Sunday, March 25, 2012

Joint Exhibition of Bird Photographs by Bangladeshi and Bhutanese Bird Photographers

As part of the recently signed MoU on Cultural Cooperation between Bhutan and Bangladesh, a group comprising of members of the Bangladesh Bird Club is on a bird watching tour to Bhutan. Since 21st March, 2012, they have been bird-watching and photographing them in the Puna Pho-Chu and along the Gasa-Damji road, accompanied by Bhutanese bird watchers and birding guides, including officials from the Nature Conservation Division, Ministry of Agriculture and the Royal Society for Protection of Nature. They will return to Thimphu today.

The highlight of this Cultural Exchange Program between the two countries is the exhibition of 110++ color photographs of some of the most beautiful birds found in the two countries. The group Exhibition of bird images photographed by the participating Bangladeshi and Bhutanese photographers/birders will be inaugurated at the Alaya Gallery (VAST) located on the ground floor of the Tourism Council of Bhutan office in Chubachu area. The Exhibition will be open for public viewing as of 11.30AM of 26th March, 2012. In my capacity as a member of the Bhutanese team, I am happy to extend our invitation to any one who may be interested to visit the Exhibition. I will be exhibiting 35 of my bird images.

In the coming months, a group of Bhutanese birders and bird photographers will be traveling to Bangladesh - to undertake a similar bird watching tour when they will photograph birds in that country and hold a similar Exhibition.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Is There A Videographer/Writer Among You?

Jude Ogzewalla, Associate Editor, CultureGrams recently wrote to me asking me if I would be interested to write some articles on Bhutan. I declined the offer since I am not free to take up any outside assignments. I have, however, offered to post an announcement through my Blog - in the hope that there may be someone among you who may be interested to undertake the assignment.

Jude’s organization will pay a one time fee of US$250.00 for your article on Bhutan. In addition, she also writes:

“ ….. we need 3 interviews for the country (2 adult, one with a child), and pay $50 for each interview submitted.  We are also looking for people to submit photo and video content, and pay for both of those. If any of your contacts would be interested in contributing to our product with interviews, photos, or videos, I’d be glad to discuss the terms and payment processing for them. If your blog would be a good outlet to spread the word, I welcome the posting.”

If you are interested, please write for further details to:

       Jude Ogzewalla
       Associate Editor, CultureGrams

Best Luck

Monday, March 12, 2012

Ouch! The Rupee Crunch

The recent belt-tightening measures announced by the Royal Monetary Authority, following the Rupee crunch, have thrown a large number of Bhutanese people into a high state of anxiety. Unerringly reactive, it was comical to see a huge number of Bhutanese people queuing up at the fuel pumps - in an effort to top up their vehicle fuel tanks - proof that they have not really understood the extent of our problems.

Regulating the outflow of Rupee isn’t going to solve our problems - not even in the short term. However, it is a start. But we need to go beyond that - we need to make some serious structural adjustments. It is time for some hard decisions. It is time that we are shameless about admitting that the pursuit of our past and present economic polices, if there was one, need a 360° turn around.

While we tinker with our economic, fiscal and monetary policies and redirect our focus to some fresh thinking and perspective, an inconspicuous article in an obscure Blog may hold one among many answers to the mystery surrounding the inexplicable Rupee crunch.

An article headlined "Food For Thought…..” in the Blog authored by K B Wakhley ( contains a strangely alarming and intriguing insinuation. He reveals that the Bhutan Power Corporation Limited is paying the Indian contractors a whopping Nu.37.08 million for every KM of the combined 159.1 Km of the two 400kV double-circuit transmission lines that run from Punatsangchhu-I Hydroelectric Project site to the Bhutan-Indo border.

As corroborated by an Indian expert in an email addressed to K B Wakhley, the cost of construction/installation of the transmission lines should not exceed Nu.15.00 million per KM. As opposed to that, the Bhutan Power Corporation Limited has paid a sum of Nu.37.08 million per KM - more than one and a half times what it should cost us! 

At first glance, overpayment on a project component that represents merely 5% of the overall project cost should not be a cause for concern. However, as I delved deeper into the issue, my thought process enters the realm of the seriously bizarre and the whacky.

What, for instance, if the overpayment is not an isolated case? In other words, what for instance, if we were to discover that over-design and exaggerated costs are inherent in all of the hydropower projects in Bhutan? What, for instance, if we were to discover that the hydropower projects should cost us less than half the current projections?

Besides other even more devastating implications that boggle the mind, could it be that our much touted hydropower projects are at the core of our Rupee crunch woes?


Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bhutan Adopts A National Butterfly

GREAT NEWS! We now have a national butterfly. The Cabinet, upon the recommendation of the Hon’ble Minister for Agriculture and Forests, His Excellency Lyonpo (Dr.) Pema Gyamtsho, has approved, on 16th February, 2012 the Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail (Bhutanitis ludlowi) as our national butterfly.

The butterfly is truly magnificent - and very, very rare. Notwithstanding the unproven claim made by Chou that it is also found in the southwestern Sichuan province of China, it is generally accepted that the butterfly is endemic to Bhutan and is found nowhere else in the world. Even in Bhutan, it is so rare that, as of today, the Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail is found NO WHERE ELSE - except in Tobrang areas of Trashiyangtse, Eastern Bhutan.

The Royal Government is certainly being very, very courageous in naming this near extinct butterfly as our national butterfly. I shudder at the thought that should there be some epidemic in and around its habitat, they could be rendered extinct. What happens then? It is a perilous thought!

I hope the Royal Government of Bhutan and the Department of Forestry will remain vigilant and ensure that our national butterfly and its habitat are protected to ensure that they do not perish. Perhaps it may be wise to consider the introduction of this butterfly species to other parts of the country where the habitat and climactic conditions may be conducive for the propagation and proliferation of these butterflies.

The photo below of the Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail is of the sample collected by Sonam Wangdi, Wildlife Conservation Division, Department of Forestry, Bhutan and Dr. Yago Masaya, Butterfly Society of Japan, during August, 2011:

Another equally majestic and rare butterfly that is found in Bhutan is called the Bhutan Glory (Bhutanitis lidderdalii). It was first discovered in Bhutan in 1868 by Dr. R. Lidderdale. The drawing shown below was prepared and described by Mr. William Stephen Atkinson from one of the samples collected by Dr. Lidderdale from Bhutan in 1872.

The butterfly is found in Assam, Sikkim, Manipur, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam and the Szechwan and Yunnan provinces of China. In Bhutan, I know that they are found in Gedu, Khaling and Pemagatshel areas.

Both of these butterflies are Swallowtails. Unless one takes a careful look, they look almost identical:

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Am I a Practicing Buddhist?

One of my readers asked me this: “By the way, are you a practicing Buddhist? You have a number of Buddhist precepts in this piece.” This was in reference to my last post titled “Happy New Year”.

What a question! In all frankness, I do not know if I am a practicing Buddhist. Certainly, I am borne of Buddhist parentage and thus, I ought to have a birth right to stake my claim to being a Buddhist - by birth, if not by practice or faith.

My father, who is nearing 80, sits outside his home every morning and evening - almost five hours of his 14 waking hours - every day - bobbing his grey-haired head backward and forward - howling his prayers at the top of his voice as if the Gods in heaven were deaf. It is his belief that the Kathang Dueba prayer book that he has been reciting for the past four decades will bless all the sentient beings. Does that make him a practicing Buddhist?

I have a cousin whose practice of Buddhism takes her to places such as Dorjeden and Tso-Pema and to every other location where Moenlam Chenmo and Wang and Loong are conducted by lamas of the highest merit and lineage. Her offering of Tshog to Koencho Sum is so lavish and so repetitive, that I couldn’t help but caution her one time that at the rate she was going, all the Gods in heaven would one day end up suffering diabetes! Her zealotry keeps her away from her home and her family and her responsibilities for the better part of a year. This has been going on for the past 2-3 decades, with devastating consequences. Does that make her a practicing Buddhist?

My late grandmother never failed to attend a Wang or a Loong. At close to 100 years, she braved scorching sun and torrential rain, swirling dust and filth and stinking human excreta, to hear a Loong being recited over the Waarshang - in Choekey or Sanskrit. It did not matter to her that she couldn’t understand a word of what was being blasted over the PA system. She sat, in great reverence with folded hands wrapped with her rosary, among few hundred other like minded zealots who also believed, like my grandmother did, that there is merit in suffering the harship and toil, rather than in understanding and making sense of what was being said by the high lama. Does that make her a practicing Buddhist?

What is currently in vogue in Thimphu and Paro is: visiting the dead body of HE Dungtse Rinpoche that lies in state in Paro and, in their words, getting blessed. A large number of my friends are incredulous when I tell them that no, I have not been to Paro to get blessings from the dead body of the Lam. They are even more incensed when I tell them that I do not believe in seeking blessings from a dead body. It is a different matter if I were to be asked whether I paid my last respects to a great soul that he supposedly was. Even then, I still would not be compelled to pay my last respects because, frankly, beyond the fact that he supervised the construction of the Memorial Chorten, I am clueless about his other greatnesses or achievements. Those who are in the know of HE's greatness is justified in going over and paying their last respects. I, on the other hand, plead guilty of ignorance. Does that make me NOT a practicing Buddhist?

I know a lot of people, including a large troupe of my relatives, who believe that making offerings of money and jewelry to Lhakhangs and Chortens and Lams will cleanse them of their past misdeeds and channel their souls to heaven and redirect them to be reborn as humans in this world. I know too, a lot of people, who cheat and rape and commit crimes against humanity and, when they are about to die, they perform penance and construct Lhakhangs and Chortens and prostrate before statues of Guru and Sangye - in the escapist belief that it will wash away all their sins. Does that make them practicing Buddhists?

One time, as I was driving towards the East, I came across a bunch of Bumtaps in Ura, vigorously stoning a pack of wild dogs, preying on a deer. While the Bumtaps saw merit in sparing the life of the deer as an act of compassion, my act of compassion was in defending the right of the wild dogs to feast on their natural food. Does that make me NOT a practicing Buddhist?

What are Buddhist percepts and who or what exactly is a practicing Buddhist?