Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Emergence of the Idea of Paper Money for Bhutan

Every nanosecond, history is being made and remade and unmade, in some corners of the earth. The intention behind their making is not always premeditated – a good portion of them are accidental - pure chance and, at times, out of frustration. Ostensibly, one such history was played out in Paro – to be precise at Ugyen Wangchuck Academy in Satsam Chorten – possibly the earliest emergence of the idea of paper money for Bhutan, in place of the weighty and cumbersome cupro-nickel Tikchungs.

A verbal narration given to me by a friend goes like this:

Mr. Michael Rutland, currently the British Honorary Consul to Bhutan, joined Ugyen Wangchuck Academy in 1971 – as a Royal Tutor. He had to be paid monthly salary, which he believes was delivered to him on horse back - from Ugyen Pelri Palace in Paro. Her Majesty Queen Ashi Kesang Choeden Wangchuck wanted to make sure that Mr. Rutland got paid, and in time. Her Majesty instructed the late Finance Minister Lyonpo Chogyal to personally oversee the delivery of the salary – in the form of Tikchungs packed in cotton bags.

In keeping with Her Majesty’s orders, Lyonpo Chogyal ensured that the salary was delivered to Mr. Rutland in time and in the right amount. Not to say that they were any use to him – there was nothing that he could buy with them – even for a piece of cake he had to drive all the way to Swiss Bakery in Thimphu.

One evening Mr. Rutland met Lyonpo Chogyal at a dinner and he had the opportunity to thank him personally for delivering his salary in time. Lyonpo Choyal wished that there was a simpler way to deliver the salary - he wished that he could issue a written document signed and sealed by him to Mr. Rutland, and he could use it to purchase whatever he wanted. The conversation resulted in Mr. Rutland pulling out a British Pound bank note and showing it to Lyonpo and telling him that back home in England – they used paper money to pay for services and everything else. They were light and available in various denominations.

Although not educated in western education and their monetary system – the profundity of such a concept did not escape the old man Chogyal. The idea stuck with him and he began to ponder over the possibility of introducing Bhutanese paper money. Eventually, while it is not clear if he was responsible for the happenstance – Bhutan’s paper money got printed and issued, for the first time, in 1974.

Bhutan's earliest bank notes released in 1974

Lyonpo Chogyal is no longer alive but Mr. Michael Rutland is still around. I had the occasion to ascertain the veracity of the oral account as narrated above. He confirms that the account is accurate - to the last word.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

I Think I Finally Nailed It!

For the past over one year, I have been trying and trying and trying, to improve my coin photography. I wasn't getting it - however hard I tried. Unbalanced lighting, ghosting, uneven sharpness, reflection and shadows caused me misery. I was not at all satisfied by what I produced. But I am not one to give up - I aim for perfection.

Then a few days back - I nailed it! Take a look at the following three sets of coins and you know what I mean.

The coin set at the top and middle are Bhutanese Maartams - hammered between 1790 and 1910. The coin set at the bottom is Tibetan Sho Gung - minted during the 1st Year of 16th Rabjung (Fire Rabbit Year: 1927).

As you can see, there are no shadows, the sharpness is spot on and the color is vibrant! Goes to show - if you keep trying, you will eventually get it. Never give up!


Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Aliens Did Not Do It

Garbage is ugly – it is dirty and it stinks. Regardless it is not the aliens from outer space that generate them – it is us who do. Thus, it should be us who should take on the responsibility to dispose off the garbage safely, securely and in a way that it does not harm the natural world around us. But we won’t – because we reason that there are some agencies and organizations that are charged with the responsibility of managing the garbage – and they are paid for the job and they draw sustenance in the name of managing garbage. The truth though is that garbage should be everybody’s responsibility. If the people who are charged with the responsibility fail to do their job, we should not fail in fulfilling our duty - as responsible citizens.

The case of the two piles of garbage by the wayside in Dechenchholing area is a case in point. For close to two months, I noticed that there were two huge piles of garbage dumped by the roadside – on two separate locations – on the road leading to Dechenphu Lhakhang. For a while I believed that they would be disposed off by the people and agencies responsible – but at the end of nearly two months, they remained where they were – unmoved, unattended and threatening to be gnawed open by the rummaging stray dogs.

Monks, religious aficionados on their way to Dechenphu Lhakhang, archers and fitness freaks and even romancing couples pass that road on a daily basis ... and yet the two piles of garbage remained unattended to. Finally I realized that no one was going to be bothered about the unsightly piles – neither the garbage collectors nor the pseudo environmentalists. I decided that I would have to do the job myself. Over two evenings, with the help of a DeSuup, I broke up the three huge piles of garbage into manageable sizes and carried them in my car, to be deposited at the garbage drop off points.

The piles of garbage on the way to Dechenphu Lhakhang as photographed on July 7, 2021

On July 11, 2021 I managed to carry away 2 of the 3 piles of garbage. I could not manage all three because they needed to be broken up into manageable bundles so that they fit into my car

By the evening of July 12, 2021, all the three unsightly garbage piles were removed and the area looked green and clean

Let us not be hoity-toity about handling garbage – we created them – we have to be responsible for their safe and proper disposal.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Lonely But Busy As Hell

Rotary Club of Thimphu is the lone Rotary Club in Bhutan. It was chartered in 2012 under the aegis of the DPT government. Since then, the Club has never looked back.

We may be lonely, but certainly we are among the world’s busiest Rotary Clubs - even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, including seven projects that are currently in the pipeline, the Rotary Club of Thimphu has completed 91 community service projects, valued at over Nu.140.00 million.

While a large section of the Bhutanese population has been rendered jobless and hapless, the Club officials at the Rotary Club of Thimphu have been running helter-skelter – handing over projects and delivering project equipment. In the middle of the raging pandemic, we are proud to have have been able to deliver the following:

21st October, 2020

The following photo is from the Club’s archives – it shows the Club's Past President Rtn. Dr. Lam Dorji and Foundation Chair Rtn. Tshering Choki handing over the donation of a 30 Kgs. per charge capacity medical waste incinerator to the officials of the Ministry of Health. This is the first of three units being donated by the Club to the Ministry of Health. This unit was destined to be installed at Memelakha, for use by the JDWNRH, Thimphu.

First of the three units of medical waste incinerators being handed over to the Health Ministry officials

July 6, 2021:

Handed over a 100 Kgs. per charge capacity medical incinerator to Paro Dzongkhag Health officials, including Dzongkhag authorities. This is the second of the three medical waste incinerators that our Club is donating to the Health sector – to combat COVID-19 pandemic. This one is due to be installed at Paro.

Second of the three units - this one a 100 Kgs per charge capacity medical waste incinerator - being handed over to the Health and Dzongkhag officials of Paro Dzongkhag.

July 7, 2021:

Handed over another 30Kgs capacity medical waste incinerator to the Ministry of Health – represented by Ms. Pem Zam, Infection Control Program Officer, MoH. This is the last of the total three medical waste incinerators that our Club is donating to the Health sector – to combat COVID-19 pandemic. This unit is destined for Nanglam Government Hospital. With the handing over of this unit, the Rotary Club of Thimphu completes its Medical Waste Incinerator Project with the Ministry of Health – valued at a total of Nu.6.5 millions.

Last of the three units of medical waste incinerator being handed over to the Health Ministry official - this one is destined to be installed in Nanglam, Eastern Bhutan.

July 8, 2021:

One of the Club’s principal areas of focus is agriculture production. In line with this area of focus, we handed over the completed construction of a mushroom incubation and harvesting shed - measuring 60’ in length and costing Nu.583,000.00. The project was handed over to the group leader of a women farmer group in Phangyul village, Wangduephodrang. The funding for this came from a private donor and Rotary Club of Brooklyn Bridge, USA.

A 60' long mushroom incubating and growing shed being handed over to the farmer group leader accompanied by local government officials and Agriculture sector representative.

July 8, 2021:

The same day before the above handing over ceremony, the Club officials visited a very remote school in Punakha called Lakhu Primary School. The school wanted one additional water filter – we had already donated one earlier. After the visit it was ascertained that they really do not need the additional filter since the student enrolment is less than a hundred. The matter will be discussed further among Club Members to see if it would be more meaningful to support them with installation of electricity in their bathrooms that are currently without electricity.

Water filter that was supplied sometime back by the Rotary Club of Thimphu - working very well at Lakhu Primary School, Punakha

July 9, 2021:

The last in the series of project implementations for this month, we handed over a 12,000 lts. per day capacity SkyHydrant water filter to Dechenchholing Higher Secondary School in Thimphu. Dechenchholing HSS has the country’s largest number of students – totaling close to 2,000 including teaching and support staff. This is part of our Club’s ongoing project valued at AUS$1.00 million – to supply safe drinking water to Bhutan’s largest educational institutions - in collaboration with Disaster Aid Australia. Installation of all the promised 120 filters will be completed this September – the last of the 23 units are in stock with us - awaiting installation. The progress of installations have been rather slow due to limitations placed by the pandemic.

The Past Presidnet Dr. Lam Dorji handing over the SkyHydrant water filter to the Vice Principal of Dechenchholing HSS

There is no respite - in the coming weeks, I start work on a funding proposal for a agriculture project in Chhukha Dzongkhag, followed by a number of COVID-19 related projects to help the government contain the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saturday, June 26, 2021

Dismantling Evil

Achieving success is dependent on a great number of factors all coming together: financial muscle, human resource, dedication, hard work, perseverance, commitment, experience, knowledge and wisdom. And yet, even if you do have all that at your command, there is every chance of failure.

On the other hand, dismantling a great evil requires nothing much – only courage and willingness to perform ones duty and obligation. If we are able to dismantle evil, good will definitely prevail – there is no chance of failure.

This is what I said in one of my earlier articles on this Blog – that since achieving greatness seems a remote possibility given what we are, let us shift gear and work at dismantling evil that is hindering progress and growth. We have gotten into the bad habit of missing the forest for the trees.

The above is what I wrote on this Blog on June 4, 2021.

Given our limitations, it is not easy to achieve great things – but certainly dismantling evil is doable – it does not take money – it takes guts and a sense of commitment. And that is what the DNT has done – dismantled an evil the consequence of which not many seems to have understood. The lifting of ban on the sale of tobacco products is a move that is most welcome, and very sensible.

There are no dearth of weirdos who will ague that smoking is against our religion – ask them how and why – they have no answers – at most they will give you equally weird justifications. Some will argue that it costs the nation – in terms of health care. But they fail to understand that even boozers get free health care in Bhutan.

The ban on tobacco should have never happened. It happened and it has caused all sorts of problems. Sadly it was the government that I supported who imposed it. Historically bans and prohibitions have caused bigger problems than it has solved. American history is rife with tragedies related to the prohibition in the early 1900’s. I hope future governments will remember this.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

India On The Road To Success!

Finally things seem to be falling into place for India – in its efforts at vaccinating its citizens against the COVID-19. India’s success is good news for Bhutan – on many fronts.

I have been truly encouraged by the falling numbers in new cases in India. Their figures for the past one week have been as follows:

22nd June, 2021 54,393

21st June, 2021 39,096

20th June, 2021 53,009

19th June, 2021 58,588

18th June, 2021 60,800

17th June, 2021 62,409

16th June, 2021 67,294

One can see that the number of new cases has consistently fallen every day for the past one week. If this keeps up, Bhutan should see some respite soon enough. There is no reason why India should not succeed. They have all the resources at their disposal. And now the political will seems to be in place too.

Here is wishing India and the Indian people the VERY BEST OF SUCCESS.

Friday, June 18, 2021

The Amazing Institution Called Rotary

The Rotary Year 2020-2021 is about to end. And our Club is thanked for our contribution to humanity. Every year a number of Club Members of the Rotary Club of Thimphu make personal contribution to the Rotary International’s World Fund. This year too we did our part – most of our Members donated personal money for the cause of the Rotary.  Ofcourse what we contributed is not even one thousandth of what the Rotary community contributed to Bhutan. But it is about leaving our footprint – which we have never failed to do, year after year.

Although the above Thank You Note is addressed to me personally, in reality the Club is being thanked. My name appears since in my capacity as its Secretary, I am the primary contact for The Rotary Foundation (TRF)

This Rotary year, the global community of Rotarians has helped do humanitarian projects worth US$139.00 million across the glob. You can imagine – if the Rotary Foundation can do so much in a pandemic year, how much would have been done during normal times.

It is an amazing institution made up of amazing people with equally amazing spirit of giving.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Rotary Club of Thimphu is Honored

Few months back, an independent international consultant contacted me with a request to contribute a write up, on what we at the Rotary Club of Thimphu, considered our most meaningful community service project. The article was sought for inclusion in the Rotary International magazine. Two things were to be understood clearly:

1.  The project I choose should not be one funded with funding from the Rotary Foundation

2.  It is not necessary that the project and the write-up I submit will feature in the Rotary magazine since the project and the write-up would be assessed at the global level – among over 35,000 Rotary Clubs worldwide, made up of over 1.2 million Rotary members.

I chose our 3-years signature project – “BHUTAN2020” that was launched in 2018 and which will be concluded this September.

Under this project valued at AS$ 1.00 million, the Rotary Club of Thimphu with support from Disaster Aid Australia (DAA), would deliver 120 patented SkyHydrant water filters to 120 of Bhutan’s largest schools.

If it were not for the pandemic, we would have successfully concluded the project last month itself – two months ahead of schedule. The fact that the Rotary International featured our project on their magazine, in preference to million other endeavors, means that we did well.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

The Lockdown Can Wait

Thimphu’s THIRD LOCKDOWN when it was announced 3 days back was abrupt and instantaneous, and without warning. Considered from the point of prudence, it was spot on.

Even as the lockdown was being announced of which I was clueless, I was driving down to town to make some purchases. When I reached a certain outlet, the place was jam-packed with shoppers. I refused to enter. I moved back to Motithang to do my purchases at the regular store where I generally do my shopping. That store was also jam-packed. It dawned on me that something was not quite right.

I was told a LOCKDOWN had just been announced – effective 6.00PM. It was few minutes past 6.00PM.

Through the door, I told the store owner that I am not entering his shop. I requested him to deliver what I wanted - at home. I rattled off the items I wanted ---- he agreed.

Hours later I got a call from the storeowner informing me that he would soon deliver my order. I said no thank you – it is not necessary. I do not want them.

The reason: I did not want him to bring the virus into my home. I feared that if there were any undetected active cases in the community, he would surely have picked it up – given the massive throng in his store.

The lockdown was good and necessary …. I would call for it again and again. But the way it is to be implemented needs serious pondering.

I am told that people were stranded on the road for hours. A number of vehicle accidents were reported.

The reason: Upon hearing of the lockdown, people did not heed the call for lockdown – instead they rushed out to stock up. They choked up the traffic, they jammed up the shops – so bad that some shop owners voluntarily downed shutters, because they could not handle the crowd.

The result of all these was that the rule of physical distancing was ignored. People compromised their safety – if there are undetected active cases in the community, you can guess the outcome of this mindlessness:

Our FOURTH LOCKDOWN …. very, very soon.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Greening The Dustbowl

 Someone had said it quite accurately:

“If nature and the environs contained within it are to have a chance, the human race has to go extinct.”

The good news is that nature and the environment is destined to survive because at the rate we are going and the direction towards which the human race is headed, its extinction is assured.

Even as we speak of lofty ideals and achievements such as GNH and position our country as a nation with negative CO2 emission, our forest cover is shrinking and our mountainsides bear ugly scars of digging and wanton destruction.

Recently I was made aware of an initiative by a voluntary group called the "Bhutan Forest Restoration" headed by Sonam Gyeltshen, at the Kuenselphodrang – to restock the mountainside with trees, through planting tree saplings. It is an encouraging effort that will perhaps contribute to the greening of the capital city that has now been turned into a dustbowl. How bad the situation is can be determined every morning when you notice that your car’s body is swathed in a thin layer of fine dust. It is clear what we are all breathing, all day long.

Thousands of tree saplings are being planned to be planted on the mountainside of Kuenselphodrang. I am not sure how successfully they will follow through the plan. Nonetheless I am encouraged that we are, for once, putting our money where our mouth is. Thus, I decided to contribute one Stihl earth auger to help speed up the digging of holes for the saplings.

On an average it was recorded that the STIHL auger dug more than 3 sapling holes per minute during its maiden test run this morning. More than a thousand saplings have been planted by the day's afternoon today at Kuenselphodrang.

I am not a rich man that I can afford to donate equipment worth close to Nu.70,000.00. The truth is that a seriously generous person offered me Nu.50,000.00 as Semso - upon the demise of my late dad. Of that money, I donated Nu.15,000.00 to pay for the tuition fee of a young girl of Class 10 in Punakha. So now the balance Nu.35,000.00 is being surrendered for the sake of our natural environment – by partially covering the cost of the Auger, that will help restore back to nature, trees that we robbed from it. I will find the balance money, somehow.

I believe that this is more meaningful and practical - than offering the Semso to some sleazy lama or a temple somewhere. It is my belief that God has no need for houses or roads, or that he would be found going hungry.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

The Reason And The Tradition Behind The Observance Of Holiday On The First Day of Snow

Currently I am chasing the truth on when exactly coining began in Bhutan. Some say 1790 - others say something else. I am now even confused about the term “Matang”. I was dead set on calling it “Maartang” with the belief that the word is an amalgamation of two separate words: “Maar” = Red …. “Tang” = coin. But now I find that would be completely wrong – because the term “Matang” was used even before the time of Zhabdrung. There was no red colored coins then.

To add to my confusion, another very rarely used term popped up: Nyingtang Gatikha. This is said to be a silver coin hammered in a mint in a place called Gatikha.

So I began to hunt for anything related to Nyingtang Gatikha. My search has so far yielded noting, except that Nyingtang is a Bhutanese term meaning “old coin”. But all has not been in vain. While not related to Nyingtang Gatikha, I stumbled on to something that perhaps very few Bhutanese would know about:

The reason and the tradition behind the observance of holiday on the first day of snow.

The oral account of the source attributes the tradition to His Majesty King Jigme Wangchuck, the Drukgyal Nyipa. It started in Domkhar Palace in Bumthang. Domkhar Palace was supposedly constructed as a honeymoon Palace for His Majesty Jigme Wangchuck and his queen Her Majesty Phuntsho Choeden.

His Majesty Jigme Wangchuck used to spend his summer months in Domkhar and Wangdichhoeling Palaces. Winter months were spent in Trongsa Dzong, Thruepang Palace, but mostly in Kuenga Rabten Palace.

After the first day of the arrival of snow in Domkhar, His Majesty King Jigme Wangchuck would serve a grand feast to all the Boegarps and Zingarbs and the Chaangarps serving at the Dzong. He would then announce that from next day they could go home for a break.

With the arrival of snow in Domkhar, His Majesty would then move to his summer residences – Trongsa Dzong, Thruepang Palace and Kuengarabten Palace. Thruepang Palace was built to accommodate Her Majesty Queen Phuntsho Choeden who was not allowed dwellings inside the Trongsa Dzong. When His Majesty desired the company of his queens, he would either visit Thruepang Palace or Samchoeling Palace where his second queen, Her Majesty Ashi Pema Dechen resided.

The above historical account was narrated to Lam Kezang Chhoephel of APIC, by the late Sonam Wangdi of Koortoe Jarey who served in the courts of both the 1st and the 2nd Kings. He was a member of the inner circle of the 2nd King – known as Nungsheb. He began as a Tohze at the age of 13, to fill-in for his deceased father who also served as a Chaangarp at the court of the first king.

His Majesty the third king was born in Thruepang Palace.

In keeping with tradition, on the seventh day of his birth, the child prince Jigme Dorji Wangchuck had to be taken outside in the open air. The most trustworthy, virtuous and providential person was chosen to carry the child prince.

Sonam Wangdi was chosen for the honor. In appreciation for that act, Her Majesty Phuntsho Choden would gift Sonam Wangdi two woven Thermai Gho and Nu.3,000.00 every year, until his death in 1980.

Sonam Wangdi was also a member of the retinue of over 300 who accompanied Trongsa Poenlop Ugyen Wangchuck during his visit to India in 1906. Of the number of places the entourage visited in India, Sonam Wangdi recalled visiting the Gatikha mint. In his words, Sonam Wangdi described the sound of minting, thus:

Graap …. Tsing …. Graap …. Tsing …. Graap …. Tsing…. Graap …. Tsing…. !!

It is amazing that Gatikha Mint was still operational in 1906. I will need to cross check this. The sound “Graap …. Tsing” appears to describe the minting of coin on a mechanized coin press, and not the sound of hammering. The sound “Graap” would denote the sound of pressing the planchet and “Tsing” would be the sound of the finished coin hitting the ground or on to a pile of coins inside a holding ampule.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Making Up For Nature's Occasional Quirks

Achieving success is dependent on a great number of factors all coming together: financial muscle, human resource, dedication, hard work, perseverance, commitment, experience, knowledge and wisdom. And yet, even if you do have all that at your command, there is every chance of failure.

On the other hand, dismantling a great evil requires nothing much – only courage and willingness to perform ones duty and obligation. If we are able to dismantle evil, good will definitely prevail – there is no chance of failure.

This is what I said in one of my earlier articles on this Blog – that since achieving greatness seems a remote possibility given what we are, let us shift gear and work at dismantling evil that is hindering progress and growth. We have gotten into the bad habit of missing the forest for the trees.

All these thoughts came flooding back into my mind when I stopped by the following display board erected at Dochu-La, yeserday afternoon on my way back from visiting a project site in Wangduephodrang:

The huge display board at Dochu-La. A collaborative work between the TCB and the Rotary Club of Thimphu. The display board depicts all the peaks of the Eastern Himalayan mountain range that can be viewed from Dochu-La on a clear day.

A close-up of the Display Board containing full information depicted on it. More than two years since its installation, I am glad to note that the board has not faded, mainly because of the media used in its printing.

There is no denying that Dochu-La is the most visited tourist site in Bhutan – more than 95% of all tourists visiting Bhutan drive up to Dochu-La pass. By contrast, the much-touted Taktsang provably does not get even 20% of the tourists, given its location.

Visitors drive up to Dochu-La with only one purpose in mind – to view the great expanse of the snow-capped Eastern Himalayan mountain range. Unfortunately, most of the time clouds that blanket the mountain range block the view. It is painful to see the look of disappointment on the faces of the tourists. Although every body must accept that nothing is certain in nature, it is incumbent upon us, the hosts, to try and make up, if we can, for nature’s occasional quirks. Thus I requested the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) to install a large display board depicting the full mountain range that can be viewed from Dochu-La, on a clear day. I offered to provide the necessary photograph - free of cost, including the supervision of the printing of the image, and construction and installation of the board. They agreed and thus the huge display board came up - as it stands now - so that on days when the mountain range is not visible, the visitors can walk over to the display board and see the view that they missed.

Now, hopefully, the visitors will moan: Awwwww ---- we missed it!! Instead of cursing: Awwwww ---- what a waste of time!!

Let us learn humility in doing small things, which we can - so that big things, which we are unable to, could fall into place.

One small but meaningful dismantling has been the removal of the Immigration gate at Hongtsu. I have been going hoarse asking for its removal because it was stupid to harass the tourists going up to Dochu-La to stop and make entry at the gate. After all, Dochu-La is within the same Thimphu Dzongkhag. Incredible as it may sound, it has taken many decades for the decision makers to see the folly of their decision - but I see that the gate has finally been removed.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Life’s Journeys And Its Rewards

People ask me: 5 years, 60 months and 1,825 days of having worked for the Rotary, what do you have to show for it. I dare say, many, many things – of which two are my crowning glories. One is that I have tirelessly worked to give back to society from which I have taken. I believe that I can live with myself in peace in the knowledge that I have had the opportunity, and took it, to pay my dues to society, in full. The other is the heartwarming acknowledgement, such as one of the following:


28 May 2021, 07:30 (4 days ago)

Hi Yeshey

The truth is when you move on from Rotary, you are leaving Bhutan and the world a better place.

The WASH Forum, your words, the words of Kaloy Manlupig from the Philippines, confirmed to me I have done the same.

My journey with Rotary is also coming to an end, I turned 74 this year (at 67, Yeshey you are still young), originally, like you I was going to resign at the end of this Rotary year. Since attending the Wash Forum I have decided to give Rotary one more year, the work you and your Club have done in Bhutan, what Kaloy has done in the Philippines, they are great stories and they need to be told and shared, they are the stories that will attract new members to Rotary, so for the next Rotary year, that will be my farewell gift to Rotary.

I may ask you from time to time when you are available to share your story by Zoom.

It is my intention once Covid19 is put to rest, to do a farewell tour to thank all the great people I have had the privilege to know and work with on my journey, you and Bhutan are on that list.

Please stay in contact and when your books are published, please accept this email as my order for an autographed copy of each.

Thank you Yeshey.

Looking forward to that day when we meet again.

Best regards



I exit the Rotary at the end of this month. The institution of Rotary is like no other. This is an organization where the more you give even more you receive. But certainly I can say with confidence that if you have nothing to give, this organization is not for you.

Nine years back while I was photographing birds in the wilderness of Sengore and Yongkala, someone had nominated me as a member of a new Rotary Club that was being established in Bhutan by the erstwhile DPT government. To this day I am clueless as to who that person was. Whoever he or she was, I thank the person for giving me the opportunity to serve. I also thank the DPT and its leadership for their service and surrender and self-sacrifice. The Rotary Club of Thimphu is their gift to the nation and the people of Bhutan. And the Club did not disappoint - it has delivered community service projects in excess of Ngultrums one hundred and thirty million - in the last 9 years since its establishment. Additionally, Nu.25.00 million worth of projects (7 of them) are in the pipeline.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Bhutan’s Early History: Separating Fact From Myth - VI

Coining Journey of Bhutan: Setting the Record Right

In a doctoral dissertation submitted by one Mrs. Smriti Das, it is recorded that Gongzim Ugyen Dorji, on behalf of the Royal Government of Bhutan, wrote two letters to the Political Officer of British India Government in Sikkim: one on August 10, 1909 and another on September 18, 1909. The letters requested the British Indian Government for an increase in their annual subsidy to Bhutan, on the grounds that the Indian government was making lot more profit from Bhutan’s Duars, than the subsidy of Rs.50,000.00 they were paying Bhutan annually.

Of interest to me is the second letter which, in addition to seeking an increase in the annual subsidy, goes on to categorically mention something in the tone of:

“…. to allow Bhutan to mint coins in the British mint in Calcutta – free of charge, and that necessary silver would be provided by the Bhutanese state.”

During the entire reign of Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck, no machine-milled coins were ever issued. Only in 1928 during the reign of his son the 2nd Druk Gyalpo, our first milled silver Thalas appeared. Thus, it is clear that the British India Government had not agreed to mint our silver coins in their mint in Calcutta.

However, sometime in 1910 and thereafter, there appeared few beautifully hammered coins engraved entirely with Bhutanese motifs. After this period, Koch alphabets ceased to appear on our coins. Right from the beginning of our coinage until towards the later part of 1800’s, our coins were hammered with Koch alphabets. All that changed during the time of Choetse Poenlop Jigme Namgyel. He can be credited for introducing Bhutanese motifs in the design of our coins - perhaps during 1870's.

It is now clear that the first machine cut coin dies were indeed supplied by the Government of India mint in Calcutta, sometime in and around 1910, as requested. But it is also clear that the coins of that period was not minted in any modern minting facility, as assumed by some. Looking at the coins of that period: 1910 – 1927, it is evident that the coins would have been continued to be manually hammered, but using the machine cut dies.

The following are most likely two of the coins that would have been hammered from the dies requested for in the letter of Gongzim Ugyen Dorji dated 18th September, 1909:

As can be seen, the detailing is precise and uniform, and the quality of engraving is uncluttered – far, far superior to anything that can be achieved from hand-cut dies. However, the coins are neither reeded nor rimmed - and it is clear that they have been hand-trimmed and perhaps even filed, after they were struck. Generally it is noticed that a large majority of the machine-milled coins of the world are reeded and has a raised rim. A coin’s rim is the up-raised flat part of the coin that completely encircles the perimeter on the front and back of the coin. The thin space that runs around the circumference of the coin is referred to as the edge of the coin. The edge is most often reeded and runs around the entire circumference of the coin. For an example take a look at our Thala which has a rim as well as a reeded edge:

On the other hand our Zangtrum is unreeded and has a plain edge. But it has a raised rim:

In his article "Coinage of Bhutan", Nicholas G. Rhodes wrote:

‘In 1906, Ugyen Wangchuck, accompanied by about three hundred retainers, travelled to Calcutta, where he visited many places of interest, including the Mint. He took a lively interest in everything he saw, and returned to Bhutan with many ideas for the development of the country. In particular, he must have considered the possibility of improving the standard of the coinage, and in 1909, Gongzim Ugyen Dorji, presumably on the King’s instructions, asked the Government of India for permission to have a Bhutanese coin die prepared in Calcutta. The request was agreed to, and the Calcutta mint was instructed to supply dies from a design supplied from Bhutan'.

This is yet another proof that our coins of 1910 and thereafter were struck from machine engraved coin dies.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

A Most Rare Find!

When one is passionate and dogged in the pursuit of one’s aspirations, it appears that things will eventually fall into place. In trying to put together a book on the coining journey of Bhutan, I have been through thousands of hours of search and research. Thankfully, not all of them have been in vain – in fact some of them have been providential – as if it were preordained. I have stumbled on the most unexpected encounters and discoveries - as if some unseen hand was guiding them my way.

There are many hundreds - perhaps even thousands of coins that are still missing from my collection. But it is not my endeavor to get them all – it is impossible. I just want to be able to include as many verities as possible.

Coins are one thing – but dies are another. They are even more rare and extremely difficult to come by, if at all. Through the writings of a coin historian, I managed to track down and photograph half a die – a reverse die or the hammer die – belonging to Desi Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyel. What I needed was a complete set of dies – both the obverse, as well as the reverse dies - to go into the book so that readers can get to see how coin dies look.

Few months’ back, I came by the information of the existence of a set of coin dies with someone not far from Thimphu. Even more fortuitous, the brother of the person in whose possession the dies were supposed to be happened to be a long time friend of mine. After doggedly chasing the friend for months to introduce me to his brother, he finally relented and, subsequently, yesterday I managed to photograph the set of dies that are presented in the following. I am clueless as to whom the dies belong to - the current owner of the dies do not either. The only thing I can tell you without hesitation is that the die is a fine work of art – the engraving is so exquisite that it is unbelievable that the dies were hand cut during late 1700’s or early 1800’s. It is in mint condition, as you can see below:

A set of 2 coin dies: The hammer die and the anvil die, accompanied by a gold-washed Maartrum. The complex cascading of colors in the background is provided by the myriad of hues of the dharshings (colored prayer flags) that stand guard over the Chorten in front of the Dechenphodrang Lhakhang in Thimphu.

As is clearly evident, the hammer die has seen many thousands of hammerings – the severely battered butt end of the punch is proof of it. But amazingly the die’s faces are in mint condition – there are no signs of any wear or tear on them.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Bodeful Times

Once again the annual Cordyceps collection season is here. Although so far no COVID-19 cases have been reported from the villages that engage in the annual harvests, we still need to be vigilant.

I do not know if it is a cause for worry – but I am a little unnerved by a sudden and overwhelming interest in, of all things, silver coins! In recent times, the whole country is abuzz with talk of Betangs – or more accurately – Boetrums. These are Tibetan silver coins that are most often confused for ours – even by the National Museum in Paro. I prefer to call them by the name “Boetrum” which is a combination of two words:

Boe    = Tibet

Trum = Coin

These coins are also known by other names, depending upon their period of coinage, such as: Tangka, Kong-par Tangka, Gaden Tangka, Srang etc. They look like these:

Something is fueling demand for these coins. Amazingly it appears that the entire country is being combed for these coins. Even a villager in one of the remote villages in Tangmachhu, Lhuentse tells me that the entire village is aware of the hunt for these coins. In Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Wangdue, everybody seems to be talking about the demand for these coins. Someone from Taang in Bumthang asked me about the matter.

Some have opined that there is a newfound demand for them in China or Tibet China – I am not sure which. Regardless of whether the persons seeking to buy these coins are Bhutanese or non-Bhutanese, I would still be worried – because I wouldn’t be surprised if our northern borders end up being used as the exit points for these coins.

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Bhutan’s Early History: Separating Fact From Myth – V

Coining Journey Of Bhutan: Setting the Record Right

Few days back I met up with Ms. Pema Choden Wangchuk – Curator at the Royal Textile Academy. I had gone to deliver some images that she had lost when the Academy’s server crashed. The images were from my assignment with them that resulted in the editing and production of their catalogue titled 'THAGZO: Textile Weaves of Bhutan'. In the course of our conversations, I gave her following advise, since she loves research work:

“Don’t trust even the primary sources because they too cannot be trusted to give you the truth all the time. In the course of my research, I have come across primary sources who would rather further their own agenda, than give out the truth. It is important that we cross-check every fact, revalidate every narrative”.

But it turns out that I had failed to practice what I preached. Just a few days back I found out that I have myself been a casualty of faulty history that I had failed to recheck and revalidate.

For years I have been bewildered with something that remained inexplicable – related to our earliest milled coins. Bhutan’s record keeping culture is so poor that there is not much information that can be had within the country. Thus we end up having to glean through outside records, to learn of events that happened inside the country. Not to say that outside sources are without faults.

Going by the information circulating among the community of world numismatists, it is recorded that for the first time ever, Bhutan issued our earliest milled coins in 1928 – all three of them - in the year of the Earth-Dragon (Sa Druk Lo):

One Silver Thala

Two sizes of Bronze coins called Zangtrums

It was noticed that there was a problem with the obverse of the silver Thala – the word ‘Druk’ was rendered wrongly - as follows:

The word should have been engraved as follows:

However, for me what was baffling was this:

Why were the two Zangtrum coins flawless, while the silver Thala was flawed? How does this happen? Particularly when it was the same engraver (A P Spencer) who engraved the coins' dies, minted in the same mint (India government mint, Calcutta), and struck at the same time and year of mintage (1928)?

For years I was dumb founded - something was amiss. It is simply impossible that the same engraver could have produced two differently rendered dies of the exact same obverse, in the same year. There has to be an explanation to this oddity.

And there indeed was an explanation – provided by Charles K. Panish, an American coin expert on South Asian coins. In his article titled ‘Early Coinage of Bhutan’ which I recently came across, he writes as follows:

In 1928 Bhutan initiated plans for a reformed national currency, which was tied to the Indian rupee. The first issue of this coinage was in 1929 when 20,000 gyatam or silver half-rupees were minted at Calcutta for Bhutan. These weighed 5.83 grams and were .917 fine, matching exactly the Indian half-rupee. These coins were dated in the Tibetan calendar "earth-dragon year" corresponding to A.D. 1928. The next year 30,000 more of these coins were issued without a change in date. In 1931 a second denomination appeared. This was the zangtong or copper pice, of which 10,000 were minted at Calcutta. These pice also were dated in the "earth-dragon year."

NOTE: In the above, ‘gyatam’ would be Jatrum and ‘zangtong’ would be Zangtrum.

Finally the mystery was cleared for me. It turns out that the Zantrums were NOT minted in 1928 as recorded elsewhere, but in the year 1931. Thus it is now acceptable to me that the obverse of the silver Thala of 1928 and Bronze Zangtrums of 1931 are NOT, and, NEED NOT be the same!

Obviously the mint in Calcutta used the obverse die of 1929 to strike the Zangtrums of 1931. The date of mintage – Sa Druk Lo is ofcourse wrong – but these wrongs have continued to be committed in all of the coins from 1929, 1931, 1950, 1951, 1954 and all the way to the most recent Thalas. You may notice that all the cupronickel Thalas have the year marked as Chaag Taag Lo on the reverse of the coins. It was in the year of the Iron-Tiger (1950) that the first cupronickel Thalas were struck. For some strange reason, they never changed the reverse die or the obverse die, to depict the correct year of mintage and correctly render wordings on the obverse – Bhutanese authorities also did not seem to notice or object to the faulty years of the later coinages, including the disjointed "ba-ra-tah-dra".

Some among the readers may be interested to know that there was some quantity of cupronickel Thala stamped with the date “Sa Druk Lo”, in 1950. It was a mistake that the mint noticed --- and hastily corrected - but not before some of them were released to the public. These coins are now very, very, very rare. If you have one, hold on it for dear life!

Friday, May 21, 2021

Unsafe Northern Regions

Well, this doesn’t really come as a surprise – in my thinking, the regions in the extreme north and east of our country were always at risk. The recent report of active COVID-19 cases in Merak proves it.

Merak village

I had already warned last year that there is a need to watch the northern and eastern borders bordering Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh. I gave my reasons in the following:

Detection of COVID-19 cases in the community in Merak should not be considered paranormal but the government should be concerned, particularly for the fact that the village is a closely knit cluster and transmission can be rapid and total. The emergence of cases in Merak should cause us to be wary and give us a reason for surveillance in the following northbound communities that have traditional links with Tibet and Arunachal Pradesh:

Merak and Sakten in Trashigang

Dhur in Bumthang

Roelmateng/Khoma in Lhuntse

Laya and villages in Lunana in Gasa

Tobrang in Trashi Yangtse

Lingzhi, Mitsayue, Chebitsa and Gongyuel in Thimphu

Sephu in Wangdue

Perhaps even in the villages in the north of Haa and Paro.

The alluring khandrums in Phari is, if anything, incidental - trade in Yartsa Guenboop across the north is perhaps the most compelling reason for prohibited journeys into Tibet China. Followed by smuggling of gold, sandalwood, US$ cash and counterfeit currencies are likely other reasons. During my trip to the Chundugung/Gonzola areas, some Haaps tried to sell me the nonsense that they were headed into Tibet to carry back jandoms and carpets and cakes of jari. I have to be a prize dullard to believe that they would scale frigid high mountain passes to carry back such high volume, low value merchandize.

Strangely, in Koortoe areas, I was told by a pony driver whom I had hired during my trip to Singye Dzong – that they go into Tibet over the ridge north of Tshokar lake in Singye Dzong – for smuggling color TV’s and cheap footwear and solar powered items of daily use.

We cannot let our guards down in the knowledge that our northern borders are patrolled to prevent incursions by the Tibetans and the Moenpas of Tawang. I am more worried about the incorrigible Bhutanese slithering into Tibet and Tawang/Arunachal Pradesh to sell/buy/trade – in the process pickup a free merchandize we do not need – COVID-19 virus.

Thursday, May 20, 2021

What Happened to the Cupronickel Thalas of 1950 & 1954?

As a young trainee in Tencholing, Wangduephodrang in 1961, Pem Tshering, a long time civil servant – now superannuated, remembers receiving 12 pieces of one Rupee British Raj silver coins a month: 10 pieces as monthly stipend and 2 pieces as Sha-thue - meat compensation.

One Rupee silver coin of the British Raj. It is important to differentiate this coin as that belonging to the British Raj since earlier to the British Raj, it was the East India Company (EIC) who issued colonial India's silver Rupee coins

This has got to be among the earliest records of use of money in Bhutan – for payment as remuneration. He recounts that these one Rupee silver coins were so high in value that he needed to have them converted to Maartums – in order to be able to make his purchases. He would get 16 Maartums for 1 of these silver coins.

What baffles me is that Pem Tshering is adamant that the Maartums he got in exchange for the silver Rupee coins were of the following variety:

The Maartum minted in Calcutta India government mint in 1955. Another lot was earlier minted in 1951 but the detailing is not as good as the one depicted here.

Why were they paid in these Maartums that were issued in 1951 and 1955? Why not in Tikchungs or cupronickel Thalas that were issued during the same years – and in much larger quantities? What happened to them? It cannot be that they were melted down for conversion into jewelry since extremely high temperatures are needed to be able to melt them. On the other hand, I know that Tikchungs were paid out by the donkey loads – even in the extreme northern regions of the country – to pay the salaries of the RBA personnel manning the northern borders.

The cupronickel Thala minted at the government of India mint in Calcutta, in 1950, using the flawed obverse die of the original silver coin of 1928.

The earliest of the milled coins were in silver and bronze (1928/1929) which are now extremely, extremely difficult to obtain.

First milled coin of Bhutan: Silver Thala of 1928 with the flawed obverse

Bhutan's second milled coin: Silver Thala of 1929 with the corrected obverse but flawed reverse

The Zangtrum of 1928: A perfectly engraved and minted coin. If this coin is perfectly rendered, how did it happen that the silver Thala of 1928 milled the same time, came out faulty?

All of the above coins also disappeared from the face of the earth – but I have a theory on what happened to them, which I will recount in my upcoming book on the coinages of Bhutan. Sadly, the book is currently in suspended animation – due to lousy historical records that are forever in conflict with other available records.