Wednesday, April 20, 2011

BBC Filming Crew Kills Two Tigers in Bangladesh

A few days back, over breakfast at the Galingkha restaurant, my friend from Bangladesh, Dr. Ronald Halder - dentalist, ornithologist, photographer and author, introduced me to Sirajul Hossain, a naturalist and a photographer, also from Bangladesh. Two of them, accompanied by another birder/photographer friend, Md. Zamiruddin Faisal, are currently in Bhutan on a 10-days bird watching/photography tour of Bhutan.
It was inevitable that given our shared interest in photography and birding, we mostly talked of the photographic and birding opportunities offered by Bhutan. One other matter we talked about was of the tigers living and breeding in the high Himalayas of Bhutan and of those that lived and roamed the mangroves of the Sundarbans in Bangladesh. That is when I mentioned about the shameless claims made by the BBC team who recently made a documentary on the tigers of Bhutan. What Sirajul told me next left me in total shock and disbelief!

It seems that the BBC did something even worst in Bangladesh than what they did in Bhutan. In Bangladesh, they actually caused the death of few tigers - in the process of their film making and in their attempt to be dramatic and theatrical.

Following the incidences of the death of two tigers at the hands of the BBC filming crew, Sirajul published two articles titled; “The Death of Two Tigers: Immature science in immature hands” and “On Death and Survival of Tigers”. Both the articles were published in Bangladesh’s largest circulating English daily: The Daily Star. The first article appeared on 22nd February, 2008 and the second one appeared on 7th June, 2008.

The two articles clearly show that in their quest to make a dramatic film, the BBC couldn’t care less about the consequences of their actions to their subjects. One of the articles point to the fact that there is nothing professional about the way the BBC does things. In fact, the title of one of the articles, “The Death of Two Tigers: Immature science in immature hands” is revealing.

Since I leave for the East tomorrow, I do not have the time. But when I return, I hope to post a detailed commentary on the two articles published by the naturalist Sirajul Hossain. In the meantime, I hope this will alert the Royal government and its agencies to be wary of any future proposals they receive from the BBC.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

15” of Mini Twinkies: II

The simple act of narrating a joke can sometimes test your ingenuity to its limit. So it was with me; when I decided to lighten the mood in my blog by posting a joke tiled, ‘15” of Mini Twinkies’. I did not realize what a challenge I was taking on when I decided to tell a joke that involved three multi-national ding-dongs measuring a perfect 15”.
I am not a practicing joker - not even an occasional one. My joke telling days were over close to two decades ago. The thing with jokes is that you have to keep telling them - to be able to tell them with a certain flair and style and ease. Even the funniest jokes can sound dour, if it is not delivered with the right combination of mimicry, wild gesticulations and contortions. Extricating guffaws from your audience is no mean joke. But my difficulties arose not from a lack of skill of writing or command over the language. I was challenged at an altogether different level.
The problem arose because the joke involves three different nationalities. And, if you have read the joke, you would have realized that the entire success of the joke hinges on the soldier who possesses a schlong measuring no more than 3”. That was at the root of my troubles.
While the real truth remains hidden within our crotches, no male of whatever nationality likes to be identified as being one who is poorly hung. This is totally a male thing. Thus, assigning a lingam that measured a miserly 3” to a specific nationality would be seen as insidious and libelous by that nationality! The joke would be in very poor taste.
But for the sake of the joke, someone has to take on that dishonor or the joke wouldn’t be so funny. But who? Who do I say possessed that very critical and life saving but very miniscule 3” ding-a-ling? How can I narrate my cute little joke without hurting sensibilities and provoking ire? How can I do it without leaving a sour after-taste in the mouth, after the laughter?
At the end of two days and two nights of brain-racking and after giving due consideration to history, logic, anatomical analysis, myth and mystery, I elected the Chinese soldier to be the baton bearer and, in doing so, I believe I resolved the delicate dilemma! In fact, I believe that it was a stroke of genius.
NOTE: Beyond being funny, some jokes are brain teasers. My joke ‘15” of Mini Twinkies’ is one such joke. I waited two days for some readers to point out the anomaly built-in into the joke. It seems that none have noticed it. Or, perhaps, you are being kind to me by not pointing out the deliberate flaw in the joke. Whatever the case may be, I encourage you to re-read the joke and, if this time you observe the irregularity in the joke, you will then understand the illogical logic behind this rejoinder.
PS: The correct nomenclature for the Allied Forces I referred to in my joke should be: Multi-National Force - Iraq.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

15” Of Mini Twinkies

I just realized that I have been posting rather serious stuff on my Blog. I think Blogging need not be a tedious process - neither for the readers nor for the Bloggers. So here is something, which I hope will lighten up your moods and make your trips to my Blog a happy and joyful experience.
During the war in Iraq, a mixed group of three soldiers belonging to the Allied Forces were ambushed by the Iraqi army. They were herded before the Iraqi Commander who would decide their fate.
The Commander declared; “Let it not be said that the Iraqi army is without compassion and do not respect the Geneva Conventions on P.O.W. I am going to give you a fair chance to escape the inevitable death by firing. I will give you a test and if you pass the test, you will go free but if you fail, you die before my firing squad. Is that acceptable to you?”
The motley of chained and shackled soldiers comprising of an American, a German and a Chinese, huddled together to discuss the matter. They arrived at the consensus that it was sure death for them anyway but there might just be the remote possibility that they might pass the test and escape death. So they agreed that they will go through the test, whatever it was. They chorused; “Yes, we accept the test but what exactly is the test?”
The Commander said; “Good. The test is simple: I will have your mini twinkies measured out and if the sum total of your combined length is exactly 15 inches, you will go scot free. If they are even marginally longer or shorter, it is the firing squad for you. Do you accept?”
The POWs were stumped. They looked at each other in bewilderment but they were aware that they had hardly a choice so they agreed to take the test.
The Commander ordered two Iraqi soldiers to escort the soldiers one by one and have their ding-dongs measured out. The American soldier was the first to be taken behind the barracks and measured out.
The two Iraqi soldiers returned with the American soldier and reported;
“Exactly 5”, Sir!
Next, the German soldier was escorted behind the barracks. A little while later, the Iraqi soldiers returned with a brimming German soldier and declared;
“Commander, Sir, Exactly 7”!
It was now the turn of the Chinese soldier. Minutes later, the two forlorn looking Iraqi soldiers escorted back the Chinese soldier who was grinning from ear to ear, and reported;
“Incredible, Sir, but exactly 3”!
The sum total stood at exactly 15”! The Commander had no choice but to let go the soldiers. They had passed the test and earned their freedom.
As the three soldiers walked away in relief, each of them gloated about their role in the escape from death. The American took great pride in the fact that if it hadn’t been for his bountiful 5”, all three of them would be cold turkey right now and being buried 3’ under the ground.
The German declared; “Yea right! If mine did not measure a hulking 7”, both of you would be dead and not talking so big and boastful”.
The meek Chinese chimed in; “Please guys, let us offer prayers of thanks to God that if I hadn’t had a hard-on, we would all be history”.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

RTI & The Bhutanese Mentality

I recently read a news item in Business Bhutan that a SAARC Group of Advisors on RTI was formed. Supposedly, this group will act as an informal forum where member states will exchange information and experiences to enable them to legislate and effectively implement RTI in their respective countries. Proponents of the RTI Act argue that its legislation and adoption will eliminate arbitrariness and corrupt practices in the government and public and civilian authorities. Some discussion on this issue has already taken place in Bhutan and while its adoption may be delayed for a variety of reasons, it is inevitable that it will finally come to be adopted.

RTI is a complex issue. The extent and scope of the Act will differ from country to country. What will be covered and what will not be covered will depend on a variety of factors and situations prevalent in each country. Bhutan, for instance, is a Constitutional Monarchy and thus, the RTI will include certain clauses that other countries in the region will see as irrelevant and decadent. Also, geopolitical realities will be a determining factor in the inclusion or exclusion of certain clauses that may be relevant and yet pertinent to be excluded from a written Law. No question, RTI will be a complex undertaking.

But in my opinion, the most daunting complexity will be the Bhutanese mentality and the manner in which we treat information. This stark reality hit me a week back when I tried to uncover some historical facts about Lingzhi Dzong. As ludicrous as it may sound, our public officials have this tendency to be secretive, even of matters that they are explicitly required to disseminate and propagate to the general public. This tendency is not limited to the big bosses of the bureaucracy alone, but is prevalent even among the workers in the lower rung of the hierarchy.

The following three incidences - more than two and a half decades apart - will demonstrate just how daunting the task of implementing the RTI Act is likely to be.

FIRST INCIDENT: Sometime in the mid 80’s, the Department of Revenue & Customs published the first ever written taxation rules of the country. For the first time in our history, there was a written and clearly defined tax rates and duty draw backs. The Forward to the Rules was authored by Her Royal Highness Ashi Sonam Choden Wangchuck, who was then the Representative of His Majesty in the Ministry of Finance - the parent Ministry of the Department of Revenue & Customs. Her Royal Highness wrote that the rule book was an important document and that it was important for the general public to understand it and follow the rules contained in the book. Therefore, she hoped that the book would be widely circulated among the general public.

On the cover of the rule book, a cautionary note was inscribed in bold that read: STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL.

SECOND INCIDENT: This incident occurs one and a half decades after the one described above. One of my friends from the US wanted to organize an archery match between 12 American archers and a like number of Bhutanese archers. The Americans had heard so much about archery being the national sports of Bhutan and how good we were at the sport. They would come to Bhutan for the match and would follow the Bhutanese format in all respects. In order that they could familiarize themselves with our rules and conventions, my friend asked me to acquire a copy of the Bhutan Archery Federation Rules and mail it to him.

I went to see the Secretary of the Bhutan Archery Federation in his office and made my request for the issue of a copy of the Rules, either free or on payment of a fee. After listening to me intently, he declared that the rules were STRICTLY CONFIDENTIAL and refused to give me a copy. I was dumb founded - how can rules and regulations that people are supposed to read and understand and adhere to, be confidential? Me and my American friend got so disgusted, we trashed the whole idea.

THIRD AND LATEST INCIDENT: The latest incident took place on 31st March, 2011. The posting of my photo on Lingzhi Dzong generated some vigorous interest on the historical background of the Dzong - who built it, when was it built, what was the purpose of building it etc. etc. So I began to hunt for information from various people and establishments that were likely to have some information on the Dzong. I spoke to 2 people from Lingzhi who are presently domiciled in Dechencholing. They had nothing to offer me. I then located the Lingzhi Gup who was attending a meeting here in Thimphu. He was clueless. I was then asked to contact Dasho Sangey Dorji of the DDC who offered some useful information derived from work done by late Lopen Pemala. Sangey Wangdi, Ex-Councilor from Dramitse suggested that I contact Lopen Kunzang Thinley, a prolific writer with the KMT publishers. He had nothing to offer but helped me reconfirm certain facts that I already possessed. I went and met Thimphu Dzongdah who is the administrative head of Lingzhi Dungkhag. He gave me the interesting input about how it was customary for the Dzong’s roof to be taken down every winter to prevent it being blown off by strong winds that batter the Dzong during the winter months.

Now, we do have a Cultural Division under the Ministry of Home and Culture. I decided that they surely ought to have some material on the Dzong; after all, they are supposed to be the depository for all information and material related to our culture and tradition. Upon visiting the office at lower Motithang, I was directed to meet a lady, the Head of the section being out of office - on maternity leave. This lady put me through a host of irrelevant questions but at the end, she implied that any information they possessed would be classified information and a national secret. I was aghast - a historical fact that concerns our culture being treated with secrecy? Damn! Either she was being ridiculous or the Division has no information whatsoever on the Dzong and she is trying to conceal that fact. Nonetheless, she took down my number and promised to call back after consulting her Head who was on maternity leave. Fives days went by and she still hadn’t called - so I posted my piece on the history of the Dzong on my blog without waiting for her to give me additional information. It is now eleven days since my meeting with her and she still hasn’t called me.

So, what do you think are the prospects that the RTI will work in Bhutan?

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Lay Nun At Drakarpo

As I sat sipping hot tea on a clearing atop Lhakhang Drakarpo above Shaba in Paro, my horse contractor by my side, I saw an old lady of about 85 wobble up the steep incline; her back was bent with age and burdens unknown; her weather-beaten face was creased with lines of hardship and toil. Surprisingly for her age, she had a head full of hair which was pure gray.
I had been hiking for the past 5 hours - first on a straight line from Boemri to Dongkala and then straight downhill on my way to Shaba where I would end my 2-weeks long Druk Path Trek. I should have ended my trek at Taa Dzong had I taken the traditional route. However, I had heard such glowing reports about Boemri (Altitude: 3,831 Mtrs.) that I decided to veer off from Jele Dzong towards Boemri.
I spent one night at Boemri, which, by the way, I am told should be pronounced Boed-Mo-Richen; meaning Mighty Mountain of the Tibetan Lady. The hermit I spoke to at the Ngephug Drupkhang tells me that the Tibentan lady in question was named Ekazathri. Now, I am not sure if he is mispronouncing the name Ekajati - a powerful goddess in the Tibetan mythology.
The old lady invited us to her hermitage for a cup of tea. She said that she was under Tsam (meditation) for the past many years. I declined the offer since I told her that I am already having tea, as she could see, whereupon the following conversation ensued:

“So, where are you gentlemen coming from? Are you here to visit the Lhakhang?”
“No, we are coming down from Dongkala Lhakhang”
"Ahh … so, karmi phuewa iina?”
“No, I went there to take photos of the Lhakhang and the surrounding areas”
“Ahh … so how many monks did you see there at Dongkala?"
“About 5 of them”
“Ahh … the rest must have gone to the Bjangsa to take a head count of their heard of yaks”
“Herd of Yaks? They have yaks?”
“Yes they do and quiet a large number of them”
“So how did monks end up owning yaks?”
“There is a practice of devout people offering land and animals to Lhakhangs. This way, the Dratsangs can generate some bit of income to support themselves while the devotees can earn huge merit for their after life”
“Wai iina, that is a dang good idea. Why didn’t I think of this before? I think I too will come and give Wang & Choe to the people of Paro and they can offer me plenty of yaks and land. You think that is a good idea, Aangey?
That did it! The old lady flew into a rage. She demanded to know whether I was made of the stuff that Lamas are made of. She wanted to know about my lineage, my upbringing and whether I knew the scriptures enough to perform Choe and give Wang. Frothing at the mouth, she cursed me that I was a shameless, faithless person. She waved her frail fingers at my face and accused me of being a Sodey Soenam kamkambi gii mii.
She wobbled off in a huff, leaving me flummoxed and speechless. God Almighty! it was intended as a light hearted joke to give her a few laughs. Where was the need for her to fly off her handle? Isn’t she a person of religion? Doesn’t meditation teach her to be calm and collected; to subdue her anger and her greed and her attachment to material things? Isn’t the conquest and suppression of a person’s Ngajey and Thradong at the core of the practice of meditation?
As the old lady disappeared from view, I was overwhelmed with a feeling of sadness. She may have spent years in a hermitage, but it was obvious that her journey towards enlightenment hadn’t even begun yet. Eighty five years of life lived in ignorance and misconception and yet, she will pass into oblivion - a misguided soul to the end - unable and unwilling to see the light of day.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Lingzhi Dzong

Historical Background of Lingzhi Dzong

The posting of my photos of the beautiful and remote Linzhi Dzong aroused lot of interest among my readers, including myself. So I did a little research into its historical background and came up with the following.
If some readers have more information, please share with me so that I may update this post.

Chögyal Minjur Tenpa was appointed the third Druk Desi from 1667 to 1680. Of the many wars Bhutan fought with Tibet, two of them took place during his reign; first in 1667 and the second one in 1676 which lasted until 1678.
Lingzhi Dzong was constructed by Chögyal Minjur Tenpa in 1668 - to celebrate Bhutan’s victory over the Tibetans in the war of 1667. He named the Dzong as Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong. This Dzong is not to be confused with an older Dzong called Lingzhi Jagö Dzong which is located at Gungyül village about 4 hours walk from the main Lingzhi village towards Chebisa. Jagö Dzong is not a Dzong in the conventional sense but rather a temple constructed into the face of a huge cliff that rises steeply behind Gungyül village. Photo below.
In the modern times, the term “Dzong” has come to be identified with huge building structures that house the district administration and the monk body. However, when the word was originally coined, it did not always refer to a built-up structure. When references are made to “Dzongs” or “Phodrangs” in the ancient text books and scriptures, it could mean anything - a stone boulder, a cave, a temple, a cliff, a place of meditation etc. Thus, if you go to Singye Dzong in Lhuntse, you will be told of many Dzongs as Nges that are nothing more than caves and stones. Even the main structure that is referred to as the Singye Dzong, it is nothing more than a small temple.
Lingzhi Jagö Dzong finds mention in the Namthar (biography) of Phajo Drugom Zhigpo. He was a well-known and highly revered lama of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage who came to Bhutan from Ralung in Tibet. He lived during the period 1208-1276. Thus, it is interesting to note that the Lingzhi Jagö Dzong is over 400 years older than the Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong which was built in 1668.
The catastrophic earthquake of June 12, 1897 which measured 8.7 on the Richter scale damaged Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong, as it did the Dzongs of Punakha, Wangdue, Trongsa, Jakar and the Utse of Tashichho Dzong. It was rebuilt and served as the main defensive fortress to guard the northern borders with Tibet.
Currently, Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong houses about 30 monks headed by a Lam Neten. It is under the administrative control of Thimphu Dzongkhag.
Readers will be happy to know that there is a project that is underway to renovate the old Dzong. I am thrilled about this fact - this is what I have always supported - the renovation and maintenance of the old Dzongs and temples, instead of building new ones. In spite of modern techniques of construction and material, the beauty, the symmetry and the proportions of the old structures are far superior to the new Dzongs and temples being constructed around the country.

Thimphu Dzongdah informs me that Lingzhi Dzong is battered by strong winds during the winter months. As a result, it is customary for the Dzong’s wooden shingles and stone boulders that weigh them down, to be removed every winter and stacked them up on the ground below. The Dzong is reroofed every summer when the wind is not as strong. If this is not done, he tells me that the whole roof, including the wooden trusses would be lifted off and blown away. This corroborates nicely with my contention (in my earlier posts on the Ngele-La Pass and Lingzhi Dzong) that the stone pebbles on Ngele-La pass and the mountain sides of Lingzhi were deposited there by the strong winds that batter the area.
Druk Desi” was the title given to the secular rulers of ancient Bhutan under the dual system of governance that existed during those days. Under that system, government authority was divided among secular and religious administrations, both of which were unified under a single leader - Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. While the post of the Druk Desi has long been abolished, the ancient practice of the Je Khenpo heading the religious affairs still remain to this day.

Lingzhi Jagö Dzong