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 😆. 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 😀

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.

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Enhancing Agriculture Production: Rotary Club of Thimphu’s Service Projects: CCC

The raging COVID-19 pandemic has forced many countries and economies to shift from their traditional economic activities to new ones – in search of alternatives - in an attempt to keep the home hearth burning. Long overdue, the realization has finally dawned on the Bhutanese people that the promise of hydropower is nothing but empty and unsustainable. Tourism was the shining star on the horizon. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic taught us that it too is fallible.

From my talk with the highest level of officials in the RGoB and global experts in the field of public health, it does not seem like we are going to see the reopening of tourism for some time to come. And I am now convinced that it would be hundred fold cheaper to keep the lid on - than face the risk of uncontrolled spread of the virus within the community.

I have long been promoting the idea that we must reorient our focus towards agriculture production, and that we have the land, the soil types, the climactic conditions, and the altitudinal variations - to grow anything we need or want - from a low of 97 Mtrs. to the high of 7,570 Mtrs. Towards that endeavor, the Rotary Club of Thimphu has been assisting the farmers in agriculture production - through provision of solar fencing, mechanized farm tools, tractors and tillers, delivery vans and power mowers and green houses and shade nets, including machinery for post harvest processing.

Recently - on 21st October, 2020, we handed over a small farm enterprise project to farmers in the remote Ada-Rukha areas, with funding from the Rotary Club of Brooklyn Park, USA.

One of the 13 barbed-wire fencings installed in the villages of remote Ada-Rukha

The Club President, RC Thimphu's Project Chair for the project, Senior DAO of Wangdue Dzongkhag, Athang Gup and some Members of the project coordination pose for a photo session

Another section of barbed-wire fencing

Smallest of our agriculture sector projects yet, the following are what have been delivered - to be followed up with a much larger Global Grant project:

Location of Project               : Lawa-Lamga, Samthang and Rukha Chiwogs
Total length of Barbed Wire : 60,000 Mtrs
Total Villages Covered         : 13 villages
Total land area fenced          : 190 acres

For once, can we get serious with agriculture production? I know that agriculture production has recorded a steady decline over the years. But it is my believe that agriculture and farming still holds out great promise for the Bhutanese people, in spite of its failure in the past.

Rapping at the RAPA: Rotary Club of Thimphu’s Service Projects: BBB

The Department of Culture submitted a request to the Rotary Club of Thimphu on 28th October, 2020 - through one of your Club officials – for the installation of water filters at their RAPA facility in Chubachu. Now, as I have always said – we are no Gods to decide who deserves our help and who doe not. If someone is in need of our intervention, we are here to serve – without being judgmental. Thus, as requested, the Club installed 2 water filtration systems and handed them over to the Principal of RAPA – on 9th November, 2020.

No occasion for small talk should be lost - Our Past President Dr. Lam Dorji says a few words to the trainees and artists while the RAPA Principal and our TRF Chair look on

The official handing over of our water filtration system to the Principal and other officials of the RAPA

The other filtration system is installed close to the hostels

Our safe water projects do no stop here – we are due to hand over 3 more water filtration stations on coming Monday – two at Yusipang and one in Jemina.

We at the Rotary Club of Thimphu say that safe drinking water is the most basic human right!

Friday, November 13, 2020

Safe Drinking Water For Institutes of Learning: Rotary Club of Thimphu’s Service Projects: AAA

Most people around the world, including in Bhutan are in semi-locked down mode. But the Rotary Club of Thimphu has seen the busiest of times in recent weeks. Our service delivery has been going on unabated – in fact it is on a heightened mode!

Our latest projects relate to installation of patented water filtration systems in Bhutan’s institutions of learning. Installation of SkyHydrant water filters is Rotary Club of Thimphu’s single largest project – valued at AUS$1.00 million. Under this project called “BHUTAN2020”, we will be delivering 120 SkyHydrant water filters, by June end 2021. We have already delivered over 90 filters – we are right on schedule to complete delivery of all of the committed 120 filters, and MORE.

Bhutan2020 Project Logo

Safe water for school children

Three sizes of filters capable of dispensing 12,000; 6,000 and 4,000 liters of water per day

In recent weeks we have installed SkyHydrant water filters in the following 5 institutions – all filters have a capacity to dispense 12,000 liters of safe and clean water per day:

1.  Gesar Gyalpo University, Thimphu

2.  Shaba MSS, Paro

3.  Taju LSS, Paro

4.  Logodama LSS, Punakha

5.  Shengana LSS, Punakha

Ten of these fabulous filters are due to be installed in schools in the East – beginning next week. Five more will be installed thereafter – in Danaga and Tsirang areas. Ten more units are due to arrive from Australia – provided the Druk Air operates its cargo or relief flights.

We are actually keen to install these fabulous filers in schools in the South of the country since water quality there is not so good. Sadly due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the South is out of bounds for travel.

Monday, November 9, 2020

An Alternate View To: What Is A Better Choice for Bhutan?

One of my other readers who is a management guru in the South Asia region, and a long time friend, responded to me as follows – to my Blog Post of yesterday. I am always amazed how people can write out such long, long WhatsApp messages. Why can't they sit down comfortably and write out an E-mail?

By the way I forgot to mention that the post yesterday was a response from another friend - she is an accomplished public health expert who writes and speaks on matters related to such issues that now face us.


Thank you for the link. I was busy rushing a report to a client.

Your latest What Is A Better Choice during COVID-19 times, is exactly the strategy report I am currently to deliver to my client.

While I couldn’t go into details (client confidentiality agreement), my client’s country, since long time back, reskilling/retraining has already been in place for tourism industry players owing to various other reasons than the pandemic. I am pretty sure this is the first natural reaction from government authorities in Bhutan – that they have to source for alternative income than what tourism provides.

However, after so many years of having alternative segments and personnel able to multi-function, multi-task, in terms of tourism as a whole, the revenue impact is too great. There may be back-up sectors, but for my client country, nothing can ever take the place of tourism.

The projection is that even with vaccine, the volume is not going to catch up to the 2019 levels – until a few years later. But my client country cannot wait.

Therefore, the workarounds to veer around pandemic health dangers & constraints are to be put in place, so that tourism in various formats can begin already. My client country is not going to wait until the vaccine arrives or the pandemic blows over.


Sunday, November 8, 2020

What Is A Better Choice for Bhutan?

Tourism is a business that both impacts and benefits the whole spectrum of Bhutanese society. Thus, having kept it closed for so long because of the COVID-19 pandemic has been extremely costly for the government and the country. I am one among those who are pushing for reopening tourism – even as early as January, 2021. But I am troubled that my zeal may be ill-founded. Reopening tourism prematurely may be even more devastating. Thus, I mailed a friend who is an expert on such matters, seeking reassurance. I just simply asked:

It seems like the question is now what is the better option:

To be prepared to take on the cost to treat infected persons; or

Continue to bear the cost of keeping tourism closed.

My friend came back with the following:

Yeshey –

You are posing a very tough question. Bhutan is facing a terrible dilemma.

The costs of an uncontrolled epidemic – human and economic and health care costs – would be astronomical, and would absolutely devastate Bhutan. There is no choice now but to hit hard on containing the virus – through social distancing and mask wearing and hand hygiene -- until a vaccine is widely available. That has been the lesson all over the world from national experiments in reopening.

Once a vaccine is available, and all Bhutanese and prospective travelers are immunized, then tourism is again possible (though mask wearing and other measures would still likely remain, because the first vaccines will not be 100 percent effective; we will be lucky if they are 70 percent effective). Population-wide vaccination could happen within a year or so. It’s important to remember that a large proportion of tourists to Bhutan are in the older demographic – a group at higher risk for serious infection, and therefore a group more wary of traveling. Also note that if tourism in Bhutan were opened prematurely, it would dramatically raise the risk of new outbreaks seeded by foreign visitors.

But there is a larger issue here, one that you addressed in your blog early in the pandemic. What about using this enforced interval of lockdown to make fundamental changes in the Bhutanese economy? For example, why not use this rare confluence of events to make the country agriculturally self-sufficient? Why not use this occasion to train younger people in computer skills and other high-tech specialties that could be the foundation of a new economy? Could the King himself, who has so ably guided the country through this crisis, lead the nation to an economic renaissance based on daring new ideas?

As you have pointed out many times, the economic promise of hydropower is empty. Tourism cannot be Bhutan’s only fallback position. If you were in charge of economic development in Bhutan, what policies would you put in place? In the 1980s, you were the visionary who brought computers to Bhutan. What ideas or aspirations would you want to bring to Bhutan now? What lessons did you learn then that are applicable today?

The history of plagues and pandemics, especially during the transition from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance, has shown that these tragic events can lead to innovation and beneficial changes, even in the midst of catastrophic loss. I don’t underestimate how difficult things will be, economically, for Bhutan. But there is tremendous untapped potential among the Bhutanese people – they are extraordinarily resourceful and resilient and open-hearted. Can Bhutan turn this pandemic setback into lasting and beneficial change?