Friday, October 25, 2013

Made In China, Littered in Bhutan

Few years back when I went to the Alpine regions of Dhur in Bumthang to photograph the collection of Cordyceps, I came back totally disgusted by the amount of litter strewn on the grounds at altitudes in excess of 16,000 ft. The litter included plastic wrappings of precooked noodles to beer cans and bottles with Chinese markings. At that altitude, the culprits have got to be the Cordyceps collectors. Another problem I noticed was the desecration of the fragile Alpine flora.

 The kinky, crinkly half-worm, half-grass wonder called Cordyceps sinensis

 This time during my trip to Lunana, the litter was even more but it was evident that the cause of it was the local residents. But strangely, 95% of the litter had Chinese markings - they included plastic wrappings, cans and bottles of beverages, cigarette packets, paper cartons - the works. This can mean only one thing - there is good bit of trade between these areas and Tibet China. And why not - Phari’s proximity to these areas makes good business sense. Thanza is about 9 days from the nearest road head in Gasa. Phari is probably only 2 days away. I am told that trading goods bought in the Chinese bazaar across the border can fetch handsome profits - as much as Nu.60-70,000.00 with an investment of as little as Nu.10,000.00. Even more attractive, I am told by some youth in the area that the girls there are like Khandums (celestial nymphs) - simply irresistible. That seems to be part appeal for the burgeoning illegal Cordyceps trade across the border - including the fact that the traders there offer better prices for the kinky worms.

 Made In China, Littered in Bhutan

At Ganglakarchung campsite, part of the litter was an empty bottle of red wine. Now the craggy Bjops cant be drinking wine at that altitude - they are all completely sold on Black Mountain Whiskey or Druk 11000 lager beer. This means that the litter must have been generated by the support team of tourist groups - irresponsible and poorly educated guides, most likely.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Photographs from Lunana II

Here is one more photograph from Lunana. I hiked up for two hours from my camp site at Sinchey - in the hope of getting a better view and angle to photograph the mighty Gungchen Singye. I did not quite get the photo of the peak in the way I had hoped for ... but ended up getting a great 360 degree view of the mountain range in the area.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Photographs from Lunana

I am finally releasing some more photos for my friends and other readers to look at - perhaps I will release more in the coming weeks - not sure at this stage. I am doing so not so much because my friends are becoming increasingly impatient - but because I realize that not many are fortunate enough to visit the places that I have. The least I can do is share my good fortune with those who are not as lucky.

I want to start with Tarigung (7,100 Mtrs.) and the twin lakes at its base. For some reason, there does not seem to be any good images of this peak. I almost didn’t get the image - but I was willing to stake out a whole week - if I had to - to acquire the image. Fortunately I had to spend only two days to get this image - but to get to Tarina (4,111 Mtrs.) where this was shot from, I had to cover two days’ journey in one - because of fear that the weather might turn foul once again.

Next image is that of the same peak in the distance - shot from Gunglakarchung Pass (5,182 Mtrs). The fluttering prayer flags in the frame lends some interest to the image. In Bhutan all the high passes are adorned with prayer flags.

The third image is another good looking peak - one that looks like Jichu Drake (6,790 Mtrs.). I had to climb to this peak's base - to be able to photograph the twin Tarigung Tso. No one seems to know the name of the peak - if it has one. But getting to its base took us almost three hours --- through thick rhododendron bushes and thorny shrubs.

The following image is that of Tsojo village (4,091 Mtrs.) located in Thanza valley where an archery match was in progress - between Thanza and the neighboring village of Lhedi. The day was crystal clear .. and the scene with the mighty Gungchen Singye (7,000 Mtrs.) in the background makes this an awesome image.

A close-up of the archery players. As you can see, the Lunaps have the latest high-tech bows that money can buy. One of the participants was a candidate of one of our political parties - Druk Ngamrup Tshokpa. I did say hello! to him.

The last image is that of a young girl from Threga (3,943 Mtrs.) - one of the 11 odd villages under Lunana Gewog. She passed by our camp to see if we were traders with goods to sell. My pony driver obviously knew the girl from his earlier trips to the area. While he made lewd remarks at the girl, I busied myself taking her pictures. Romancing in rural Bhutan is quite something - earthy and carnal. We city slickers must relearn our art of romancing!

I forgot --- a freind wanted me to photograph the night sky with the stars --- here it is ... not a very good one but you do get the picture :)- It was taken at Sinchey - my last camp after Thanza. On the bottom right is my tent.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Up In The Clouds

Some friends are very impatient to see my photographs taken during my recent trip to Lunana. I would like to oblige them but I am extremely exhausted and have no energy - both mental as well as physical - for any creative work. They will have to excuse me for the moment.

My trip to Lunana has been a revelation - I learnt things that were beyond my wildest dreams. I am convinced that the communities of Laya, Lunana and Sephu have got to be the richest communities in the whole of Bhutan - the next time I look at a craggy Layap or Lunap, I will be looking at them with a new respect - not with a sense of disdain - that of a smelly, unwashed Bjop!

But it is not so much about their being rich that has me awed. Rather, it is the evolution of their lifestyle - that has me intrigued. The kind of monetary wealth they amass from the collection of Cordyseps is mind-boggling. But strangely, their new-found wealth is not hoarded but opens up opportunities for others. There is a systematic process of wealth redistribution - I love it! This is surely a great subject for an anthropological student to study.

Sadly, disaster is on the way - in the form of motor road. The government is building a road from Gasa to Laya in the belief that it will bring progress and development. What is likely to happen is that it will bring ruin and destruction - because the present way of life will be altered and the dynamics will change. Opportunities will be usurped by the invading carpetbaggers - on wheels. It is sad - but that has always been the case - people sitting in Thimphu have always decided what is good for the rural folks.

I would like to talk more on the subject as I regain my energy. For the moment, I am posting the following two photographs that I hope you will like. In the first one
(shot at 4.57 PM), three of my team members are looking at the Thorthormi Lake that has been almost completely drained. You can see that there is no water there - but the water level mark of the lake before it was successfully drained is visible.

The second photograph was taken at 5.36PM from my campsite at Sinchey - two and a half hours further up into the mountains from Thanza. I set up camp here because I wanted to make it simpler for myself to climb the ridges in the morning from where I want to take the photo of Gungchen Singye and the twin lakes of Thorthormi and Raphstreng. The valley below is completely covered under a thick, white blanket of cloud. Under those clouds are the villages of Thanza, Tenchey, Dota, Tsojo and Thango. If you look carefully, you will see one on my team members standing on the hillock.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Bhutan’s Remotest Telecommunications Installation

I just returned from a grueling 26 days trek to the frigid regions of Lunana. Besides being stranded on the road due to roadblock caused by a mudslide; I got rained in for days and I got marooned due to snow over the dreaded Gunglakarchung Pass (5,182 Mtrs). But this was a journey of discovery and fulfillment, of breathtaking beauty and desolation - of plunging abysses and swirling clouds, of star spangled skies and howling winds that scream all night long.

Over the next days and weeks and months, I will post some photos to show just how beautiful Lunana is. But for now, there is a social service I must perform - for the benefit of the residents of Lunana.

The photo below shows Bhutan Telecom’s mobile tower installation at Tsojo village that is about two hours before Thanza (4,100 Mtrs) - the remostest and the last village in Lunana Gewog. This has got to be the country’s remotest telecommunications facility (Thanza is 9 days away from the nearest motorable road in Gasa). The array of photovoltaic modules look impressive with the towering Table Mountain (7,100 Mtrs) in the background (Please NOTE: this mountain has been renamed Gungchen Singye by Her Majesty Queen Mother Azhi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck in honor of His Majesty the 4th Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck).

The facility may look impressive but a resident school teacher laments that this vital communications installation has been treated like a unwanted, forgotten child by the parent: B-Mobile. Since its installation, the teacher says that no service engineer has ever visited the facility to do maintenance work. As a result, the network keeps dropping - every 5-10 minutes. Connectivity is erratic - but it still works. After being incommunicado for nine days, being able to make a phone call is a celebration of sorts.

The same school teacher says that in the beginning he could even connect to the Internet using his Data Card but not any more. He hopes that the service provider will do something to restore the mobile service to its former glory.

B-Mobile ….. are you listening? - you have less than one month to attend to the problem - if you do intend to .... thereafter the high passes to Lunana - such as Tsome-La, Gunglakarchung and Kechey-La - will be closed for the next four months due to snow and ice.