Friday, December 28, 2012

Are Constitutional Bodies Democratic Institutions?

The public perception, and that of my own, is that the Constitutional bodies were created to safeguard the democratic process and for the provision of effective check and balance under a brand new and an unfamiliar system of governance. But recent cases of checks provided by some of the Constitutional bodies seem to be designed entirely to upset the balance.

In their eagerness to flex their unbridled muscles, irrespective of whether their individual Acts empower them or not, what has clearly been demonstrated by their actions is that they have no respect for the democratic process. Or, rather, these Constitutional bodies seem to have been empowered to function outside the democratic norm.

Yesterday afternoon a friend tells me that as of the beginning of January 2013, the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) has imposed a complete ban on the performance of annual Chokus – until the end of the upcoming elections and the declaration of its results. As a result, I am told that a large number of households around the country are in a frenzy to perform their annual Choku this month - a Dha-nag (inauspicious month)! Traditionally, it would be anathema to conduct Choku during a Dha-nag.

On the one hand the ECB has infringed on the fundamental right of the individual and the society to a free and fair practice of their religious and cultural traditions. On the other, they have, knowingly or unknowingly, forced the people to digress from centuries old religious belief - that conducting Choku during a Dha-nag is inauspicious and earns bad Karma. It is nothing short of blasphemy, for those who are believers.

I do understand the logic behind the ECB’s concerns. However, what is the rationale behind attacking only the religious and cultural practice of the Buddhists in Bhutan? What of the holding of the Christian Mass and the performance of Hindu Pujas, where a large number of people congregate too? What of other social events such as: archery tournaments, marriages, celebration of births and deaths, promotions, sporting events, National Day celebrations, Tsechus and Dromchoes, etc.? Is the ECB going to ban those too?

To me it seems like the more intelligent and reasonable way would be to issue a rule saying that politicking during such events would not be allowed. Completely banning such events is akin to desecrating the female womb on the grounds that it can foment a potential miscreant.

At best, the ECB would have to manage and oversee less than 400,000 voters on the day of the polling. For such a minuscule number, it seems like they are going completely overboard. I am told that some universities abroad have that kind of student enrollment.

No doubt, some institutions may be empowered with extremely formidable powers. Regardless, it is important for these institutions and the persons heading those institutions to realize that certain powers should be exercised only in the rarest of rare situations.

You are not a rich man because you have millions hoarded away in a secret vault - but because you have enough to give to those who stand in need. You are not a powerful man because you wield so much power - but because you have the sensibility and wisdom to contain those powers - for the good and benefit of those whom you have been elected to serve.

Monday, December 17, 2012

105th National Day Celebrations: Photography Not Allowed!

The following photograph of multicolored ribbons flying off from atop the floodlight post inside the Changlemithang is the sum total of the photograph I have of the 105th National Day celebrations that is currently under way at the Changlemithang Stadium today. It was shot from outside the grounds.

The security people manning the stadium gates had strict instructions not to allow any cameras inside the stadium. I had no prior knowledge of such a prohibition being imposed although, I had a premonition of sorts when a photographer friend asked me if I had a license to carry a camera into the grounds. He said that he was denied entry into the grounds so was walking back to his car to deposit his camera. I had no intensions of walking back to my car, which was parked about 2 kms away.

I had parked my car at the Tarayana Centre since there was no parking space anywhere else. I walked down the road passing the Centenary Market and then on to the lower gates of the stadium. I was not allowed access and was told to enter through the upper gates. So I walked all the way to the Lungtenzampa bridge and then turned right to try and gain access through the upper gates a little further away from the Kisa Hotel.

Upon reaching the gates, I was told that I cannot enter with my camera.  I wasn’t alone - there was another elderly Bhutanese with a point-and-shoot camera slung over his neck and 4 tourists with cameras. They too were denied entry. The tourists were trying to call their guide to come and collect their cameras - only to find that the cellphone network had been shut down. One of them walked away to look for the driver and the guide.

The Bhutanese guy was trying to give his assurance to the security personnel that he would not take photos but that his family had already gone in and would be looking for him and would be worried if he didn’t show up. He reasoned that some of the expensive mobile phones had lot higher resolution than is camera. He argued that if photography was not allowed, they should disallow mobile phones as well. All that fell on deaf ears.

I asked the security personnel if he would allow me in since I hold a Media Card issued by the BICMA. He hadn’t heard of any such Card and, in any event, he said he had no instructions to allow Card holders in.

Bhutan must take great pride in being the only country in the world where a very public event, in a very public space is out of bounds for photographers and photography.

After I got thrown out of the National Assembly Hall some three years ago by the agents of the ROM, I completely stopped going to public functions and events because I am certainly not looking forward to another run in with them. Today too I didn’t want to go but the day was beautifully clear and I wanted one picture - just one - of the huge crowd on the stands with the blue skies in the background. No such luck! So I walked back all the way to my car and, enroute, I shot the photograph of the multicolored ribbons flapping in the winds.

I wish some one with brains would realize that imposing blanket bans on people is the easy way out to a problem. It is a way out where the people responsible are too lazy to put in hard work and imagination and would rather inconvenience the general public by resorting to imposing bans. Banning is not the answer. Regulating is - if at all it were required. Will someone please realize this soon, before some incident takes place? What the hell is the logic behind banning photography of a very public event, in a very public and open space?

Seriously, public functions in Bhutan are becoming a public nuisance!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Druk Wangyel Tsechu

The Druk Wangyel Tsechu held at Dochula is a recent introduction. From what I hear, the Tsechu will be held every year on the 13th of December. This is a Tsechu like no other. The dances are completely different from those performed during other Tsechus held around the country.

I like the Tsechu. It is lively, it is colorful and it is outdoors. What I like most are the dresses - the Chamgo. They are beautiful and it is obvious that lot of attention and detailing has gone into their designing. And it is done at a lavish scale - even the dresses worn by the lady dancers are very nice.

What I didn't like is the huge speakers. They looked so ugly. I wish the organizers would hide them behind some blinds made of leaves. And, there is one electric tower jutting out from behind the grounds. I wonder if it is possible to move it further down so that it is not visible close to the Cham grounds. In the middle of so much beauty and color and charm, seeing them intruding on the scene is so ..... heartbreaking.

One among forty odd tourists at the Tsechu

Dasho Karma Ura who I am told choreographed most of the Chams performed during the Tsechu

Dasho Kinley Dorji, Communications Secretary posing with the highland lasses at the Tsechu grounds

I love the Chamgo and the Kira and the Gho. They are simply exquisite! Whoever was behind the Druk Wangyel Tsechu project has certainly done a fantastic job. I am posting the following closeup photos to give you an idea of how beautiful the attire are.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Plundering Buzzards

On a tip-off from one of Bhutan’s foremost birders, Hishey Tshering, I recently undertook a birding trip to Sarpang in the South to sight and photograph one of my many life birds - a handsome looking raptor called Oriental Honey Buzzard (Pernis ptilorhynchus). The bird is so named because its primary food source is honey that it plunders from live beehives hanging down from the branches of a particular type of tree that grows in sub-tropical areas such as Sarpang. I do not know the name of the tree nor the reason why the bees choose this particular tree. But for sure there is a reason why these bees choose this particular tree to build their hives on. Nothing in nature happens by accident  – everything has a reason and every occurrence or demise is perfectly within the scheme and natural order of things. It is as simple as death – without death it would be impossible to perpetuate life. For, death necessitates life.

I merely intended to photograph the raptors, if I could. However, I was not quite prepared for the scene that began to be played out right in front of my eyes. It was an orchestration of one of life’s most brutal ways in which to gather food.

As I scanned the treetops for any signs of the raptors, I suddenly noticed one Buzzard fly in from the right and land at a distance on the branch of the tree that bore the largest hive among over hundred hives of varying sizes and shapes that populated four full grown trees growing in the same area. After about five minutes, all of a sudden, the raptor made a lightening dive and clawed out a chunk of the hive thereby making an opening and exposing a section of the hive full of honey. While it flew away with a swarm of bees at its nether region, other Buzzards arrived to systematically dismantle the hive and rob it of its honey. There were a total of 6 Buzzards that attacked the same hive, again and again, until the hive was completely desiccated without a trace. My camera record shows that from the time the first attack was launched at 7.42AM to until the last of the hive was torn away at 9.12AM, it took exactly one hour and thirty six minutes to completely destroy the hive.

For a moment I was overcome by a sense of pity at the mindless act of plunder committed by the six raptors. This is no way to make a living. And yet, if this was an act of annihilation, how come some few trillion bees are still surviving to build new hives and feed and provided sustenance to succeeding generations of Buzzards and Drongos and Bee Eaters?

I get the feeling the there is greater harmony and balance in the natural world despite their seemingly brutal methods of survival. It is the human world that is at greater peril with our cultured and humane ways.

A Buzzard sneaks a guarded look at a hive from behind a tree branch - to determine the hive's potential for honey

A Buzzard lunges forward to launch the first attack on the hive

The severely torn and tattered hive after the third attack

A Buzzard attacks the hive and dislodges a talon full of honey bearing hive

The Buzzards do not have it easy - bees swarm them from head to tail

The bee hive is subjected to yet another attack - may be the tenth in a series

A severely depleted hive - 3/4th of the hive is gone

A Buzzard keeps guard over an abandoned hive

With the bees finally abandoning the doomed hive, a Buzzard is at last free to feed on the remains of the hive without the fear of being stung by the bees

All that remains of the hive at the end of the determined assault by the raptors

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Malformed Sentinel

The Anti Corruption Commission is a democratic institution whose fetus was formed and nourished in the womb of the cusp of monarchy and democracy. The paranoia surrounding the imminent arrival of the enfant terrible called democracy and the corruption that would ensue, called for the need to create an institution that would battle corruption and all wrong doings. The mighty child born just before the arrival of democracy was named Anti Corruption Commission. The all-powerful ACC was created as a fortification against corruption by the elected leaders of the as yet unborn democracy.

Unfortunately, the child was born with a severe deformity at birth. It was born with its eyes in the back of its head. Thus, the avatar of the Argos Panoptes now stands at the gate, ferociously guarding its rear but bat-blind in its frontward vision.

The ACC has been empowered with terrifying authority that surpasses those of the Head of State and those of the Head of Government as well as those of the Judiciary. In suspending the Speaker of the Parliament, a position that is at the apex of the democratic ladder, the ACC has demonstrated powers that no single institution should be empowered with.

I am not questioning the functioning of the ACC but the Act that empowers an oversight agency with such absolute administrative and judicial powers. I am not even questioning the right or the wrong of what the ACC has done. I am leaving that for the Courts to judge and decide.

There seems to be an urgent need to amend the ACC Act so that it is able to fulfill its primary function for the purpose for which it was created: to CONTROL corruption.

The history of cases so far handled by the ACC will reveal that it has completely deviated from its mandate. All that it has done so far is be embroiled in witch-hunting, giving us this uneasy feeling that the mighty ACC might be misused by interest groups to dig up and prosecute cases that have long been buried in history, thereby distracting its attention from the rampant corruption that is currently under way. This digression is dangerously counter productive.

The manner in which the ACC is made to function, it is obvious that the corruptions occurring now will be dealt with 20 years from hence.

The Bhutanese people must ask the question: Is this an effective way of battling corruption?

Monday, November 19, 2012

Success of a Different Kind

Regardless of the fact that my last fishing trip to Punakha was not a successful one in that I did not land a single fish, I am still a happy man because every one around me noted that I was not disheartened by my obvious lack of success at catching even a single fish. Every one saw that I was relentless and single minded in my determination. That is what counts; that I give my best to whatever I set out to do. It is not my fault that the fish weren't taking my baits, but no one may blame me for my lack of tenacity. I crisscrossed the Puna Phochu a dozen times. I did not lose heart and despite my failure, I continued to thrash the icy cold river every day, for seven days, until my arms were going to come undone from their sockets.

On the 9th day of the trip, I had to come back home and attend to my work. And come back I did - happy in the knowledge that the river will still be flowing in the same place next year and the year after the next and the next. Thus, there will be other opportunities. I intend to make a go at it once again - next year and the next and the next. But for now, I am happy for the opportunity to fish one of the best rivers in Bhutan.

But failure to catch even a single fish is only half the story. The bigger and more rewarding story is that I got to photograph a huge variety of moths and bugs. I had never before seen so many variety of moths. In fact some of them definitely looked bizarre and almost alien to me. Judge for yourselves.

So what if I didn't catch a single fish? I am, first and foremost, a photographer and, you will have to admit that I managed to photograph some seriously gorgeous looking creepies and crawlies.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Andy Murray : World's #3 Tennis Star

ATP ranks Andy Murray of Great Britain as World #3 Singles tennis player. I have to admit that the 25 years old Scotsman is not my favorite player - he is too bad tempered and foul mouthed for my liking. But the year 2012 has been good for him. His total earning as a professional tennis player stands at US$24,271,621.00.

For those of you in Bhutan who like him, I am posting his following photo which I shot in 2008 when I was hired by a sports daily to cover the Shanghai Masters.

His fans are welcome to download the photo - GRATIS!

Andy Murray at the Shanghai Masters, 2008

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fishless in Punakha

I just returned from a 9-days fishing trip to Punakha. Not a productive trip but a very fulfilling one, nonetheless. I am usually considered the man-about-camp, as far as number of catches is concerned. I have always been depended upon to reel in the stew but in seven days of working the frigid river every morning and afternoon, I did not land a single fish. Others in the group had no better luck either - all of their efforts failed to yield a catch. Two of the support team had better luck - they caught a few good-sized Brown Trouts (Salmo truta); one of them (Lungten) even managed to false-hook a local variety called the Snow Trout (Schizothorax richardsonii) a rarity since this specie of fish are bottom feeders and do not normally take baits.

  Snow Trout (Schizothorax richardsonii)

The photo below shows a catch of Brown Trout made by one of the support team members named Chado.

 Brown Trouts (Salmo truta)

Talking of Brown Trouts, you may wish to know that this fish specie is not native to Bhutan. The late Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji imported the fingerlings from Kashmir and introduced them to our rivers and lakes some six decades back.

We fished every inch of the river - we fished from the river banks; we climbed onto boulders and driftwood to cast our baits and spinners and flies. We fished from atop the rubber boat; we wadded waist deep into the freezing water, we spin-cast, we bait-cast and we fly-fished. In desperation, I and a friend even resorted to my signature “dredging operation” which involves sweeping the bottom of the river with multiple flies strung on a leader weighed down by lead split shot sinkers. Simply NOTHING! At the end of the 7th day, we decided that the river must have been severely depleted of fish stock provably caused by last years flooding of the river as a result of huge mud slid in Gasa area.

For those of you who understand fishing, look at the following impressive inventory of fishing gear I used during the trip.

Rod Handle: 
My machined aluminum pistol-grip Bait-Casting rod handle is a vintage model made by Shimano of Japan. It is said that this is the only rod in the whole world for which Shimano designed a specific reel to pair with it. It comes with the distinctive marking engraved on the back of the aluminum reel seat that reads “Designed for Professionals”. I have been using the same rod handle for the past 35 years. During a fishing trip a few years back, a friend slammed the car door on my original rod tip and smashed it out of service. Thus the present rod that slides into the rod handle is a retrofit - custom built for me by a rod builder based in Singapore. My name is inscribed on it - in gold.

Rod Blank:
The rod blank is by Sage of USA. It is a fast action, three-piece design and is 6 ft. in length. All the Guides are made of gunmetal to ensure strength and smooth flow of line.

Bait-casting Reel:
My reel is an open face bait-caster made by Shimano. This premium CALCUTTA model is made of Diecast aluminum frame combined with graphite. With this silky smooth reel, I can cast a #2 bait across the Wangchu.

I use Berkley FireLine Braids - 15 lbs TEST, to fill the deep, deep spool of my Shimano reel. This high technology braided line was a national secret of the US during the cold war era. The line is extremely thin and so strong that CIA issued them to their field agents as standard issue weapon of espionage - to choke KGB agents to death. Only after the end of the cold war, this product was released as a consumer product.

Baits & Lures:
I use Rapala brand of artificial baits. They are the world leader in artificial baits, originating in Finland. Their models such as Fat Rap, Jointed Minnow and Countdown Minnow are my favorites. They are made of Balsa wood. These lures, shaped like fish, mimic the movements of a wounded fish as they cut through the water.

These lures’ success is based on a simple fact of life: Big Fish Eat Small Fish.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Bhutanese Way

The talk that is now doing the rounds in Thimphu is that the government is likely to change the Pedestrian Day from Tuesday to Sunday. Supposedly, the government is yielding to the popular sentiments of the people. But how can that be true when the reality is that the combined workforce of the private and corporate sectors far out number the civil service? In my view it is a myth that Sunday is a less cumbersome day to impose a ban on vehicular movement. The reason is simple: unlike the civil service who have two full workless days, the employees in the private and corporate sector have only one (Sunday) full day to devote their time to do personal work. Therefore, it would be unfair to inconvenience them by imposing a Pedestrian Day on a Sunday.

Strangely, a large number of people see the Pedestrian Day as an inconvenience and an undemocratic imposition on the will of the people, rather than an attempt to improve our current economic woes. Typically, the Bhutanese people believe that it is entirely the responsibility of the government to solve all their problems while they remain unmindful of the part they must play. With such a mentality, is it likely that the people will stop complaining even if the Pedestrian Day were to be shifted to Sunday? I doubt it. The Bhutanese people are a happy lot as long as the government and the King doles out kidu; ask them to work for their keep and they are an estranged lot.

I am told that the so called “business leaders” have threatened to go on a silent protest if the government did not do something about the Pedestrian Day. They have the gumption to call themselves “business leaders” and yet, pathetically, they do not have the inventiveness and ingenuity and the cunning to rework their work schedule to suit the Pedestrian Day timing. They are petrified about some marginal profit loss arising out of one day of closure in a week, rather than fear the possibility that if they do not buck up and take heed, they may stand to lose their entire businesses.

I am convinced that the Bhutanese people suffer from some acute pathological problem of lawlessness. Look at the following two photos. There is a huge signboard that says NO RIGHT TURN and yet, the driver of the Toyota Landcruiser completely ignores the warning and blatantly enters the NO ENTRY zone. Those of you who live and drive in Thimphu would recognize the diversion point as the one right below the office of the Ministry of Labour & Human Resources in lower Motithang.

Tell me, truthfully, how many of you have been blind to the signboard and made a right turn where that sign is posted? I guess quite of few of you.

There is a notice posted on the gate of the Centenary Farmers' Market that cautions people against parking in front of the gate and yet, cars throng the point of entry - to such an extent that the gateway is completely sealed off thereby hindering access to shoppers wishing to enter the market inside.

This article is posted on a Pedestrian Day.

(PS: I intentionally obliterated the Toyota Landcruiser's registration number plate since I believe that it is not fair to single out the owner when every one else does it. Same thing with the cars parked in front of the Centenary Farmers' Market gate. I cropped off the number plates because they are not the only ones who do it).

Friday, October 26, 2012

Bhutan's Third and Latest Domestic Aiprport

Druk Air, Bhutan's national airline successfully conducted its inaugural flight to Gaylegphu day-before-yesterday the 25th of October, 2012. I was among the fortunate few to be on the flight.

The flight time to Gaylegphu from Paro is 25 minutes - too short at any speed!! But the flight was smooth and the reception at Gaylegphu airport was heartwarming. It seemed like whole of Gaylegphu Dzongkhag's population turned up at the airport to receive the Prime Minister JYT who was the Chief Guest on board the flight.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong: Bhutan’s Remotest Dzong

My following article appeared in the annual "BHUTAN" magazine of the Tourism Council of Bhutan, 2012.

Some eighteen odd years ago, while visiting His Excellency Lyonpo Ugyen Tshering, Bhutan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, I saw this stunning photograph mounted on the wall of the corridor of his home. The photograph depicted what looked like a Dzong perched on a low-lying hillock walled in by enormous mountains. I was captivated by the image. As I stood in front of it and examined it more closely, I was overwhelmed by a sense of wonder at the starkness of the location and its liberating expanse of desolation and remoteness. Much later, I was told that the image was that of Lingzhi Dzong and that it was photographed by Mr. Valdino R. Franceschinis, in the summer of 1987.

What compulsions drove people of the time to build these colossal structures in the middle of such far-flung wilderness? How did they transport construction material such as stone and wood to put together such mammoth structures on hilltops and cliff faces? How did they transport few million liters of water from the stream located few thousand meters lower down in the valley? Where did they get such super human physical strength and the mental tenacity to undertake such grueling hardship at extreme altitudes and in freezing temperatures?

As I stood mesmerized by these questions, I made a silent resolution to myself, a resolution I fulfilled more than two decades later. That day, I promised that I would one day trek to Lingzhi and photograph the Dzong myself.

The Dzong’s exotic location somewhere in the unfathomable northern extremes bordering Tibet gives it an aura of mystery and intrigue. Its construction at such a remote and hostile location pays tribute to the indomitable spirit and the tenacity of the Bhutanese people. Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong is testimony to the hardships and toil our forefathers had to go through, in order to preserve the nation from external threats. Being able to photograph the Dzong would not only satisfy my own artistic hunger but it would help document and archive an important piece of history for the present as well as future generations of the Bhutanese people.

Chögyal Minjur Tenpa constructed Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong in 1668 - to celebrate Bhutan’s victory over the Tibetans in the war of 1667. He was Bhutan’s third Druk Desi from 1667 to 1680. Lingzhi, at an altitude of 4,003 Meters, lies to the north of Paro. The Dzong is built atop a barren hillock that rises steeply from the center of a narrow valley at the base of which are the villages of Lingzhi, Zombuthang and Misayue. It is Bhutan’s remotest Dzong and remains cut off during the winter months.

Trek to Lingzhi takes four days from Paro. Due to its remoteness and the difficult terrain, a trip to Lingzhi is often a once-in-a-life time affair. Thus, considerable thought goes into its planning. Generally, the trek is undertaken during the summer months when the weather is warmer and there is plentiful grass for the pack ponies. However, summer also means torrential rain, blankets of cloud and swirling mists that obscure everything – not the most ideal conditions for photography.

I am a photographer. My mission is to photograph. For that, I need, clear blue skies; I need the mountaintops to be covered in virginal white snow. I need the atmosphere to be clear and crisp; I need the lakes to be frozen and turned into bluish-tinted pancakes with crazy crinkles on their surface. I need unhindered view far into the vast horizons lined with layers and layers of mountaintops merging into a string of snow-capped Himalayan range. I need the night skies to be clear so that I can see the heaven sparkle and shimmer with the radiance of a billion stars jostling for space. In the morning, as I walk out of the tent, I need to see the brown blades of grass wilting under the weight of frost and ice formed on them. I want to be able to capture the Alpine wilderness in all its natural starkness.

For all that, I need to make the trip in the thick of winter.

I embarked on my maiden photographic journey to Lingzhi during the third week of December 2010. After being on the road for three days, we reached Jangothang (Jumolhari basecamp) on December 21, 2010. After a day’s rest, we were to begin our climb towards Ngele-La and from there on, descend into Lingzhi. Alas, bad news awaited us. We were informed that the trail to Ngele-La pass was closed because of ice. Crestfallen, I made my return journey to Thimphu. It was a wasted effort but there was nothing else any one could do. The unforgiving weather conditions at such high altitudes means that one has to be prepared for the unexpected.

But I am not one to give up that easily. I was determined to make it to Lingzhi – one-way or the other. Upon return to Thimphu, I searched the Internet for ways and means to overcome the challenge. I found the answer in: Ice Cleats. Ice Cleats are a sandal type of slip-ons that one slides over one’s trekking boots. It has steel studs on its sole that grip the ice as one walks over it. It prevents the wearer from slipping when walking over icy surface. I ordered 6 pairs from USA and made my second attempt on January 30, 2011. I also bought two short-handled axes - for breaking ice on the trail surface so that the ponies can tread over them without slipping.

On the morning of February 2, 2011, we were all set to tackle the formidable Ngele-La pass that separated us from our final destination - Lingzhi. Perhaps the most dreaded of all the high passes in Bhutan, Ngele-La pass stands at an altitude of 4,702 Meters or 15,427 ft. Every traveller who has to scale this pass goes through moments of panic and fearful foreboding before he undertakes the climb to the summit. The reason is that the pass is most often battered by very powerful winds. It is said that the gusts of wind are so powerful that even fully laden mules would be lifted off their feet and swept away to be deposited at the bottom of the valley. It is quite believable since one can see that even in the thick of winter, there is not a speck of snow or ice formed on the pass, let alone any vegetation. The strong winds blow away everything. It is entirely naked and not a single blade of grass can be seen anywhere. The pass is covered in a thick deposit of fractured rocks and stone pebbles.

It took us 3 hours of laborious climb to reach the top. In between, we had to break ice at about 5 locations and on a number of occasions we had to unload the pack ponies and lead them by their mane over the icy patches of the road. We were lucky that there was no wind on that day. Once we were at the top, the view was breath taking. As I stood at the summit of the pass, surrounded on all sides by infinite nothingness, I felt so small and meaningless.

The plunging mountainsides converged into frozen streams and rivulets of ice at the bottom of the valley. As we descended into the yawning chasm below, we saw a few hundred Blue Sheep grazing all over the barren mountainside. I began to feel a sense of exhilaration in the knowledge that we were now onto our final push towards Lingzhi, my dream destination. As we traversed ridges upon ridges of barren hillocks, I began to feel the crisp winter air rustling around my ears and nose. A sense of excitement began to build inside me as we approached the last and final ridge beyond which stood my fabled Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong. 

The rhythmic thud of my springy footfalls came to a still as I stepped on to the pinnacle of the last ridge that overlooked the secluded valley of Lingzhi. There, at last, in front of me stood the object of my enduring allure - Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong. As I sat cross-legged on the ridge, I heaved a sigh of contentment. Seeping a hot cup of tea poured me by my assistant, I savored the stunning view of the Dzong surrounded by a vast, fathomless expanse of wilderness. For the next three days, I would embark on a marathon photography session and shoot the Dzong from angles that it had never been photographed before. I closed my eyes and imprinted every minute detail of the scene in my mind’s eye. The clarity of a scene is unmatched when seen with one’s eyes closed.

As I reluctantly stood up to descend into the valley where our camp had already been set up, I felt a singular sense of achievement - and a dire need to cry.