Sunday, June 19, 2016

Full Moon Rising Over Jumolhari Lhakhang

The following are a series of shots of the full moon rising over the mountains in Jumolhari Lhakhang areas. Tourists are not allowed to trek in these areas - perhaps for the reason that it is too close to the Tibetan border. Notice that it took merely 3 minutes for the moon to emerge fully out of the horizon.

It took only three minutes for the full moon to rise fully from behind the mountains

The Jumolhari Lhakhangs (the old and the new) are located at the end of a narrow valley and it is terribly windy. Powerful gusts of wind howl all night long, threatening to blow off the roofs of the Lhakhangs.

Mt. Jumolhari, which looks completely different from the way it looks from Jangothang side, towers over us in the back.

The other face of Mt. Jumolhari - a completely different look

Mt. Jumolhari as seen from Jangothang

Note the date: December 21, 2010. It is thick of winter and everything is frozen. Over the cliff faces, there are oodles of icicles formed by frozen waterfalls.

Frozen waterfall cover most of the rock faces at this time of the year

Few trillion stars throb and sparkle in the clear night sky but photographing them was impossible because the wind is so strong that it is impossible to keep the camera tripod still.

There are two night scenes that I hope to shoot one of these days. One is the full moon setting over Mt. Kanchenjunga. This I would like to shoot from Nop Tsonapatta in Haa. However, my horseman simply would not hear of it - says it is just too cold and that the trail would be iced and slippery, posing danger to the pack ponies.

The other scene I want to shoot is the full moon reflected off the Animo Tso (lake of the nun) at the base of Jule-La in Dhur Tsachu area. I had actually programmed one of my treks in a way that I arrived at the lake on the full moon night. But my companion refused to get out of the tent to help me carry my camera gear – on my own I couldn't handle it. It was too cold and it was impossible for me to carry the tripod and camera and lens and everything. I would have had to walk to the end of the lake and it wasn't easy in the dark with gear to lug around. So I missed the opportunity.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Devastation of Bhutan's Most Famous Trek Route II

I was not aware that the issue was already reported in the Kuensel. One of my readers sent me a link to the Kuensel website where reporter Kinga Dema reports on the matter that was apparently discussed and deliberated upon. And yet, despite all that nothing was done to prevent the systematic destruction of the country’s most beautiful trekking route.

It is sad.

Why should it be any single agency’s responsibility to endeavor to do the right thing? Why should the onus be on the TCB or the ABTO or the JDNP, to take on the responsibility of ensuring less destructive and harmful ways of doing things? From which planet is BPC that they are exempt from their responsibility to ensure that they play their part in doing whatever they can to protect a national resource that will far outweigh every other consideration?

The Kuensel report says that the BPC went ahead and devastated the country’s most famous trek route because some agency did not come up with Nu.755,126.00 for realignment of the transmission lines. That is rather stupid. Because the question then is: why did they align it in a way that would entail expensive realignment, in the first place? Didn't they have sense enough to know or understand the consequences of their folly?

Gem Tshering the Managing Director of BPC told the Kuensel that BPC is under no liberty to change the right of way as frequently as they pleased. That is a stupid argument. The reason is, whether the right of way is by the trek route or through the wilderness, the transmission corridor will require all the trees falling within the corridor to be felled and cleared. So how has he saved or minimized damage to the vegetation? He also states that he is on a dateline to complete the work by 2017. So what he means is that he would cause millions of dollars of loss to the country - in his rush to complete a project within a set time frame?

Why did he not consider taking the transmission line from Guhisawa to Thombushong to Soe and then over the Bonte-La into Jangothang? There would be less destruction since there is hardly any vegetation on that route. Obviously this will be a longer route - but for the sake of the environment, some additional costs can be considered.

Some one rightly told me few days back: The reason why everything is going wrong in this country is because people who are in the decision making positions are people who lack institutional memory - people with crooked minds and no hearts.

Devastation of Bhutan's Most Famous Trek Route

I am perhaps among the very few Bhutanese who have trekked to almost all the highest regions of the country. I have trekked the Tsokar-Tsonag-Terdalhatso-Gosung areas in Singye Dzong. I have trekked the Nagchungla and Jumokungkhar regions in Merak in the eastern parts of the country.

In the central parts of the country, I have trekked to the very base of Gangkhar Puensum - Bhutan’s highest mountain and the world’s highest unclimbed peak, and to Dhur Tsachu Bhutan’s most pristine hotspring, on the route to the world famous Snowman Trek.

In the north-west, I have trekked to the base of Jumolhari, Jichu Drake, Jo Gem, Bonte-La, Lingzhi and Chebesa. I trekked to the base of Masagang, Gungchen-Taag, Tserimgung, Tarigang and  Lunana, including to the very base of Gungchen Singye. In Haa region, I have trekked to Gonzola, Nobtsonapatra, Chundugang, Chundulhatso, Sinchulumpa etc.

Thus, because I have been to most of the treks, I can say that of all the treks, the Jumolhari Base Camp trek is the very best. It is the easiest and the most popular among the tourists with trekking on their itinerary. It is also perhaps the shortest - it can now be done in two days - even by the chilips. A seven year old kid can do the trek with ease!

On the Jumolhari Base Camp trek, one can see the most beautiful views anywhere else. In two days one arrives at a location where one can view: Jumolhari, Bhutan’s second highest peak; Jichu Drake, twin Tsophu Lakes, Bonte-La, Jo Gem, Ngele-La etc. It is for this reason that Jumolhari Base Camp trek is the most popular trek among trekkers - it is short and it is absolutely stunning. One trek group comprising of high end photographers from USA I hosted last year spent entire 6 days in Jumolhari - they refused to move - they were supposed to trek to Lingzhi and then exit through Dodena. They said that they did not believe that there can be a more beautiful place than where they were - Jumolhari base.

Even our Hon'ble Prime Minister one day told me that Jumolhari Base Camp holds the highest potential for tourism and that Bhutan should look at how to develop it to offer better experience to the trekkers.

But now it is being devastated. Look at the images below. The Bhutan Power Corporation chose to build their transmission lines right along side the trekking trails. In the process, the trail is strewn with felled trees. Notice that trekkers who pay thousands of dollars are made to negotiate their trek through a trail that is covered with trees and branches - risking injury and fatality.

Tourists who pay thousands of dollars are made to negotiate their trek through felled trees and logs that are strewn all over the trail - risking injury and fatality.

Felled trees cover the trail route while ugly transmission lines intrude on the trekkers - a far cry from the pristine wilderness that was promised the trekkers

How did the government allow this? The government surely knows the consequences of allowing BPC to destroy the country’s most famous trek route. The BPC should have been more responsible than to cause such destruction to the trail and, ultimately, wipe out Bhutan’s biggest attraction for trekkers.

How is the BPC going to compensate the country for their mindless act? Who was responsible to authorize such destruction? It is not enough to say that service delivery is their responsibility. Service delivery with responsibility should be their first duty.

One tour operator told me that one group has already cancelled their trekking trip to the Jumolhari Base Camp. We will see many more cancellations in the coming months as trekkers become aware of the devastation. Over time, this trek route will no longer draw trekkers - resulting in loss of millions of dollars in revenue. Even more worrisome, Bhutan's image as a champion of environmental conservation will take a beating.

As I said, the Bhutanese tourism industry is targeted for demolition. Look at the road-widening works - it is something that we do not need and yet it has been forced on us. Now the road is all dug up from Thimphu to Trashigang. Journey over these roads are painful, laborious, long and dangerous. The Hon’ble Minister of MoWHS had said last August that the roads will be done in three years time. I have stated that it will not be done in twenty years. She must already get the sneaky feeling that I may be right, because "pre-financing" of the road widening works have already begun.

I wish people would do things with a little bit more sensitivity - put ones heart into what one is doing. Mindlessness is becoming too rampant among the Bhutanese.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Educated are in rural Bhutan while the literate ones live in the capital city

During my recent visit to see my old man in Mangdechhu, we were sitting outside his home. As we sat there talking of this and that, three Maruti cars pulled up in front of his house and out came close to 15 young men and women, each bearing a machete in their hands. I was surprised and asked him who they were. He informed me that they were all villagers who were returning after working on their farms - that were being prepared for planting cardamom.

I was intrigued - our farmers now drive Maruti cars to work on their farms? That is rich!

Before I could decide what to make of it, my old man interrupted my thought process:

“Yeshey, what do you think of entire villages abandoning farming and planting cardamom in their farmlands - that which were traditionally used for growing food?"

“I suppose we are due for a shift in our dietary habits - from eating rice and kharang to munching cardamoms."

The old man wasn't amused. He went on:

“Get serious ---- if we do not grow food what are we going to eat? We cannot eat cardamom. Such large-scale production of cardamom all around the country is sure to create a glut in the market. Food production will drop thereby requiring us to import food from Jagga’s yuekha. I don't think this is a good thing that is happening. Not only that, you should remember - because you were in the thick and thin of it - that it was the rampant deforestation cause by cardamom plantation that resulted in the Drukgyal Zhipa nationalizing cardamom plantations in 1979."

“Yes I remember."

“Then?” Why wont the government intervene and halt this nonsense? No doubt the government can foretell the trouble this is bound to cause”.

I looked at my 85 years old dad with a sense of wonderment. One would have thought that he would be oblivious to what is happening around him - engrossed as he is, in silent prayers. Obviously the old man still has a mind that is fertile enough to grasp the consequences of abandoning farming, in preference to growing brown jacket cardamom.

Surely, this dismantles the fallacy that educated people live in the urban centers. Clearly, the educated people live in rural Bhutan, while the literate ones throng to the capital city.

Submitting Gracefully to the Inevitable

Last week I had to drive down to Gaylephu to see my aunt who was hospitalized for complex variety of ailments of which none of the children or siblings were sure about. That is the problem with old age - the most obvious reasons are ruled out and the most bizarre reasons are attributed to why they are unwell.

She was in a bad way. When I looked at her heaving away on the hospital bed, first thing I realized was that she was reduced to half her normal size. I took her fragile right palm into mine and asked her:

Nge nge (Aunty) … open your eyes"

She peered at me through her half open eyes. I asked her:

Nge nge, ngo branteh?" (Do you recognize me?)

She said: "Brantah" (Yes I recognize you)

I asked her; “Aai wen teh?" (Who am I?)

“Wangchuk wen tah" (You are Wangchuk)

Yea right!

All her life she loved me like her own son. She defended me against her own children and every other family member who dared speak ill of me. In her eyes I could do no wrong. For all that love and affection, I stood next to her, holding her hand - but totally helpless to do anything else. After over an hour of hovering around her, I decided there was nothing I could do for her. I decided to head for Mangdechhu where her younger brother, my old man, lives.

My dad asked me if I had come to see aunt. I said yes and he asked how she was. I told him she is half her normal size and she is in a bad way. He said:

“Her time has come - she is 88 years old. No need for drama. This is what life is all about -- every birth has to end in death. There is nothing to be sorry about. You should be happy in the knowledge that every breath she took, she uttered your name. What else do you want? Next in line is me - I am 85 years old and that means that I am just about getting there too."

Suddenly I realized this trip that my old man no longer howled his prayers - he read them silently in his mind. May be his body no longer has the energy - or may be after close to four decades of howling his prayers, realization may have finally dawned on him that prayers can be as effective, even if said in silence. Or, may be, he may have got some indication that Gods in heaven have all gone deaf.

I am so glad my old man is ready for the inevitable. It is so much easier when one is prepared for something that cannot be avoided. Such a nice feeling to know that one is able to yield so completely and gracefully to something that no power can prevent from coming to pass.

On my return journey to Thimphu next day, I again stopped by the hospital in Gaylephu to check on my aunt .... this time she recognized me and said that I was Yeshey Dooji (she always pronounced my name Yeshey Dooji - must be the khengpa way) and that she was happy for the visit - Weth Yeshey Dooji wentah --- weth gnath tahro razey neng gaa pa warey.

The Rotary Foundation Scholarship for Masters Degree in Water & Sanitation

The Rotary Foundation (TRF) offer of 10 scholarships for a Masters degree in Water & Sanitation is now closed. The Rotary Club of Thimphu will now be working on submitting the Forms to the TRF for funding under its Global Grants program.

This is not the end. The Rotary International offers 100 scholarships every year. For those of you who wish to advance your studies through full scholarships offered by the Rotary, please long on to:

Your Club - the Rotary Club of Thimphu - is eligible for Global Grant projects of the TRF. Thus please work early to seek and qualify for funding. PLEASE DO NOT ASK ME FOR DETAILS --- read up on the above site - every detail is available there.