Thursday, September 30, 2010

False Claims By The BBC Filming Team

Matt Walker, Editor, Earth News of BBC writes in ( that experts have been “stunned” by the “discovery” of tigers living and breeding at higher altitudes than were believed possible. He further goes on to say that “their presence in the Bhutan highlands has been confirmed by footage taken by a BBC natural history camera crew. 

These are very strange remarks, particularly coming from the editor of Earth News of the respected BBC.

What kind of people can claim to be experts if they have obviously been clueless about the knowledge of the tiger’s existence in Bhutan for the past many centuries? And what shameless persons can make a claim to having captured the first footage of the tiger when photographic evidence of their existence has been recorded over a decade back?

The recent release of film footage by the BBC showing tigers in Bhutan seems to have created some kind of stir in the western world. The truth is that there is nothing so earth shattering about tigers in Bhutan. The Bhutanese people have been living with them for the past many centuries. Even while we lose many heads of cattle to the tiger every year, we still revere them as the riding stallions of our many protecting deities. The tiger population proliferates in Bhutan because the Bhutanese people do not harm them with the belief that they are under the protection of our protecting deities. In order to protect the tiger, the government of Bhutan even offers cash compensation to farmers who lose their livestock to the tigers.

It is totally false and unethical on the part of Gordon Buchanan of the BBC to claim that his footage is proof of tiger’s existence in Bhutan. The truth is that a wildlife survey team from the Bhutan’s Nature Conservation Division captured an image of a tiger on camera trap in September of 1999. The image was recorded at an altitude of 3,400 Meters. Kuensel did an extensive article on the sighting of the tiger in their issue of May 6-12, 2000 Vol. XV. No. 18.
Image of tiger captured on camera trap in 1999
It is also not correct that there has been no evidence of the tiger’s existence above 4,000 Mtrs. The NCD has records of the discovery of pugmarks at Puchela in the Thrumshingla National Park which is at 4,110 Meters.

It is not fair that the BBC team does not acknowledge the immense contributions made towards the tiger’s conservation by individuals and organizations such at the NCD, WWF and the Save the Tiger Fund who have been working at the tiger’s conservation and protection since the early 1990’s. They even do not make mention of the assistance provided by the local Bhutanese team who must have helped them acquire the images. Without the knowledge base of the local people and organizations, it is impossible that the BBC team could have filmed the tigers as they claim to have done. It is common decency to give acknowledgement where due.

The following is an image supposedly that of either Mongol warlord Gushri Khan or that of Lhasang Khan. He is seen holding what is obviously a Royal Bengal tiger. Rinchen Khandu, a local authority on Bhutanese folklore and religion tells me that these two Mongol warlords attacked Bhutan sometime during early 1600’s after the arrival of Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal in Bhutan. He says that this image is generally painted next to the main entrance of a house, Dzong or temple. Rinchen Khandu explained to me that any house or temple or Dzong on which were painted these images escaped the wrath of the plundering Mongol armies because they believed that the house was under the protection of their lords.
Gushri Khan/Lhasang Khan painted on the wall of the Jumolhari Hotel’s dinning hall
The above image is further proof that tigers were found in Bhutan even before the 1600’s. Obviously, the venerable BBC can no longer be trusted to be a source for factual and dependable reporting.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Of Pollution, Puja And God Who Gets Dumped

Here it was, yet again, the 17th of September, a day when motorized vehicles are adorned with vermilion, multi-colored balloons and yards and yards of colorful synthetic ribbons. On this day, puja pandals are hastily hammered together; in the basements of semi-finished buildings, factories, vehicle workshops and metal fabrication facilities - to house a mustachioed idol of a four-armed being riding an elephant and wearing a crown and loads of jewelry. In his hands he holds a water-pot, a book, a noose and craftsman's tools. The brightly colored idol that is kicking up such a frenzied activity is that of the mythological Vishwakarma - believed to be the chief architect and supreme engineer to all the Gods in the Hindu pantheon. 

Strangely, in my experience, it is not the engineers and the architects who honor the Hindu God but the migrant Bengali and Bihari labor force, mostly in the construction industry, who celebrate the Vishwakarma puja. And they do it with unrestrained zest and gusto. Street corners, construction sites and vehicle workshops - all come alive with a cacophony of popular Bollyhood movie songs blaring out of tattered sound boxes at decibels high enough to shatter one’s eardrums.

For a God who is celebrated with such passion and enthusiasm, the Hindu faithful seldom build temples or permanent statues in honor of Lord Vishwakarma. Perhaps, that is the reason why, during this puja celebrations, one will not be hearing any hymns or devotional songs extolling the virtues of this God of engineering and architecture. Instead, one will see devout Bengalis and Beharis gyrating wildly in front of the idols. This manner of honoring a God is alien to most Bhutanese who are used to expressing their devotion to God with murmured prayers offered with closed eyes and folded hands. Nevertheless, I have yet to see a Bhutanese decline the pandal’s make-shift Pundit’s customary offer to plant a red “tika” on their foreheads.

While the deafening sounds generated by the incessant pounding of old tins and empty plastic barrels keep the Bengali and the Bihari adrenaline flowing, a large population living close to these numerous pandals spread across the town is robbed of sleep and peace by the celebrations that go on unabated all night long.

I am told that there are in excess of 400 constructions that are ongoing in Thimphu town alone. This will get only worse in the coming years. Therefore, I get this feeling that the celebration of Vishwakarma puja, in its present form, has the potential to be a great public nuisance, if allowed to fester unchecked and unregulated. If we do not act now, there is a real danger that it may become a part of our culture – a culture that is neither meaningful nor productive. More importantly, even beyond the fear of being saddled with a culture not our own, the environmental damage and the noise pollution caused by these celebrations should be reason enough for concern. We need to intervene now when the problem is still relatively manageable.

There is something not quite right in the manner in which Vishwakarma puja is celebrated in our country. I see aspects to it that are not in conformity to the generally accepted code of conduct and decency required to be observed when celebrating in public spaces. It would appear that it hasn’t yet dawned on the Bhutanese people the long term damage the Vishwakarma puja celebration is causing to our environment. Or, as usual, we are taking a lackadaisical attitude towards it.

Let us consider the following:

1.   Celebration and/or conducting of any public function is, by rule, subject to proper written authorization from a designated government/regulatory authority. I have not yet heard of such a requirement being imposed on the annual celebration of the Vishwakarma puja. What are the reasons for this special immunity? Given the very public nature of the celebrations and considering that a large number of people congregate during this occasion, shouldn’t we require the event to be properly licensed and monitored? And, if we decide that they should be regulated, who should the regulatory authority be? - the Ministry of Home & Cultural Affairs, BICMA, the City Corporation or should it be the RBP? What should be the guidelines in order to ensure that it is celebrated in a way that it does not infringe on people’s peace and privacy or cause damage to the environment and the ecosystem?

2.   During the day of the celebrations, a large number of vehicles that ply on the roads are decorated with yards and yards of colorful synthetic ribbons and balloons and flowers made of Styrofoam that obstruct the vision of the drivers. This is clearly hazardous and could result in road mishaps and endanger lives. Strangely, if you ask those who partake in these decorations, they are clueless as to its religious or social significance. What is the RSTA’s and the Traffic Police’s stand on this? In most countries, anything that you attach to a vehicle that is not an allowable gear or attachment or useful accessory is tantamount to altering the original design of a vehicle which is prohibited. Is such a thing allowed under the RSTA or the Traffic rules? Without doubt, such decorations obstruct visibility and thus can be classified as dangerous driving. Should it be allowed?

3. The worst part of the Vishwakarma puja celebrations is that the celebrations end the next day - when the idols are immersed in rivers and lakes. It defies logic and it is absolutely incomprehensible that an idol of God that one revere and worship end up being dumped into the river like a bundle of garbage. Why would any one want to worship it if it were to end up being dumped like a pile of dirt?

However, it is not for us who are outside the faith to try and decipher the why, and the why for, of such a seemingly illogical act. To us, it is more important to understand the consequences of this act from the point of view of its impact on our environment.

4.   Traditionally, idols were made from mud and clay and painted using vegetable-based dyes. But commercialization of festivals and the sheer volume needed to be produced and transported over great distances meant that the traditional materials did not fulfill the design specifications of the modern idols. In the process, eco-friendly statues are no longer economically feasible. Thus, the new generation idols are produced from non-biodegradable materials such as plastic, cement and plaster of Paris and painted with chemical dyes that contain harmful and toxic agents. 

    Can you imagine what the thousands of idols, along with its synthetic and plastic trappings, being dumped into our river systems around the country are doing to our environment? Besides poisoning our water sources, can you imagine the damage it is causing to the aquatic creatures that inhabit our rivers and lakes?

Have you considered that these toxic materials finally end up inside the bellies of fish that we eat? Have you considered that the river waters with all the contaminants end up in the irrigation channels that our farmers use to irrigate their farms that produce food and vegetable that we consume? If this is going to be the case, how realistic is our dream of becoming a nation of organic farmers?

It is clear that unregulated celebration of the Vishwakarma puja can go beyond being merely a public nuisance. Its environmental implications are of greater concern. Why is it that the National Environment Commission has overlooked this issue? Why has the RSTA and the Traffic Police not been alerted of the dangers of vehicles being decorated with things that could cause dangerous accidents on the road?

I believe that it is time for the government and agencies under it to put in place rules and regulations and promulgate them to ensure that:

a.   the puja is celebrated in a manner that is not detrimental to our environment while, at the same time, it is celebrated in a way that it does not cause problems and hardships to others;

b.   that the celebration is licensed by a competent authority in order that the licensees can be held accountable;

c.  ensure that, if possible, idols are built in-country under strict supervision to ensure that only bio-degradable materials are used to build the idols and be decorated with environmentally friendly substances. If that is not feasible, ensure that their import is brought under some control so that only idols built with harmless and bio-degradable materials are allowed to enter the country.

I know that it is in the Buddhist spirit to allow free and fair practice of individual faith and culture. But being tolerant does not mean that we have to accept practices – whether cultural, religious or social – that harm the environment as well as cause disruption to the peace and tranquility of others within the sphere.

If we pride ourselves as an evolved lot with the capacity to think objectively, analytically and with reason, it is quite ridiculous to continue to engage in acts that were conceived in medieval times when conditions were different from what it is today. It is acceptable that certain beliefs and practices may have been pertinent and useful during a particular time and stage in our evolution – but not all of them are now useful or relevant or even practicable.

Conservation and protection of the natural environment is one of the four pillars of GNH. We take great pride in being a champion in environmental conservation. If that be the case, we should have no hesitation in rationalizing, if not entirely doing away with, certain practices that are undeniably accepted as being harmful to nature and the environment. In my opinion, there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that the manner in which Vishwakarma puja is celebrated in its present form is a great polluter.

Lord Vishwakarma cannot be a very happy God knowing he has become a source of pollution and defilement of the environment.

Dumping Of The God

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Orchids Of Bhutan

The following are two of the huge variety of orchids that are found in the forests of Bhutan.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Lyonchen Jigmi Y. Thinley

Yesterday I was at the Kuensel to deliver some photos that needed to go into the Tourism Council’s 2010 Annual Magazine: “Bhutan the Land of the Thunder Dragon” which will be going into print this week. The head designer was applying finishing touches to a layout of a document that he was working on. Upon closer scrutiny, it turns out that the document was the Declaration Page of the Compact Signing Ceremony document to be signed between the Head of the government and the Minister of the Ministry committing the Compact.
There again I noticed - the same careless oversight that the whole country without exception seems to be making. Is anyone thinking at all? I am so infuriated with this negligence.
On the bottom right hand of the Declaration Page were written the words:
Lyonchen Jigmi Y. Thinley
Prime Minister
Royal Government of Bhutan
I have brought this to the notice of the Prime Minister’s Press Officer. I have brought this to the notice of the Prime Minister’s Personal Secretary and I have also brought it to the notice of some friends and colleagues as well.
Lyonchen Jigmi Y. Thinley is not the Prime Minister of the Royal Government of Bhutan alone - he is the Prime Minister FOR THE ENTIRE Kingdom of Bhutan. Thus, the correct way to address him is:
Lyonchen Jigmi Y. Thinley
Prime Minister
Kingdom of Bhutan

GRRRRRRRrrrrrrr %@$%# &%@+* !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Do You Have A Phallus

Getting calls from perfect strangers on my mobile phone does not surprise me any more - I get so many of them and quite regularly that I have now come to accept them as additional price I have to pay - in addition to the premium I paid BMobile - for wanting a number that is out of the ordinary. In fact one time I got a call from a young girl from Rangshikhar in the East who admitted to dialing my number randomly because she hoped to soothe her nerves that have been frayed with a sense of anxiety over the outcome of her class XII exams. But the call from another stranger girl last Friday had me speechless for a while, literally.

“Hello, is this Mr. Yeshey Dorji the photographer?”
“Yes, this is I”
“Kuzuzangpo la, my name is Karma and I got your number from Mr. Kinley Dhendup of the Tourism Council of Bhutan”
“Lass, how can I help you, Karma?”
“Actually I called to find out if you have a phallus”.
Huh? Do I have a phallus? What kind of a question is that? More importantly, what the hell did she mean by that? I mean, I was born without any known deformity which means that I am a perfectly formed male species with all my manly organs intact and in the right places where they are supposed to be. Then why the question? I was mildly insulted and intrigued at the same time. However, the voice on the other end of the phone was very matter-of-fact and without any trace of sarcasm or mockery. There was not a hint of coyness in her voice. In truth, I am unnerved by the fact that a girl can discuss male organ with a male with such candor and directness. Obviously, time has come for me to shed that idea about the female species being the shy-and-retiring types - I think they have evolved to a higher plane, without my knowing about it.
“Well, I do have a phallus somewhere. Why do you ask?”
Her next question left me feeling even more incredulous.
“Will you allow me the use of it, please?”
Oh God, what have I gotten myself into? I mean it isn’t abnormal that a girl might desire a phallus once in a while - it is perfectly within the natural order of things. But how feasible is it that a girl might want the use of a phallus? It is a horrendous thought but is it possible that she might want to use it to badger someone or something like that? Other than that, and a very specific purpose for which it was designed, what else can the poor phallus be useful for?
“You see my cousin runs a store in Paro that cater to the tourists and she tells me that this year the phallus is in great demand among the tourists. She wants to cash in on that”.
Ah … now I see it. She hopes to be able to send my phallus frolicking among the tourists in Paro so that her cousin can make some extra buck. Do I want to be so chivalrous? Before I can answer that to myself, she continues:
“I am told that you have a very good high resolution image of a wooden phallus. Will you please allow me to print one thousand copies of Post Cards out of the image? It will be a one time use and I will be happy to give you credit for the image”.
Touché! She will be generous to give me credit for my own image and she does not make any mention about payment for the image - meaning she thinks I am the Salvation Army.
I am speechless.