Thursday, December 31, 2020

Bhutan's Earliest Postage Stamp Gives Joy to a Sikkimese

I have long been grumbling about the errors – perpetrated both intentionally and through carelessness – in the printing of our bank notes as well as our coins – both hammered and milled. But now that my attention has been drawn – willy-nilly – to the postage stamps, I find that here too we have blundered. Look at the following two earliest stamps:

1. Stamp depicting His Majesty Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck, issued in 1962

If you look at the stamp carefully, you will notice that the date of birth has been shown as 1867 – 1902. This is totally wrong. His Majesty’s birthdate should have been shown as 1862 – 1926. How could such a drastic mistake have been made?

But something that surprises me is: It cannot be that they pulled the years 1867 – 1902 out of some magician’s hat. Does these years of birth and death belong to someone? Who? But one thing that is heartwarming to know is that one subject of the erstwhile Kingdom of Sikkim is thrilled to bits that his annexed homeland is shown in the stamp as an independent Kingdom :)- He writes that this is the only stamp he knows in the whole world where his annexed homeland is depicted as an independent Kingdom.

Then consider the following stamp issued the same year – 1962. The postage stamp depicts a Bhutanese archer in traditional Gho. Look carefully – and you realize that the man has worn his Gho from the wrong side – the Gho’s Gong is facing left, and not right as it should be.

2. Stamp depicting a Bhutanese archer, issued in 1962

I cannot imagine how Burt Kerr Todd would have made such a terrible mistake. I mean he attended the Royal Wedding in 1951 during which time he is supposed to have spent 7 months in Bhutan. Then he came back to Bhutan with his brand new wife - in 1954 - for his honeymoon. Then he is known to have come back once again in 1959 – when it is said that an agreement was reached – for him to work at designing, printing and marketing of Bhutan’s postage stamps in the international market. This means he surely would have seen and known how we Bhutanese male wear our Gho.

I thought long and hard – how this could have happened. The only conclusion I could draw is that Todd must have photographed a Bhutanese man on a negative film, which was used those early days. However, when printing the photograph for artwork, the studio person must have printed from the wrong side of the negative – with the result that an inverted image was produced. When an image is captured on the negative film, it is actually captured in “negative” or inverse state. When they are printed on photographic paper, the positive image is reproduced. The following is what I mean.

The image on the right was flipped horizontally to produce an inverted image that shows the Gho's Gong facing to the left.

Since this is the last day of a year that tested us all, I am posting two articles today - in jubilation of a terrible year that we are now putting behind us. See you all next year.

Please Extend The Lockdown

The Royal Government of Bhutan has recently announced that the ongoing lockdown could be lifted after the New Year and the Nginlo that is coming up tomorrow and day after. I should be relieved – but I am not. A sense of unease overwhelms me. I fear that we may be opening up too soon, too hastily. We have never seen such double-digit cases in the past. In the last 10 days, we have been averaging 20.9 new cases a day. This is very worrisome – something has triggered this surge in new cases – we need to understand what caused it. Even if we cannot yet understand the reason for the surge, we can allow ourselves to relax – only once we see a drop in new cases. Or, at least we have been able to undertake mass testing in all the Dzongkhags. Look at the following figure:

Record of recent COVID-19 cases

His Majesty the King had personally subjected himself to two quarantine isolations. He has given out Kabneys and Patangs to a number of people – to recognize their achievement in their efforts towards containment of the epidemic. He has awarded medals of valor and service to organizations at the forefront of our fight against the pandemic. After all that, it would be a real pity if we allow ourselves to be impatient and let go before time, and before making sure that we are doing the right thing.

I have always said through a number of past posts on this Blog that there is no escape for us – that we too must face the St. Martinma’s Day, eventually. That day is here – and we have seen that the Bhutanese people were ready, and prepared to face it. If that is true, then let us be prepared to face the lockdown for few more days – until we are cock sure that we have been successful in breaking the chain of transmission.

Let us encourage the King and the Government to extend the lockdown for few more days – until the numbers are under control and until we can complete mass testing across all the twenty Dzongkhags.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Bhutanese Mail Route Of Yore: Yatung-Nathula Pass-Sikkim- Kalimpong II

Looking at the following mail cover, it becomes apparent that while we know that there was no postal services in the country during the early 1950’s – there appears to have been some kind of mail delivery system in place. The multiple seals from different Dzongs affixed on the cover are evidence of that.

I wondered – why was the cover stamped at every Dzong en-route to the destination? The only explanation I could arrive at is that it could not have been a single postal runner who carried the mail from Trashigang to all the way to the final designation. Although the cover’s postmarks end at Wangduephodrang, I believe that the final destination would have been Thimphu or Paro.

It is my belief that the mail delivery system was organized on a relay system. A runner from Trashigang would deliver the mail up to Zhongar Dzong and from there on another runner from Zhongar would deliver the mails to Jakar Dzong and so on and so forth. That would explain the presence of postmarks of each of the Dzongs on the route of delivery. Ofcourse we know the existence of postal runners – in fact our first postage stamps issued in 1962 depicted a postal runner on two of the seven stamps. But was a relay system in place? – that is what I am interested to find out.

I looked up the records and find that between 1952 - 1965, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi and Dasho Babu Tashi were the Dzongpoens of Trashigang and Zhongar (Mongar). I do not know who was Kuzang Wangdi – but certainly I know who was Dasho Babu Tashi – as things settle down, I will confirm if there were postal runners during those years.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Bhutanese Mail Route Of Yore: Yatung–Nathula Pass-Sikkim-Kalimpong

One reader commented as follows, on my last blog titled Postage Stamps Without Postal Service:

The blue rubber stamp on the invitation card is intriguing. In the center is Phuntsholing Bhutan, but on the outer circle, it reads P.O. Dalsingpara, district Jalpaiguri. Is it because there was no post office in Phuntsholing and that the mails came via Dalsingpara PO.

The reader is right – we used the closest Indian Post office to deliver/receive our mails. However, to me the blue rubber stamp is not so much of a confusion – what is, is the black round stamp that cancels the postage stamp on the Invitation Card. If you take a closer look at it, the postmark date is indicated as 10 October, 1962 – which is the day the Bhutan Postal Service was launched in Phuentsholing by the SDO (Sub-Divisional Officer). From the round seal, it can be seen that the organization that looked after the postal service those days was called Post & Telegraph Service. What is puzzling is that the cancellation stamp shows Rinpung Dzong (Paro). How could it have been post-marked in Rinpung Dzong, on the same day of the inauguration? Even if we accept that the Invitation Cards were posted from Ringpung Dzong, the date should be few days, if not few weeks, before 10th October, 1962. Remember, motor road construction in Bhutan started for the first time in 1961 - from Phuentsholing towards Thimphu.

Confusing dates and postmarks

Bhutan used the nearest Indian post offices for receiving and sending our international mails. Dalsingpara in Jalpaiguri is just across the border from Phuentsholing town – so we used the Indian post office there. It is for that reason that the blue rubber stamp on the Invitation Cards shows the return address as P O Dalsingpara District Jalpaiguri.

When there was no motor road access to the Southern borders, Bhutan use to route our mails overland to Bhutan House, Kalimpong and use the route: Tibet Yatung–Nathula Pass-Sikkim-Kalimpong and finally from Bhutan House to destinations around the world. It is also possible that we may have used runners to deliver and collect mails through the Pasakha/Soembekha route - but I doubt it because it would have been the longer route. The earliest Revenue Stamps were used for the purpose – but upon the mail arriving at Tibet Yatung, the covers were required to be slapped with additional postage stamps of China and/or India – for onward journey to Kalimpong. Who did that and how they were paid for is still a mystery. And, even why additional stamps were needed to be slapped is a mystery – unless our Revenue Stamps were not recognized for use as postage stamps – outside the Bhutanese territorial boundaries.

The cover shown with an additional Chinese Postage Stamp affixed at Yatung, Tibet-China, in addition to our Revenue Stamp

The cover shown with an additional Indian Postage Stamp affixed at Yatung, Tibet-China, in addition to our Revenue Stamp

Translation of Lunar year to Gregorian year, month and date

Looks like during the mid 1950’s, Rinpung or Paro was the place of action for mailing services – most covers are marked from Rinpung Dzong. Ofcourse internal mails were also exchanged from other Dzongkhags such as Shongar (Mongar), Bumthang, Trashigang, Trongsa, Wangduephodrang, Thimphu etc. The following cover tells a very interesting tale of the route and journey of a mail dispatched from Trashigang to Thimphu.

Journey of an internal mail - from Trashigang to Thimphu

The postmarks show the following dates:

Trashigang           Fire-Bird     5th month   5th Day       02.07.1957

Shongar (Mongar)     Fire-Bird     5th month   9th Day       06.07.1957

Bumthang           Fire-Bird     5th month   16th Day     12.07.1957

Trongsa                   Fire-Bird     5th month   18th Day     15.07.1957

Wangduephodrang   Fire-Bird     5th month   25th Day      22.07.1957


From the above, you can see how many days a mail took from one point to the next.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Postage Stamps Without Postal Service

If being locked down were not enough, my life suddenly got complicated by my pursuit of history – this time about the history of our postage stamps. By necessity, the history of coinage was expected to be blurry, hazy and supremely challenging – given that facts and myths need to be gleaned and weighed and analyzed from events and occurrences spanning few centuries of our tumultuous past. But the history of Bhutan’s postal service is less than seven decades old – thus it shouldn’t have to be this complicated. But I find that it is.

A Washington-based reader of my blog who sent me a handful of images of our Gold Coin Stamps from the 1960’s put me on the road to postal history – I had made a mention of him in my last blog. Since then I have done nothing but look at our old postage stamps and re-examine their history. Quite incredibly, I discovered that the history of our postage stamps is even more intriguing and fraught with mysteries and improbabilities that have my tongue hanging out a mile long.

Let us begin at the beginning – 1954 when, for the first time, Bhutan issued stamps. They were a set of four stamps in four different colors. Actually they were not postage stamps – but what we call "Revenue Stamps".

Bhutan's first stamps - Revenue Stamps as they are still called

The confusions with these stamps are primarily three:

1.    The stamps were denominated 1, 2, 4 and 8. It does not say what these numbers are

       – identification marks or face value of the stamps? If they were face values, they do not say
       whether Ngultrums or Chettrums.

2. They were called Revenue Stamps – I do not know why. They should have been called

        Fiscal Stamps – as does the philatelist from the US - since they were intended for use

         in monetary transections.

3. Curiously, in early 1955, these fiscal stamps were assigned to be used as postage stamps,

        under the authority of the IIIrd   King – as conveyed in writing by the Zimpoen, on

         17th September, 1955.What is funny is that there was no postal service then –

        Bhutan’s postal service was established on 10th October, 1962 – in Phuentsholing.

Launch of Bhutan's postal service on 10th October, 1962, in Phuentsholing

Between 1966 - 1996, some more of these fiscal stamps were issued – including a number of, what we chose to call – “Legal Stamps”. But unlike in the past, this time all of them had a face value, and they were designated in Nu./Ch.

Revenue and Legal stamps with face value denominated in Nu./Ch.

Now I find it funny that the stamps were called “Legal Stamps” – we still do. Did we have illegal stamps? A more appropriate nomenclature would have been “Judicial Stamps” - as the Bhutanese call them "Genja Ticket".

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Loan No Get – Stamps Will Issue

A Washington based reader of my Blog who is both a numismatist and a philatelist sent me an assortment of images of Bhutan’s Gold Coin stamps … in an attempt to explain to me:

In philatelic (stamp collecting) circles, changing of the value is a "surcharge" and "overprint" refers to alterations that did not affect the face value.

The following is what is being explained:

An example of Overprint/Surcharge

What the reader sent me was a bunch of Bhutan’s world famous coin stamps issued by the Bhutan Postal authorities in 1966.

One of the images sent to me by the reader

A rich American by the name Burt Kerr Todd – a friend of one of the Royal families supervised the designing and printing of the stamps, including their marketing to the international collectors.

Very few Bhutanese would be aware of the reasons behind the emergence of Bhutan’s postage stamps. Although eventually Bhutan would have had to issue postage stamps, at that point in time when a decision was made to produce postage stamps – the reason was said to be for a reason totally unrelated to postal service.

Apparently Bhutan had applied to the World Bank for a loan of US$10.00 millions. The loan was denied – ostensibly because the World Bank did not want to displease India by helping Bhutan. In his capacity as the unofficial Financial Advisor to Bhutan, Burt Kerr Todd led the team that made the presentation to the World Bank. At the end of the Meeting as he was leaving, a US government official who also attended the meeting as an observer suggested that Bhutan could produce postage stamps as a source of revenue. The idea appealed to Burt and thus, with the approval of the government, he embarked on issuing a variety of postage stamps, in a bid to earn revenue for the country.

The philately world did not exactly jump with excitement over his initial offerings. Then an idea hit him – an idea that was originally conceived by the Kingdom of Tonga who had issued a hugely successful gold coin stamp in 1962.

Gold Coin Stamp of the Kingdom of Tonga

Burt designed and printed Bhutan’s own Gold Coin stamps in 1966, which was received very well by the global community of collectors. He never looked back thereafter – he designed and printed Gold Coin stamps, triangular stamps, square rounded corner stamps, silk stamps, steel stamps, stamps with bass relief, talking stamps, scented stamps and his hugely popular 3-dimensional stamps that took the world by storm.

Bhutan’s earliest postage stamps were designed and printed under the supervision of Burt Todd – beginning 1962. Before that, Bhutan had issued revenue stamps in 1954. At a time when it was most needed, postage stamps accounted for the highest foreign exchange earning.

But Mr. Todd has been a source of serious confusion for me – for a whole day! The confusion arose from the following stamp that had me  thoroughly puzzled:

The Stamp with two face values

I noted that the stamp had two face values – one in the inner circle and another on the outer circle. The value in the inner circle was set in Indian Naya Paise (N.P.) and the outer one in Bhutanese CH (Chettrums). I was puzzled – why would a stamp need two face values and which of the two is the face value of the stamp? I was intrigued – until I realized much later that the inner value was the value of the 1966 cupro-nickle Thala that was depicted. Thus the denomination set in CH on the outer circle was the face value of the stamp. The stamp design was comprised of two components – the 1966 50 N.P. coin encircled in a circular band of blue bearing two dragons facing each other.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Rewriting History

Historians, particularly Bhutanese historians, tend to treat our history with a casualness that is inexcusable. Historical texts are rife with contradictions. Authors are keen to publish their own take on the past—versions that are quite often in conflict with other accounts. In some cases, truly illogical claims have been made.

For instance, I have examined four different records of the chronology of Trongsa Poelops, with numerous inconsistencies in the names. Three of the records do agree on one point: that there were a total of 16 Trongsa Poenlops from 1647 to 2006. The fourth record, however, lists a staggering 25 Trongsa Poenlops.

I was not interested in history until I started putting together my book on the coinage of Bhutan. I discovered that the historical documentation on this topic was confusing, often inaccurate, and at times pure conjecture—the product of the writer’s fertile imagination.

One source of misinformation in the history of our coinage drew me deep into the tangled thicket of Bhutanese history—in particular, the lives and times of the famous Pala and Pila brothers, forefathers of the Wangchuck and Dorji families. Even accounts narrated in school textbooks are grossly erroneous, resulting in generations of Bhutanese growing up with a misunderstanding of our own history.

On page 3 of the Royal Education Council’s A History of Bhutan: Course Book for Class X, the following narration appears:

Pala continued to serve under the Paro Poenlop in the course of which, he has a son in the village of Tsentona. This was Sharpa Puenchung, who was to be the father of Kazi Ugyen Dorji of Kalimpong. He in turn rose to be Bhutan Agent and later Gongzom to the first Druk Gyalpo in 1907. His other son, by an earlier marriage, was Kitchelp Dorji Namgyal of the Bemji Chhoeje, who became Druk Desi.

There are problems with this passage. First and foremost, it is misleading to say that Sharpa Penchung’s son Ugyen Dorji was from Kalimpong; phrasing it this way makes it sound like he was not Bhutanese. It is true that Gongzim Ugyen Dorji was born in Kalimpong in 1855 to parents Sharpa Penchung and Thinley Om, in a house called Kota Homa/Kota Ghar/Kothi Woma. But most readers are likely unaware that Kalimpong in 1855 was Bhutanese territory. Only in 1865 did the British India government annex it, after the great Duars war.

It is also incorrect to state that Pala Gyeltshen married twice. He married only once—a woman from Tsendona in Paro (I am still trying to find out her name). Thus, it is not possible that Desi Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyal was the son of Pala Gyeltshen. I say this with certainty because, on page 30 (Reprint 2019) of A History of Bhutan 19th to 20th Century: Course Book for Class VIII, the following sentences appear:

It became clear then that Jigme Namgyal was the most powerful man in Bhutan. The officials of the Central Government and the Central Monastic Body invited Jigme Namgyal to be Druk Desi. He was therefore enthroned in 1870 as the 48th Druk Desi.

After he was enthroned, he appointed Kawang Sangye as the Wangduephodrang Dzongpoen, Wang Chogyal Zangpo as Zhung Dronyer, and his half brother Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyal as Gongzim.

The same Course Book, on Page 32, says:

In 1877, the Punakha Dzongpon, Ngodrup and the Paro Poenlop Niyma Dorji got together and planned to rebel against Jigme Namgyal and the new Desi. Further, they killed his representative, Nyerchen Charchung in Paro. This act of treachery required action from Jigme Namgyal. Jigme Namgyal, his son Ugyen Wangchuck, Phuntsho Dorji, his half brother Desi Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyal, and the Thimphu Dzongpoen went to Paro and captured the Ta Dzong.

These records are correct. Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyel was the son of Pila Gonpo Wangyal, born out of wedlock to a woman named Chechemo, who hailed from the house of Bemji Choeje in Trongsa. Pila Gonpo Wangyal fathered Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyel during his short stint with the Trongsa Poenlop, on his return journey from Gantey to Doongkar, where he settled down and married Sonam Pelzom and fathered the future Trongsa Poenlop Jigme Namgyel, as well as four other children. He built the Doongkar Nagtsang or Jigme Namgyel Nagtsang, which still stands. And Pila Gonpo Wangyal did marry a women in Gangtey during his time there. But this woman died soon after, childless.

Since Desi Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyal was born before Pila married Sonam Pelzom, Desi Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyal has to be the oldest of the six children fathered by Pila. Thus, it is correct that Desi Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyal is half brother of Jigme Namgyal.

I spent months tracking the journeys of Pala and Pila. I finally met the incumbent Head of Bemji Choeje who, along with other members of the Bemji Choeje family, confirmed that Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyel was indeed the son of Pila Gonpo Wangyel. When I cross-check the events in which Pila was involved, it is clear that only he could have fathered Kitshelpa Dorji Namgyel—not Pala, as some records claim.

As I find time, I will write a more detailed account of the journeys of the two brothers, Pala and Pila. Without an accurate account of this nation’s past, we will never fully understand the forces and personalities that brought us to where we are today.   

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Down Memory Lane: The Karmic BHUTAN2020 SkyHydrant Water Filter Project

Hi David,

Thank you for your quick response. I am glad that you and Jean are well and safe.

Certainly you are one person in the whole world who I want to see - soon is not soon enough. Particularly because I resign from the Rotary Club of Thimphu as well as the Rotary fraternity – at the end of June, 2021. As you know, we have a Rotary Conference happening in July, 2021. It is my hope that you and Jean would make it to Bhutan for the Conference. Even if you cannot, please do try and re-route your return trip home from Taipei - through Bhutan - after attending the Rotary International Convention planned to be held there during mid June of 2021.

The one million dollars BHUTAN2020 Project is the Rotary Club of Thimphu’s single largest humanitarian project ever – we have never done or are ever likely to do a project at this scale. And I credit you entirely for it – for conceiving it and initiating it during your leadership of DAA. Bhutanese children have benefitted immensely from it. Fortunately the DAA leadership that took over from you continued to remain unfaltering in their support towards the project’s successful conclusion. Brian is determined to see the project completed by June 2021. Not only that he is committed to take the project beyond the planned 120 filters. Brian is due to ship 15 units of SkyHydrant MAX in the next few weeks. With this, DAA would have delivered close to 110 units of filters – meaning that we are on track to complete the project within the promised 3 years.

You may or may not remember – that the BHUTAN2020 project was almost Karmic – it was never supposed to have happened. Bhutan was nowhere within the radar of DAA. It was a pure chance happening.

Please pardon me for this long winding mail – but now that I am writing to you on the issue, I am taking this chance to make it a detailed mail – so that our Club Members who may not know how it all happened, would get to understand the context of the Project BHUTAN2020.

The seed for the idea for SkyHydrant water filters was first planted by the Malaysian Rotarian K K Looi - currently the Chair of Disaster Aid International. Quite extraordinarily, K K Looi’s arrival in Bhutan was yet another Karmic happenstance.

In 2017, our District Governor of RID 3292 informed us that the District Conference for the year would happen in Thimphu. We were ecstatic and embarked on making all the preparations. Unfortunately, at the last minute, the District reneged on their words and cancelled the District Conference. By then we had already spent hundreds of thousands – in preparation for the Conference. Cancelling the Conference was going to cost the Club millions in refunds and other costs. Already 160 participants had registered and paid for the Conference. Thus I proposed to the Members that we hold an international but Club level Rotary Conference – in place of the cancelled District Conference. The Members agreed and I proceeded to make the plans to host a Club level Conference targeted at international Rotarians. The Conference was a great success – we had a total of 175 including 15 participants from Bhutan. There was participation from more than 20 countries. The biggest contingent came from Malaysia – among whom was Rtn. K K Looi.

Rtn. K K Looi was one of the speakers during the Conference – and he spoke on a fascinating water filtration system called SkyHydrant. I was fascinated by it. Once he returned home, I wrote to KK and asked him to help us get some units of this fascinating filter. He wrote back saying that his club and the Disaster Aid Malaysia was too small to handle our request – he instead put me in touch with you.

I wrote to you – but you politely responded to say that DAA was busy with aid work for Nepal that was ravaged by the massive earthquake of 2015. I understood that you did not want to be over-extended – thus we went silent.

Then out of the blue a few months later, you communicated with me and said that there may be a possibility to offer Bhutan 2 SkyHydrant water filters – if I am able to work fast enough. You said I needed to arrange for visa and air passage and all other travel arrangements within 3 days – to move 2 filters and a DART Member of the DAA who was stranded in Nepal. Apparently the 2 SkyHydrants were destined for a location that was out of bounds for your team to visit – because a landslide had happened and the DART Member was not able to access the location. Thus you decided that you could fulfill my request – by diverting the filters from Nepal to Bhutan – instead of bringing it back to Australia. This was Karmic – and I was not about to let go this God-sent opportunity, to lay my hands on those fantastic filters.

Within a day and a half, I arranged everything – visa, hotel, air ticket – everything – for the DART Member Andrew Gunn to exit Kathmandu and travel to Bhutan and deliver and install the two filters. On 30th September, 2017 Andrew arrived at Paro where I went to receive him. Unfortunately – the selected sites of installation – Zhemgang HS and Yebilapsa CS – were cut off by roadblock. But I did not give up – I requested Andrew to train our local persons in the installation of the filters. Thus three member installation team of Bhutan Toilet Organization were put through a training course for 2 days – at the end of which Andrew was satisfied that they were now competent enough to carry out the installations independently.

Andrew went back a very happy man; with a wicked smile he promised to me that he would “bat” for me with you and your team at the DAA. We particularly requested him to pitch for us for the donation of 4 more filters for installation in our schools.

True to his word, Andrew successfully “batted” for us and managed to convince you and your team at the DAA to donate four more SkyHydrants – bringing the total installation of SkyHydrants to 6 Nos. DART Members Andrew Gunn and Phillip Gribble came for the installation of the second lot of 4 filters.

Seeing how beneficial the filters were for our school children, during one of our Club Meetings, I proposed that we invite you to Bhutan as our guest – to visit the schools where your filters were installed. You accepted the invitation and arrived in Bhutan on 5th March, 2018.

Consequently, on 9th March, 2018 during a farewell dinner hosted in your honor by the Club, you met the Education Minister and other dignitaries when a request was made to you to extent the donation of filters to 120 of Bhutan’s largest schools, which you readily accepted.

The initiative to deliver 120 SkyHydrants to 120 of Bhutan’s biggest schools, codenamed “BHUTAN2020” valued at $1.00 million was launch by you at the Rotary International Convention in Toronto, Canada on June 25, 2018.

Since then we never looked back. We are now all poised to complete the project dot on time – at the end of June, 2021.

You have moved on – but your legacy lives on.

We Thank You for your big-heartedness. Initially your successor Brian had serious doubts about being able to deliver the promise you made – but in a recent mail to me, he admitted that we are after all going to be able to deliver it – and even more.

Lastly, one other person who must get a mention and who was pivotal in making the BHUTAN2020 project a success is Madam Jamyang Choeden of the Ministry of Education. It was Karmic that she was then the Head of the SHND – the division in the Ministry of Education that looked after water supply to schools. Without her initiative and personal connections, the BHUTAN2020 would have floundered miserably. Through sheer dint of hard work and relentless pursuit, she succeeded in obtaining budgetary allocation of a substantial sum – to enable the SPBD to carry out the installations in the schools, and purchase fittings needed for the job. You may recall that she also acted as the host and guide to you, during your visit to Bhutan, as the representative of the Ministry of Education.

On behalf of he Bhutanese school children and on behalf of the Rotary Club of Thimphu, I once again Thank You for your generosity.

Bye and take care ... and keep safe.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Talking Tourism To The Graveyard II

Every once in a while, a motley of lawmakers and interest groups get together and start a discussion on the tourism sector and how to reorganize it. The mischief makers are so determined that they had even gone so far as to engineer a debate on the subject – during a RIGGS session in Phuentsholing sometime in 2015. Fortunately, the motion to do away with the Minimum Daily Tariff was defeated. Even today, Dr. Karma Tshering, founder of BSTS messages me, after the meeting on tourism that was concluded 2-3 days back: “Think positively – we are able to hold on regardless of the threats”. This was in response to my vehement refusal to attend the meeting on tourism, on grounds that I have said more than enough on the subject.

Year after year, unfailingly, the discussion that tops the agenda when discussing tourism is: How To Do Away With The Minimum Daily Tariff. Nothing beyond that – there is no creativity, no fresh thinking or bold new ideas that are offered. They are all stuck at: Doing away with the Minimum Daily Tariff.

Strangely, while these people seem to be clueless about the demerits of doing away with the Minimum Daily Tariff, they seem to be in total confusion as to what they really wish to achieve. This is evident from the slogan that has now come into vogue: High Value, Low Volume. We had earlier aimed at: High Value, Low Impact.

ONE: if it is low volume we want, then what the hell is this entire ruckus all about – of increasing inflow? If low volume is the aim, then damn well STOP PROMOTING TOURISM!!

TWO: How will freeing up the Minimum Daily Tariff help us maintain low volume?

THREE: If high volume is what we want, how can we assure low impact?

It is disgusting that people can be so utterly confused!

Friday, December 11, 2020

Talking Tourism To The Graveyard

Yesterday there was a meeting of the tourism stakeholders at the CBS & GNH in Langjopakha. As a core member of the BSTS I was invited to participate in the talks. I declined to do so. By way of a reason, I offered that I have said enough about some interest group trying to dismantle a perfectly working policy, for personal greed. To me it is turning out to be worst than “Talking Tourism To The Top” – it is now verging on the “Talking Tourism To The Graveyard”.

I do not know when the Bhutanese lawmakers will learn that if they are incapable of doing something progressive, they should have the common sense to let alone things that are working perfectly.

On Tuesday, August 11, 2015

On Monday, November 23, 2015

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Thursday, November 26, 2015

On Friday, November 27, 2015

On Sunday, November 29, 2015

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Thursday, December 3, 2020

UK Government Approves Pfizer Coronavirus Vaccine for mass inoculation

It is now announced that the UK Government has given emergency approval that clears the way for Britain to begin mass inoculations using the Pfizer Coronavirus Vaccine. Please read the full report at the following:

I hope the vaccine is not only effective but also proves to be safe.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Untold Truth About Acupuncture in Bhutan

In yesterday’s paper of TheBhutanese, I read a news report about the popularity of the ancient Chinese art of healing called "Acupuncture". The paper reports that this form of therapy is the most popular among patients seeking treatment and relief at the Traditional Medicine Hospital in Thimphu.

I have been greatly gladdened by the news report that acupuncture is bringing relief and cure to many of my fellow Bhutanese. And yet, I am disgusted at the same time that the people at the Traditional Medicine Hospital did not see it fit to give credit where due.

Acupuncture did not come to Bhutan by accident – whole lot of people worked hard and selflessly to bring this form of treatment to Bhutan. World famous acupuncturists like Dr. Yu and her famous teacher Dr. Lin closed their private practices in the US to travel to Bhutan and give treatment and train the Dungtshos in Bhutan. They gave up personal income and shut down lucrative private practices – to be among the Bhutanese so that they may be rid of pain and suffering. If the people a the Traditional Medicine Hospital had even an iota of decency – which obviously they don't - they should have recognized and honored the selfless doctors for heir charity and spirit of giving.

In addition to the good doctors, they should have also recognized our Club’s role in the introduction of a method of cure that is now bringing relief and cure to many Bhutanese. Year after year, for two continuous years, and in collaboration with the Traditional Medicine Hospital the Rotary Club of Thimphu worked hard and invested time and resources to bring acupuncture to Bhutan. Dr. Yu donated more than US$ 6,792.00 worth of equipment to the Traditional Medicine Hospital – for treatment by acupuncture. The Rotary Club of Thimphu has donated US$3,000.00 worth of acupuncture needles – because the hospital did not have the financial means to buy them.

In fact the Rotary Club of Thimphu was instrumental in legalizing acupuncture as a form of treatment in the country. Before that, it was deemed illegal.

In the following links you can read the full story of how acupuncture came to Bhutan.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Processing of COVID-19 Waste: What Is The Safer Way?

I am constantly trying to learn more about how to stay safe from the COVID-19 virus. One of the confusions in my mind is: What is a better and safer way to process COVID-19 waste? My recent harrowing experience related to the donation of incinerators has pushed me towards finding a simpler solution to do an act of giving.

Please read the following - it is pretty interesting.

A reply to my questions from an expert in the field is posted above. I hope some of you readers can make sense of what is being told me.

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Were they Bengalese or Nepalese?

I am currently into research of the history of Bhutan – in particular the history of Bhutan's coinage. However, since there are so many myths and inconsistencies in what has been written about our coinage and history in general, I am compelled to examine other related histories.

Most recently, I examined the history relating to the disastrous mission of Ashley Eden that resulted in the great Duars War of 1864-1865. I read Ashley Eden’s account (EDEN: Political Missions to Bhutan, published in Calcutta in 1865) in an attempt to find out the names of the Poenlops and Dzongpoens during his visit to Bhutan. Unfortunately, nothing of substance was learned – but the following accounts are interesting..

“We halted at Chalamafee, a large village situated where the two roads to Poonakh (Punakha) and Tassishujung (Tashichho Dzong) meet.”

The village mentioned by Ashley Eden should be Tsalumaphe – where Babesa Swerage Plant is currently located.

“Our tents were pitched under two splendid cypress trees, the stem of one of which was six spans around.”

One of the cypress trees mentioned by Ashley Eden still stands – but it is now a snag, but still stands majestically. I look at it all the time whenever I pass by the Expressway – because as a birder I am always looking out for raptors that generally perch on such tall snags. It appears that the other cypress had fallen and decayed away – there is no trace of it. I spoke to an elder at Jemina to find out if he knew anything about Tsalumaphe. He did – he tells me that those days this location by the cypress trees use to see huge traffic of travelers. Every one traveling to or from Wangdue, Punakha, Thimphu and Paro would camp under the trees. He had heard that the traffic was so huge that a permanent hearth was built at the location.

One of the two Cypress trees under which Ashley Eden camped on 12th March, 1864 - on his way to Punakha.

“The village was full of Bengallee slaves; many of them had been born in slavery; others were carried off in early youth, and were ignorant of their own homes. Every village we now came across had a number of Bengalle inhabitants, and gangs of them were to be found in the forests hewing wood and collecting pine leaves for manure for their owners.”

Now, this is something that puzzles me. How sure was Ashely Eden that the Bengallees he saw were really Bengalese? Could they have been Nepalese? We know for a fact that Lam Ngawang Namgyel (I am not calling him Zhabdung since he took on the title much later on – after he managed to unify the western parts of the country – the whole of Sharchog Khorlo Tsipgye was still not part of unified Bhutan in 1621/24) brought some Nepalese from Kathmandu during 1621 or 1624 and settled them below Semtokha Dzong, in a village named Bekhunang – just above Tsalumaphe where currently the DANTAK camp is located. Also, during his visit in 1640, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (here I call him Zhabdrung since by then he had taken on the title of Zhabdrung) he is supposed to have brought back between 40-50 families from the valley of Kathmandu - to work on the renovation of Dechenphodrang Dzong and the alter rooms inside Semtokha Dzong. On the other hand, he could be right because we know for a fact that lots of Koch Beharis were captured and brought to Bhutan – to work as slaves or moneyers for some Poenlops, Dzongpoens and Desis.

“…… Our march was along the banks of a little stream, through a narrow valley, with a tolerably clean pine forest on either side; the ascent to the Dokiew Lah Pass, 10,019 feet, was scarcely perceptible.”

The “little stream” would have to be the present day Semtokha river and the “Dokiew Lah Pass” would have to be Dochu-La Pass as we know it.

“We halted for the night just above a village of Telagong, a place chiefly inhabited by gylongs or monks…..”

Telagong would have to be Thinleygang and the Telagong Fort would have to be Thinleygang Lhakhang which would have been populated by gylongs (monks), as observed by Ashley Eden.

“……… From this place to Poonakh was but a short march, and on the 15th of March we descended a valley passing the Telagong Fort, which appeared to have not a single resident in it.”

This means Ashley Eden’s mission arrived Punakha on the 15th of March, 1864.

This also means that Ashley Eden and his entourage was camped at Tsalumaphe, under the cypress trees on the 12th of March, 1864 where, on 11th March, he arrived the campsite from a village called Wangka, close to Sisina. Ashley Eden records that his mission departed Paro for Punakha on the 10th of March, 1864 - over the Jele Dzong, camping at a place he calls Pemethong, before proceeding to Wangka the next day.

Ashley Eden records that he started for Punakha from Darjeeling on the 4th of January, 1864. He left Punakha for Darjeeling on the 29th of March, 1864.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Once Again, For Our Men In Blue: Rotary Club of Thimphu’s Service Projects: FFF

Day-before-yesterday I returned from a hurried trip to Dawakha Open Air Prison for Women – I had gone there to inspect and photograph the donation of three water storage tanks being donated by the Club to the RBP. This project was requested for by the RBP on 4th July, 2020 during the time when some Club Officials attended the inauguration ceremony of a brand new child friendly center for the prison facility - funded by Save the Children International at a cost of Nu.4.6 million.

A total of 11,000 liters water storage capacity for our Men In Blue

The three water storage tanks will store the water that will be delivered by a project funded by the UNICEF for supply of water to the prison facility – a 14 KMs long project that is nearing completion. Once the project is completed, the facility will be self-sufficient in water – in fact the inmates will have enough water to not only for drinking and washing but also for watering their huge vegetable garden that has been fenced and secured with solar fencing provided by the Club.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Rotary Conference in Bhutan: The World Is Waiting

 Hi Luc and everybody else,

Thank you for your prompt reply. I am glad that you are well and safe. That is the most important thing.

Yes, there is no doubt that the Conference will happen ---- may be a little later than we had hoped, but it will happen. In fact just two days back our senior Club Members approved the prototype of the Conference Kit Bag that we are going to distribute to you during the Conference next year - even if I say so myself, it looks beautiful šŸ˜†. Here is an image of it for your review. This will demonstrate that R C Thimphu is gearing up for the great event - we are determined to make the event a great success. After the harrowing experience of the pandemic - we hope to make your trip to Bhutan an event so worthwhile that you will come to realize just how lucky we all are to have survived the scourge.

Rotary Conference 2021 Kit Bag: fashioned and embroidered out of silk, leather and canvas

I agree - this COVID-19 has been a game spoiler for the global community but as you say, some active agents seem to be just about ready to hit the markets. As you know, Pfzier and Moderna are just months away from releasing the vaccines. But my own advice to you and my country men here in Bhutan and elsewhere is that ----- try and avoid the first versions of the vaccines - until their safety is proven. I feel that it would be prudent to be cautious about the first releases of the vaccines when they do finally appear in the marketplace. I feel that we must allow them to be PROVEN TO BE SAFE and not just effective. They may prove to be effective but we need to be absolutely certain that there are no unexpected side effects.

Bye and take care ... please continue to be safe and healthy.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

Safe Drinking Water For All: Rotary Club of Thimphu’s Service Projects: EEE

Early this morning, our Club Member Rtn. Dr. Nima Wangchuk reports the following, from Dungtse Central School in Phongmey, Trashigang:

"The Principal, teachers and students of Dungtse Central School in Phongmey greatly appreciate the Rotary Club of Thimphu for installing the SkyHydrant filter. They can now directly drink from the chorten like tap-stands installed in 6 different locations in the campus."

The Rotary Club of Thimphu thanks the school Principal for being so creative in the delivery and distribution of safe water to his students. The SkyHydrant MAX filter we installed can dispense 12,000 liters of filtered water every day – so it is large enough to feed all the 6 chorten-stands that were built for the purpose. I am not sure that the quality of water will improve because it is fed through a chorten – but certainly doing so improves the aesthetics šŸ˜€

The school Principal drinking from one of the six choten tap-stands built in the school campus - to dispense filtered water to the students and staff of the school

The above installation is part of the promised 120 SkyHydrant water filters that is currently nearing completion in 120 of Bhutan’s large schools across the country. The 3-years project codename “BHUTAN2020” launched in 2018 in Toronto, Canada is valued at AUS$ 1.00 million. The project ends in June of 2021. But our partners – Disaster Aid Australia intends to go beyond the promised 120 units. The Club has already notified the Education Ministry that we will extend the project beyond 120 units.

Continuing with our efforts to deliver safe drinking water to institutions and communities across the country, yesterday, on 16th November, 2020 the Club installed 2 more RO water filtration systems with UV treatment, for the Agriculture Department’s ESPs in Yusipang, Thimphu. These systems will supply safe drinking water to over 80 families who live within and in the periphery of the RNR-RDC, Yusipang.

Rtn. Kesang Tshomo, Club's Chair for Agriculture sector projects hand over the filtration systems to a gathering of RNR-RDC officials at Yusipang

Another filtration unit at a location lower to the above installation

In addition to the above installations, the same day we also installed another unit of the same water filtration system for the community of Bjemina in the south of Thimphu.

The filtration system being consecrated by a monk

Past Club Secretary Rtn. Karma Gyaltsen hand over the filtration system to the members of Bjemina community

Supply of safe drinking water is our Club’s single largest project because be believe that safe water is the most basic human right, and we are proud to have been able to play our part in assuring this right.

Monday, November 16, 2020

Incinerators For Processing COVID-19 Waste: Rotary Club of Thimphu’s Service Projects: DDD

On 21st October, 2020 the Rotary Club of Thimphu finally managed to start the implementation of our US$ 59,000.00 bio-medical waste incinerator project – after an incredible and uncalled-for delay of over six months. But on hindsight, I believe that this project was ill-fated from the start.

The Club's Past President Rtn. Dr. Lam Dorji and Foundation Chair Rtn. Tshering Choki hand over the donation of one of the two medical waste incinerators, to the officials of the Ministry of Health.

This project was originally conceived on 4th June, 2019 as a project for the construction of a total of 139 toilets: 59 in Yusipang, 58 in Chhukha, 12 in Sarpang and 10 in Samtse. Unfortunately, the Rotary Foundation (TRF) disallowed this project on the ground that it was a multi-location based project, which the Foundation did not support.

We then decided to convert the project to one for supply of Operation Theatre (OT) equipment, to the JDWNRH. We appointed our Club Member Rtn. Dr. Phub Tshering to be the Chair of the project, to oversee the project realization and implementation. Yet again, unfortunately, while the Global Grant Application process was in progress, on 6th of March, 2020, an active COVID-19 case was reported inside the country, and our Project Chair was called away to help with the virus containment efforts. The project went into suspension – for want of a Chair to oversee the project.

The Club then decided that we would convert the project to that of a project to support the Ministry of Health - in the supply and installation of bio-medical incinerators, to assist them to safely process COVID-19 waste. With the concurrence of our international partners in Taiwan, we rewrote the GG Application for that of medical incinerators and submitted to the TRF for their consideration. Within three days of our submission of the GG Application, the TRF notified us, on 11th May, 2020, that our project amounting to US$ 59,000.00 has been approved!

From 11th May to 29th October, 2020, the well-intentioned project remained stalled for all the strangest of reasons – for over six months!

For me personally, in trying to fulfill the role of the Club Secretary and Community Services Director rolled into one, the journey has been most harrowing. An act of charity and giving does not have to be this painful and frustrating. And yet, I realize that some of us cannot give up – just because some self-serving people fail the nation in this hour of need for hard work and self-sacrifice.

Thirty-five years or so back I was having a heated argument with my late boss - for assigning me to do a job that could have resulted in my death.  He responded with something that greatly infuriated me, then. He told me:

Yeshey Dorji, do not expect me to give you a gold medal for doing your job”.

Many decades later, during my moments of despair and helplessness in the face of so much callousness around me, I take solace from this brutally hard-hitting statement of my late boss who was wise beyond his time. It conveys to me the message that I cannot claim to be any better than all those callous persons – if I fail to rise above them and give my very best to succeed in the responsibilities that I have been charged with. All the obstacles in my path is inconsequential - what finally matters is that I have not allowed the failures of others to be the cause for my own failure. It is for this reason that I have been the Club Secretary for the past five years. If conditions were ideal and if there were no obstacles to overcome, if the roads were paved in gold, they might have as well put a donkey on my chair, and not me.

It is in this light that I empathize with His Majesty the King – He has been all alone at the top. The nature of a King's job is such that he has to keep on doggedly - in spite of anything and everything - because He knows that He is the absolute LAST STOP. Thus the option of giving up is a luxury that is unavailable to Him.