Sunday, June 28, 2015

Kolkata, Chennai, Chilipthang etc.

We had a visiting Rotarian from Chhenai, India who attended our Weekly meeting this Friday the 26th June, 2015. The Rotary norm is that any visiting Rotarian can attend any meeting of around 33,000 Rotary Clubs in over 200 countries around the world. Infact, if a Rotarian attends a Rotary meeting anywhere else in the world, it is akin to attending one’s own Club’s meeting. The host Club Secretary would sign a Visiting Rotarian’s Attendance Slip - to authenticate that the visiting Rotarian attended their Club meeting.

Rotary meetings are most often followed by what is called “fellowship”. Once the serious business of Rotary is over and the gong is sounded, Members loosen up and indulge in lighthearted banter and camaraderie - quite often accompanied by copious amounts of boozing. It hasn't happened yet - but I know that there is no escaping it - there will come a sozzled night when yours truly will have to be looking down the barrel of an alcohol breath analyzer. It does not help that our Meetings are always held on Fridays - coinciding with the ZERO TOLERANCE DAY declared by our men in blue.

The visiting Rotarian told us that Kolkata in West Bengal, India was originally a village named Kalikata which was later changed to Calcutta by the British - now, once again, back to being Kolkata. He tells us that his own city - Chennai was originally called Madraspatnam. The British changed it to Chennapattnam. Over time, it came to be known as Madras. Then in 1996, the state government changed it back to Chennai.

So, what about name changes in good old Land of the Thunder Dragon? Plenty - I think we have changed the names of few hundred of our villages, mostly in the South: Kilkhorthang, Rilangthang, Sergithang, Norbuthang, Dzamlingthang, Gawaithang etc. etc. and etc.

But the name of one small place in Chukha has adamantly remained unchanged over the past four decades, since I can remember: AWAKHA!

For those of you who do not know the meaning, the English equivalent of the name is: EATSHIT!

Any chance that this derogatory name will some day catch someone’s fancy and have it changed to something a little bit more dignified? I bet the Brits could have done much better - but history has it that these uppity, uppity chilips found the Bhutanese lot too barbaric, and the land entirely useless for anything! Had they colonized us, we would not have had to suffer this shame - may be they would have named the place - Chilipthang!

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Pretty Faces Are In Rural Bhutan!

I am not a portrait shooter because the modern faces do not appeal to me. However, as a photographer, I cannot stop looking hard at faces - because I am always looking out for a subject to shoot. Sometimes people think that I am rude for staring :)- They do not know that I am not looking at them but at a potential subject to shoot.

But rural faces I love! Look at what a jewel of a face I found recently - in a village not too far way from the madding crowd of Thimphu.

What a natural charmer she was! The lighting conditions were not the most ideal --- otherwise she would pop out of the screen!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

How True Is The Claim?

"Bhutan sets its first-ever Guinness World Records title
  with Most trees planted in one hour"

I think this claim is not true. I believe that this is not our first Guinness World Record Title. I think we have four earlier Guinness World Records, that I know of:

1. Both our monarchs - His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck and His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel
    Wangchuck (listed in 2012) were listed, at different times, in the Guinness Book of
    World Records as the youngest reigning monarchs of a sovereign nation.

2. Late Lyonpo Dawa Tsering as the longest serving Foreign Minister of any country.

3. Goongloen Lam Dorji of the RBA - as the oldest and the longest serving Chief of Army.

And, if it can be considered a record, my photograph of the White-bellied Heron (Ardea insignis) entered the 2012 Guinness Book of World Records as the rarest Heron in the world.

Do any one of you know of any other records the Bhutan holds in the Guinness Book of World Records.

We have this terrible habit of making untrue claims. I remember Bhutan Today newspaper claiming that they were the first private newspaper in Bhutan. The truth is that the first private newspaper was started by a person popularly known as "Kuenphen Karma". I think he started his failed paper sometime during late 70's or early 80's.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

WATER: Thinking Beyond Hydro-power Projects

In recent times, both the KUENSEL, as well as the BBS, have been unfailing in the regularity with which they reported on our hydro-power projects and how there is a need to review the hydro-power policy that has obviously failed to meet our expectations. It would appear that the realization has finally begun to dawn on a number of people that the much-touted egg, whether in a single basket or multiple baskets, is turning out to be nothing more than a thoroughly rotten egg!

Unfortunately, the writing on the wall is that reviewing or even reformulating our hydro-power policies isn’t going to help us in the least bit. By now it is obvious that what is needed is a complete reversal of policy.

As I hinted in my earlier post titled; “WATER: The Next BIG Trouble: III”, there is a need to look at our rivers as something more than merely a force to drive turbines to generate electricity. There is an URGENT need to move away from our traditional thinking - of using our river waters merely to turn turbines - and explore other possibilities the waters hold for us. The reasons are simple:

1.  The hydropower projects are becoming a dangerous tool in the game of attrition that is
     being played out.

2.  Over time, we may loose right of ownership over our own river systems.

3.  Something that is rather strange is that imported cooking gas (LPG) and kerosene are currently found 
     to be cheaper as fuel for cooking and heating - rather than electricity or wood. In a
     country that claims to generate thousands of megawatts of cheap electricity, how did
     we allow such a situation to develop?

4.  We pride ourselves as a net exporter of power. Shamefully, we are required to import
     power from India during the winter months.

It is becoming increasingly clear that water will, one day, be one of the most sought after resource in the world, over which wars are likely to be fought. At a time when the world community is experiencing shortage of drinkable fresh water due to global warming caused by climate change, we need to be judicious in the management of our river waters which are mostly fed by the melting glaciers. Once the glaciers recede and turn to moraine, we are in trouble because there is nothing that will substitute water. Unlike other countries in the world, we do not have access to saline water that we can desalinate. When our river systems dry up, we are in serious trouble.

A plan needs to be put in place - to ensure that we have a long-term strategy to guarantee water security. However, that isn’t likely to happen if we allow hydro-power plants to be installed on every one of our rivers. If we allow that, it is clear that they will all be turned into factories designed to manufacture hundreds of billions of debt, which will be the end of us.

Mrs. Indira Gandhi will surely rest in peace because her long-term foreign policy objectives towards Bhutan would be so much closer to realization. It was her, soon after her second coming to power in 1980, who clearly spelt out India’s ultimate objectives in engaging Bhutan. She was explicit in her directives to her people: “come up with a plan to execute a final assault on Bhutan to make it completely beholden to India”. Her reason: "even a Lilliputian Bhutan has become a security threat for India" - as she declared during one of her campaigns in the general elections of 1980.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Minor Revolution In The Making

Away from the clamor and din of hypocrisy that is the order of the day in the nation’s capital city of Thimphu - a cauldron simmering with broken dreams and dashed hopes - a quiet revolution has been taking form in the remote villages of the country’s poorest and least served Dzongkhag - Zhemgang.

A chance encounter during my recent trip to Zhemgang gave me both hope and despair. Hope because what is afoot is nothing short of revolutionary! Despair because I suspect that they do not have the wherewithal to pull this through successfully! The idea is monumental! If this succeeds, it can be replicated all around the country.

In what must be a first in the country, a small group of sixteen unemployed youth have come together to form what they call the “Khengrig Ngamsum Cooperative”. These youth, both men and women, in the age group from 18 to 38 years have all gone back from the urban cities to their villages in Zhemgang - to be members of this cooperative conceived and initiated by an enterprising Khengpa named Thinley Wangdi.

 Thinley Wangdi, the spirit behind the movement

Fourteen of the sixteen founding Members of the Khengrig Namsum Cooperative. They were attending a training course at the Rural Development Training Center, Zhemgang - the construction of which was funded by the HELVETAS.

These youth have a simple business idea: to be a bridge between the farming community in Zhemgang and the consumers. They have taken a Nu.3.2 million loan from the BOIC and disbursed the money among farmers - to till fallow lands, to provide fencing, water supply, for seedlings and to purchase and supply farm tools.

They wish to encourage mass production of food grain, vegetable, poultry, piggery, diary farming etc. - to achieve certain amount of economy of scale, so that these items can be marketed at competitive prices to consumers. Initially, they hope to target what they consider a captive market - schools, the Dratsang, the armed forces, vegetable vendors etc. They hope that in the next 3 years, they will create a situation where not a kg. of vegetable need to be imported in Zhemgang Dzongkhag.

They hope to create a market for farmers, thereby encouraging them to grow more, for economic gains. This, they hope, will help restock the villages with able-bodied men and women to produce more to meet the growing demand for food in the urban centers.

They hope that the same business model will be followed elsewhere in the country: to help reverse rural-urban migration, to generate employment opportunities, to curtail imports, to help achieve food self-sufficiency over a period of time.

This group of sixteen is fired by hope and determination and a will to do something for themselves, by themselves. They have a dream for the country. Unfortunately, successful ventures are not always brought to fruition based on determination and idealistic dreams. They need finance, experience and expertise, knowledge of marketing and distribution, collection and storage, sorting and packaging skills and the ability and network for timely delivery to buyers and consumers. They need to understand the concept of costing. Above all they need to understand and work within the concept and ethics of cooperative partnership.

This is a phenomenal idea and every Bhutanese has a responsibility to help make this idea a success. We cannot stand by and allow such a revolutionary idea to come to naught - because the concept holds great promise for Bhutan.

I will be devoting a portion of my time and resources to try and make this endeavor a success. Please let me know if you wish to be a part of this groundbreaking movement. You can contribute in many ways - expertise and monetary. Please write to me at: I will be approaching my friends with philanthropic bend of mind to take part ownership of this initiative that has the potential to revolutionize farm production in Bhutan.

In the coming days I will be going back to Zhemgang to study this project a little more in-depth - to see that they are on the right track.