Thursday, March 31, 2011

My Gross National Happiness

Last Saturday, the 26th of March, 2011 was one of those rare days when I accepted a dinner invitation at the Bhutan Suites being hosted for a visiting group of tourists from mainland China. I am not much of a party man and I generally try and avoid attending dinners and gatherings because I hate the air of pomp and formality and the need to be prim and proper and knowledgeable and funny and interesting. And, all of that has to be achieved wearing a Gho and shinning, virginal white Lagey and in an atmosphere where each one is trying to outshout the other - in an attempt to be heard and appreciated.

I accepted the dinner invitation because one of the members in the Chinese group was representing the Chinese National Geography that is planning to publish a book on Bhutan in collaboration with Ridge House International Ltd. of Beijing. She wanted to meet me because the publishers are keen to include some of my photographs in the upcoming book that is scheduled for release sometime this year.

The food was good and the wine and the booze flowed uninterrupted. I was particularly impressed with the efficiency of the dinning staff at the Bhutan Suites. They kept a hawk-eyed vigil over the entire guests and ensured that every single food plate and side plate and wine glass and whiskey glass remained filled and overflowing.

It is in the Chinese genes to be loud and boisterous at dinning tables and drinking places. Those of you who have been to eating places in China and Hong Kong would have experienced the cacophony and the high pitched voices and laughter they kick up at every table where they sit and drink. They simply love the fun of laughter and loud talk.

The dinner on Saturday was no different. The Chinese guests simply loved their trip to Bhutan and they were having great fun. The noise and the laughter got even louder than I remember from my past experiences at eateries in Singapore, Hong Kong and China. I was very happy for them but a man can take only so much noise and fume, so I moved out of the dinning hall and into the lounge to escape all the sound of happiness and mirth.

There is where I saw Karma Singye of Peljorekhang and many other khangs, seated on the sofa, quietly nursing a glass of whiskey. My acquaintance with him dates back to the time when I pioneered the computer business in this country. After about 5 years of my playing the field - alone and without competition, Karma Singye stepped in and decided to give me a hard time. But I like the man, he is persistent and focused and likely to succeed in whatever he does. I wished him all the best and got out of the game.

We began to talk of this and of that and I inevitably ended up asking him that one persistent question which I never fail to ask him, every time I bump into him;

“Have you remarried”?

The answer, after close to 20 years of having been divorced from his wife was, still;

“No, I have not yet remarried”.

Wai, wai … God Almighty, will some one out there grab him? He is good looking, eligible, loaded to his eyeballs and solidly dependable. HELP!!!!! This guy is going to waste! :)
Anyway, now coming to the reason for this post, Karma Singye told me something heartwarming that night. He tells me that whenever he chooses to present his suppliers and associates outside the country with a gift, he chooses my book “BHUTAN BIRDS” the cover photo of which I am posting below for those of you who have not yet seen the book.

He tells me something that makes me even more proud. He tells me that three of the recipients of his gifts of the book wrote to him to say that after reading my book, they have decided that they must visit Bhutan at any cost. Karma Singye feels that through that book, I have been able to promote Bhutan as a tourist destination and, thus, rendered a small service to the nation.

Some one also told me that during the PM’s visit to NYC to attend the GA, he also chose to present my book to the heads of states whom he met during the course of his stay there.

Now, for me, this is GNH. I thank my Publishers for their trust in me and the Designer for her superlative work and the Printers for the excellent job they did in the choice of paper and printing work. This strengthens my confidence in myself. I need this from time to time - so does everyone else.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Oriental White-eye

The photograph below is that of an Oriental White-eye (Zosterops palpebrosus), a small bird no bigger than 10cm. It is seen feeding on the nectar of a Bottle-brush flower. The photo was shot at Mangdechu where I had gone a few days back to see my dad.

Spring is here and the birds and the flowers are going to come alive. In the next few weeks, I will start my quest for birds and flowers. Trek to the Alpine regions will be shelved until end September when I will start the biggest trek of my life - the stupendous Snowman Trek that is likely to take me close to a month to complete.
Originally I had planned that I will start my chase for the birds from Kheng area. But I changed my mind since I have the exciting possibility of photographing a nesting Rufous-necked Hornbill (Aceros nipalensis). They nest during May and a nest has been located in the lower Kheng area. I want to be there! So, I will start with the East first.
This year, I want to try and photograph the elusive Ward’s Trogon (Harpactes wardi) in Namling area in the East. My quest for it last year failed to yield any results. I am going to give it a shot this year too and hopefully, I will be luckier this time.
While in the East, I am also going to chase that most beautiful bird called the Satyr Tragopan (Tragopan satyra). I think it is Bhutan’s most beautiful bird. I do have a pretty good image of the bird, but I believe that one can always aspire for better ones.
One other bird that I want is the shy little bird called Beautiful Nuthatch (Sitta formosa) - one of Bhutan’s rarest and most popular birds. But every time I think of it, I am overwhelmed with despair. The bird lives and feeds so high up in the tree tops, it is very difficult to see them, let alone photograph them.

Monday, March 7, 2011

An Intriguing Old Bhutanese Saying

One evening, during my most recent trek to Masagung and Gungchen Taag areas, I got to hear of an intriguing old Bhutanese saying, an idiom of sorts, which had me thinking for a while. As idioms go, this one wasn’t all that earth shattering in its relevance, nor was I hearing of such an idiom for the first time. But it was something else that held my attention and caused me to brood over it; beyond the wisdom that is inherent in it, there was something far more revealing about it - something that possibly points to its origin.
The saying went thus:
“Ngado Goe Gii Chaag; Kaang Oro Gii Jiip”

Translated into English, the saying would go thus:
“The Raptor cracks open the thigh bone but the Raven gets the marrow”
What the saying means is that the raptor goes to all the trouble of cracking open the thigh bone but the low lying Oro gets at the marrow faster than the high flying raptor.
But as I said earlier, for me, beyond the significance of the saying, it was the reference it makes to two high altitude birds that got me thinking. Consider this:
The raptor in question cannot be any old raptor but the famous Lammergeier (Gypaetus barbatus) - a vulture species with a unique skill. In Bhutan these high altitude birds live above 3,300 Mtrs. I have seen them in Soe-Yaktsa. Now, this is the only raptor that I know of who picks up thigh bones of carcasses, flies high into the sky and then, with unfailing precision, drops it onto a boulder - to crack it open to get at the marrow inside.
The Oro, on the other hand, is the Common Raven (Corvus corax) - Bhutan’s national bird. This bird too is a high altitude bird - living at altitudes beyond 4,000 Mtrs.
Majority of the Bhutanese people live at altitudes lower than 2,800 Mtrs. Thus, it is unlikely that they would ever see these birds in their life time. In fact, most of them would not have even heard of them.
Therefore, I am inclined to believe that the saying was coined by the nomadic Bjops of North-Western Bhutan or, even possibly, the Dakpas of Eastern Bhutan. They are the only people who inhabit the areas where these birds live and breed.
Any views on this?

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Mystery Of The Pebbles Atop The Dreaded Ngele-La Pass

Ngele-La pass is the strangest, almost unreal high mountain pass that I have crossed in all my treks in the alpine regions. It is strange because at an altitude of 4,702 Meters, this pass does not have a spec of snow or a tiny patch of ice or a single blade of grass growing at its top. It does not even have a fistful of earth! At this height and at this time of the year, the pass should be covered in snow. Something was seriously amiss here!
As you can see from the photo below, the top of the pass is draped in a continuous sheath of flat, splintered pebbles as far as the eyes can see. Strangely, there are no boulders or stones or granites anywhere around. So then where did the flat, splintered stone gravels come from?

As I looked on incredulously, my horse contractor informed me that the Ngele-La pass experiences some strangely powerful windy conditions. He said that the ferocity of the wind is so strong that horses are known to have been lifted off their feet and pushed off the pass to be deposited few hundred meters below the pass. He narrated an incident when, at one time, he was returning from Lingzhi on his way to Soe-Yaktsa when he ran into a serious windy condition as he was ascending to the top of the Ngele-La Pass. Half way through to the top, he was felled by the strong gusts of wind that was blowing and he ended up, not once, but thrice at the bottom of the valley. Finally, he clawed his way up to the pass and then attempted to roll down the other side of the pass - only to be pushed right back all the way to the top. He had no other way but to bury his head into his Gho and wait for the wind to subside and then roll down once again.
Is it possible that the winds have lifted the pebbles off the bottom of the valley below and deposited them at the top of the pass? I think this is very likely because, half way down the pass, one can see the same pebbles strewn all over the grassy slopes. This would also explain why there is no snow or ice or grass there - the strong wind must be blowing them off to kingdom come!
I was lucky to have been able to cross the pass - both ways - without being caught in the dreaded windy condition of the Ngele-Las pass.

She Found It Very Funny

As I said in one of my earlier posts, the ponies couldn’t make it across the Bonte-La pass so I ended up at Soe-Yaktsa without my tent. As a result, I had to take shelter in a house belonging to my horse contractor’s sister.
In the morning as we were preparing to depart for Shana, the landlady wanted herself photographed. As I looked at her through the lens and began to compose the shot, the morning sun combined with a shallow DoF made her look really nice against a smooth, beautifully blurred background. I commented that she looked beautiful. She found that remark so incredibly funny that she burst out laughing - and that is when I decided to shoot her. Not too bad for a hasty mug shot :)


Random Shots

There are times when I love to shoot not because there is some interesting subject to shoot, but simply because the mood is right. The photo below of an uncle carrying his nephew caught my attention because of the beautiful, rich lighting provided by the setting sun. Under the crystal clear atmosphere of Soe-Yaktsa, the evening sun shone on the boy looked so beautifully rich that I could not resist taking a shot of him.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Laboring Up The Ngele-La Pass

The pack ponies are seen laboring up the dreaded Ngele-La Pass. Take note of the splintered rocks on the ground - remind me to tell you something about them when I have time. This is an amazing pass that every one required to pass it dreads being caught here on a windy day.
The three snow-capped peaks on the back ground are, from right to left, Jichudrake, Tserim-Gung and Jumolhari.

It Is Lonely At The Top

One of my Camera Assistants descending into Jangothang from Ngele-La on the return trip from Lingzhi. The solitary figure of the assistant makes it look even more desolate. The peak on the background is my favorite Mt. Jichudrake.