Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Destruction to Continue Beyond Jumolhari Base Camp

A reader of my blog has posted the following new updates on: "My Advise to a Tour Operator on the Destruction of the Jumolhari Base Camp Trek".

I was investigating issue further and situation is actually being even worse. The transmission line is being built further upto Lingzhi (up to villages of Goyoul and Chebisa). That effectively means, that the trail of Laya-Gasa is affected even more severaly as the people will be trekking along the transmission line till the half of the 14 days trek...

See the BPC bidding documentation of the project. Very sad reading.

From the above, it is now clear that the government does not intend to stop their destruction of the environment at Jangothang - they are going to carry it through until Gongyuel, beyond Lingzhi Dzong. Lingzhi and Gongyuel villages are on the route to the world’s toughest trek called the Snowman Trek. I have done this trek both from Punakha side, as well as from Bumthang side.

Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong

For those of you who may not know, Gongyuel is the village where perhaps Bhutan’s oldest Dzong is located. The Dzong is called Lingzhi Jagö Dzong. Written historical records show that this Dzong is more than 400 years older than Lingzhi Yügyal Dzong which was built in 1668 by Druk Desi Chögyal Minjur Tenpa (1667 to 1680).

 Lingzhi Jagö Dzong

It is so shameful what we do - a world proclaimed carbon negative country!

I want to know - are there hearts and minds attached to those mouths that speak of 72% forest coverage as of now and makes a Constitutional commitment to maintain 60% forest coverage for all times to come?

How do we go about maintaining 60% forest cover when what we do is cause destruction to ecologically fragile alpine forests such as those in the Thangthangka and Jangothang areas; dig up nearly a thousand kilometers of road from Thimphu to Samdrupjongkhar that help bury forests that are thousands of years old; threaten to do the most illegal and meaningless Shingkhar-Gorgan road?

The original intention of the ADA aid money was to bring electrification to a remote location through less environmentally destructive method – building mini/micro hydro projects. Now look what we – the world leaders in environmental conservation - have done!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

A Most Environmentally Friendly Project Ends Up Being The Most Destructive!

It now turns out that there is another face - as yet unknown and even more sinister - to the deplorable act of the destruction of the Jumolhari Base Camp Trek trail. It appears that the Austrian Government’s aid money was never intended to be used for stringing ugly power lines across the pristine wilderness of the Jumolhari Base Camp Trek trail. In fact it was clearly stated how that money was to be used. How it came to be used to destroy the Jumolhari Base Camp Trek trail is any body’s guess.

A reader of my blog - Michal Thoma sent me a link to the Austrian Development Agency (ADA) website where it is clearly stated that the RGoB would use the aid money for:

“……. construction of two mini hydropower plants, one in Soe (50KW) and one in Lingzhi (100Kw) .…."

The following link gives the details of what the money was to be used for:

This means that we have not only destroyed one of the most beautiful treks in the world but we have gone and reneged on a solemn understanding reached with a development partner of long standing.

We can accept that there may have been justifiable reasons for the government to deviate from the original purpose for which the aid money was given. But what is most galling is that the government has gone and used the money to cause irrevocable destruction to the environment - even while being aware that the whole purpose of the ADA funding was to save the environment - by providing funding to do the less harmful method of delivering electricity to the pristine Soe and Lingzhi regions – by opting to construct mini hydro-power plants.

It can happen only in Bhutan: that a most environmentally friendly project ends up being the most destructive!

I wonder what the Government of Austria has to say to this Machiavellian act?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

My Advise to a Tour Operator on the Destruction of the Jumolhari Base Camp Trek

A reader from Australia (a tour operator) left a note on my blog seeking my advise and additional information on the Jumolhari Trek trail. The following is how I replied:

Hi James,

Greetings from Bhutan and thank you for visiting my blog and leaving a comment on the destruction of Bhutan’s most famous trek route - the Jumolhari Base Camp Trek.

What happened is most shameful and highly irresponsible. We may never be able to undo the damage that has been caused but it is my hope that the government will do whatever is necessary to salvage some of the destruction. Hopefully the Austrian government will chip in too - supposedly it was their money that was used to cause the damage to the trail.

With respect to my views, I cannot say for certain - but it may be possible that the trail will be cleared of the trees and wreckage by the time your group arrives here in October. You will have to ask your local partners to monitor the situation closely. If it seems like the trail will remain as dangerously cluttered as it looks now, perhaps it may be a good idea to suggest an alternate trek to your clients who have booked already. Nothing ofcourse will substitute the beauty of the Jumolhari trek - but there are other treks that come pretty close. Your local partners should be able to suggest one.

Having said that, you will have to make a decision - in consultation with your Bhutanese partners - whether it will be prudent for you to get your clients to do the Jumolhari trek, even after you have become aware of the state it is now in. It is my belief that you sold the trek to your clients in good faith - based on the pristine condition it was in. But that situation has now changed. Therefore  - should you chose to withhold the information of the trail’s destruction from your clients, I see two issues: one, you are not being ethical, and two, you may stand to lose more than just 15 clients - you may be accused of putting your own interests above that of your clients. Therefore, if I were in your shoes, I would put the cards face up on the table and let the clients decide. You don't want your clients returning home from the trek and accuse you of misleading them.

But one thing you can assure them without hesitation - that if they can overlook the rough trail, the view at the end of the trek will be stunning and unmatched. I am also happy that you have chosen October month to do the trek. That is a great time to go to Jumolhari. The trillions of shimmering stars in the night sky of Jangothang will more than compensate your clients’ initial disappointment with the trail.

Finally, to answer your question:  The destruction starts at the start of the trail and goes all the way to the end of the trek - Jangothang.

Here is wishing you BEST OF LUCK with what you decide finally.

Bye and take care

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

State of Bhutan’s Most Famous Trek Trail

One reader forwarded me the following photos. He tells me that the photos were taken during April of this year.

The trail is completely buried in piles upon piles of trees and branches - so much so that it is no longer visible. Why is such a wide clearing of forests needed for the electric posts to run through?

One can see the utter mindlessness with which the BPC carried out the work. They should have had the common sense to consult the Tourism Council of Bhutan - before they planned the work because they would have been aware that they were going to operate within an area that is one of the country’s most important tourist destinations.

As can be seen from the photos, they felled the trees right onto the trail. They did not bother to fell the trees in such a way that they did not hinder traffic  - the trail is buried under piles and piles of trees and branches - so much so that the trial is practically invisible. As you can see the tourists are lost - because it is difficult to see the trail. Fortunately there are no reported accidents so far.

There is an urgent need to do something about this trail - before the trekking season starts. The devastation has been caused - but it may still be not too late to salvage the problem. BPC should be answerable for their mindless act.

The Austrian Government should be requested to undo what has been done with the aid of their money. This should also serve as a lesson to them - that the onus is on them to ensure that their future aid money is used responsibly and not for causing destruction.

Devastation of Bhutan's Most Famous Trek Route: Some Impressive Stats

My posts on the devastation of Bhutan’s most famous trek route drew some serious readership. It is encouraging that there are many out there who care for conservation and the environment. Look at the following statistics:

It terms of hits by country, the following are the numbers - Drups lead by miles - proof that we do care for the environment.

The stats are for July 18, 10 AM to July 19, 9:00 AM.

Bhutan                        1,969
India                              533
United States                 324
Australia                        149
Singapore                      126
Thailand                        114
United Arab Emirates     82
Germany                         76
Malaysia                         69
Nepal                              69

TOTAL                     3,511 visitors

For the same period, the most read blogs were on the following subjects:

3,485  Devastation of Bhutan’s Most Famous Trek Route 
   431  Devastation of Bhutan’s Most Famous Trek Route II
     56  Chasing the Mighty Golden Mahseer
    49  Educated are in rural Bhutan while literate ones live in the capital city 
     46  Devastation of Bhutan’s Most Famous Trek Route

A concerned reader sent me a mail that reads:

Dear Aue Yeshey,

The issue of devastation of the Jomolhari trail has been bothering us, for we value this as one of the most scenic treks in the world. It is truly sad that this wanton destruction happened under the very noses of authorities whose duty it is to uphold Bhutan’s strong conservation ethics.

What can we do now? Personally, it was very disturbing to see the ‘graveyard of trees’ on my recent trek in April. While much havoc has been wreaked, what can we do now? Waste management is a major issue along the trail, everywhere. Maybe we should look at this as an opportunity to make things right - even if it may be a little late.

Are the authorities listening?

Monday, July 18, 2016

Devastation of Bhutan’s Most Famous Trek Route: A View from Outside

Early this morning starting at 1:03 AM through 2.03 AM, a reader of my blog - Brent Olson - posted the following three comments on my blog, on the devastation of Bhutan’s most famous trek route.

1:03 AM: 
If the Australian Govt. paid for the rural electrification of this region, the cost of rerouting the lines to preserve one of Bhutan's key tourism destinations should have been included in the budget. Optionally, if tour operators around the world were told of this disastrous decision, they could have launched a campaign to raise funds to pay for the rerouting! Why weren't these options considered?

1:19 AM: 
Having been involved in promoting tourism to Bhutan for the past 30 years and having done this trek route several times myself, this is heartbreaking news. After my sadness passed, I became angry that such a disastrous decision was allowed to proceed! While rural electrification is a lofty and admirable goal, there has to be a cost and benefit analysis done. How many Bhutanese are going to benefit from these lines? What is the implication to the environment, to this popular trek route and to the tourism industry that employs so many Bhutanese? While it is true that only a small number of travelers (out of the thousands that visit Bhutan each year) actually do this trek, these types of actions damage the overall impression of travelers to the country. Bhutan is heavily promoted as an environmentally sensitive and extremely forward thinking country. Actions such as this make people wonder if those descriptions are actually true. Putting electric poles and lines along this pristine trek route would be the equivalent of putting a four lane freeway through Yosemite Valley and to what benefit, the electrification of a few households and villages? Wouldn't that money have been better spent developing solar, wind and mini hydro power for these regions, especially given their value to Bhutan and the world? Rather than just complain about this bad decision, I think it needs to be stopped and funds need to be raised to reroute or bury the lines. I would be happy to help instigate a fund raising campaign focused on that goal if it isn't already too late......

2:03 AM
Those responsible for these horrible decisions should be held accountable. Of course, it now sounds like it is too late to make any difference for the Jhomolhari area..... 

Mr. Brent Olson is obviously as pained as I am at the recklessness with which Bhutan’s most famous trek route has been destroyed. He goes so far as to commit to raise funds, to reroute the transmission lines - if the government will consider it.

Perhaps even the Government of Austria could help - after all it was their funding that caused the devastation. They ought to take ownership for not ensuring that their money is used for something that is useful and beneficial for Bhutan and its people. Their funding would certainly help a few dozen households in the Jumolhari area - but in the process the country has been deprived of hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism revenue, for decades to come.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Chasing the Mighty Golden Mahseer

I just returned from a 4-days fishing trip to Tsirang. This time we were aiming for the mighty Golden Mahseer (Tor putitora). The Golden Mahseer is an endangered fish species found in Bhutan, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Pakistan. Biggest and strongest among fresh water fish, the Golden Mahseer is perhaps the most sought after fresh water game fish. They can grow upto 9 ft. in length and over 54 Kgs. in weight. In Bhutan they can be found in Punatsangchhu in the West, Tingtingbi in the central, Dangmechhu and Kurichhu in the East and Kalikhola, Panbang, Manas and Yangbari in the south.

Hooking a Mahseer is tough - but landing it is even tougher. I know of a friend who struggled to land a Mahseer for over two hours - unsuccessfully. At the end, he had to cut the line in frustration since he had no more energy left to fight the fish.

The International Game Fish Association (IGFA) accepts Belgian angler Frank Van de Wyer as the world record holder for his catch of 19.96 Kgs. (44 lbs) Golden Mahseer, caught in the Sayru river in north-central India. This is minuscule compared to Bhutan’s record of 35 Kgs. – the Golden Mahseer was caught in Homa Khola, Kalikhola on 25th September, 1978.

Photographic evidence of Bhutan's record catch - note that the fish is taller than the pony to which it is strapped.

My own record catches are: 27 Kgs. in Sheyteykharey, Kalikhola, 23 Kgs. in Tingtingbi and 19 Kgs. in Harachhu in Wangdue. The fish below was caught by me on July 14, 2016 at Burichhu, Tsirang. It weighed in at an impressive 15 Kgs. My tousled hair and sweating red face is evidence of the struggle I went through to land this king of fresh water game fish!

My latest catch of the Golden Mahseer. Landing this beauty was a tough job because it was hooked at a very difficult place in Burichhu, Tsirang. At the end of the struggle, the fish broke one of the three treble hooks of my Balsa wood plug bait called the Jointed Minnow made by Rapala of Finland.

The Mahseer is not all about monsters - cute little babies too are game.

A cute little baby Mahseer weighing about 3 Kgs. After a pat or two, the baby fish is released back to the water.

However, both the monster and the baby are released back to the water - after the photo shoot. This practice is called “Catch-N-Release”. There are others who practice “Catch-N-Haves” :)-

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Journey of Hope and Awakening: Day IX

At about 4:00 PM yesterday, I was informed from Rindibi, Zhemgang that the 20 children and their escorts reached Rindibi safely. They have decided to spend the night there since it is 7 hours of uphill trek to Langdhurbi. The children were met by their parents at Rindibi. By now they would have reached home and narrating their experiences to their friends and families.

I am finally relieved that everything went off smoothly and without any incidence. I was on tenterhooks until the news that they have reached their area safely. Being monsoon, there was always a chance of some mishap. I had made sure that the escorts keep us updated of their movement because I know that the road of good intentions does not always lead to heaven.

They started their journey for Thimphu on the 1st of July and returned home on the 9th July - full 9 days of excitement.

There were many institutions and individual who made this happen. In the coming days, I will be thanking each of them with a list of activities the children did during their time in Thimphu.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Journey of Hope and Awakening: Day III

The school children from remote Langdhurbi started their third day in Thimphu with a visit to the official residence of Lyonpo Lekey Dorji, Minister of Economic Affairs. Lyonpo Lekey represents the Trong-Bardo constituency to which these children belong. I wasn't around during the visit but  I am sure that the children were happy to have been able to visit the Ministers' Enclave. Even more happier, I am told that they received generous amounts of pocket money and some serious pep talk. In addition, Lyonpo gave the children an inspirational letter each - individually addressed to each one of them. That was a nice touch.

A copy of Lyonpo Lekey's inspirational letter - individually addressed to each children

The children were treated to 5D movie and they had lunch at the Folk Heritage Museum Restaurant at Kawajangsa.

Children having their lunch at the Folk Heritage Museum Restaurant

During the lunch break, they were pleasantly surprised by the visit of their National Council Member Pema Dakpa whom some of the children recognized. The NC Member and his wife handed out a brown envelope each - containing, yet again, generous amounts of cash.

In the evening dinner for the children was hosted by Pedling Hotel.

This morning at 6.30AM I went to the DYS Youth Hostel to bid them goodbye. They go back home today. They will night halt in Gaylephu to-day and tomorrow they will arrive home.

Children all set to return home - they pose before their bus before they start the return journey

A detailed report of this service project by the Rotary Club of Thimphu will be uploaded in the coming days.

This has been a truly fulfilling project. With support from philanthropic donors and supporters, we hope to make this an annual event.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Journey of Hope and Awakening: Day II

On the second day of their trip to Thimphu, the children of Langdhuri had even better day then their first one. They were treated to lunch at the plush Namseling Boutique Hotel, personally attended to by the well-known owner: Aum Lily Wangchuk.

The Children pose with Aum Lily Wangchuk who treated them to lunch at her Namseling Boutique Hotel

Two generous donors donated a set of Gho and Kira/Toego each to the children while some gifted them shoes and socks and writing stationery.

In the afternoon, they saw a movie at the City Mall and met the movie’s cast for autographs. The Pied Piper Chador Wangmo then took them to animation studios for a treat of animated movies, which they loved.

Their evening tea at the Simply Bhutan - a distinctive ethnic eatery at the YDF - was perhaps the best experience. Here they got to meet their most favorite movie stars: Lhaki Dolma, Sonam Choki, Sonam Tenzin and Tandin Bida. The actors posed for photographs with the children; they danced with them and Lhaki Dolma sang for them. After the group photo, the actors were swamped for their autographs.

The children sang three songs for the movie stars - of which one was a pure ethnic khengpa song.

For children who have not seen vehicle roads, I was amazed to learn that they knew every one of the actors!

 Children being treated to evening tea at the chick Simply Bhutan

Group photo with their favorite movie actors

Movie star Lhaki Dolma signing autographs for the children

 The very pretty Sonam Choki signing autographs for her fans from remote Langdhurbi

 Sonam Choki being crowded by her fans for her autograph

 Movie star Sonam Tenzin signing autographs for the children

 Very popular movie star Tandin Bida signs autographs for the children who are her adoring fans

After tea we moved to Hotel Druk where the children were treated to a sumptuous dinner - compliments of the Hotel. The actors sat chatting with the children through out the dinner.

Actress Lhaki Dolma chatting up the kids during dinner time at The Druk

Star Sonam Tenzin at The Druk Hotel with children during dinner time

Movie star Tandin Bida with the children at The Druk, waiting for dinner

For the children it was a dream experience - for me it is my hope that this exposure would have inspired one or two of them to work hard and study hard to achieve what many they have seen have achieved in their lives.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Journey of Hope and Awakening: Day I

Ten boys and ten girls from remote Kheng village of Langdhurbi are currently in the capital city. They study at the Langdhurbi Primary School, Zhemgang.

They come from such a remote place that only two from among twenty of them have seen a vehicle road before they came on this trip.

More importantly, some of them are children whose fathers perished in a boat capsize that happened two years back.

The idea of this trip was mooted to me by writer Chador Wangmo, during the 1st Annual Bhutanese Bloggers’ Conference in February, 2016. Given the humane story behind this idea, I proposed the idea to the Rotary Club of Thimphu whose members agreed to put together the logistical and financial support needed to make this happen. Thus this is one of the service projects supported by the Rotary Club of Thimphu, in collaboration with Ms. Chador Wangmo. Chador is currently busy acting mother hen to the twenty children who are being guided to many sites and sounds of Thimphu.

The children are now here and they are loving the experience. There are many people and establishments that have helped make this a reality. A detailed account will be given later.

For now, the highlight of their trip has been the visit to the National Assembly where they met 7 of the 11 of Bhutan’s Cabinet, including the Hon'ble Prime Minister and the Speaker of the National Assembly.
The children with the Hon'ble Prime Minister of Bhutan

 The children with some of the Cabinet Members and the Speaker of the National Assembly

Yesterday they had lunch at the Hotel Jumolhari and they were served dinner at the Hotel Ariya - two of Thimphu’s most elegant hotels. Both the meals were served free by the hotels.

Each of the twenty students received Nu.1,500.00 as spending money.

When you look at the following photographs - remember these children come from a place where they have no roads - they have to walk for 7 hours to reach the nearest road head.

As opposed to that, consider how wasteful and meaningless it is - that the government is contemplating the construction of the illegal Shingkhar-Gorgan road that will devastate the environment while bringing no meaningful benefit to any one. It will bring shame and disrepute to Bhutan and its claim to being a champion of  environmental conservation. If the government has 700 million Ngultrums - that is what they will spend on the disastrous Shingkhar-Gorgan road - they should consider spending half that sum on the most neglected Zhemgang Dzongkhag - to bring road connectivity to the area.

The children ready for lunch at the Hotel Jumolhari where they were also given Nu.1,000.00 each as spending money

 The children waiting for dinner at the Hotel Ariya. The clothing they are wearing were supplied free by some generous garment shops in Thimphu.

 The children having a great time eating ice cream at the Hotel Ariya

The Rotary Club of Thimphu hopes to make this an annual event. We want to bring other children from other remote Dzongkhags to expose them to the possibilities in life - to awaken them to what life can offer them.

Jumolhari Hotel has already committed to be a partner in this initiative - for as long as the program is in place. We know that there are others who have the means and the will to make a difference in the life of less fortunate children who live stranded in remote places with poor access and no hopes of any dreams to dream.