Sunday, May 2, 2021

Bhutan’s Early History: Separating Fact from Myth – IV

Coining Journey of Bhutan: Setting The Record Straight

The late Mr. Nicholas Rhodes is accepted as the world’s most respected authority on coinage in Bhutan. Most writers and historians draw references from his work on the subject. However, he did not get it right when he said that there was no minting beyond Trongsa. The following proves that there was.

One other record that is being set straight by the letter of Jakar Poenlop Tsuendru Gyeltshen is that Trongsa Poenlop Jigme Namgyel did not have a mint of his own in 1863. In all likelihood, Jigme Namgyel’s coins date back to late 1860’s or early 1870’s. This is because there is a record that says that Jigme Namgyel carried away moneyers and coin dies from Cooch Behar in the 1860’s. If that were to be true, it would have had to have happened after 1865 – following the Great Duars war in which he was the principal player.

Retyped original letter authored by Trongsa Poenlop Tsuendru Gyelshen addressed to Trongsa Chila Jigme Namgyel

English translation of the letter


3.25 Saangs                 = 1 KG

91/2 sachets of copper = 47.5 Saangs or 14.62 KGs


Tsuendru Gyeltshen was the son of Trongsa Poenlop Tshoki Dorji and a descendent of Dorji Lingpa. He would have been the title holder of the lineage – but he died in the Duars war of 1865 when he accompanied Trongsa Poenlop Jigme Namgyel. He had no heir - thus, perhaps for the first time in history, the title of the lineage passed on to a lady – Yeshi, Tsuendru Gyeltshen’s sister.

When Trongsa Poenlop Tshoki Dorji passed on the seat of Trongsa Poenlop to Jigme Namgyel for three years, in keeping with a promise made to him for saving his life in Punakha, Tsunedru Gyeltshen was installed as Jakar Dzongpoen in the interim. At the end of the three years beginning 1853, Jigme Namgyel was supposed to surrender the seat of Trongsa Poenlop to Tsuendru Gyeltshen. Unfortunately Jigme Namgyel reneged on his words and refused to relinquish the post. A long drawn war broke out between them. Finally the central government in Punakha intervened and a compromise was reached in which Tsuendru Gyeltshen was promoted to the rank of Jakar Poenlop and the entire Central and Eastern regions of the country collectively known as Sharchok Khorlo Tsipgye was divided into two and came to be ruled equally by the two Poenlops of Trongsa and Jakar.

In later years, Poenlop Tsuendru Gyeltshen and Poenlop Jigme Namgyel buried their differences and became very good friends – to the point that when war was declared by the British on Bhutan that came to be known as the Great Duars War, Tshendru Gyeltshen accompanied Jigme Namgyel to fight the British. He never returned – he was killed in the course of the war.

With the death of Jakar Poenlop Tsuendru Gyeltshen, all the Sharchog Kholo Tsipgye once again reverted back to the rule of Trongsa Poenlop.

NOTE III: The accepted norm is that the term ‘Chila’ would be reserved for a ruler who is a learned Lam. According to convention, Jigme Namgyel should have been addressed as ‘Chotse Poenlop’.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Bhutan’s Early History: Separating Fact from Myth - III

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel: Did He Unify Bhutan?

This third post on the series is yet again on – Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. I have no choice – because in all fairness everything begins with him – that is why we all submit at his feet. Hopefully this will be the last post on him.

Most written records, if not all, credit Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel as the unifier of Bhutan. But a careful examination of the records show that this is not entirely true. One can certainly agree that he initiated the process of consolidation of the nation-state of Bhutan. But it is clear that he did not unify the country as a whole – he only succeeded to unify the western parts of the country during his lifetime. When he died on 30th April, 1651, Bhutan was still a divided/fragmented country.

In an effort to consolidate the whole of the central and eastern regions of the country under the Drukpa rule, the Zhabdrung appointed Chhogyel Minjur Tenpa as the Choetse Chila in 1647. By 1651 when the Zhabdrung died, the Choetse Chila Chhogyel Minjur Tenpa had managed to bring four of the eight regions of the Sharchog Khorlo Tsibgye under the Drukpa rule, namely: Bumthang, Lhuntse, Mangde and Zhemgang.

For the benefit of the readers, the following regions were grouped under what came to be known as Sharchog Khorlo Tsibgye:

Bumthang Dungsam

Lhuntse         Trashigang

Mangde         Trashiyangtse

Zhemgang Zhongar

At the time of the demise of the Zhabdrung, the regions such as Dungsam, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse and Zhongar existed as independent regions comprised of mini kingdoms ruled by independent rulers numbering over two dozens. Some of these rulers were:

Bageng Gyalpo          Chenkhar Gyalpo

Chitshang Gyalpo          Drakar Gyalpo

Gamri Gyalpo                  Gungdung Gyalpo

Kanglung Gyalpo          Kelingkhar Gyalpo

Kengkhar Gyalpo          Khaling Gyalpo

Khar Gyalpo                  Merak/Sakten Lam

Ngatshang Gyalpo          Ragma Gengra Gyalpo

Shengkong Gyalpo          Thridangbe Gyalpo

Tongphu Gyalpo          Trashigang Gyalpo

Tshangkhar Gyalpo          Tshengmi Gyalpo

Wangseng Gyalpo          Wengkhar Gyalpo

Yikhar Gyalpo          Zhongar Gyalpo

Over time, the Choetse Chila succeeded to bring all of the above under the rule of the central government in Punakha. He dispatched Lam Namsey Dorji and Umze Damcho with a large Drupka force from Trongsa to subjugate all the above rulers – first by cajoling if amenable – if not through act of war if unwilling to submit.

Thus, it could be said that it was Choetse Chila Chhogyel Minjur Tenpa who completed the unification of Bhutan, by 1659 - eight years after the death of the Zhabdrung. But his consolidation of the region did not survive long. Upon his appointment as the 3rd Druk Desi in 1667 and having been relocated to Punakha, it appears that the region disintegrated once again and went back to the old ways. The central government in Punakha was too busy with internal strife that plagued the western regions of the country – it had no time to administer the regions pharchey of Pele-La.

Finally, it was under the military leadership of Jigme Namgyel in 1850 as the Trongsa Droenyer during the tenure of Trongsa Poenlop Tsoki Dorji, and as the Trongsa Poenlop in 1854 that the Sharchok Khorlo Tsipgye was finally subjugated and permanently integrated into the nation-state of Bhutan.

The original Raven Crown fashioned for Trongsa Poenlop Jigme Namgyel by his spiritual guide Lam Jangchub Tsundu  

It was the father-son duo that held the country together – from the time Jigme Namgyel took over first as the Trongsa Droenyer in 1850, as the Choetse Poenlop in 1853, Druk Desi in 1870, 1877 and 1880, followed by his son Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck who ruled the country in a variety of posts – first as Paro Poenlop in 1878, then as Trongsa Poenlop in 1884, and finally as the first hereditary monarch of the Kingdom of Bhutan, as of 1907.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Bhutan’s Early History: Separating Fact from Myth - II

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel: Demystifying His Death

In almost all the records that I have read so far about Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel, there seems to be two opposing views:

1. That he entered strict meditation in 1651 and died many years

        later while in meditation, never to re-emerge;

2. That he died in 1651, while in retreat, but that his death was kept

        a secret to discourage the Tibetans from any warlike intensions

        towards Bhutan, including avoiding succession complications.

Another little known record says that he died of food poisoning as a result of a trip to Chubu Tshachu in Punakha.

On the contrary, I was seriously inclined to believe that he might have been done in by one of the seat holders of the time, while in meditation at the Machen Lhakhang.

If we are to believe that he died while in meditation, we cannot be certain as to the day of his demise. Since he was in strict Tsham (chetjar/ngentsham dampo), no one would have been allowed to interact with him in person – not even his attendant serving his meals. Thus his death would have remained a secret for days, if not weeks. On the other hand, we cannot believe that he died in the year 1651 upon entering meditation, since he entered meditation a perfectly healthy person – although supposedly a little obese.

So, if he did not die a natural death, the next possibility is that he may have been done in – a real possibility since murder and internecine incidences was rife during those tumultuous times. If we are to pursue this line of thinking, who would have been the person/persons who may have committed the crime?

According to records, the possible candidates would be:

          1.  Druk Desi Umdze Tendzin Drukgye

          2.  Je Khenpo Pekar Jungey

These two could have committed the heinous crime – in order that they could continue to rule. But it is most unlikely that they were responsible for such an act since they were two of the only five rulers directly appointed by the Zhabdrung. Their allegiance to the Zhabdrung would have been unshakeable.

4th Je Damchoe Pekar: 1697 - 1707

4th Druk Desi Tendzin Rabgye: 1681 - 1694

Further, in 1654, Tendzin Rabgye the 4th Druk Desi had a dream in which Zhabdrung appeared before him but did not utter a word – which caused Tendzin Rabgye to come to the firm conclusion that the Zhabdrung was already dead. He had, for sometime, strong premonitions that the Zhabdrung was no more.

Even if we are to disbelieve any such old dreams, it could be said with certainty that the Zhabdrung was no more, by 1667. The reason is that Chogyel Minjur Tenpa is said to have been absolutely furious to learn that he was not taken into confidence about the demise of the Zhabdrung and that he was fraudulently appointed as the 3rd Druk Desi in 1667 – under a fake Kasho stamped with the seal of Zhabdrung, who was no more.

Another hint at mischief can be deduced from the fact that three months after the Zhabdrung’s supposed retreat in 1651, Desi Umze Tendzin Drukgye held a large gathering of important dignitaries to inform them that the Zhabdrung should not be disturbed for any reason since he is in strict retreat (Tsham). This was uncalled for since everyone would have known that a person in strict retreat couldn’t be disturbed or interacted with.

Another hint that should tell us that the Zhabdrung was already dead – before entering Tsham - is that some records mention that the Zhabdrung had entered “PERMANENTTsham. The term permanent Tsham can only be employed when one is certain that the person in question is not going to be re-emerging from the retreat!

While I was confounded by all these inconsistencies, something revealing occurs – the recent observance of “Zhabdrung Kuchoe” on 22nd April, 2021. When I realized that the day – 10th Day of the 3rd Bhutanese month (22.04.2021) is observed as the day of the demise of the Zhabdrung, I was puzzled. This means that people would have had to have known exactly when he died! In other words, the Zhabdrung was conclusively dead OUTSIDE the Tsham and not INSIDE the Tsham.

In other words, the reverse would have to be the truth – that unlike what the historical records say, HE HAD ALREADY DIED and then was CONSIGNED to Tsham, so that difficulties could be averted. The death may have occurred from natural causes or may have been the result of the food poisoning at Chubu Tsachu.

One historical record confirms that: "On the 10th Day of the Third Month of Iron Rabit Year, the Zhabdrung, at age 54, entered the Machen Lhakhang in Punakha Dzong into strict seclusion (chetjar dampo)."

I cross checked the Gregorian calendar and find that the Bhutanese calendar date of 10th day of the third month of Iron Rabbit Year (more accurately Iron-Female-Rabbit Year) translates to:

30th April, 1651

This means the Zhabdrung's death occurred exactly on the day of the “Zhabdrung Kuchoe” - a day which we now correctly observe as the day of his demise. There appears to be no mistake there!

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Bhutan’s Early History: Separating Fact from Myth - I

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel: At Whose Feet One Submits

One of the most confusing historical records of Bhutan has got to be that of the highly celebrated and revered Tibetan lama Ngawang Namgyel, who arrived in Bhutan from Tibet in 1616. He is credited as the unifier of the nation-state of Bhutan – a claim that begs re-examination. I will deal with that in my subsequent posts on the subject. For now, I would like to deal with the title “Zhabdrung” by which he came to be known – both in Tibet and in Bhutan.

Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel

There are some who are adamant that he was given the title in Tibet before his arrival in Bhutan – as a birthright, being the 12th reincarnation of Kuenkhen Pema Karpo.

Others claim that he acquired the title “Zhabdrung” upon subjugation of the Shar region of Western Bhutan – completing the consolidation of the western regions of the country that would later come to be collectively known as Druk Yuel, or Bhutan. Upon unifying western Bhutan under the Drukpa rule, he is said to have issued the declaration of “Nga Chudrukma” – or the Sixteen "I's" – and thereupon assumed the title “Zhabdrung.” Translated, it means “At Whose Feet One Submits”.

Nga Chudrukma

While the term “Zhabdrung” may have originated in Tibet, the word is said to have a wholly different connotation there – quite distinct from the meaning in Bhutan. As Dr. Yoshiro Imaeda has written in his book The Successors of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel Hereditary Heirs and Reincarnations:

[I]n the broader context of Tibetan religious history, of which the Drukpa school is an integral part, the same title is quite frequently employed in other schools and to other monks. For example, as we will see later, the daughter of Ngor Zhabdrung Ludingpa is given officially as consort to Jampel Dorje but in reality served as consort to Tendzin Rabgye. In this context, the translation noted above does not make sense. D.P. Jackson translates the title as ‘the noble monk’. In a personal communication dated 8 December 1986, he explained the title as follows: ‘Regarding zhabs drung, generally speaking it refers to a monk from a noble family who is the successor to some high religious position, but who is waiting until the current occupant vacates the position. I think it is also used as a general term for a noble monk of high position, something like drung pa and spyan snga….. “Drung” refers to the candidate’s position “before” the incumbent, I suppose’.

Therefore, I tend to go with the view that the term “Zhabdrung” specifically means “At Whose Feet One Submits,” and should be considered Bhutanese – because it appears that only in Bhutan everybody submitted at Ngawang Namgyel’s feet. In Tibet, whether for political or religious reasons - whether for the wrong reasons or for the right reasons - his very position as the 12th incarnation of Kuenkhen Pema Karpo, which would legitimize his claim to the title, was hotly contested by a rival claimant - in the person of Gyalwang Pagsam Wangpo, and supported by Lhatsewa Ngawang Zangpo, an influential follower of Drukpa Pema Karpo - including the powerful Tsang Desi. In the end, whether in surrender or to escape prosecution, Ngawang Namgyel fled to Bhutan – where he was already held in high esteem and respected as a religious leader of great merit.

Friday, April 23, 2021

Bhutan’s Early History: Separating Fact from Myth

I never intended to delve into ancient, not even modern, history of Bhutan. I merely wanted to put together an account of Bhutan’s coining journey. Obviously I do want to put out factual accounts and not something that is not the truth. That is when my trouble started – in my attempt to verify and validate some of the written and oral accounts, I began to uncover some seriously impossible narratives and claims that are simply not tenable.

As I went deeper and deeper, another matter came to light – our researchers and historians seem to have treated our history with a level of casualness that is inexcusable. Not many of them seem to agree with each other. One writer even goes to the extent of writing that His Majesty Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck and his Ministers signed the Treaty of Sinchula in 1865. Another writer says that: "Ugyen Dorji was born in 1855 to Pala Gyaltsen and a lady from Tsendong in the Paro Valley". Gongzim Ugyen Dorji was son of Sharpa Penchung and wife Thinley Om of Paro Tsendo - it is true he was born in Kalimpong in 1855. Yet another account states: “Ugyen Dorji (Gongzim), who was originally from Paro, had migrated years ago to Kalimpong, a hill resort established by the British on land annexed from Bhutan”. Neither Ugyen Dorji migrated to Kalimpong, nor was Kalimpong a British territory during Ugyen Dorji’s early days in Kalimpong.

Truly there is a need for the government to create a Commission comprised of writers and researchers to correct our history. Even our textbooks are rife with inaccuracies and factually incorrect accounts of what happened.

Beginning from my next post on the subject, I am going to try and separate facts from myths. This is a huge responsibility and lot of other more competent writers, researchers and historians need to contribute to clean up the gibberish that currently exists.

I welcome you to add to my endeavor by pointing out mistakes in my observations. Or even adding or bringing to light what you know is incorrect.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Once Again The Quixotic Issue of Vehicle Ownership Transfer

The Don Quixotes are at it again, according to a report in the Business Bhutan newspaper of this morning!

It is amazing how such a simple problem remains unresolved for decades.

As I said in one of my earlier posts, Bhutan is brimming with people with brains oozing out of their earlobes – but we have precious few with any minds. Strangely even when things are pointed out to them, they remain oblivious and thick-skinned!

The issue of the vehicle ownership transfer remains unresolved simply because people at the helm of things are unwilling to apply their minds – perhaps they have none to apply. And, because of that, the country has been losing sizeable revenue year after year, for the past many, many decades.

The problem is simple: the RSTA is endeavoring to collect tax where no tax should be due.  The process of transferring vehicle ownership is an administrative process and thus no tax should be levied. Only a token fee should be applicable – for a clerical job that takes no more than 5 minutes.

As long as a vehicle’s road worthiness is proven, as long as the vehicle is proven to be owned by a Bhutanese who has proof that he/she has paid his/her annual road tax to earn the right to ply the vehicle on the Bhutanese roads, and as long as the vehicle is certified to meet the emission standards prescribed by the regulatory authorities, RSTA should have no problem. The problem arises when the RSTA decides, illogically, that additional revenue can be earned from the transfer of vehicles – when they had already collected the prescribed taxes at the start of each year, from every road-worthy vehicle.

Frankly this issue is not a problem but a stupidity. Simply rationalize the vehicle transfer fee and people will come flocking like bees to nectar. I have to be a prize idiot to agree to pay 1% transfer tax. Transfer paper work does not involve so much work that it should attract 1% of the value of the vehicle.

If the RSTA and the Royal Government of Bhutan are hell-bent on victimizing the citizens, the simplest way would be to introduce a new law prohibiting none-owners from driving a vehicle that is not registered in his/her name. If not I cannot see how the RSTA can have the authority to prohibit a legitimately registered vehicle from plying the Bhutanese roads.

A vehicle earns the right to be driven on the road network of Bhutan – not because of the face value of who is behind the wheel, but because all prescribed taxes and levies that are the RGoB’s just dues - have been paid in full.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Newsworthy News

The Rotary Club of Thimphu is honored to be partnering with a newsworthy Rotarian – Immediate Past President James Ham of Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunset, Hawaii, USA. He is among the six Rotarians worldwide who has received the rare honor of being recognized as one of the “Six Rotary members honored as People of Action: Champions of Health”. To be picked as one of six from among close to three million Rotarians around the world, is certainly an achievement worth tooting about. We are proud of our association with the great achiever. Please read about it at the following:

The achiever Rotarian is the Immediate Part President (IPP) of the Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunset, Hawaii, USA. He and his Club is currently working on a project with the Rotary Club of Thimphu – in the area of building in-country capacity in Wilderness Emergency Medical Treatment – a First Aid course specifically aimed at training the trekking guides of Bhutan in how to respond and treat/evacuate emergency cases in wilderness situations. The project, when implemented, will be a collaborative endeavor among: RC Honolulu Sunset, Hawaii, RC Thimphu, University of Utah, USA and the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences (KGUMS), Thimphu. Additionally, we hope to be able to rope in the industry stalwarts and stakeholders - TCB, ABTO and GAB.

Rotarian James Ham’s connection with Bhutan does not begin or end with the above project – it goes a lot deeper.

The childless Rotarian visited Bhutan with his wife sometime during November of 2018. During the visit he heard of the famed Chimmi Lhakhang and how it is known to have helped childless couple beget children. The couple visited the lhakhang and received blessings from Lam Drukpa Kinley’s relic.

Exactly nine months later, at 6:54AM on 10th August, 2019 a son weighing 5 pounds 13 ounces, 20 inches was born to the couple.

They named the son Kinley Jin Ham.

Please read further at the following:

Rotarian Dr. James Ham is due to return to Bhutan as one of the instructors, when our joint project on wilderness medicine begins – hopefully this year-end or early next year.

I would have long resigned from the Rotary by then - but as he said in his last mail yesterday - "I’m sad to hear you will be leaving Rotary - it is a huge loss to the entire Rotary community.  As always, thank you for your work and help with this grant, and I will always consider you as a lifelong friend."

Likewise, I too will be around to renew my acquaintances with the great achiever, when he does get back to Bhutan.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Herd Mentality to Achieve Herd Immunity!

Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering has been unfailing in his reminder to us that we need to achieve 80% vaccination of the eligible population to achieve what is known as “Herd Immunity”. The Health Ministry’s website records that as at the end of day on 1st April, 2021, a staggering 434,837 Bhutanese individuals turned up and got their vaccinations - that is an impressive 87.64% of the eligible population in the country. And we still have one more day to go. Add to that the fact that the frontline workers are yet to receive theirs. So if this is not a sick April Fool joke, Dr. Lotay Tshering has every right to allow himself the luxury of a Tango, or if he prefers, a Hoopla dance in whatever quarantine facility he is currently lodged in – having returned from a trip to Bangladesh just a few days back.

But hang on just a minute – the Health Ministry reports that there was 13 new positive cases in the last 24 hours – all of them Bhutanese who returned from abroad!!!!!

You do not have to be an Einstein to realize that this must be the RAPA group returning from Dacca.

I fervently pray to the all-healing Sangey Menlha that we are not seeing another case of a Mata Hari amongst us. The emergence of one Mata Hari recently has already caused consternation among the Bhutanese society who now believes that the case is not as simple and straightforward as it is made to look like.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Australia-Bhutan Connection

Dear Rotary Foundation Director Maurie,

Greetings from Bhutan and Thank You for your mail and additional input on Australia-Bhutan collaborations. I would like to further expand the historical connections with the following mail that I had sent to an Australian Rotarian, four years back.



Dear Rtn. Bruce,

This is to acknowledge the receipt of your mail dated 14th November, 2017 soliciting our support in being a Global Grant partner in your drive towards raising funds to eradicate FASD among the First Nation people of the Kalgoorlie-Goldfields region of Western Australia.

In my capacity as the Club Secretary of the Rotary Club of Thimphu, I had the opportunity to put up your request to our Club Members for their consideration, during our weekly Club Meeting held yesterday.

While making a pitch for your cause, I presented the following to our Members.


More than half a century ago, in 1962, it was the then Australian Prime Minister Sir Robert Gordon Menzies who invited Bhutan to attend the 14th Consultative Committee Meeting of the Colombo Plan – as an observer. This resulted in the Colombo Plan making the rare exception of admitting a none-qualified Bhutan as a Member. Thus, Australia has been pivotal in Bhutan’s joining a world body for the first time in its history. This was a prodigious moment for Bhutan – being admitted as a member of the Colombo Plan meant that Bhutan was now recognized as an independent sovereign country.


In the last one decade alone, more than 500 Bhutanese have received scholarships from the Australian Government. This year alone, over 60 scholarships are on offer to Bhutanese academics.


In recent times, Australia has emerged as the most preferred destination for the Bhutanese – both for education as well as for employment. Bhutanese prefer Australia over even USA. There are few thousand Bhutanese currently domiciled in Australia - very happily and comfortably.


In the last two months, Disaster Aid Australia, Melbourne (a project of the Rotary Club of Endeavor Hills) has donated 6 SkyHydrant water filter systems to 6 of our schools in rural Bhutan. Valued at tens of thousands of dollars, these innovative water filters dispense 10,000 liters of filtered water every day, for the safety of our school children's health. (This project has since been raised to AUS$1.00 million till end June 2021).


Bhutan is grateful to Australia – for its role as a longstanding development partner. In recognition of this fact, you may be happy to know that the Royal Government of Bhutan has declared the year 2018 as a special Bhutan-Australia Friendship Year. In celebration, the Royal Government of Bhutan is allowing all Australian nationals to visit Bhutan without having to pay the mandatory Minimum Daily Tariff. During the 3 months of June, July and August 2018, all Australian Passport holders can visit Bhutan on payment of the sustainable development fee of US$ 65.00 only.

For us at the RC Thimphu, a request from Australia - perhaps first of its kind - is no trivial matter. I am happy to inform you that after a short discussion, all our Members were emphatic in their support for your cause and have agreed that they will contribute, personally, to raise the requested US$2,000.00 as our Club’s cash contribution to your humanitarian cause.

Yeshey Dorji

Club Secretary

Rotary Club of Thimphu

PS: Bhutan's first Colombo Plan Meeting mentioned above was represented by a lady - Ashi Tashi who is still alive at 98 years.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Bhutan Cheated Out Of Rs.5,000.00 Worth Of Silver

On pages 435-436 of the compilations of correspondences titled “PERSIAN CORRESPONDENCE”, the following appears as item 1583:

Portions of correspondence from Druk Desi to the Governor General of British East India Company dated January 15, 1785

The letter addressed to the Governor General of British East India Company was dated 15th January, 1785. Thus, the Druk Desi who authored the letter would have to be Druk Desi Jigme Singye who ruled between 1776 to 1789. From this letter it is clear that Bhutan sent silver to Koch Bihar to be converted to coins. We know that the earliest Bhutanese coins were of silver – only later we began hammering coins in copper.

Although the claim for the silver worth Rs. 5,000.00 is being made in a letter dated 1785, the letter is explicit that the silver was handed over to the grandfather of the incumbent Koch Bihar Raja ruling in 1785.  It means that the silver would have had to have been sent to Koch Bihar earlier to 1772 - the logic behind this assumption is explained further down the post.

A Bengali civil servant working for the East India Company by the name of Babu Kishen Kant Bose visited Bhutan in 1815. His comments in relation to coinage in the country are perhaps among the first references to the existence of minting in Bhutan - many years prior to his visit. His report submitted to his superiors records that:

"There was formerly no mint in Bootan, but when the Booteahs carried away the late Raja of Cooch Behar*, they got hold of the dies, with which they still stamp Narrainee Rupees. Every new Deb Raja puts a mark upon the Rupee of his coinage, and alters the weight. The Dhurma Raja also coins Rupees, and besides them, no one else is permitted to put their mark upon the Rupees, but there are mints at Paro, Tongso, and Tagna**".

This firmly establishes that by 1815, Bhutan already had at least three mints – one each at Paro, Trongsa and Tagna. In addition to these three mints, it is also recorded that more of them were pressed into service in later years. The report also names exact locations of the mints – Sisina in Thimphu and Yudrong Choling in Trongsa.

Bhutan had been over lording the poor Koch Biharis – to the point that we had maintained a garrison in the Koch kingdom. However, the garrison was driven away by the British East India forces in 1772. To halt further atrocities by the Bhutanese, the British East India Company annexed Koch Bihar. In an effort to make the Koch Biharis use British India coins, they closed down the Koch Bihari mints – effectively shutting off supplies of coins to Bhutan. Bhutan requested British East India Company to supply coin dies – they were refused - in an effort to force the Bhutanese to use their coins. It appears that the Bhutanese weren’t going to do so – instead they carried off Koch Bihari moneyers and started to hammer our own coins within the country.

NOTE: We always make the mistake of calling Governor General of British India Government. It was the British East India Company that ruled India - until its closure in 1858. Only thereafter the British India Government took over the administration of India.

** Tagna is most likely Dagana.

* The Maharaja of Koch Bihar that the Bhutanese supposedly abducted would have to be either Maharaja Rajendra Narayan (1770 – 1772) or Bijendra Narayan (1772 – 1774).

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

All About Fishing: Part III of III

In my last and final 3-parts blog on fishing, I would like to present my rods, reels and lures that I have used over the years. Some of them have been with me from the start of my fishing journey – testimony that if you pay good money, your purchases will last you a lifetime. I am also happy to say that other than a number of lures, I have never lost a reel, or broken a rod.

I own 9 rod sets – all made of carbon fiber blanks and designed for the bait casting form of fishing. Of the nine, 3 are single piece: 2 for Mahseer and one for Trout. Single piece rods are stronger but cumbersome to carry. But these rods can reel in Mahseer of upto 70 KGs – and trout of up to 12 KGs - not that there are any fish in that weight class surviving in the wild.

A Classic 2-pieces rod set from Abu Garcia of Sweden

Custom crafted for me - one piece Mahseer Rod with blanks by Tamer of USA

Real brute of a rod - single piece rod by Shimano of Japan

Single piece trout rod custom crafted for me in 1994

I have 2 rods that are of 2-pieces construction. They both come with pistol-grip handles. One is a classic by Abu Garcia of Sweden. The other is a custom crafted rod specially built for me in Singapore. The blanks are by G-Loomis of USA.

Two pieces classic rod set by Abu Garcia of Sweden

Custom crafted for me in Singapore - two pieces rod set with reel seat made of wood

I have one rod set that comprises of 3 pieces – the blanks are by SAGE of USA and is also a part of a family of rods that is very special to me.

Three pieces rod set custom crafted for me by a rod builder in Singapore - blanks are by SAGE of USA

I have another 2-pieces rod set constructed by Shimano of Japan which I bought in 1986 and forms a part of the family of rods that I hold dear.

Original rod set made by Shimano of Japan - my first and most loved rod set

Two pieces rod set custom crafted for me - with blanks by G-Loomis of USA

The most valuable and precious rod set I have is a pretty unique one. It is crafted by Shimano of Japan and I am told it is the only rod model in the whole world for which a special issue of reels were built to pair with it. I know a rod builder in Singapore who has that particular reel for this rod. When he saw that I had the rod, he was ecstatic and wanted to buy it off me – because he said he had the reel built for the rod. I said, I have a better idea - let us do it the other way round – let me buy that reel off you. He said NO. And I wasn’t willing to sell mine to him – so we had no deal.

During a fishing trip some 20 years back, one friend slammed the car door on this rod’s tip and smashed it out of service. I was heart broken because I loved the rod – its medium action, its length, its aluminum reel seat with rubber pistol grip. I could not imagine giving up the rod. Thus I made a trip to Singapore – with an endeavor to do something with the damaged rod and make it even more meaningful. I hunted for a rod builder with special skills and tooling - to build me rods that would adapt to the aluminum rod handle. I located one – he knew exactly what I wanted. He machined aluminum parts on a special lathe machine – that enabled two different rod blanks to be slotted into the aluminum rod handle. Thus I turned a defunct rod into a family of 3 rods sharing the same rod handle. An example of how to turn a disaster into something even more meaningful. The following is the special rod set of three rods using one common rod handle.

My Most special collection - three rod sets that fit into one unique aluminum rod handle and reel seat

As I said earlier, I am into bait casting form of fishing. I have 8 multiplier reels: 4 for the mighty Mahseer and 4 for trout. The black one by Abu Garcia called Ambassadeur F-I-V-E is my first and thus the oldest reel I own.

My collection of multiplier reels

Initially I started off my fishing journey with metal spinner baits. Over time I graduated to plug baits. They attract bigger fish and are more effective and makes for better casting. Some of these plugs are made of plastic and some are made of Balsa wood which tend to be more expensive.

A small selection of my collection of Plugs

It is important to protect what you have. I have a number of rod cases that protect my rods during transportation and on fishing trips.

A variety of sturdy rod cases by Plano of USA that fit all

My biggest Mahseer catch weighed in at 27 KGs. My biggest brown trout was caught at Zomlingthang, Punakha. It weighed an impressive 7 KGs.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

All About Fishing: Part – II of III

A successful fisherman is by design and not by accident. As everything else in life, to succeed in fishing one needs to work hard – at fact gathering about suitable equipment, feeding habits of the fish, vegetation types, seasonal food available to the fish during a given season and, above all, their preferred hiding places. It is surprising that the same fish species will not feed on the same type of food in different locations. I have also discovered that they do not live and hide in the same type of cover and vegetation. Their habits seem to vary depending upon different vegetation and perhaps level of oxygen and altitude.

In some locations the fish hide under overhangs, around river-weeds - in others they live and prey around rocks and boulders. Some take the bait in the middle of the river – others at the far end of the riverbank. Unfortunately all these are something you cannot always be prepared for – you will have to learn as you fish the rivers. However, what you can be prepared for all the time is a selection of a set of tackles that will consistently deliver under all situations.

Fishing Line

There is no point in hooking a lot of fish if you cannot land them. Thus a strong and dependable fishing line is important. You have to be able to reel-in the fish you hook and not lose it to a snapped line. There are really only three choices available to us, when it comes to casting fishing lines:

1.  Monofilament

2.  Multi Braid

3.  Fluorocarbon

Mono lines have been there for a long time. The multi braid or braided lines came much later. I use the multi braid because they are stronger; have no memory and are stiff as hell – so hook setting is faster because of lack of elasticity. Because of their superior dia-to-strength ratio, one can load more lines into a reel providing you with longer distance run – if you have to run with the fish so that you do not end up running out of line. Mono on the other hand is thicker in diameter, retains memory and tends to kink easily.

I have not used the fluorocarbon lines.

Three of the primary line types

Lures & Baits

While the rod, reel, line and quality of trebles all matter to a great degree for a successful fishing trip, I have learnt that the bait or the lure is the one that attracts the fish to take the bite. Thus the selection of the bait is crucial. Obviously, your choice of baits will depend on the type of fish you are after. But in Bhutan there are only two fish types that we can look forward to hooking – the mighty Mahseer and the introduced Brown Trout. These two fish are at the opposite end of the scale – one is big game and the other is small game.

The following are the bait types that are available for our kind of fish.


Spinners are handy for small fish – like the trout. My favorite spinners are the following. But I no longer use spinners since I find that the plugs yield better and bigger results – small time fish is not my game.

The wobbler called the Tasmanian Devil is an ugly looking bait from Australia - but a very successful bugger. Some Bhutanese anglers never use anything but this strange looking and behaving piece of plastic.

Plugs for small game

The following are my favorite for Brown Trout:

My choice of plugs for trout

Plugs for big game:

My favorite plugs for the monster Mahseer are the following. They have been very productive for me – I have landed a 27 KGs Mahseer with the Abu Garcia “Hi-Lo” – at a place called Sheytey Kharey in Kalikhola.

My favorite lures for the big fellows

I carry more than 2 dozen lures on a fishing trip – but most often I end up using only two of the baits – Rapala’s "Count down Minnow" and Abu Garcia’s "Hi Lo" for Mahseer. For Trout – the same – I end up using the “Fat Rap” and “Count Down” every time – both by Rapala of Finland.


I have noticed that the original treble hooks that come with the plugs/spinners/wobblers are not so durable or strong enough. Particularly for our river types where the flow is swift and strong, we need stronger treble hooks that do not flatten out or are brittle and break with the force of the fish’s tug and pull. Thus, I order special treble hooks by Mustad – called the "Short-Shank" – and replace the original trebles with these much stronger and shorter hooks.

Friday, February 19, 2021

All About Fishing: Part - I of III

In the mid 1980’s I was absolutely fanatical about fishing – even more than photography. I was so keen on it that I never attended office after lunch – afternoon was reserved for fishing – every day, all year round. In order that I could go fishing, my day would start at 4AM in the morning. By lunchtime I would end my day’s work. Without fail I would then head for the riverbanks – for fishing.

Some of the friends from those days remember my romance with fishing --- so they have been asking me to show them my gear. Thus, instead of bothering them to come over to my home – I decided to show them here – so that other readers may get to see my collection of fishing gear – that is second to none.

Before I get to my gear list, I believe that it is important for readers to understand a little about what fishing is all about.

The Fundamental Differences

There are few dozen ways in which to do fishing – but in game fishing the three most popular are: spinning, bait casting and fly-fishing. Fly-fishing is a truly graceful form of fishing – some contend that it is for the nose-in-the-air types – but not very productive. For sheer productivity, it has been my experience that bait casting is the true jawbreaker – so bait-casting form of fishing is my choice.

But it is not easy to master bait casting – in fact it is difficult – that is why most shun it. Spin casting is lot easier by comparison. It is my belief that there are less than 10 people in whole of Bhutan who have mastered the art of bait casting form of fishing.

Different Types Of Fishing Reels

While the spinning reel is fixed to the under part of the rod handle, the bait casting reel is mounted on top of the rod handle. Thus, given the manner in which the rods are constructed to suite the choice of reel, the rod's "spine" or "backbone" is on the opposing sides of the rod blank.

Types of Rods & Reels

How the spinning/casting reels are mounted on the fishing rod handle

Bait casting and spin casting employ two completely opposing ways in which they deliver the bait. In the case of the spinning reel, it is the weight of the bait that pulls the fishing line out of the reel’s line spool, as it travels through the air. The reel’s line spool remains static – it does not spin. Thus the moment the bait stops traveling through the air or lands on the water, the line’s motion stops. Thus there is very little chance of a bird’s nest being formed on the reel.

The bait casting reel on the other hand works completely differently. In this case, it is the reel’s line spool that spins and throws out the line as the bait shoots through the air, upon casting. Thus, even if there is the slightest of mismatch between the speed at which the bait travels through the air, and the timing of your release of the line and angle of the rod that will control the line flow, you are in for a serious case of bird’s nest. Also, unlike in the case of the spinning reel, in the case of the bait casting reel, the spinning of the reel’s line spool does not stop even when the bait has stopped traveling – thereby causing a huge bird’s nest.

Tangled line – called a Bird’s Nest

Being able to master the precision and timing takes months – thus not many are tempted to take up bait casting form of fishing. But if you have the tenacity and patience to master the art, you will be rewarded with a number of advantages (too numerous to list here) over the spinning reel.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

My Jaunts Into The Alpine Regions of Bhutan

I am happy in the knowledge that I must be among the very few lucky Bhutanese to have had the opportunity to visit almost every alpine regions of the country. Ofcourse it is not entirely true that luck had everything to do with it – it had to do mostly with determination, a strong will to achieve, faith in my own capabilities, a good measure of dare-devilry and infinite inclination towards recklessness. And, ofcourse, good health with strong lungpower. If you notice, most of my photographs are acquired in the thick of winter – at altitudes close to or in excess of 5,000 Mtrs.

As I get time and the inclination, I will show you some really awesome sceneries from all across the country – but the prospect of having to sift through tens of thousand of photographs is sooooo defeating.

I have climbed half way up the mighty Gangkhar Puensoom in north central Bhutan, including three-fourth of Masagung past Laya village when my Bjop horseman stuck his head into a hole in the ground and requested to be excused because he could not stand the chill. I plodded atop Singye Dzong’s ridge named Gosoong above Terdalhatso, which rises up over 6,000 Mtrs. – and got lost in the thick downpour of snow, for over 14 hours. That was the time when I was taught an important life lesson – by a world class high altitude marathoner - that in the thick of the dark, do not light up – but train your eyes to get accustomed to the darkness around you.

I camped over a week atop a mountain in Laya – to try and photograph the mighty Gungchen Taag – I never got the image I wanted and finally had to give up after a sudden snow blizzard destroyed my support team’s camp. Not one to give up, I persisted and finally got my image of the Gungchen Taag – not from any high frigid peaks – but from balmy Wangduephodrang.

Recently I got way-laid by a reader of my blog who is a historian of Bhutan’s postage stamps. We got into a dispute over the veracity of some of the written accounts surrounding our postal runners that delivered mail to Bhutan House, Kalimpong over the Nathu-La Pass. My stand was that there would not have been any need for every one of our postal runners of the yore – to go into Yatung in Tibet and that there should have existed a route that would bypass Yatung – such as Chumbithang which is clearly mentioned in the account rendered by Nari Rustomji when he makes the return journey over Nathu-La Pass into Gangtok, Sikkim, accompanied by the late Haa Drunmgp Jigme Palden Dorji, in 1955 after attending the marriage of Dasho Rimp to Her Royal Highness Ashi Choeki Wangmo Wangchuck.

In an effort to see if I could get some clues, I dug up my photos that I took during my trek up to Chudu Gung/Gonzola/Sinchuloompa/Nob Tshonapatta areas that share border with Chumbithang, which is located within the disputed areas known as Doklam Plateau, to the north of Haa. The following are some of the photographs I took during my trip there in December of 2011:

Approaching Chundu Gung and Gonzo-La Pass. During this trip, I had 8 pack ponies, 2 camp assistants 2 RBA personnel and 2 horsemen

Chundu Gung the abode of Haa's Protecting Deity Aap Chunduin the evening sun

Gonzo-La Pass with Chundu Gung in the background - as seen from my campsite at Gonzo-La

My campsite at Gonzola: Note the starkness of the vegetation. The tent to the left houses my kitchen and 2-persons support team. My Cabela's Extreme Weather Tent is in the centre. The tent on the right houses the 2 RBA johnnies who kept watch over me for the entire duration of the trek - lest I stray into Chinese territory

Blue Sheep grazing on the ridges and mountain sides of Gonzo-La

Alpine Accentor (Prunella collaris) captured at Sinchuloompa

Robin Accentor (Prunella rubeculoides) captured at Sinchuloompa

View from Gonzo-La - road/mule track leading from Bhutan to Yatung in Tibet over the ridge into Chumbithang

Location of Mt. Kanchunjanga in relation to Nathu-La Pass

Mule tracks into Chumbithang over the ridge from Bhutan border

Nathu-La Pass as seen from Nobtshonapatta

Full moon setting over Mt. Kanchanjunga as seen from my campsite at Nobtshonapatta

White Poppy (Meconopsis superb) Bhutan's rarest flower endemic to Nobtshonapatta of Haa. The flower was supposedly discovered by a Japanese botanist, a fact that is in dispute. I saw the photograph of this flower for the first time in the dinning hall of Rigsum Resort, Haa - that resulted in my trip to Nobtshonapatta in June of the same year - not the same trip that I made to Chundu Gung - which happened the same year - but in December of 2011

My camp site at Nobtshonapatta during day - warm and sparkling

The temperature in the night drops so low that my tent crumples up and slackens, caused by the extreme temperature. The clump of grass in front of my tent is laden with ice and frost

I want to go back to Nobtshonapatta so that I could take the picture of the moon as it sets over the summit of Mt. Kanchunjanga. Sadly, my Haap horseman refuses to oblige me - he says that the lives of his mules would be in danger - because during the times I want to go the mule tracks would be caked with ice and the mules would slip over them and fall into the ravines.

By the way I have also trekked to Chundu Lhatsho - and photographed the sacred lake that is credited as the heart of Aap Chundu. But I am not posting the image - in difference to the reverence in which the lake is held by the Haaps. To date I have never released the photographs.