Saturday, May 31, 2014

Yet Again, The Shingkhar-Gorgan Road Rears Its Ugly Head

Towards the end of their tenure in 2013, the erstwhile DPT government had realized the folly of their intentions and had quietly terminated the construction of the proposed Shingkhar-Gorgan bypass. The agencies such as the NEC and the Department of Forestry, including some environmentalists, who have been vociferous in their resistance to the idea of this road, heaved a sigh of relief that something unlawful and potentially catastrophic had been brought to its just end.

Exactly one year later, the ruling PDP has again resuscitated the foolhardy venture. But this time they are smart enough not to promote the idea that it is a farm road because it certainly does not fulfill the prescribed guidelines for construction of farm roads.

However, this time round, the government does not seem to be all that educated in what they are putting out to the public. The Works and Human Settlement Minister has come on record to state that: “The road could also help travellers, especially by not having to pass through Thrumshingla that remains covered in ice in winters”. This flagrant misinformation can only mean that the Minister has not been told the truth - that Singma-La, over which the Shingkhar-Gorgan road needs to pass, is even higher than Thrumshing-La pass. If the Minister was appropriately appraised of the real situation, she would understand that the incidence of snow and icing on the road would be even more severe at Singma-La than that encountered at Thrumshing-La pass. Are some interest groups intentionally misguiding the government with false information and withholding of truth?

The other reason given is that it will shorten travel distance from the East to the West by about 100 Kms. That is a good reason to consider the road - except that there is some mathematical error in the calculation of the distance. According to what I know, the distances are as follows:

    Shingkhar to Singma-La      6  Kms
    Singamala to Pelphu          30  Kms
    Pelphu to Zhongmay           5   Kms
    Zhongmay to Selibi-zam     6   Kms
    Selibi-zam to Gorgan          5   Kms

Even beyond the numerical error, what the ruling government and its concerned Ministry has not been told is the fact that the ascend from the valley at the bottom of the mountain to Singma-La requires a total of 26 zigs or bends or turns - before hitting the Singma-La top! You can well imagine the gradient of the road! To my memory, there is no road in Bhutan with that kind of steep gradient. This should tell you the kind of geography and topography you are dealing with. To carry out so much cutting into the mountainside will destabilize the already fragile soil structure of the area. Additionally, I am told that this area is most of the time shrouded in mist and fog. Therefore, even if the whole mountain does not end up at the bottom of the ravine, the road will remain perilous and unusable most of the year.

Therefore, even if we were to accept that the distance would be shortened, what will be the volume of traffic the road will carry? Has the government done a cost benefit analysis of this venture? Would it justify the tens of billions of Ngultrums that will be spent in the construction of this road?

Is it enough that the people of Lhuntse makes a request to the Works and Human Settlement Minister and the government has the wherewithal to grant them that kidu? The government has to be mindful of the fact that there are parts of the country where there are no roads at all - let alone a road that can get them to the West in the quickest of time.

In recent times, the Bhutanese lingua franca has been permeated by a newly coined phrase: geological surprise! This new coinage attempts to justify and condone the expensive disaster at Punasangchu I, the consequences and implications of which the Bhutanese people do not seem to fathom or be bothered about. On the floor of our Parliament, elected leaders speak with practiced deftness, of geological surprises as something commonplace and as an act of God that deserves compassion, understanding and forgiveness.

No one is being held accountable for the horrendous disaster; no one seems to point out the fact that such “geological surprises” are not acceptable in a project the size and scale of Punasangchu I. No one seems to care that the project authorities had obviously failed to carry out proper investigation to safeguard against such surprises.

In all likelihood, the geological disturbance caused by the construction of the stretch of road between Singma-La and Zhongmey will cause the entire mountain to collapse at the bottom of the ravine.

Does the present government hope to be indemnified of all blame - because this too can be conveniently written off as another “geological surprise”? I don’t think so, because in this case, fair warning has been given - that the venture is unlawful, meaningless and environmentally disastrous.

The erstwhile DPT government saw through the futility of this undertaking and stopped it in time, at the behest of the people whom they represented. I urge the present government to do the same. Even if not entirely - until a thorough investigation is carried out and until after amending the law that currently prohibits construction of any kind within the core park areas.

The construction of this road was, and still is, a great concern to all of us who care for the environmental health of this country. In June of 2013, I trekked up to Singma-La top - to see for myself what was involved. The following photographs will tell a small bit of the larger story that is the Shingkhar-Gorgan road.

The Singma-La Pass. One can see that the pass is way above the tree lines meaning it is over 4,000 Mtrs.

Thrumshing-La Pass at under 3,800 Mtrs. As opposed to the barren top of Singma-La, you can see trees atop the Thrumshing-La Pass. This means that this pass is much lower than Singama-La.

View of the beautiful Shingkhar Village from atop the Singma-La.

 The endless wilderness between Singma-La Pass and Pelphu Goenpa through which the run will run, if the construction is to resume.

View of the road from Gorgan side that has reached Pelphu Goenpa at which point the erstwhile DPT government had halted further construction. Notice the number of zigs/turns already. The road has to climb further 30 KMs to reach the Singama-La top. One can imagine how many more zigs/turns it will require until the road is able to reach the top of the pass.

 A long shot of the wilderness between Singma-La and Pelphu Goenpa


Perhaps Bhutan's oldest forest stand of Silver Fir that will be desecrated if the road gets constructed.

Some pretty houses in Shingkhar.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014


What exactly is Shri Narendra Modi Bhai? A genuine do-gooder or a master theatrician? Whatever he may be, inviting all the SAARC Heads of States to his swearing-in ceremony is unprecedented in the annals of Indian diplomatic as well as political history. Certainly it sends out a good message - it is a praiseworthy gesture that has been received well.

It remains to be seen if he is the much touted change India needs - and India certainly needs a bullock-cart full of changes. A strong and progressive India is good for the region. India seeks and deserves, to be the regional leader. Unfortunately their big brother attitude and posturing has left them all alone and spited. Bhutan today is the only country among a cluster of hostile neighbors, whom they can call a friend. And here too, their bullying tactics is driving us away from them.

What happens in India has a direct bearing on Bhutan. Every government change in India is a cause for anxiety for the Bhutanese people. BJP forming the government with such a huge mandate is both a cause for elation as well as worry for Bhutan particularly. But Modi Bhai has certainly sent out a very, very encouraging message to all its neighbors. He seems to be a man with a completely different style of governing. What is now to be seen is whether he brings with him a change in the traditional Indian mindset.

I wish him the very best and hope that under his leadership, India will start to rebuild and regain the trust deficit among its neighbors. Inviting all the SAARC leaders to his swearing-in ceremony is a move in the right direction.

I offer him this beautiful flower from my garden, photographed this morning specifically for him, as a gesture of goodwill from the people of Bhutan.

मॅँ आपको बधाई देता हूं, श्री नरेन्द्र मोदी  

What does Yellow flower symbolize?
There is good reason why we smile when we spot a bouquet of bright daffodils or a pot filled with sun-drenched chrysanthemums - the color yellow evokes feelings of joy and lightheartedness. Also a symbol of friendship, a bouquet bursting with yellow blooms sends a message of new beginnings and happiness.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Rotary Club of Thimphu is Two Years Old

The Rotary Club of Thimphu is two years old. The Club celebrated its 2nd Anniversary yesterday, the 9th of May, 2014 at the Clock Tower. On the day, the Chief Guest Hon’ble Lyonpo Damcho Dorji, Minister for Home & Cultural Affairs, released the Club’s magazine. A complimentary copy of the magazine was distributed to the invitees to the celebrations.

The Cover of the Club's maiden publication features my photo of the pretty Mt. Jichu Drake with the frozen Tshophu lake in the foreground:

Upon its Charter on 24th April, 2012, The Rotary Club of Thimphu (RCT) became the 216th member of the Rotary International. The investiture ceremony took place at the Convention Center on 30th April, 2012, which was presided over by the then Deputy Prime Minister, Lyonpo Yeshey Zimba. The then President of Rotary International Mr. Kalyan Banerjee flew into Bhutan especially for this occasion, accompanied by a host of Members and Officials from a number of Rotary Clubs from Nepal and India.

The formation of the Club was so important and historical that its founding was announced to the nation by the then Prime Minister, His Excellency Lyonchen Jigmi Y. Thinley, in his State of the Nation speech delivered on the floor of the Parliament on 9th July, 2012.

Lyonpo Minjur Dorji was appointed the first President of the Club. Today, RCT has 13 Charter Members and 3 Honorary Members, headed by the incumbent President Rinzin Ongdra Wangchuk.

In the coming months, the RCT will send out invitations to a privileged few - to join the RCT and be part of a group engaged in selfless service to society.

Membership to the Club is by invitations only.

The following are some of the photographs taken during the Club’s founding and from yesterday’s Anniversary celebrations:

The President of Rotary International, Mr. Kalyan Banerjee, called on Lyonchen Jigme Yoezer Thinley. Present in the photo are two other persons who were pivotal in the founding of the Club - Lyonpo Minjure Dorji and Dasho Penden Wangchuk:

The investiture ceremony at the Convention Centre:

Celebrations at the Clock Tower on 9th May, 2014:

Event backdrop erected at the Clock Tower where the celebrations of the Club’s 2nd Anniversary took place:

Welcome address by the President of the Rotary Club of Thimphu, Mr. Rinzin Ongdra Wangchuk:

Address by the Hon'ble Chief Guest, Lyonpo Damcho Dorji, Minister of Home & Cultural Affairs:

Address by Jaya Rajya Laxmi Shah, President Elect of District 3292 for the year 2015-2016. She was one of the 20-members delegation from RI District 3292 in Nepal:

The day also marked the award of two Awards to the Rotary Club of Thimphu: The 4-Way Test Award and the End Polio Now Award:

Mr. Ashok Mehta, Director of Membership and Website of Rotary Club of Mumbai North Island visited the celebrations and presented his Club's flag to RCT President:

During the celebrations, five of the RCT Rotarians received their Paul Harris Fellow Certificate and Pin. The five are: Karma Gyeltshen, Seargent-at-Arms; Dr. Lam Dorji, Club Secretary; Rinzin Ongdra Wangchuk, Club President; Ugyen Dorji, Charter Member and Yeshey Dorji, Vice President.

The following are my Certificate & Pins:

Paul Harris Fellow Certificate:

My Paul Harris Fellow Pin:

My Rotary Pin as the Club's Vice President:

The celebrations ended with a group photo session of the Members of the RCT with the Chief Guest:

The Chief Guest poses with the Rotarians and guests:

The day’s celebrations were brought to a close with a dinner hosted by the Members of the RCT in honor of the visiting Rotarians from Nepal. It was a modest affair held at the Folk Heritage Museum Restaurant. The highlight of the evening was when the Hon’ble Prime Minister Lyonchen Tshering Tobgay sauntered in, quite casually and all alone - sans Patang, sans Kabney, sans Tshoglham and sans security personnel - but with loads and loads of charm and allure. The Prime Minister’s complete lack of pomp and pageantry had the Nepalese guests completely floored in disbelief and awe!

The next night (10th May, 2014), Rotarian Thinley Gyamtsho, Rotarian Ugyen Dorji, Sonam Zangmo (Club's AES) and myself - we voluntarily elected ourselves to play host to twelve Nepalese guests and took them to a Karaoke Bar - the spacious Serkhor Restaurant opposite the Changlam Plaza. The Nepalese guests danced to Nepalese and Bhutanese tunes until the wee hours of midnight. The lithesome wiggle by Rotarian Ugyen Dorji set the dance floor on fire - until equally energetic and gaiety Rajendra Lal Shrestha announced that he was out of breadth and out of energy and could not continue any further.

We called it a day - happy in the thought that the bonding that has taken place between the Rotarians from our two countries would go a long way in paving the way in fomenting closer ties and understanding between the people of Nepal and Bhutan. The unbridled friendship and camaraderie that was evident during the entire period we were together should dispel all doubts we may have had about each other.

It became evident to me that we Rotarians should act as goodwill Ambassadors of each other’s countries - to repair any cracks in our relationships, whether real or imagined. I know that twenty Nepalese will take back happy memories of their time in our country - as I did when I returned from the District Convention I attended in Pokhara, Nepal early this year. I was totally enthused by my experience in Nepal. It was not only the happy moments we shared with the Nepalese Rotarians while there - but the bonding that took place among our own members that caused the Thimphu Rotarians to take on the cause of Rotary with renewed vigor and pace.

After the Charter Day Celebrations, the following members of RC Thimphu attended a training session on “New member Orientation”:

President Rinzin Ongdra Wangchuk
Secretary Dr. Lam Dorji
Treasurer Tshering Choki
Sergeant-at-Arms Karma Gyaltshen
Rtn. Ugyen Dorji
Rtn. Sonam Wangmo
Rtn. Rinzi Om
Rtn. Kesang Tshomo
Rtn. Thinlay Gyamtsho

Group photo after the training session:

The training was conducted at the Business Center of Hotel Druk, Thimphu. The trainers were following officials from RI District 3292 in Nepal:

Past District Governor Ratna Man Sakya
Past District Governor Tirtha Man sakya
District Governor Nominee Jaya Shah
The Assistant Governor Rajendra Lal Shrestha facilitated the training session.

As a part of the training course, DGN Jaya spoke on “Rotary Policies and Procedures”,  PDG Tirtha Man Sakya spoke on “Rotary History & Achievements” and PDG Ratna Man Sakya on “Opportunity of Service in Rotary”. 

The participants were awarded Certificates of Participation:

At the end of the session, RC Thimphu President Rinzin Ongdra Wangchuk expressed his satisfaction at having undergone such a useful training course. He stated that all the members of the RC Thimphu were now more confident of the Rotary movement in Bhutan. He hoped that there would me more opportunities in the future for similar courses. He thanked the Assistant Governor Rajendra for his role as the focal person who managed the entire arrangement without a hitch and for the flawless logistical support he rendered to his colleagues from Nepal.