Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Forgotten Birthday

As usual, I had completely forgotten that yesterday the 19th of November was my birthday. But I do not celebrate my birthday .. so there is nothing unusual about being absent mined about it. But there are some friends who remember and send me felicitations. One such friend from New York writes as follows:

Hi Yeshey,
Just to let you know that today, 19 November is also the WORLD TOILET DAY! It was initiated about 13 years ago and there was a commemorative event today sponsored by Singapore. It was funny to listen to discussions on what to do about poop and shit.


Buddha be praised for giving me friends who will not forget to remind me that I was born on a shitty day!

Image from

In the year 2001, the WTO declared 19th November as World Toilet Day. But it was only this year that the day was officially recognized as official UN Day. On this day, civil societies and governments around the world promote the importance of clean and safe sanitation for all.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fishing for Fish

The Bhutanese people are slowly beginning to realize that the hydropower projects will, over time, not only ruin our environment but will also be the cause of the loss of our nationhood. Some Bhutanese contractors working on the Punasangchu projects are already admitting that they are being “raped”.

Sometime back, His Excellency Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuck, Minister for Economic Affairs admitted publicly on BBS TV that every one of our hydropower projects have traditionally seen more than 250% cost escalation - starting from our very first project - Chukha Hydropower Project. Punasangchu Project I has already seen cost escalation of more than 300% but the project is barely half done. By the time it is done, the cost escalation will provably touch 400%. At this rate of cost escalation, I wonder what the per unit cost of generation will be? Hydropower projects are profitable as long as unit cost of generation is kept low.

To me it is clear that we will be losing money over these hydropower projects: simply because too many mistakes have been made as a result of which the project is costing us more than the revenue it is likely to generate. And we are not talking of other costs - such as political and environmental. I doubt if we will be able to service the loans obtained from India - for these projects. This is likely to force us to remain perennially in debt - to India. Is this the result of incompetence? Poor design? Poor management? Or, something else?

I have said this before: WE NEED TO STOP HERE or we are DOOMED! Am I wrong? May be - but time will tell.

Anyway, this post is not about hydro-power projects. I think I have made enough noise and, as always, nothing is going to come of it. Today I want to post some photos of a Kingfisher fishing for fish - in Berti, Zhemgang.

I am convinced, as other environmentalists are, that as a result of the Punasangchu and other hydropower projects, one of Bhutan’s rarest birds and a star attraction for visiting birders - the White-bellied Herons (Ardea insignis) are being imperiled. There is a real danger of these birds going extinct - as a result of their habitat being destroyed by these hydro-power projects.

There is nothing I can do for these birds - but bring their plight to the notice of the government. I had heard that there is a small community of these birds living in Berti, Zhemgang - so I visited the place to see how secure the habitat was - for these birds to continue to live and thrive in the area. I am glad that the place is very well suited to these birds and there is hardly any human activity in the areas where they live. I have been spreading the word that since Punasangchu area (the most important Heron habitat in Bhutan) is going to be lost to these birds, we should declare that patch of area in Berti as Heron sanctuary. For a country that is known world over as a champion of conservation, it would be shameful if we allow these birds to go extinct.

For the record, Bhutan boasts the highest number of these rarest of rare Herons. On last enumeration, we have 28 of these birds. The world population of these birds are said to be any where from 50 to 200 birds.

I was seated by the riverbank - waiting for the Herons to show up. After a while, I noticed that a cute little Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) had landed on a boulder at a distance. He than began a series of dives to catch himself some fish. The following series of photos show the cute fellow at work:

He is scanning the pool of water for fish.

He sees that there is plenty of fish in the shallow water in front of him. This day he will certainly not go hungry!

He takes flight and hovers over the pool of water before he dives to catch a fish.

He has a fish!

The fish struggles to free itself from the beaks of the bird. No Chance!

The fish is still wriggling.

After a while, the fish is dead.

The bird than swallows the fish - whole!

He lets out a satisfied BURP!

The bird then flies off to perch on a tree branch - closes his eyes and dozes off for a afternoon siesta. He will wake up after about an hour and start the process - all over again.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Province of Siem Reap, Cambodia

The towering ruins of the ancient temples of Angkor - mostly made of sandstone and blocks of solidified molten lava, are architectural marvels. Built by the ancient rulers of Khmer Empire nearly a thousand years ago, I get the feeling that there was great religious confusion at specific periods in their history. That is evident from the idols and Bass-Reliefs depicted within the massive walls of these temples - some depict Hindu Gods while some pay homage to the Buddha.

But one thing is unfailingly consistent - here too good old Buddha looks as different as he does everywhere else in the Buddhist world. It is strange but no two countries depict the Buddha with the same physical appearance - not even in Bhutan and Tibet.

The photos below are not all that great - the reason is that I shot them with a borrowed camera belonging to a friend - a touristy variety. I couldn’t take my own since I had to hand carry 38 packets of homemade Bhutanese potato chips for a friend in Singapore - the Singaporeans are absolutely nuts over Bhutanese homemade potato chips.

The first lot of photographs are that of the temple ruins:

The following are what is called the Smiling Faces of Buddha:

The Bass-Reliefs on the temple walls are phenomenal - they depict Hindu Mythology such as the Churning of the Milk of Ocean, the Battle of Lanka etc.

Siam Reap is home to the largest freshwater lake in South Asia called the Tonle Sap - its surface area grows to a stupendous 16,000 square KMs. The floating village built on this lake is a great tourist attraction. Even the school in this village is built in the lake and the students commute by boat.

I visited a silk factory. The notice board on the wall was interesting - it should give you an idea as to why silk cost so much.

The photo below shows the statue of Yama, the Lord of Death. To me there is nothing deathly about the look of the man.

This is the first time I saw a real “Stretch Limo” - I felt it was longer than a full bodied truck!

The photos below show the ancient textile weave of Cambodia. They look so much like our own. Infact, I suspect that they could be ours and not Cambodian - I know two experts and I intend to cross-check with them to see if they could be ours.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Bhutan and Cambodia: A Shared History?

Foreign travels are always educative provided, ofcourse, you keep your eyes and minds open. My recent unplanned trip to Cambodia was one such trip - I was confronted with something that puzzles me to this day.

One of the things we did in Siem Reap was to hunt for good and authentic Khmer food. Our third day search took us to a restaurant run and managed by the Foreign Correspondents' Club. The food was nowhere near being authentic Khmer - but it certainly was good - I enjoyed it thoroughly.

As we were coming down the staircase, I saw a handicraft shop to the right of the landing that had some interesting items on display. I walked into the shop - not to buy but to see what the items were.

On one of the shelves was a piece of antique textile that resembled so much like our own. I took a closer look ….. yes! there was no mistaking it … it had an uncanny resemblance to one of our own textile called Chagtsi Pangkhep. I know this because I recently completed an assignment for the Royal Textile Academy where I was required to photograph a huge pile of exhibits for a catalogue that was released during the inauguration of the new RTA building.

I am still intrigued - how come there is so much similarity between the textiles of Cambodia and Bhutan? The weave, the patterns, color scheme and even the frills look so exactly same. Is it possible that our textiles have their origins in those of the Cambodian or theirs in ours? So much similarity does not happen by accident!

Take a look - the one below is our own Chagtsi Pangkhep. I am told that we use to use ours as hand towels.

Bhutanese Chagtsi Pangkhep

The one below is the Cambodian one … the manager of the shop told me that they use theirs as wall hangings.

Cambodian Wallhanging

The implications here are serious. If what I suspect is true ... may be we have some Khmer Rouge blood running through our veins!