Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Nathula Pass

Nathula Pass as seen from Bori Goma. This is the Tibetan side of Nathula ... I think on the other side is Sikkim.

Blue Sheep at Gonzola, Haa

A pack of Blue Sheep at the Gonzola Pass

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Alpine Regions of Haa

Now that I am back from my trek, I am inundated with requests from friends to mail them some photographs of what I saw in the frigid regions of Haa. It is an arduous process to mail images … so I am uploading few photos here on the Blog so that my readers and friends around the world can see them.

I intend to go back on the same trek after about a month. I want to shoot the lake Tsonapata when it is completely frozen! And, I want to shoot the full moon over Kanchenjunga with a long lens – perhaps with a 300mm or a 500mm super telephoto. The photo earlier posted was with a wide angle. I am going to use a polarizing filter so that the moon and the snow-capped Kanchenjunga stand out – should be AWESOME!!! But my pony man warns me that the passes may not be open :(

Camp Fire At Nob Tshonapatta

A camp-fire in full blaze under the gaze of the moon.

Caravan Of Ponies At Gonzola

A caravan of sure-footed ponies cross the treacherous Gonzola Pass. They will return ladden with cheap Chinese goods. The smuggling of goods from Tibet has got to be a trade of desperation. The goods they bring are high volume and low value - so there is no worthwhile profits to be made. But the people I spoke to say that it makes them enough money to buy pony feed. There has got to be a better way to make money to buy pony feed!

Golden Chundugung

Chundugung in the evening sun. This is the abode of Aap Chundu, protecting deity of the the people of Haa. At its base is the Haa-Chu Kangu - source of the Haa river.

Campsite at Gonzola

My camp at the Gonzola Pass. At 15,770 ft., it is the highest point on the entire trek route.

Mt. Kanchanjunga From Gonzola

A close-up of Mt. Kanchenjunga as seen from Gonzola Pass. A 200mm telephoto was used to acquire this image.

The Famous Nob Tshonapatta

The famous Nob Tsonapata - I would love to reshoot this lake when it is completely frozen.

Pack Ponies at Nob Tshonapatta

Pack ponies passing over Tsonaphingey just before arriving at Nob Tsonapata

Pack Ponies on Tsona-La

Pack ponies atop the Tsona-La between Nob Tsonapata and Miruna
(Altitude: 14,370 ft.)

Kanchenjunga And Other Mountains

The mountain range with Mt. Kanchenjunga as seen from Gonzola

Friday, December 16, 2011

Full Moon Over Mt. Kanchenjunga

I just returned from a long and arduous trek to the Alpine regions of Haa. I was photographing the high peaks and the lakes in that area. The landscape is simply stunning.

My pony man assures me that I am provably the first one to have undertaken such a long trek in the thick of winter. In his 15 years as a pony man, he does not know of any other person – either Bhutanese or chilip - who took the route that I took: entering from Damthang, trudging up the dreaded Gonzola Pass and plunging down to the desolate Sinchulumpa and traversing across to the famous Nob Tsonapata  and terminating at Takchu Goenpa above the Haa valley.

Of the many beautiful sceneries along the trek route, the photo below was an unexpected surprise. The full moon is seen setting over Mt. Kanchenjunga whose snow-capped summit is seen emerging out of the morning cloud. I didn’t expect to see the famous mountain from Bhutan. Talking of which, you may remember that the night of the full moon was a lunar eclipse. Sadly, I couldnt get an image of it since the sky was over-cast.

Over the days, as I get time, I will post more images. I am particularly proud of the image of lake Chundu Lha-Tso that I acquired while camped at Bori Goma. The pony man assures me that I am provably the first one ever to photograph the lake which is considered the heart of the protecting deity of the Haaps - Aap Chundu.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Disclosure of the Identities of the 4 Persons with HIV/AIDS II

I have news that the BBS is going to go ahead with the Show on the 1st of December, 2011 as planned. It is sad. 

Well, I tried … but I am not the moral guardian of this country and I do not have the mandate to take on this cause solely because I believe some wrong is being committed. But as a person who feels, and as someone who believes that life is beautiful, I find that I need to make and attempt to preserve life. Each of us must have the right to live life to the end. Life cannot come to an end simply because someone has been infected by HIV/AIDS - that must not be the end of life. Life is worth living - until the last minute, until it is snubbed out of us. 

Fortunately, I won’t be anywhere close to human civilization - when the big Show takes place - so I do not have to be a witness to it. And given that we have such short memories, by the time I come back, the matter would have been forgotten.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Disclosure Of The Identities of The 4 Persons With HIV/AIDS

On the evening of 26th November, 2011, I just happened to be passing by the TV in my bed room – to go to the toilet. I noticed that the TV was on idle mode. On an impulse, I pushed the “ON” button on the remote and punched in the numbers “11” without intending to actually watch whatever BBS was broadcasting at that time - it was an impulsive act. A half-hearted sideways glance on the screen showed that the BBS was showing a live panel discussion anchored but Dawa. The three panelists consisted of two medical doctors and one High Court judge. Curious to know what was being discussed, I retraced my steps to take a closer look at the TV.

I realized that I was towards the fag-end of the program. I was about to shut off the TV when I heard Dawa say that the BBS TV would be hosting a live show on the 1st of December, when he will showcase four persons who have been tested HIV/AIDS positive.

Consternation stuck me! WHATTTTTTTTTT??????

As the enormity of the tragedy of what they were planning began to sink into me, my mind was a tumultuous mess. It was so numbed that it couldn’t register much of what was being said. But I have hazy memories of what Dawa was saying and what the doctors were saying and what the judge was saying.

Dawa the anchor justified that the parading of the 4 HIV/AIDS positive cases would be in the larger interest of the people of Bhutan.

One of the doctors on the panel actually claimed that HIV is no longer the scourge that we believe it is – he claimed that it is as common as cancer or any other chronic disease. The other doctor who is supposed to be the head of some HIV/AIDS related organization claimed that the 4 persons have volunteered to come on the show – live! and that it is a first of its kind in the world.

The High Court judge rattled off some mumbo jumbo about the Constitution providing adequate protection against abuse of the individual right and the individual dignity of every Bhutanese individual.

All of the three panelists and Dawa the Anchor made it sound like it was all hunky dory and went on to assure us that there is a need for this cause célèbre.

I am amazed at the naivety of it all. Doctors and judges endorsing this 15 minutes of fame seem to ignore the devastating and life altering consequences – not so much to the 4 persons willing to appear live on TV, but hundreds of others – who will be affected by this misguided show of bravado and a misplaced sense of righteousness.

There are certain ethical and moral and legal issues that these people who have cajoled the 4 persons to come on live on the BBS TV, need to understand.

For the doctors: What do your professional code of ethics and conduct say – about encouraging your terminally ill patients with socially unacceptable disease, to reveal their identities on the national TV? Can your behavior be considered ethical – in advising and encouraging them to undertake a step that leaves them wide open to unfathomable reactions and, even ostracization from friends, relatives, co-workers and the rest of the society?

To the Judge: In quoting the Constitution and reminding us of the protection it accords us from abuse of individual rights, are you saying that there are legal provisions in the law that will protect these 4 persons (and their numerous family, spouses, children, siblings) from discrimination by individuals and society? Are there laws in place which could be applied, should they suffer ostracization as a result of public declaration of their illness?

To BBS TV: As a public service broadcaster, do you believe that you are doing the society at large a service by broadcasting a program that may well subject a huge number of people to discrimination, acts of intolerance and prejudice? Are you prepared to be an accessory to the ensuing disruption of life and happiness of a large number of people that the broadcast of the program may cause? Have you considered that these 4 HIV/AIDS positive persons may be willing but what of the others associated with them? Have you considered that you stand to jeopardize the lives and happiness of others associated with these 4 persons – who haven’t given their consent to the public disclosure of their conditions and who, either because they are ignorant or because their condition is still a secret, live a life of relative ordinariness?

To the 4 HIV/AIDS positive persons: What exactly do you hope to achieve by going public with your sickness? What will you tell the people that they do not already know about the consequences of contacting HIV/AIDS? Have you considered the consequences, once the 30 minutes glare is over?

Please remember that you do not exist in isolation. You are a part of the human society. You have parents; you have wives, children, friends, employers, employees, co-workers, landlords, tenants and sex partners. One way or the other, they identify with you – they are intrinsically linked to you and what you do will impact them - irreversibly.

Do you have their concurrence to draw them into something that they may not be willing to be drawn into? If not, who gave you the right to jeopardize their lives and happiness, and anonymity? Do you realize that their lives may already be affected as a result of your illness? Are you repentant about the fact that your spouses, your children and others may already be going through misery and unhappiness – because of you? How responsible are you being – in wanting to aggravate the situation further – by declaring to the world that you are a HIV/AIDS carrier?

Please remember that you are not alone in this. Lots of others who love you and care for you and who have stood by you all this while will be affected by your action - the outcome of which is as yet unfathomable.

Please remember that your children may lose friends in school – no one may want to sit next to them. In the vegetable market, your spouse may stand out like an oddity – a bull in a Chinese shop. You may get thrown out of your flat. You may have had sex with others who still are unaware of your dreaded disease – once you come out in the open, they will know. Imagine their misery and their anguish. Imagine how many lives you stand to ruin and bring to a stand still.

No amount of education has been able to squash the misconceptions surrounding HIV/AIDS. It is still looked upon as a disease that is abhorable and highly contagious.

In every part of the world, without exception, discrimination is looked upon as something that is undesirable. Governments and societies around the world legislate laws that are designed to fight discrimination. And yet, there is no society in the world that is free of discrimination. Bhutan is no different. Therefore, the contention that these four people and their kith and kin will not be discriminated against is something I am not willing to accept. Our proven records show otherwise.

In conclusion, I appeal to the management and the Anchor of BBS TV to withdraw the broadcasting of the program on 1st December where they will present the 4 persons with HIV/AIDS. Even if they insist on going ahead with it, I hope they will be reasonable enough to seek the consent and concurrence of the other people who stand to be affected by the broadcast.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

In Praise Of A Teacher

For the better part of last year and early this year, the topical discussions that refused to die down concerned those of the high profile teachers who refused to be moved out of Thimphu, deteriorating quality of education - supposedly as a result of poorly trained and qualified teachers, and the introduction of NAPE system/method of teaching in our schools. 

The Education Ministry brought out a rule that made it mandatory for a teacher posted in Thimphu for more than 20 years to be transferred out, without exception. Did the rule work? No idea, but I can bet you my last broken Chettrum that it most likely did not - given our penchant for breaking laws and opposing rules. Did the quality of education improve since? Most definitely NOT - most likely it has worsened even further. 

I think the government and the people are barking up the wrong tree - in blaming the teachers and the NAPE system. They need to get a fresh perspective on what really ails our education system. Have we assessed the quality of our students? Is it possible that the falling standards of our education could be directly linked to the deteriorating quality of our students? Is it possible that if we work at improving the quality of our students, we could see improvement in the quality of education as well as the graduates we churn out? 

However, my post is not really about the quality of education in Bhutan – but about a refreshingly “different” teacher I met in Langdurbi, Kheng Zhemgang during my tour of the Upper Kheng areas. His name is Yeshey Gyeltshen. His photo is posted below. 

Mr. Yeshey Gyeltshen tells me that he has been posted in Langdurbi Community Primary School since 2009. Before that he was posted for three years (2006 – 2008) in Panbang – another community school in the remote Lower Kheng area. When I met him in 2010, he had already spent 5 years of his teaching career (and all of his working life) in the remote areas of Kheng. His wife is a NFE teacher and he has a daughter who studies in Class II. 

He was enthusiastic, lively, cooperative and very, very helpful. He opened one of the dilapidated classrooms so that I and my assistants could sleep in it. In the evening I invited him and his family to dine with us. Although I was on the road for the past 16 days, I still had a few pieces of sikam in my zem that I wanted to share with him and his family, for his hospitality. 

Over dinner the teacher explained to me why he was so happy to be working in rural Kheng. He explained that being in rural areas, he and his wife could save whatever they earned by way of salary. There were no shops to go to; since there was no road, he had no need for a car and therefore, no need to spend money on fuel; there was no party or dance culture in the villages, so he didn’t have to spend on gifts and such. And, as a teacher, the villagers and the parents of the students brought him vegetables and eggs and cheese and butter from time to time - a customary Bhutanese culture of Changjey for the venerable Lopen. The only money he needed to spend was on rice, salt and oil. Rest he either cultivated in his kitchen garden or the villagers provided them free. As a result, he did not experience the financial pressures his peers in the urban centres did. 

At the end of the year, he confided to me that, even with their meager salaries, they easily saved close to Nu.90,000.00 between him and his wife. That money, he says, is enough for him to send home to help out his old parents. Further, with a glint in his eyes, he tells me that during the winter school workshops that he attends in the capital or Punakha or some such places, he finds that he is among the richest teachers in the group - because he finds that he is the only one who can treat the rest to lunches and dinners - because, although his colleagues drive cars, they barely have money enough to fuel them up. 

He told me that he will be willing and happy to work in the rural areas. There is only one condition that he sets and hopes that his Ministry will understand. That is, he says that after his daughter passes out from Class VI, he wants to be transferred to some urban centre so that his daughter has the opportunity to continue her studies in a proper school. 

Now, I dare say that Mr. Yeshey Gyeltshen is one school teacher who has his head screwed in on the right place.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Langdurbi Community School Girls Hostel

The photo below is that of the girls’ hostel of Langdurbi Community School in Kheng Zhemgang. The photograph was taken on 5th February, 2010. It would appear that there was no budget allocated to the school authorities to buy few dozen nails to hammer in the tin sheets that serve as hostel walls. As you can see, the tin sheets are held in place by wooden poles stuck into the cavities of the vertical wooden posts of the main structure.

Think Gorgan-Shinkhar road … and then consider this half-done chicken coop that will serve as accommodation to about 16 young girls when the school is in session.

You do get the drift, don’t you?

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Matter Of Perception

Yesterday evening, I was at the Karma’s Coffee with a friend who narrated to me a conversation that he had overheard at another restaurant where he was with another friend. He tells me that two senior civil servants on the adjoining table were engaged in a conversation which he found rather amusing. One of them proudly declared that in all his close to four decades of service to the Tsa Wa Sum, he had only one minor Audit memo issued against him. Not to be outdone, the other proclaimed that he had not even one memo to his name.

During my trip to the upper Kheng areas early last year, I was appalled by the impoverished condition of the people and the sub-human circumstances in which they survived. The government’s neglect of this region is apparent everywhere – from the lack of proper roads to basic medical facilities to shortage of safe drinking water. Although far from being remote, the people are so backward that at a village called Digala, we were mistaken for Khegpas (headhunters).

In an effort to understand what went wrong, I started to question the village elders in all the villages I visited. Since I believe that the Dzongkhag Administrator (Dzongda) is responsible for the development and progress in his Dzongkhag, my question to the people was: Which of the many Dzongdas who were posted in Zhemgang Dzong do you consider as your best Dzongda?

Time after time, unfailingly, one name cropped up - that of Dasho Ngawang Sangey, an ex-army officer from Wangduephodrang. All of those people I spoke to were in agreement that the only Dzongda who did any meaningful work and service to the people of Kheng was: Dasho Ngawang Sangey. I was told that most of what few mule tracks, suspension bridges and remote schools there were in the Khenga areas were established during his time. According to them, he is the only Dzongda they can remember and credit with, what they call, “Shue nakpai la” – work of any substance. At the end of my journey, I asked my father in Tingtingbi the same question. He too agreed that Dasho Ngawang Sangey would qualify as the best Dzongda that Khengri Namsum ever had.

Ironically, Dasho Ngawang Sangey has the singular distinction of being the only Dzongda of Zhemgang who was charged by the RAA for embezzlement of government funds, and thrown into jail for his troubles.

So, ladies and gentlemen, take your pick – a life of obscurity spent in sham and deception, fighting tooth and nail for your car quota or, a life in prison for the sake of the meek and the downtrodden, in whose heart you will forever live, a shinning star – as does Dasho Ngawang Sangey, Ex-Dzongda of Zhemgang, in the hearts of the poor Khengpa people.

Dasho Ngawang Sangey, wherever you are, please know that as far as the people of Khengrig Namsum are concerned, you are absolved of all Audit memos.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

My Answer To: PaSsu/Sangay/Penstar

To be qualified as a Ham and in order that you can be authorized to use a wireless transceiver, you need to pass an examination conducted by a qualified Ham under the aegis of the BICMA (Bhutan InfoCom and Media Authority, Ministry of Communications, Royal Government of Bhutan). Although BICMA is the regulatory authority that will issue you the licence and the call sign, I am afraid that they do not have a trained Ham who is capable to impart training or conduct examinations. 

You need to be knowledgeable in subjects such as ITU’s (International Telecommunications Union) and our own laws governing telecommunications, amateur radio etiquette and, at the least, 5 WPM (5 words per minute) Morse code capability. Although Morse code around the world is no longer a necessity, BICMA’s rules still require you to pass the test in Morse code. 

So, if you are interested to go into Ham radio, you first need to learn all the above and then request the BICMA to conduct the exams for you. However, as I said, they don’t have that capability in-house … so they will have to call in someone from outside - closest being from India. They may be willing to do that for you - provided you pay the expenses for the examiner to come to Bhutan and conduct the exams. 

If you are really serious and if you are willing to wait until July, 2013, there is someone (of the highest class) coming to Bhutan during that time and will be in Bhutan for over a month. Let me know. I will be happy to request the person to arrange a training for you as well as anyone else interested, so that you can study for the examination which he will conduct under the authority of the BICMA. If you pass, you will get your licnece. Without a licence, it is illegal to operate a wireless set. 

Regarding the equipment … all that you need is a transceiver, mike, keyer and a simple antennae to start with. The cost really depends on the type of equipment you want. It can start anywhere from US$ 300.00 for the complete set to all the way to US$500,000.00 which would include Yagi beams and powerful Amps and top-of-the-range transceivers and a gamut of other paraphernalia. If you don’t have the money for the set, I can help by lending you mine - I have about 7 full sets. But without first making sure that you have a licence to operate the wirless sets, I will claw out your eyeballs - if you even so much as look at them :)- Wireless equipment in the hands of irresponsible people can be a very, very dangerous tool! 

Once you are on the air, if you have the time, you can have a blast. You will make friends around the world - from Kings to astronauts to doctors to inventors to lawyers to pirates in the Caribbean. There is only one danger – your wife might throw you out into the street from time to time since wireless transmission causes serious disruption in the reception of TV signals :)

Friday, November 18, 2011

AC3PT - King Palden Thondup Namgyal, Chogyal Of Sikkim (sk)

Three of my readers - Passu, Sangay and Penstar - who read my last post titled "Wireless Full of Wires" and wanted to know more about the distress call sent out by the late Palden Thondup Namgyal, Chogyal of Sikkim, over his Ham radio. Instead of responding to them in the form of a comment, I would like to post my reply as a separate post, so that others may get to read it. Here it is:

I bet that there were others around the world who heard Palden Thondup Namgyal, Chogyal of Sikkim when he sent out that distress call. But I know of only one person who exchanged words with him on that fateful day. His name was: Horst Geerken, a telecommunications engineer working for the German firm Telefunken. At that time, he was based in Jakarta, Indonesia.

Although the Chogyal’s radio was silenced shortly thereafter by the invading forces, a friend of Horst Geerken was listening in on the conversation taking place between the Chogyal and Geerken. He was a Swedish journalist. He informed the press agencies in Sweden, Indonesia, Germany and Singapore. The next day the papers in those countries released the news of Sikkim’s annexation.

Two years after the annexation of Sikkim, Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal sent a letter of thanks to Geerkin - thanking him for his help during his moment of distress. The King wrote that his radio equipment was taken away from him. His Majesty Palden Thondup Namgyal invited Geerken to his Palace in Sikkim, provided that the Indian authorities gave him permission.

Geerken tried three times to enter Sikkim to meet the Chogyal - all three times he was refused permission. Finally, after twenty years of the demise of the Chogyal, Geerken managed to visit Sikkim in 2002. By than the radio antenna that must have been strung over the Palace roofs which helped him to put out the distress call on the 9th April, 1975, were no more.

For the first time and the last time, I saw His Majesty Palden Thondup Namgyal, the Chogyal of Sikkim, during the coronation of His Majesty the IVth Druk Gyalpo in June, 1974. I was then 18 years old. I was on coronation duty at the Motithang Hotel - I manned the Bank of Bhutan’s cash counter installed at the hotel - to cater to the local currency needs of the visiting dignitaries to the coronation.

Less than a year later, in April of 1975, Palden Thondup Namgyal was put under house arrest and his Kingdom taken away from him. He went Silent Key on 29th January, 1982 in New York, USA. He died of cancer.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wireless Full Of Wires

What is that thing that is oval in shape and is surrounded by hair?

You dirty pig, I am not answering that question.

What? What is dirty about it? It is an oval-shaped pond in the middle of a park and it is surrounded by lush green grass and flowers.

Oh OK. I didn’t think of that :)

So, once again, what did you say was that thing that is oval in shape and is surrounded by hair?

Simple - it is an oval-shaped pond in the middle of a park and it is surrounded by lush green grass and flowers.

No, No, No! It is that which you thought earlier.

That was a joke told to me by a friend with whom I was travelling in a bus from Siliguri to Calcutta. One of the Skylab space stations launched and operated by NASA had disintegrated and was hurtling towards earth. No one knew where it would land. Governments around the world ordered the grounding of train and airplane services. Thus, I had to take the Rocket bus from Siliguri to Calcutta where I was then posted.

The above joke reminded me of something that is not a joke. In fact it is something dead serious. So let me ask you the questions:

What is that thing that is called wireless but is full of wires?

What is that thing that comes to life when everything else is dead?

What is that thing that a King used to send out international distress calls, even as his Kingdom was being attacked and taken over by an invading power?

When the irritatingly pesky cellular network fails, when the internet is down and when the telephone system is bust, when the TV and the radio broadcasts are silenced, what is that thing that you can use to communicate freely and boundlessly - all the way to the South Pole and the North Pole and to all the Poles in between?

What is that means of communication that requires no set destination, no pre-determined recipient, no numbers and can be broadcast to few million people around the world?

In an era of super wide and fast bandwidth, in the age of super fast satellite communications, what is that primitive form of communication that still enthrall and attract passionate interest from the very best brains such as inventors, doctors, scientists, astronauts and engineers?

The answer to all that is: Ham Radio or Amateur Radio.

In times of natural disasters and emergencies and when every form of telecommunication fails, ham radio is the only means of communication that will still work and come to the rescue of relief workers. It can operate from the middle of the ocean or from the top of the Mount Everest. It can be set up and become operational in minutes. At any given time, close to four million users are active and listening in on to the radio signals around the world. Ham radio is perhaps the only multi-modal communication system that can transmit and receive Voice, Text, Morse Code, Graphics and Image data over the open airwaves. And, best of all, there is no charges to be paid to any service providers. It is all FREE!

Many people over the years have used the Ham Radio for a variety of purposes and emergencies but one of the most famous among them is the case of Chogyal Palden Thondup Namgyal, the last King of Sikkim. A little after 6 PM on 9th April, 1975, he sent out the following distress call using his Ham radio equipment:

“Mayday! Mayday! Alpha Charlie Three Papa Tango calling. I am the Chogyal of Sikkim, my name is Palden Thondup Namgyal. Please tell the world that my country is being attacked and taken over by Indian troops. There is fighting in my Palace. Some members of my Palace guard have already been killed. All telephone and communication lines have been cut off by the Indians. I have only got my amateur radio equipment to call attention to this. India wishes to keep this annexation secret as long as possible and to invent a cover-up story. Please help me by telling the world”.

From that day on, Sikkim ceased to exist as a nation.

Amateur radio employs the use of wireless transceivers (all modern wireless sets are transceivers - device that is a combination of a transmitter and a receiver). It is the earliest form of telecommunications invented by men. And yet, look at the list of luminaries who are the users of this primitive form of communication:

AC3PT     King Palden Thondup Namgyal, Chogyal of Sikkim (sk)
HS1A       King Bhumiphol Adulayadej - King of Thailand
JY1           King Hussain of Jordan (sk)
CN8MH    King Hassan II - King of Morocco (sk)
EA0JC       King Carlos of Spain
A4XAA     King Qabus Bib Said, Sultan of Oman
SU1VN      Prince Talal of Saudi Arabia
VU2RG      Rajiv Gandhi, Prime Minister of India (sk)
JI1KIT        Keizo Obuchi - Japanese Prime Minister
UA1LO      Yuri Gagarin - First man in space (sk)
N5YYV      Kathryn Dwyer Sullivan Ph.D. NASA astronaut.
    First American woman to walk in space in 1984
GB1MIR     Helen Sharman - First British woman into space
KG6FZX     Dennis Tito - First space tourist
NY6YOS     Priscilla Presley – Ex-wife of Elvis Presley
FO5GJ         Marlon Brando, Actor (sk)
A51AA        Yeshey Dorji, Bhutan  :)-

Some pecularities about Ham aadio:
In Ham radio parlance, “SK” stands for “Silent Key” - meaning that the Ham operator is dead.

A lady Ham may be 100 years old, but she is always referred to as “YL” – meaning “Young Lady”. Likewise, a 12 year old male operator is addressed as “OM” which stands for “Old Man”.

The Hams may not speak English and yet, the medium of conversation is ENGLISH - they all converse in English when they communicate with each other over the radio.

A Ham may be stone deaf and you are likely to develop tonsillitis shouting at the top of your voice trying to converse with him/her and yet, he/she will hear the faintest of the crackle and squeak of radio signals emanating out of his wireless set.

The population figures for Hams around the world are as follows:

Japan      1,296,059          First place
USA          679,864          Second place
Bhutan                 7          Possibly, the last place

Bhutan at 7 Hams may rank as the country with the lowest number of Hams, but it is possible that North Korea may not have even one since, in the Ham world, North Korea is ranked as the rarest in the world. The reason is that there is no Ham radio operating out of that country. Until the year 2000, Bhutan was ranked at #2 but our ranking has been sliding since we legalized Ham radio usage under an Act in 1999.

Bhutan’s legally licneced Hams are as follows:

A51YL          Ambika Gurung
A51UD          Dorji Yeshey
A51KC          Kesang Namgyel (sk)
A51PK          Parop Kinley Dorji
A51PR          Pema Rinzin
A51WD        Wangpo Dorji
A51AA         Yeshey Dorji

Three of the earliest ladies who operated ham radio from Bhutan are:

A52FH          Ms Thierry Veuve Le Cleach       French
A52VJ           Ms Vivien Johnson                     American
A52YL          Ms Melissa Johnson                    American

The youngest ham to ever operate from Bhutan is Paul Johnson (W0PJ) from USA – he was 13 years of age in 2000-2001 when he operated from Bhutan. He used the Call Sign A52PJ.

The oldest Ham to operate from Bhutan was: Ms Thierry Veuve Le Cleach (F6HWU) - a French national. She was born in 1924. She operated from Bhutan in the year 2000. She was then over 76 years old!! She operated under the group Callsign: A52FH.

A Call Sign with the pre-fix “A51” is issued only to national amateurs. However, there are two none-Bhutanese persons who have been accorded the rare honour of having been issued Call Signs with a national prefix. They have been honored for their contribution to the development of Ham Radio activity in the Kingdom of Bhutan. They are:

Yasuo Miyazawa, Japan             A51A
Glenn Johnson, USA                  A51B

Official records show that the first ever Ham radio call that was sent out from Bhutan was in the year 1955 - from Rida in Wangduephodrang.

The first western operator to operate from Bhutan was Mr. Gus Browning - a legendary Ham from USA.

Bhutan was first listed in the original pre-war ARRL, DXCC Countries list - published in 1937. However, due to lack of Ham radio activity, it appears that a country pre-fix was not allocated to Bhutan. In a letter dated 1972, the then Director of Bhutan Wireless writes that Bhutan has been allocated a country pre-fix - exact date when it was done in not known but it is safe to assume that it was an outcome of Bhutan joining the UN system in 1971.

It is rumoured that His Majesty the Third King of Bhutan kept himself abreast of world news - a Ham operator in New Delhi Embassy Morse-coded the entire day’s issue of the newspaper of his choice - a near impossible job!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pardon Me, Your Slip Is Showing

I had never before visited the Bhutan Power Corporation’s payment counter for payment of my bills - someone had always done it on my behalf. Today, as I had time in hand, waiting for a friend to reach his office in Kawajangsa, I decided that I will visit the BPC’s Payment Counter above the UNDP office so that I can pay my bills that have been outstanding for a long time.

Each of their glass panes carried a notice each. But the following three caught my eyes:


Please take note that date 29th is the last due date for the water bill payment for every month. If date 29th falls on government holidays or on a Saturday we are not responsible for that. After that we will remain closed for few days.


In the event of your cheque being DISHONORED Nu.1000/- per cheque will be debited to your account as company charges.



9.00 AM – 1.00 PM
1.00 PM -1.30 PM LUNCH BREAK
1.30 AM – 4.00PM


9.00 AM – 12.00


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Shangri-la, GNH and Chewing Gum

Did the National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan of Singapore say something erroneous when he said; “Bhutan is not the Shangri-la on earth?” Some think so. Now, I have this question for those of you who have taken offense at the remark: Do you believe that Bhutan is truly Shangri-la? Do you believe the Bhutanese people had true GNH in the past and, more importantly, do we have it now? Will we ever attain it and, if we do, will we be happy as a result?

From what little I know about GNH, I get the feeling that we cannot achieve it unless we go the Singapore way. In that respect, I fully agree with the Singapore Minister that; “In their (Bhutanese) minds, Singapore could well be the Shangri-la and they want Bhutan to emulate Singapore."

But Shangri-la was/is a mythical land and the people who lived in that valley were from a mythical era that didn’t have to battle the effects of climate change and global warming. Their realities were far removed from ours in which we have to face disparity of wealth, injustices, food shortages, polluted atmosphere, irrational wants and greed, depleting resources, diminishing water supplies and host of other problems that alter the very way we look at what constitutes happiness. We have to be suffering delirium to think that there is one country in this world that can be called a Shangri-la. Thus, I think, the conditions that are supposed to prevail in a Shangri-la must remain in the realm of the surreal.

GNH, GNH. GNH - Oh God, it is so confusing. This GNH has me totally baffled. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced that the principles of GNH are the antithesis to GPH - Gross Personal Happiness.

At one point soon, we must all calmly sit down and debate on the issue: Can GNH contribute to GPH; if not, what is the point? Can GNH be achieved without usurping GPH? Is GNH more important than GPH?

I think there is a serious paradox here. If ever we achieve our GNH, we may have to do so following in the footsteps of the great achiever - Singapore. They have a few thousand billion dollars in reserve, their city sparkle and shimmer; everything there works like a well-oiled Rolls-Royce engine.

Paradoxically, all that has been possible because they have been ruthless in imposing prohibitions on their citizens - such as the law on chewing gums - a starling example of how to achieve GNH at the cost of GPH.