart sank and I remained rooted to the ground where I stood - incredulous at what I saw plastered all over the Gate.

There were a total of 10 images of different birds and animals depicted on the vertical and horizontal posts and beam of the Gate. To my absolute horror, 5 of the images – or 50% of the total images portrayed - were images of birds and animals that are TOTALLY NON-EXISTANT in the country - let alone Zhemgang District!!!

How is it that any sane person can be capable of such incredibly shoddy work - particularly among people who pride themselves as sane and with eyes wide open? I mean such atrocious blunders can be attributed to mindless zombies - not to educated people with weighty responsibilities. I cannot believe that the whole of Zhemgang Dzongkhag does not have people who can differentiate an African Elephant from that of an Asian one; a Pallas’s Fish Eagle from that of the Bald Eagle; A Black-necked Crane from that of a Red-headed Crane? Where were the Forestry officials in the Dzongkhag? It is fantastic that they do not know the commonest of the most common of the country’s birds and animals.

Waste of precious time notwithstanding, it was so shameful - even worst, it was soooooo telling on the Bhutanese character - clueless and yet adamantly moronic; unwilling to put one’s best foot forward, and yet vehement that rest of the world is steeped in mediocrity!

One has to wonder: Will the Bhutanese people ever improve?

Friday, November 10, 2023

Bhutan’s Unique Democracy

I have been Googling and Googling and Googling … but uncle Google has not been very forthcoming to my queries.

I have been Googling to find out if there was ever a moment in the many thousands of years of democratic culture - where a regulator required political entities to have their party manifestoes appraised and approved by a bunch of shadowy, clandestine persons of unknown origin and competence – before the parties are allowed to speak of them to their electorate. I cannot find such a record – not a single one since the birth of the concept of democracy in ancient Athens around circa 508 BCE.

Political Parties' Manifestoes: Approved, endorsed and sanctified by a bunch of shadowy, clandestine persons of unknown origin and competence

I am of the view that the ECB is utterly confused about their role and responsibilities. But come to think of it – if the ECB can be so unashamed about what they are doing, can it be that we may be the ones who are in confusion, and not them? Hmmmmm looks like this calls for some serious homework – I think I need to read up the Constitution to see what the real deal is.

But for now, it is pretty strange that the ECB announces a democratic election while, at the same time, forbidding the political parties from saying anything that is not approved and authorized by the ECB to be told the electorate. That is democracy?????

Thou shalt not spake beyond what is authorized 

So what are our political parties – puppets and mouth pieces of the ECB?

Damn!! I think I may have been wrong all this while – I think Bhutan and the Bhutanese people may be, after all, UNIQUE as we unabashedly and repeatedly claim we are!

Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Case Of The Rotting Potatoes

In recent times, there have been repeated reports of hundreds of tons of farmers’ potatoes rotting in the auction/storage yards of the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) in Phuentsholing.


Why are the potatoes allowed to rot?

Hundreds of tons of potatoes are allowed to go to waste - through rotting!
Photo courtesy of BBS

In the aftermath of the COVID-19, the government was encouraged to set up a network of cold storage facilities across the country so that surplus or unsold food produces could be stored safely – for release during times of shortage.

From what I know ---- in the last year or so Bhutan has set up a substantial number of cold storage facilities at strategic locations spread across the length and breadth of the country. Then why are they NOT used? What is the reason?

Are the facilities none-functional? Or, are the farmers too greedy?

There is a need to get to the bottom of this!

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Of Rare Birds & Pretty Butterflies

A legally protected butterfly in India, Kaiser-i-Hind (Teinopalpus imperialis) is the State Butterfly of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. This beautiful Swallowtail Butterfly was supposedly discovered around Dochu-La Pass, Thimphu by some Japanese Lepidopterologists many years back - a claim sadly not backed by evidence.

In 2021, Sonam Dorji, a driven conservationist doing pioneering work in the area of bird life and their habitat, and butterflies, in the East of the country discovered a dead specimen of the butterfly, in an area called Kheng-Thong Mani - close to Kanglung/Yonphula areas of Trashigang - conclusively proving that Kaiser-i-Hind - Emperor of India - does exist in Bhutan. The specimen is currently lodged at the UWICER, Bumthang. Sonam also observed that during season the butterflies could be seen flying above and around the tree crowns - sadly, just too high for him to photograph them.

Sonam is currently documenting the life cycle of Bhutan’s other rare butterflies - the Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail (Bhutanitis ludlowi) (Bhuan's Naional Butterfly) and the Bhutan Glory (Bhutanitis lidderdalii). By the by, he is also studying the habitats of some of Bhutan’s rare and beautiful birds - the world’s three vulnerable varieties of Tragopans: Satyr Tragopan, Temminck's Tragopan and Blyth's Tragopan.

More than a decade ago, Sumit Sen, one of India’s foremost birders got 38 birders - among them I was one - to short-list 10 of India’s prettiest birds. Thereafter, he put them to open vote. He received a total of 544 votes. I fielded above image of the very pretty Fire-tailed Myzornis captured at Dochu-La in 2007. The bird was adjudged the second most beautiful bird in India.

This bird is one of the few that the lady embroiderer in the East is attempting to replicate on tapestry.

In an effort to educate the local populace on the importance of conservation, Sonam has been encouraging local youth to engage in efforts that help conserve and protect species that are fast disappearing elsewhere in the world. One of the initiatives he has undertaken is to get young talents to reproduce rare species such as butterflies and birds - on tapestry. He has been supported with a small grant from the Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation.

My small cash contribution to augment Sonam’s admirable conservation work helped a young lady purchase much needed threads - so that she could practice her skills at embroidery. For a novitiate, the work she produced was pretty remarkable. She sent me her first work - as a gift. In appreciation of her thoughtfulness, I honor her by reproducing her work as part of my Blog’s latest Masthead, above.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Six Years Since : Down Memory Lane

Hi Andrew,

Greetings from Bhutan.

I learn with great pleasure that you are still with DAA and busy installing SkyHydrants.

Although I am not in the Rotary anymore .... DAA honors me by continuing to send me their Quarterly News Letters and the recent one (received yesterday evening – 23/10/2023) tells me that you are currently busy in Nepal .... doing the same things you do best --- installing SkyHydrants.

Please keep up the good work ...... !!!

I cannot thank you enough --- for your role in "BHUTAN2020 Project". It is now into its 5th year. As you are aware DAA has successfully delivered its first three years, one million dollars Safe Water Project ----- for 120 of Bhutan's largest schools. No doubt you know that DAA has been kind enough to renew the project for another three years. From all accounts ----- things are going well and on track ...... Thanks to your "batting" (in your own words) for Bhutan after your first trip to Bhutan as a DART Member of DAA in 2017. You may recall that I was the first Bhutanese you met - upon landing at Paro airport when you arrived from Nepal on 30th September, 2017 - to deliver two of DAA's first SkyHydrant water filter systems for Bhutan.

Launch of the three years BHUTAN2020 Project in Toronto, Canada on 25th June, 2018. Under the project Bhutan received 120 SkyHydrant Projects for installation in 120 of Bhutan's largest schools. The project has been renewed for further three years for the same number of these patented water filer systems.

Bye and take care ... and Thank You once again. Do you bump into any Bhutanese down under? There are many thousand Bhutanese studying and working there in places like Perth, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney etc. Should you come to know of any opportunities that might be suitable for them, please do not forget to "bat" for them as well ---- as you did for thousands of Bhutanese students after your first trip here.

MoE's Letter of Appreciation to DAA

Please convey my VERY BEST to Phillip Gribble another of DAA's DART Member who accompanied you to Bhutan during your second trip - to deliver four of the first six units donated by DAA - before the start of the BHUTAN2020 Project.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Alpha Five Two Alpha Alpha Live from Bhutan

After struggling for two days - the struggle is still on - HAM Operator Abie Alexander from the USA who has been allocated the visitor's local CallSign of A52AA is now on air from Jambayang Hotel in Thimphu. He is still experiencing massive interference - it is yet to be established whether it is a man-made one or it a solar activity that is causing such severe interference. We think it is electrical noise - caused by some unknown electrical activity - but that is a wild guess.

Today we are going to try something that hopefully will confirm or eliminate the possibility that the noise is caused by radiation generated by electrical activity .... 

Recording of a live QSO between A52AA from Bhutan and a VU2JFA from India.

Something tells me that it is electrical activity that is the cause of this unusually powerful interference. If I am right, I have to wonder what unknown operation is underway in and around Thimphu Municipal area and its periphery that is the cause of such massive electrical radiation? There are no radars installed atop our mountains ... so what is that that is pulsating and throbbing at such a monumental scale? Damn .... !

So far the A52AA station has made connection with Japan, Russia, India, Bangladesh, Uruguay, Brazil and few other countries ..... He hopes to cover many more countries during the remaining days of his operation from Bhutan.

I wish him BEST OF LUCK!

Friday, October 20, 2023

CQ …. CQ …. CQ …. A52AA Calling from the Land of the Thunder Dragon, Come in….

Beginning this morning, a HAM Radio operator from the US of A will start broadcasting SSB HAM Radio voice signals from Jambayang Hotel in Thimphu. He is provably the first HAM Radio operator to operate from Bhutan - after the legendary “ZORO” - Mr. Yasuo Miyazawa of Japan went “Silent Key” in March of 2022. Zoro maintained a permanent Ham Radio Shack at the Royal Thimphu College from where he operated Ham Radio to the delight of Hams around the world, whenever he was in Bhutan.

A52AA arrives Bhutan and begin operations as of today

A SAARC HAM Radio Member operator based in Guwahati, India announces to the world the arrival in Bhutan and operation of HAM Radio by A52AA

Bhutan’s first HAM Radio Shack - called a QTH in HAM parlance. It was located at Wirelesspang, above Dechenchholing Palace. It became operational in 1954-55. For the first time Bhutan sent out HAM radio signals in 1954 from a place called Rida in Wangduephodrang. The operator was N. Chawna, a wireless instructor in the employ of the Royal Government of Bhutan.

Ham Radio is a form of wireless communications that is so versatile and efficient that one can operate it from the top of Mount Everest - or the middle of Atlantic/Pacific Ocean. It is one communications system that will never go down - when every other communications is down. It is a critical communications mode and system that is first to report world’s most devastating calamities, from the remotest of locations. In times of emergencies, this is the communications of choice - without parallel.

When every form and method of communications was blocked and disbanded, His Majesty Palden Thondup Namgyal, 12th and last Chhogyel of Sikkim used HAM Radio communications system that was installed inside his Palace, to inform the world community that his Kingdom was being besieged by India, in 1975.

I have been trying to get Bhutan to train people in the use of this mode of communications. This is critically important for us - given our land-locked geographical positioning. Sadly, no one is interested.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Rest & Respite

When one’s soul is on fire and the heart is singed with disappointment, one tries to find solace elsewhere ---- not necessarily that you will find it - but it gives you momentary diversion and respite from the monotony of chasing a seemingly hopeless cause.

But failure to achieve success cannot cause life to stop and living to come to a standstill - it should be the very reason why one must persist, stubbornly. As they say, if you knock hard enough, the dead will rise and open the door for you.

Time out for a while!

To allow myself the much-needed adjournment, I rummaged through my collection of old CDs where some of my very earliest photographs are stored - when external hard drives were too expensive. I stumbled onto some photographs of novitiate monks that I had taken some 22 years back - on Monday, January 1, 2001 at 6:00 AM. The location was Dechenphodrang Monastery, Thimphu.


Some of these monks would most likely be in their early 30's now. I wonder how life has treated them?

What am I saying? .... there cannot be any doubt - life would have treated them as they deserve. That is the thing about life - one eventually gets what one deserves - that is the irreversible law!

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Bhutan’s Culture of Mulling: Part II

It has been my experience that it is not in the character of the Bhutanese people to act with speed and precision. The sloth-like pace at which we act would explain why progress in this country is lethargic at best. For the bosses at the helm of things, it does not really matter - the dogs can continue to bark  - the caravan will move all the same. They are not the leaders - they are merely the seat warmers. Corporations like DrukAir can tumble and rot away, in the process causing misery to one and sundry - there is no one to whom they need be accountable - it is not money out of, or into, their pockets. If more is needed, there is the public exchequer into which they can dip their hands at will. Small wonder then that His Majesty the King speaks of our wanning Ngar! For proof, read the following:

Shingkhar-Gorgan Road
The Shingkhar-Gorgan road construction debate went on for close to one and a half decades. The law is clear why it cannot be done - and yet three successive governments “mulled” over the matter for years. After having “mulled” over the issue for close to 15 years, the issue of the road seems to be finally put to rest when, on 29th January, 2020, DNT’s Works & Human Settlement Minister Dorji Tshering said;

“Shingkhar-Gorgan road won’t materialize. Since 2008, there were 15 discussions on the topic. It is stale.”

The Timbre-less Timber
It was in 1979 that Bhutan decided to ban the commercial harvesting of our abundant timber stock. There was very good reason for it. But sadly, the forests remained locked-up and rotting for close to half a century, thereafter. Only last month the DNT government woke up to the realization that there was money to be had from harvesting our timber that remained rotting in the forests. The government has now lifted the ban - but it took 44 years to do so!

Vehicle Quota System
The Royal Audit Authority (RAA) reported rampant misuse of vehicle quota system. They found that the state lost Nu.3.00 billion in tax revenue during a five-year period under review, in addition to turning certain class of public workers into crooks and lawbreakers. The RAA also reported that the quota system contributed to “exhaustion of the country’s foreign currency reserves and increase in import of vehicle, spare parts and fuel”.

The Vehicle Quota System was introduced during mid 1970s. The country spent “mulling” over the issue for close to half a century before the DNT government thankfully axed the quota system in 2022. Today if you ask me very, very few have any understanding as to why the quota system was introduced - you may be surprised the reason behind it.

Alas, true to form, this has yet been another case of a good intention gone terribly sour. Sadly, there are already scavengers lining up the corridor - waiting to pick up the eventual carcasses that are bound to come tumbling out of the goody bag of the government - whoever is next in line.

Duty Free Quota System
I am not sure when this came into being. But it was many decades before the government saw evil in the system. It came to light that some supposedly respectable members of the society were merrily peddling their Duty Free entitlements in the open market. It not only contributed to depletion in foreign exchange reserve through import of such silly things as chocolates and perfumes and cigarettes etc., it bred whole lot of unethical people in the government/public sector. Thankfully the DNT government removed this most vile practice - late last year.

Hydropower Projects
After I spent close to two decades hollering to go easy on the mismanaged hydropower initiatives, it was not until in 2018 that finally the Hydropower Committee recommended going slow and smart on hydro projects - that is 44 years after the ill-fated hydropower initiative that first began in 1974.

In the next year (2019) – that is 45 years after deciding to systematically desecrate our entire river basins, the DNT government announced that two of our 7 river systems will remain hydropower free for all times - Chamkharchu in Central Bhutan and Amochu in the West-South of the country. The rest of the river systems - Wangchu, Punatsangchu, Magdechu, Kurichu, Drangmechu, Gamrichu and Nyera Amachu - all of them being fair game for hydropower. Mercifully, in recent years, the hydropower as a technology of choice for electricity generation has lost its sheen – hopefully we are now safe.

Freedom of Speech
In 2008 the Constitution granted every Bhutanese the freedom of speech - among others. Yet, year after year the media and individuals continued to be muzzled of the freedom of speech - some even lost their jobs because they had a mouth. It was only after fifteen (15) years that a sitting Prime Minister had the courage to reiterate the Constitutional provisions. Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering announced on 28 of January, 2023 that:

“Sharing information with the media is our responsibility. By sharing information with the media, they are not doing any favor, they are doing what they are mandated to do and they are doing what they are paid to do. Whatever we do, if it is for public benefit, the public must know. For this important information to go to the public, the media is the only thing that we can ride on”.

But alas - we are constrained by almost everything - doing is not always easy. But I have also repeatedly made the point that achieving greatness does not necessarily have to do with doing great things - dismantling great evil is also greatness. All it takes is courage!

Sadly courage is in short supply in this land of surplus verbosity.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Bhutan’s Culture of Mulling: Part I

It is incredible that the government is still “mulling” over the issue of the URGENT need for a major reduction in the fares charged by the DrukAir - a state owned air transport company that is single-handedly jeopardizing the country’s tourism business and, consequently, the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Bhutanese people.

The DrukAir and how it is functioning is a living example why certain state apparatus should not be accorded autonomy - they tend to go against the state’s larger interests, in order that they are able to protect some private interests. The DrukAir is not only causing problem to heir own solvency, but their irresponsible behavior causes problem at many levels:
  1. Loss of company business to competing airlines in the region - because they are priced too high compared to other players playing the field;
  2. Loss of revenue to the company through loss of turnover - because what business that can be had – is being channeled to the competitors;
  3. Diversion of Bhutanese tour operators’ business to the competition across the border - because the inbound/outbound tourists find it cheaper to fly the Bagdogra route thereby preferring to employ operators in Jaigaon - instead of the Bhutanese tour operators who are going out of business for want of work;
  4. Loss of billions in foreign exchange: the Indian Rupee - because neither the airfare nor the SDF, or the tour payments are received in Indian Rupees because the Jaigaon operators pocket the inflow of Indian currency and payments to Bhutanese authorities and service providers are made in local currency; and
  5. Loss of billions in foreign exchange: third country currency such as $$ …. Because the dollar paying potential visitors find the air fare too expensive – thus choosing competing destinations such as Sikkim, Darjeeling and Nepal, for their annual holiday trips.
It is truly mystifying why the DHI and the DrukAir and the RGoB are still unwilling to act - even after it is clear that the airline is all set to sink the country’s tourism business 10 ft. deep into the ground.

What exactly is the matter? I am beginning to wonder - something sinister is afoot! I mean even a kid of 10 years can understand that the surest way to sink oneself is by out-pricing oneself from the market. Why is the DrukAir doing it? And when one is operating as a near monopoly in a restricted market on whom depends a few hundred other institutions of commerce, it is evil that one should behave thus!
  1. The Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) is not doing anything;
  2. The Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) is not doing anything;
  3. The Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB) is not doing anything;
  4. The Handicrafts Association of Bhutan (HAB) is not doing anything;
  5. The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI) is not doing anything; and
  6. The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is not doing anything.
As a last resort, can we now appeal to the Parliament of Bhutan to do something about it?

Does the Parliament have the right to intervene when it is obvious that the country's economy is being desecrated by some irresponsible agency of the state?

Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Lambs Have Submitted

The KUENSEL has it on record that it is now all signed, sealed and delivered - on the 28th of September, 2023. As dictated, all the five political parties hoping to contest the upcoming 4th National Assembly Elections have submitted their party manifestos to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) - for scrutiny, appraisal and final approval. And, while the political parties await their instructions from the ECB as to what to say, how to say, and the final directions on how best they might put forward their shackled feet, the last of the 3rd Parliament’s final session is scheduled to begin today. But as they say in the comic books, the drama and theatre must go on.

Things are looking bleak: our political parties appear to be without any spines - not a squeak has been heard from them, in protest of the usurpation of their most fundamental rights. It is rather unsettling - if they are incapable of protecting their most basic rights, how can they convince us that they have it in them to protect ours?

Buckling under the burden of the Controller

From all indications, the voter turnout this time round is likely to hit rock bottom - resulting from a number of factors, such as large scale exodus of registered voters to third countries, relocation of voters from their homes to places of their current domicile, denial of the opportunity to cast Postal Ballots by the floating population and, finally, disillusionment in the democratic system and processes.

However, in truth, that is not really my worry. I mean, take a hard look at the landscape - scan the horizon - and you will find that democracy is still an unfamiliar term to the majority of the Bhutanese rural population who really matter - it is simply not within their scheme of things! For them the Kidu still flows from the Throne. It is only to a motley of people in Thimphu to whom democracy resembles something akin to a wiggling worm on the muddy floor.

To me what is unnerving is that we are steadily emerging as a race of people who speak things that we do not mean - we do things we are not supposed to do; we say we are a democracy but democratic institutions are the first ones to deny people the most basic of democratic rights. We say we are a GNH country, we say we are pristine, that we are beautiful, we say we are God-fearing and religious – but there is no indication that we are most of them, if any at all.

Those in the leadership positions are Dashos and not Dakshos – a self-serving bunch who routinely ignore the relationship between cause and effect.

Today the country is aspiring for a stratospheric rise in wealth acquisition and technological advancement and competence. Our Monarch has laid out a stupendous, bold dream - a once in a millennium plan to hit our proverbial High Note. A plan at this scale is likely to take few years before it can be brought to fruition. But while that is being overseen under the watchful eyes of the King, side-by-side, it is imperative that the people and the government of Bhutan project an image that permeates confidence, political stability, good governance, dependability, reliability, and trustworthiness. It will go a long way in winning over investors and supporters - to take a second look at what we say we have on offer for them. Words are so much hot air - actions matter!

But what do we do? We shove undemocratic requirements down the throats of the cowering political leaders! I am aghast that there is not a single person in the ECB with the creativity to think up something by which they can have their cake and eat it at the same time. Why does it have to be the gory, the unlawful, the unethical and the tyrannical?

Trust me, the international community are a hyper sensitive lot - they watch and take note of every one of our missteps. They will factor in all that - when they do their sums to decide whether or not, Bhutan is worth it! And, that is when such behaviors as those of the ECB is going to cost us dearly!

We have to be particularly sensitive in what we do at home - even more so when we are muddying the waters with the big boys in the international arena.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

March of Democracy

The Kingdom of Bhutan is one of the world’s five youngest democracies. That is not quite unusual in itself - what is unique about it is that unlike elsewhere in the world when democracy came into being caused by turmoil and conflict - at the cost of bloodshed and mayhem, our democracy came at a time when there was peace and tranquility. It was not the dissatisfied commoners but our ruling monarchy that willed it - borne of uncommon wisdom and realism. It was an act in self-preservation - to ensure that the state of Bhutan and the Bhutanese race remain in perpetuity - until end of time.

It was not expected that our democratic journey would be without hurdles – we are, after all, charting a new and untreaded path. What was unexpected is that the very organization that was instituted even before the start of democratization would attempt to derail a meticulously and patiently planned journey that began some 70 years earlier. Some of the recent announcements by the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) point to the possibility that we could jeopardize all that we have achieved in the past many decades.

It is sad - the ECB seems to lack persons with any institutional memory. Obviously they are unaware that they were among the first 4-5 institutions that were specifically established to usher in, and promote, democratic norms - by His Majesty the IVth King when He lifted the ban on formation of political parties, and set into motion the process of political reforms, in the early 2000s. The other institutions that were set up at the cusp of the cross-over from absolute to democratic constitutional monarchy, and introduction of rule by popular vote, were:

Office of the Attorney General                         - 1999
National Judicial Commission                         - 2001
Anti-Corruption Commission                         - 2006
Druk Holding & Investment Limited (DHI) - 2007

For the past seventy (70) years our monarchs have been methodically and patiently planning the devolution of rule to a system of governance - based on the will of the people. The ECB seems clueless about this and, in their ignorance they seem to act in tangent to the very unique endeavors of our successive monarchs.

In less than a year since His crowning in 1952, His Majesty the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck established the National Assembly of Bhutan - in the year 1953. With the creation of that democratic institution, Bhutanese people’s march towards democracy was set into motion - by the father of modern Bhutan.

His Majesty Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck - father of modern Bhutan started the democratization process in 1953.

In 1968 His Majesty the IIIrd Druk Gyalpo voluntarily relinquished His veto right in the National Assembly. He went one step further by introducing a triennial Vote of Confidence in the King - something totally unique and unheard of in the world of absolute monarchies around the world.

In 1981, the IVth Druk Gyalpo introduced the decentralization policy - to enable active participation by the people - in the process of policy formulation and implementation.

To further decentralize governance and the decision making process, 1988/89 saw the appointment of four Zonal Administrators – one each in Chhukha (Zone I), Tsirang (Zone II), Gelephu (Zone III) and Yonphula (Zone IV).

In 1991, even greater decentralization was implemented. Block Development Committees were set up in all of the country’s Blocks. This allowed for direct participation by the people and greater autonomy in allocating financial resources for developmental projects - determined by the people. By allowing the people the right for self-determination, the culture of democratic process was slowly but surely being imbued in the psyche of the Bhutanese people.

In July 1998 His Majesty the IVth Druk Gyalpo issued a Royal edict devolving His executive powers, and stepping down as head of government. The Council of Ministers earlier appointed by Him was dissolved - to pave way for the democratic election of the Ministers by the Members of the National Assembly, elected by the people.

In June of 2007, the historic democratic elections were announced - scheduled for 24th March, 2008.

The meticulous and patient implementation of the many democratic processes described above amply demonstrate that our Kings have worked tirelessly and with commitment and patience, to bring about genuine reforms and political modernization for the preservation of the Bhutanese state and people.

It may not be too late to remind the ECB that they are digressing from their principal duty and function. The world has viewed the Bhutanese democratic process as something extraordinarily unique and exemplary. We have done the absolute right things in our long and laborious journey to arrive where we have. It would be catastrophic to allow it all to go asunder – we risk the danger of projecting an image that is inconsistent with our spoken and written words.

Monday, September 25, 2023

In Any Garb, Bhutanese are Bhutanese

While the autocrats inside the House of Democracy in the Happy Kingdom of Bhutan is driving the country’s five political parties bonkers with their undemocratic diktats, it appears that our UN Mission in the Big Apple has been driving a different breed of humanoids completely NUTS! - in the world’s most democratic nation.

The harangued neighbors of Bhutan's UN Mission in New York is now appealing to our Buddhist sense of compassion - to spare them the high decibal noise from a malfunctioning air conditioning unit that is making their life hell for them.

Saturday, September 23, 2023

A Hydropower Abundant Nation’s Angst

Just yesterday evening, sitting at the round table of my favorite restaurant Paday Bistro, I was seeking help from two friends - Lhakpa and Gyamtsho - to help me stock up on some barrels of kerosene fuel. Also to let me know where I could buy kerosene stoves.

One of them asked: “What for?”

I responded: “I get the sense that the freeze this winter could likely be more pronounced than in all of the earlier winters”.

“Why would you say so?”

“I fear we may suffer more acute shortage of electricity for lighting and heating - caused by quantum jump in domestic consumption of electricity”.

“You fear so? Then get a wood-fired Bukhari - we are a country with abundant wood”.

“But the place where I live does not provide for the use of Bukharis. In any event, managing Bukhari wood is a real pain in the nether regions, in addition to being environmentally destructive".

“Think of something else then - kerosene stoves could choke you to death with its noxious fumes”.

“Is there a difference - being dead with kerosene fumes or being frozen to death?”

It appears that my fears may be unfounded. This morning the KUENSEL carried the following report, which would indicate that the government is mindful of the impending problem. They hope to solve the problem, yet again, by importing electricity from India - this time even more than in the past - resulting in an additional import bill of Nu.6.00 billion:

Is it possible that we might consider curtailing consumption - instead of increasing imports?

I have been saying this for the past one and half decades: Why is it that a country that claims to be a net exporter of “clean” electricity has to import electricity from another country? Why do citizen’s need to line up for hours at the fuel kiosks - to purchase imported energy to cook and heat homes?

Why do we have to build hydropower projects that never get done - instead of building a damn dam across the Wangchhu - to store water during the summer months when there is excess water, to feed the idling projects downstream in Tala and Chhukha, during the winter months?

I have proposed this ten years back - read at the following:

What the dang hell is wrong with the Bhutanese people? Are we total dullards or what?

I suppose - like I jokingly told few friends a week or two back, that the government’s answer to the simplest of the citizen’s questions would be:

“Choe gii haa mego se”

“It is beyond your understanding”.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Sorting Out The Confusion: Is It Koch Bihari Or Is It Bhutanese?

Dear Mr. Goron,
Thank you for your prompt response to my mail. I was hoping that you might be able to help me - given that I am told you catalogued the coin collections of the late Mr. Nicholas Rhodes – considered among the top authorities on ancient Bhutanese coins. I am saddened to learn that your cataloguing work did not include his Bhutanese coins.

I needed a second opinion on the silver “Ma Tang” of late Mr. N. Rhodes, currently lodged at the SPINK, UK. Thus far, it was/is accepted that the silver “Ma Tang” is Bhutanese and, perhaps, even our earliest coinage. Then, a few days back, I unearthed a doctoral thesis paper by an Indian PhD student, submitted during 2015, part of which reads as follows:

The use of the term Ma-tang is interesting and may well be explained by looking at the coins themselves and in particular the full coin or half coin of Prana Narayan who ruled between 1633 and 1665. These as do the earlier rupees of Lakshmi Narayan have prominent letter “Ma” coin at the top right of the obverse legend. This letter although written in Bengali would have been easily recognized by the Bhutanese so that probably caused the coins to be referred to as “Ma-tang” or “Ma tam” as it is unlikely that they could have read any part of the legend.”

In the above, it is categorically implied that the coin is NOT Bhutanese. I disagree with him - but it is my believe that any, and all contrarian views, deserve a respectful consideration. Thus I wrote to Mr. S K Bose. Sadly I am not satisfied with his reply either - it appears that he did not find it necessary to study the matter with greater care. He writes:

“Thank you for your mail. The question of any discussion with Late N. Rhodes never arises as the coin photograph given by you relates to Harendranarayana (1783-1839 AD), whereas Prananarayana ruled Koch kingdom during 1633-1665 AD. Most of the silver tanka of Prananarayana bear a Bengali letter MA on the reverse of the coin wherein the name of the ruler is there.”

In the above Mr. S K Bose is categorical that the coin in question is that of Maharaja Prananarayana (1633-1665) of Koch Kingdom, and that the “Ma” on its reverse is Bengali.

Having looked at the coins of Maharaja Prananarayana of Cooch Bihar, I agree with Mr. Bose that some of Prananarayana’s coins are indeed inscribed with the Bengali alphabet “Ma” but other than the alphabet itself, everything else is totally different. Shown below is one of the coins of Prananarayana:

One of the Silver Tankas of Maharaja Prananarayan of Koch Kingdom with the Bengali alphabet "Ma" on top right of Reverse

I disagree with both the thesis writer and Mr. S. K. Bose. To me the alphabet “Ma” on the silver "Ma Tang" in the collection of late Mr. Rhodes is exactly how we Bhutanese write the alphabet - the Bengalese write it entirely differently. Further, they ignore the other even more prominent marking on the coin’s obverse - inside the Bengali alphabet “Cha” - the numeral “1” or “Chiig” in Bhutanese. There is simply not a shred of doubt that the numeral is Bhutanese, and not Bengali. Please see the following:

Silver "Ma Tang" - with unmistakably Bhutanese alphabet "Ma" on the Reverse and numeral "Chiig" on the Obverse

So, for me, I am totally in agreement with Mr. Rhodes - the silver “Ma Tang”, which in later years came to be called “Nyingtang Ghatikhap” by the Bhutanese, is beyond doubt - Bhutanese.

Bye and take care and, once again THANK YOU for your time and effort.

Monday, September 18, 2023

Century by Century

It was in the 8th decade (1970’s) of the 20th Century, that Bhutan imposed a BAN on commercial harvesting of timber. As of 1979, Bhutan prohibited the export of logs and unprocessed raw lumber - by private individuals and businesses. Every single cubic feet (cft.) of residual timber that was available in the possession of private timber logging operators and sawmill owners - post the BAN - was required to be bought up by a government entity called the EXPORT DIVISION, under the then Ministry of Trade, Industry & Forests.

Such drastic action from the Throne was necessitated as a result of wanton destruction that was being caused to the country’s forest stand - by unscrupulous Forestry officials of the RGoB, in cahoots with greedy timber merchants, coupled with both the legal and illegal cardamom growers in the South of the country.

The extent and scale of the problem was so huge, that:
  1. Along with the timber nationalization policy of 1979, the government was forced to put in place a complete ban on the movement of any form of lumber - during the night - in an attempt to control illegal felling and extraction of timber;
  2. Upon completion of the take-over exercise by the Export Division, to our consternation, it was discovered that the actual timber stock in the hands of the private operators was more than FIFTY TIMES in excess of what was projected by the Forestry Department to be in the possession of the timer traders/saw millers, based on the records of timber harvest permits issued by the Forestry Department.
  3. The volume of timber that needed to be moved to the exit points in the South of the country - in particular Phuentsholing - was so huge that we discovered that the COUNTRY DID NOT HAVE ENOUGH TRUCKS to be able to transport the timbers in time for their profitable sale to buyers.
  4. In order to be able to handle the transfer of timber from their locations in the Northern parts of the country to Phuentsholing while they were still in saleable condition, for the first and last time in the history of Bhutan, the government had to employ the riverine route - to move the bulk of the sawn lumber to Phuentsholing. In other words, we had to use the combined forces of the Haachu, Paachu and Thimchu rivers - to float the stock of lumber down to the Export Division’s timber stock yards located in Phuentsholing. The phenomenal financial disaster that ensued, fortunately, is not recorded in any official documents of the RGoB.
The country imported skilled timber floaters from Jammu & Kashmir in North India, to do the job.

Policy misadventure is nothing new to Bhutan - it is the most celebrated talent of the Bhutanese bureaucracy.

I do not believe that the timber nationalization policy of 1979 was an act in support of nature conservation - I believe that it was an act solely intended to combat large-scale corruption in the Forestry sector. Sadly what resulted was the forfeiture of a most dependable revenue source that, some knowledgeable people believe, could have out-performed the hydropower revenue.

Recent national level study reports reveal that despite close to half a century of banning commercial harvesting of timber in the country, our forest is actually poorer for it - amply proving the repeated point made by our forestry scientist Dr. Phuntsho Namgyel that overstocking forests with excessive trees can result in degradation of the quality of forests. He had made the point that selective thinning of the forest is actually critical for the healthy growth of the forest and many other life forms contained within it.

The government has recently announced that timber and timber products would contribute Nu.10.00 billion to the national exchequer. This means that the country is now all set to lift the BAN on the exploitation of the country’s rotting forests. This is DAMN GOOD!

We are now into a new Century - the 21st Century. A whole new breed of people are at the helm of things. But the question remains: has the bureaucracy evolved into a better specimen of human beings? Or will they, yet again, close to half a century later, instigate another BAN - through corruption, mismanagement and mindless shoddy work?