Sunday, January 31, 2021

Mini Bhutan In The U S of A

The following article was written in 2017 - then promptly forgotten all about it. This morning as I was going through my computer for photos of Doklam areas that I had taken few years back, I came upon it. Thus if the writing sounds a little disconnected, please remember it was written four years back.


It is a connection so powerful and so improbable, it could only be karmic.

In April 1914, Kathleen Worrell, an avid traveler and wife of the dean of the Texas State School of Mines and Metallurgy, picked up a copy of the new issue of National Geographic magazine. Its cover story: an 88-page photo essay entitled “Castles in the Air: Experiences and Journeys into the Unknown Bhutan”.

Author John Claude White—a British India political officer stationed in Sikkim and good friend of Bhutan’s first King, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck (White had attended the King’s 1907 coronation)—wrote rapturously about the remote Himalayan country that was 16,000 kilometers, 12 time zones, and countless worlds of imagination away from west Texas. 'It is impossible to find words to express adequately the wonderful beauty and variety of scenery I met with during my journeys, the grandeur of the magnificent snow peaks and the picturesque charm of the many wonderful forts and other buildings I came across', he observed. Illustrating the article were the first-ever published photos of Bhutan.

Reading these words and poring over the photos, from her home in the hot Chihuahua desert just across the border from Mexico and facing the foothills of the jagged Franklin Mountains, Mrs. Worrell was riveted. Two years later, when fire destroyed the buildings that comprised the original campus, she persuaded her husband, Dean Steve Worrell, to rebuild the school from the ground up in the style of the magnificent Dzong architecture pictured in White’s story. So began a singular and transformative connection between the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), as the school is now known, and the Kingdom of Bhutan—a connection that is stronger today than ever.

Bhutan’s sloping, thick-walled, light-colored stone architecture proved surprisingly well-suited to the unforgiving Texas climate. In 1917, the campus’ first Bhutan-inspired building, now known as Old Main, went up.

Old Main Building - first of many Bhutanese style buildings at UTEP

Today, almost 90 percent of the structures on the campus replicate the architectural aesthetic of the Land of the Thunder Dragon—earning the campus the moniker “Bhutan on the Border”. There are prayer flags, a Mani Dhungkhor (prayer wheel) replete with dhar shiings (prayer flag poles), a Lhakhang, a pedestrian overpass designed like the traditional Bazam, Bhutanese artifacts, and numerous mandalas evoking sacred deities and enlightened states of mind.

Bhutanese Lhakhang

Buildings constructed in the style of Bhutanese Dzongs

Bhutanese style cantilever bridge - Bazam

But the tie between UTEP and Bhutan is far more than symbolic. In the late 1960s, UTEP’s news and information director, Dale Walker, wrote to Bhutan officials seeking comments about the university’s Bhutan-inspired buildings. The correspondence led to the admission of the first Bhutanese citizen to UTEP: Jigme “Jimmy” Dorji, later renamed Jigme Dorji Karchung or, more popularly, “JJ”. Having earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering in 1978, the last I know he owned and managed a successful construction business.

In the summer of 2008, speaking before more than 8,000 people assembled inside UTEP’s Don Haskins Center, during UTEP’s Bhutan Festival, His Royal Highness Prince Jigyel Wangchuck told the audience:

“Your connections with Bhutan are not just the oldest in the United States, they are among the oldest in the world”.

These connections continue to flourish. Currently, thirty-three students are pursuing studies in such diverse fields as finance, engineering, accounting, education, and geophysics.

Perhaps just as impressive, Bhutanese students at UTEP pay local tuition fees—a rare privilege accorded only to our sons and daughters. This translates into savings of hundreds of thousands of dollars for Bhutanese parents seeking admission for their children to this acclaimed center of higher learning. In 2015, Washington Monthly magazine ranked UTEP among the top 10 universities in the U.S.—placing it in the company of Harvard, Stanford, and other prestigious institutions. And for the fourth year in a row, the magazine ranked UTEP #1 in the category of social mobility, because the university opened its doors to those who would most benefit from college—a generosity that has also opened possibilities for our own fortunate UTEP students.

Just as it was a woman whose unique vision led to the creation of “Bhutan on the Border” a century ago, so it has been the far-sighted academic stewardship of another woman that has strengthened the bonds between UTEP and Bhutan. Dr. Diana Natalicio, who has served as UTEP’s president since 1988, has brought a deep commitment to expanding the UTEP-Bhutan relationship. In 2014, Dr. Natalicio told Asia Matters for America, “For nearly 100 years, the University of Texas at El Paso has enjoyed a unique relationship and an increasingly dynamic cultural exchange with the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan”.

As one of UTEP’s distinguished alumni—Dawa Penjor, erstwhile Executive Director at the Bhutan Media Foundation and currently a member of the Rotary Club of Thimphu—remarked:

“There is no other university or institution of learning any where else in the world where Bhutanese students receive preferential treatment.

“The growth of Bhutan-UTEP relation can solely be attributed to the will and commitment of UTEP’s President, Dr. Diana Natalicio. The personal care and informal guardianship provided by the President Dr. Natalicio to Bhutanese students is a source of encouragement.

“It is in Bhutan and Bhutanese interest to see that the relationship grows. UTEP’s relationship with Bhutan is not only a ready-made stepping-stone for formal relations between Bhutan and United States of America in terms of education, research and human resource development, but also a major potential to further the informal diplomacy with the United States”.

Photo Credit: UTEP's official website

Friday, January 29, 2021

A Loving Old Man Who Meant Well For Bhutan

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, independent India’s first Prime Minister visited Bhutan during September of 1958. It was a reciprocal visit – on the invitation of Bhutan’s 3rd King His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck – during his visit to India in 1954.

Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru departed Delhi for Bhutan on 16th September, 1958 and entered Bhutan on 19th September, through Yatung in Tibet over the Nathu-La Pass in Sikkim. He departed Paro on the 27th of September, 1958 to arrive New Delhi on 2nd October, 1958. During a press conference that followed, one of the very interesting question/answer session was the following exchange:


Does the willingness of Bhutan to have a road go from India to their border, to be linked with their main towns, indicate any recognition on their part of their desirability of closer political and economic contact with India?

Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru:

'Our relations with Bhutan are exceedingly friendly. It is not any reluctance or any apprehension on their part, but it is a general desire not to get overwhelmed by an outside population coming in, a thing which I completely understand. In fact, if I may say so, I advised them to prevent outsiders coming. My definite advice to the ruler was: certainly get your experts and others, but do not encourage too many people to come, even from India. I tell you why. We do not encourage traders to go into the North-East Frontier Agency, which is India. We just do not like our traders going there, and if I may use the word, exploiting the people and spoiling all their tastes, selling cheap articles there which are normally neither tasteful nor good, and uprooting the tribal people from their habits without giving anything good enough in exchange. Therefore, I advised the Bhutanese Government, not that my advice was very necessary, not to encourage too much of this kind of thing but to take persons they wanted, and they do want experts, whether engineers or surveyors or maybe educationists, to take such persons for short periods. Or, better still, they can send their students to India to be trained, which they do not.

There are quite a number of students in India and they can go back and work in their own country.'

Prime Minister Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was truly a loving old man who meant well for Bhutan. But his daughter was a naughty girl 😂

Thursday, January 28, 2021

If I Go Down, You Go Down Too

Even as I write out this blog post, the global COVID-19 cases stand at 101,441,979, of which Bhutan’s number stand at 856. For once I am glad of the fact that we rank so low among world nations – posting low numbers and being counted among the achievers is good!

Sadly, in the thick of the pandemic, the human race still remains a confused lot.

First, they do not trust their own determination and resolve to do the right thing – they surrender their lives to the hastily rushed and unproven vaccines that are still considered “experimental drugs approved for emergency use”.

Second, a majority of the people – even literate ones - seem to be under the impression that the vaccines are a cure for the virus. God only knows where they got that idea.

Third, there is so much hysteria and dread of death by the virus that people are driven to ignore everything else – there are even more critical issues that should matter more than surviving the virus. The incidence of death by COVID-19 is negligible – it does not call for this level of paranoia. There is no cure yet for the virus – but we do have safe and tested defense against its infection – the prescribed public health measures put in place by the government and health authorities. As long as we rigidly follow the safety protocols, we should be more than OK.

Fourth, people seem to think that wearing a face-mask is fortifying themselves from being infected by others. This mindset needs an overhaul – we have to realize that even more important than protecting ourselves, the bigger responsibility we fulfill in diligently wearing the face-masks is – protecting others from ourselves. Once you realize this, then your sense of responsibility and duty is heightened – you know you are serving the community – and not just yourself.

And finally, this COVID-19 pandemic exposes the most fundamental of human failings – forever focusing on the SELF. People still do not seem to realize the inter-connected nature of modern society. It is no longer possible to survive in isolation – you are not safe until those around you are also safe. Thus the recent attempts by some rich nations (the bickering between the UK and the EU) to hoard the vaccines are a sign that they have not understood that doing so is self-defeating. They forget that the populations in the poor nations form the larger percentage of the human melee. If this section of society suffers, the rich nations too will perish. The people of the rich nations need to understand that in safeguarding the health and life of the poor nations, they are safeguarding themselves.

During my many years of trekking the frigid alpine regions of Bhutan, one lifelong lesson I learnt is this: that it was even more important to protect my support team from the harsh and unforgiving elements than myself – because if they fail – I did not have a rat’s ass of a chance at survival – they go down, I will definitely go down!

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Dangbo Dingbo: Bhutan’s Postage Stamps: The Early Days IV

One of the sentences in an article appearing in the Kuensel about 4 years back on Bhutan’s postal history goes as follows:

'One envelope with the date stamp of Lingzhi Dzong shows that it was carried by a mail runner from Hotel Jumolhari in Thimphu to Lingzhi.'

The mention that the date stamp on the envelope is that of Lingzhi Dzong should be correct – since the postal runner between Thimphu and Lingzhi was recruited in 1976 - proving that there was mail service established by then, between Thimphu and Lingzhi. The mail runner was one Ugyen Tenzin, a local lad from Lingzhi. He took up the postal runner’s job on January of 1976. It is recorded that his journeys to and from Lingzhi Dzong was through the Dodena-Barshong-Shodu-Lingzhi route.

The mention of Hotel Jumolhari - no contest there either - since the hotel came into being in 1984.  What  CANNOT BE CORRECT is the statement that:

'…… it was carried by a mail runner from Hotel Jumolhari in Thimphu …….'

Hotel Jumolhari did not run a postal runner service – it was in the hospitality business. What would be correct would be that the mail would have originated from one of the guests staying at the Hotel Jumolhari – but it would have been the General Post Office, Thimphu that sent the mail to Lingzhi, through their postal runner Bjop Ugyen Tenzin.

Sometimes an unintended but inappropriate use of wordings can convey a completely different meaning.

But what intrigues me even more is: Hotel Jumolhari is an upscale star-rated tourist class hotel - meaning only chilips would stay there. Now, what and why would a chilip send mail to a desolate and total wilderness location like Lingzhi?

Another 'made for collectors item'?

Sunday, January 24, 2021

One Of Many Community Service Projects By The Rotary Club of Thimphu

 Dear Club President,

Greetings from Bhutan and the Rotary Club of Thimphu. I hope you and your other Club Members are keeping well and safe during these difficult times.

In my capacity as the Club President, I write to offer you our heartfelt thanks, on behalf of the people of Bhutan. In recent months, Bhutan has seen a surge in COVID-19 infections. As a result, Thimphu and Paro have been under lockdown for the past over one month. We have been advised to remain indoors, other than a trip to the grocery shop – for two hours a day, to buy food and other essentials.

While the times are difficult and bring sadness and difficulty to many, Khengrig Namsum Cooperative (KNC) in Zhemgang sends us very heartwarming images of how they have been able to help, in these difficult times when entry into and out of the country is not allowed, including ban on vehicular movements. Their group has been enlisted by the government authorities and issued with special movement permits - to transport and deliver fruits and vegetables from Zhemgang to Thimphu and other places in Bhutan. It should give you great satisfaction to know that they are using the farm tractor that was donated by your Club and District, with partial funding from the TRF – at a total cost of Nu.1.426 million. When other vehicles are not allowed to move, your tractor has special permission to move about – to collect and deliver fruits and vegetables to places where they are in short supply.

The Rotary Club of Thimphu offers our thanks for your timely help. The tractor we donated is now used for a very noble cause – to reach food to people who are in lockdown because of COVID-19. I am happy to submit herewith the following photos:

Photos 1&2: farm tractor being loaded with fruits and vegetables under the strict watch of the DeSuup. Photo 3: Farm Tractor that was donated to KNC. Photo 4: Donor Club Members and R C Thimphu Club Secretary make a day trip by helicopter to Zhemgang, to hand over the project to the beneficiaries that included solar fencing.

Please share the photos and our Thank You Letter with Members of your Club and District, while at the same time, offering them our Greetings and Felicitations.

Club President

Rotary Club of Thimphu

Thursday, January 21, 2021

COVID-19 Vaccines: Let Us Wait & Watch

The Bhutanese people are only just now speaking of the COVID-19 vaccines – I have been speaking about it as far back as early March, 2020. The following is the reply from a friend who is a scientist and an accomplished authority on matters related to viruses. The following was what was told to me on March 14, 2020:

People need to know that, in the short term, a vaccine will not protect them. Only commonsensical public health measures — like social distancing and hand hygiene — will do that.

My latest views on the COVID-19 vaccine was posted on this blog on January 4, 2021 – it read:

Certainly the arrival and administration of the vaccines is good news. Now we have to grit our teeth and wait a few months to see that in their wake the vaccines have not unleashed a Lucifer even more deadly than the COVID-19.

Next day, apparently Dr. Simone Gold of America’s Frontline Doctors, USA made the following very pointed remarks about the vaccines, to a gathering of large audience:

The vaccines – all those that have been rolled out should be termed: “experimental biological agents” According to her the vaccines are still at experimental stage and their efficacy and safety have not been conclusively determined. The vaccines should be used only in emergency situations.

She says the vaccines are not a cure – thus if someone is not sick, then healthy people should not be vaccinated. In particular she says that people under 20 and women who are in the child-bearing age should not be vaccinated.

She says that it is a huge national security risk to vaccinate frontline workers – like health workers, police, DeSuup etc. because she says that if some unknown side effect impacts these critical service providers’ health, then the nation is in big trouble. If at all, the candidates for the vaccines should be the sick and the frail.

Another very important point she makes is this:

If the vaccines were so effective and safe as claimed, why are we still required to wear face-masks, required to go through other safety protocols like physical distancing and hand washing? And, if we are still required to go through all that, then why do we need to take the shots and run the risk of being exposed to some unknown side effects caused by these unproven vaccines?

In addition to all the above, The New York Times just minutes back updated their news report on the following lines:

That Covid-19 vaccine appointment may not just be hard to get — it may not even be all that secure. Thousands of people across many states of the US are now not getting their vaccine shots – their appointments have been abruptly cancelled/postponed. The excuse given is that there are delays in delivery of the vaccines.

Really? If delivery was going to be a bottleneck, why was appointments given to people for the vaccinations, weeks in advance? Is something afoot? Lets wait and watch.

That is what I have been saying precisely: LET US WAIT AND WATCH – before we commit ourselves!

I am glad that our King and the Government has decided that if and when we do the vaccinations, we will do it at one go across the nation. Another decision that I whole-heartedly support is that the government has left the decision to us – whether to accept or not to accept the vaccinations. As always, these are sound decisions. This will give us time to watch the developments around the world. So far India has been generous to us, as always, and gave us 150,000 shots free of cost. We need in excess of one million shots. So it will be a while until we have the numbers needed. Then the Da Naag will kick in …. So the earliest we will be able to do the vaccinations - if we do go ahead with the program - it will be sometime in March.

Thankfully, if there are problems with the vaccines, some reports are likely to emerge by then. This should help us take an educated decision.


The Serum Institute of India (SII) has recently released a fact sheet stating that their Covishield vaccine CANNOT BE USED on any and every body. I believe that Covishield vaccine is what we are getting. Already fifty-two adverse cases have been reported in the country’s capital, New Delhi – on the first day of immunization.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Dangbo Dingbo: Bhutan’s Postage Stamps: The Early Days III

Although unsure as to when and where it happened, it can be said with certainty that a written agreement would have been reached between Burt Kerr Todd and the Royal Government of Bhutan - for the designing, printing and marketing of our postage stamps. Without such a written documentary proof that he represented Bhutanese interest, the security printers in the UK would have never agreed to print our postage stamps on the say so of Burt Todd. But it is not just this mystery that is galling – there is yet another that is even more provocative given that we are all clueless about it.

What were the terms of engagement and, even more importantly, how did Bhutan pay Burt Kerr Todd for his services, designing cost, printing cost and cost of carriage and delivery of the stamps to Bhutan? Burt was asked this question – he is supposed to have said that a financial arrangement had been worked out, but that the details were confidential.

I spoke to a senior historian of philately and he opined that in all likelihood Bhutan and Burt could have entered into a typical contract that was predominant then: Burt would print the stamps at his own cost and keep a percentage of the printed stamps, for sale to the international market – in order to recover his investment and make a profit at the same time. Bhutan would get a pre-agreed number of stamps, free of cost. This was the most common arrangement many countries had with their agents, including the US Postal Services. However, while other countries had better control over their agents – we seem to have had none – over ours. This becomes clear from events that came to light more than a decade later, resulting in the termination of the arrangement with Burt Todd and/or his Bahamas based agency that sold Bhutanese postage stamps.

By an official notice issued by Bhutan’s Director of Posts, all the collectors in their mailing list was notified that the Bhutan Stamp Agency, Ltd. in Nassau would cease to function as of 1st April, 1974. A short news item over the issue was also reported in the international arena, as follows:

'A 25-year-old report has surfaced in the archives of the Government of Bhutan that reveals some startling details of problems the government had with its former stamp agent in the Bahamas. The report was written in 1964 by K. Ramamurti, the former Indian Postal Adviser to Bhutan. The report revealed that the arrangements for an agent were made in the early 1960s between someone in the Bhutanese government (the contract copies couldn't be found) and Burt Kerr Todd of Pryce Machine and Manufacturing Co. of Derby, Pa.  Under the arrangement, an organization called the Bhutan Trust Ltd. was established by Todd in Nassau, Bahamas. The trust was given the responsibility to design, print and sell Bhutanese stamps outside of Bhutan, which it did from 1960 to 1974.'

Burt Todd had a company by the name Todd Trust Limited already established in Nassau, Bahamas. He changed the name of this company to Bhutan Trust Limited, in the Nassau Registry - in 1958. This is another clue that proves my contention that the deal with Burt would have been struck earlier to 1959. In my view, the change of the company name was obviously necessitated, as a consequence of his postage stamp deal with Bhutan. It is now clear that the deal with Burt would have been struck no later than 1957.

However, Burt Todd’s company Bhutan Trust Limited was not the one used for marketing Bhutanese stamps. For that he created another company – by the name of Bhutan Stamp Agency, Ltd. This was the company he used for marketing Bhutanese postage stamps to the global community of collectors. His company with the changed name of Bhutan Trust Limited was used solely for designing and printing stamps and dealing with the printers.

Stationery of Bhutan Stamp Agency, Ltd. that was used to sell Bhutanese postage stamps

Another interesting thing that has emerged is that another figure who is known to have played a role in the shaping of Bhutan’s nationhood – Edward St. George, turns out to be a very good friend of Burt Kerr Todd, along with another person named Paul Bower. All three of them studied together at the Oxford in London. Edward St. George held 51 shares of Burt’s agency involved in marketing Bhutan’s stamps.

Edward St. George not only contributed towards the drafting of our Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty, he also masterminded the production of our coins, in 1966.

Commenting on my blog post on Edward St. George (, a reader had to say the following about him:

Edward St. George was called in by His Late Majesty the Third King in order to have a fair trial as almost all the Bhutanese were involved somehow and tensions were at their height at the time and India's involvement in this highly sensitive case was not something Bhutan wanted.

Edward St. George also advised on obtaining the best constitutional lawyers such as the esteemed Sir Humphrey Waldock, an international lawyer at the UNILC. Mr. Waldock helped Bhutan with the Indo-Bhutan Friendship Treaty. If it weren't for their help, Bhutan would have had much difficultly in remaining a sovereign nation. They also assisted in developing Bhutan's court of law and initial legal systems.

My next post, which will perhaps be my last post on the postage stamps of Bhutan, I will briefly dwell in part on the role of Edward St. George in the production of Bhutan’s first non-circulating gold coins - known as SERTRUMS, or gold coins. Or, I could continue – because I have a lunch appointment with a primary source who might tell me something interesting that I would want to record here. I know of someone who knew a Postmaster who manned the India Post Office at Yatung – before he joined Bhutan P&T at Phuentsholing in the early 1960's. This Postmaster is supposed to have interacted with Bhutanese postal runners who traversed the route over the Nathu-La Pass, into and out of Bhutan House, Kalimpong.

But for that I need the lockdown to be lifted, a prospect I am not looking forward to.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Dangbo Dingbo: Bhutan’s Postage Stamps: The Early Days II

I like what a historian recently told me:

‘Without written records, we're left to "sleuthing" – to investigator logic.’

This was in relation to my exasperation at the near zilch written records within the country – about our coinage and postage stamps. Fortunately, although they could test our sleuthing skills and investigator logic to the extreme, there do exit sufficient material and records of events out there – as long as we are willing and have the patience to wade through a pool of murky and often times, undependable information. The only thing that remains to be seen is, at the end of it all, how good are our analytical skills and skills of deductions, and how adept are we at the application of logic.

Now, in my last post I have already established how it became possible for Burt Kerr Todd to enter Bhutan. And, if you read the telegram more intently, you will also be able to make an educated guess as to which month and year he arrived Bhutan, and who was his travel companion. But there are host of other questions that has remained mute, in relation to the mystery surrounding Burt’s role in the production and marketing of Bhutan’s postage stamps in the international market.

First issue relates to his appointment by Bhutan – to handle the entire process of designing, printing and delivery of our postage stamps – for internal consumption within the country, as well as for sale to collectors in the international domain.

To begin with, it is said that the deal was sealed at Bhutan House, Kalimpong, in 1959. To my mind this is most unlikely - for two reasons:


Gongzim Sonam Tobgay Dorji had passed away in September of 1953. In any event, with the situation prevailing following the “Quit India” movement, Bhutan House’s pivotal role as a foreign relations office during late 1800s and early 1900s, had greatly diminished. Her Majesty Ashi Kesang Choden Dorji moved to Bhutan, upon her marriage to the XXVth Paro Poenlop and Crown Prince HRH Gyalsey Jingme Dorji Wangchuck, in 1951. During the same time, Haa Droomp Jigme Palden Dorji also moved to Bhutan – soon to be appointed Prime Minister of the country. Ashi Tashi Chodzom Dorji was moved to Eastern Bhutan (Trashigang) in 1954, as the King’s Representative - to streamline land holding and issue of Thrams in that part of the world. Thus, the only person of stature who would have been present in Bhutan House in 1959 would have been Mayoom Choying Wangmo Dorji.

I seriously doubt that she would have entered into any legal agreement with an outside person/agency, on behalf of the Royal Government of Bhutan.


The second reason why I believe the agreement would have been concluded much earlier to 1959 is because as early as 1960, Burt Todd saw it fit to “plant” a news article in the New York Times newspaper, announcing that Bhutan is planning to issue “regular postage stamps”. The term regular postage stamps would have been used since before that we only had four varieties of fiscal stamps, issued in 1954.

By May 1962 – five months before official release of our postage stamps on 10th October, 1962, Burt Todd was offering to sell Bhutanese postage stamps to international collectors. Designing and printing postage stamps is a tedious process – particularly when doing so for the first time ever. Additionally, shipping the stamps from England to his marketing agency based in Nassau, Bahamas would take time. So it is my belief that the deal to do the stamps would have been struck before Burt’s supposed trip to Bhutan in 1959. Also it is quite provable that he never arrived Bhutan in 1959 – but only upto Kalimpong. Some one representing the Royal Government of Bhutan with authority to do so, may have been sent to Kalimpong, to sign the Agency Agreement.

To be sure, there certainly is documented proof within the country that Burt Todd did come to Bhutan for his honeymoon, in 1954.

But one thing is certain BEYOND DOUBT – a written agreement would have to have been executed between Burt Todd and the Royal Government of Bhutan. Without this letter of appointment to validate his credentials as a bona fide representative of the Royal Government of Bhutan, the security printers Harrison & Sons, London, and later on, Walsall Security Printers, London would have never agreed to print Bhutanese postage stamps – just on the say so of Burt Kerr Todd.

Friday, January 15, 2021

130 Fully Funded Rotary Fellowship for 2021

Dear readers who are Bhutanese graduates and are interested to take up higher studies in select subjects, the Rotary International is offering fully funded 130 Peace Fellowships to qualified candidates. The applications will be accepted as of February, 2021. Please read the full detail at:

Please DO NOT write to us seeking clarifications - all the answers and details are available at the link provided above.

Our Club will only be involved in the assessment and recommendation of the candidates whom we think qualify.

Other than direct family of the members of the Rotary Club of Thimphu - all all eligible to apply.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Dangbo Dingbo: Bhutan’s Postage Stamps: The Early Days

'Please come now to Bhutan. Jigmie leaves May 21 for Ha Dzong. We have received permission for you to join him.'

The above telegram message enabled the young American Burt Kerr Todd to make his maiden trip to Bhutan in 1951 when he attended the royal wedding of the XXVth Paro Poenlop and Crown Prince HRH Gyalsey Jigme Dorji Wangchuck to Ashi Kesang Choden Dorji, which took place in Paro on 5th October, 1951. Upon his return to the US after spending nearly a year in Bhutan, Burt Todd wrote a detailed account of his trip, which the National Geographic magazine published in their December 1952 issue.

I was intrigued – how in the name of God did Burt Kerr Todd manage to gain entry into the forbidden land of Bhutan – in 1951? I finally found my answer in an article authored by one Alex Klein:

The youthful Burt was thoroughly smitten by Bhutan - so much so that he was once again back in Bhutan in 1954 – this time with his newly wed wife Susie for their honeymoon. It was either during this trip or the subsequent trip in 1959, that plans began to take shape that would go on to establish his association with Bhutan – on a more permanent footing. Later events that came to light make me believe that it would have to have been before 1959.

Burt Kerr Todd graduated from Oxford University in the UK, in 1949. As reported in the above article, it was during his time in London that he was introduced to the future queen of Bhutan who was then simply known as Ashi Kesang-La Dorji. She was then studying at London’s House of Citizenship.

The casual acquaintance endured - finally culminating into a dream opportunity that few dared hoped for – a visit to the elusive Last Shangri-La – the Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan about which few would have heard. It is said that Burt Kerr Todd was the first American ever to enter Bhutan.

The daring and adventurous nature of Burt seems to have endeared himself to the King. Over time, it is said that he began to play the role of Bhutan’s unofficial Advisor. No record of his appointment exists in the annals of history – but later events prove that his services were most definitely sought for by Bhutan and, in all fairness, to great benefit.

Burt Kerr Todd was the trailblazer who helped put Bhutan on the world philately map. He helped Bhutan design, print and market our postage stamps beginning 1962:

Burt Kerr Todd set into motion Bhutan's postal journey with the release in 1962 of these earliest set of seven postage stamps

There are two versions as to how it all began.

One version says that it was His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck who called upon him to suggest ideas as to how Bhutan might expand its economic base. Burt suggested postage stamps.

Another version says that it was as a result of the World Bank refusing to grant Bhutan the asking loan of dollars ten million. Supposedly an American who attended the World Bank meeting as an observer to the proceedings felt sorry for Bhutan and suggested to Burt who presented the loan proposal to the World Bank, that Bhutan could try selling postage stamps to raise finance. I truly do not believe that we would have sought a loan of dollars ten million. What would we have done with that kind of money in the mid 1950s? In fact, I do not believe that we would have applied to the World Bank for loan at all. We became a member of the World Bank only in 1981.

Whatever the truth – what remains a historical record is that Burt Kerr Todd helped Bhutan to release our first set of seven postage stamps in Phuentsholing, on 10th October, 1962. Although initially the world collectors were not impressed, over time Burt’s unique and unusual stamp designs drew attention and admiration. History is witness to the fact that for a number of years philately accounted for the highest earning of foreign exchange for Bhutan.


The telegraph message quoted at the very start of this post would have been transmitted from Bhutan House, Kalimgpong because we did not have the service in Bhutan those early days. In 1951, we did not even have wireless – we used the station based at Yatung.

Burt would have had to arrive Bhutan following the reverse route of the postal runner: Kalimpong-Sikkim-Nathu-La Pass-Yatung-Haa – even Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru did so when he made his first official visit to Bhutan, in 1958.

Burt Kerr Todd knew nothing about postage stamps or the business of marketing them – this is an indication of how adventurous and daring the man was. Thus, contrary to what the Bible says, it was the daring and the courageous who inherited the Earth, not the meek!

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Are We Preparing For Heavy Snowfall?

The weather has been warm for the past 3-4 days and the sky overcast and gloomy. It worries me - is the weather due to brew up some heavy snow across our mountain passes? We are into mid January and this is certainly snow time.

It is sad that this year we will not be seeing children in the open battling with snowballs. During this pandemic time and the ongoing lockdown, we have to be confined within our homes. That is not a problem.

The problem will be if our supply delivery chain is disrupted during this period of lockdown. I hope the Department of Roads has enough stock of salt to sprinkle over the road surface at the high passes so that traffic flow is not disrupted. It would also be a good idea to station some earth moving equipment at the high passes on both sides - to shovel snow - if the down pour becomes too heavy.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Peculiar Problems During Lockdown

I am glad that the Government has extended the lockdown in Thimphu and Paro for a further period of 2 weeks. Hopefully, we are able to break the chain of transmission by then and should there be any undetected or unreported active cases elsewhere in other Dzongkhags, we would come to know of them.

There is no doubt that this lockdown would cause all sorts of inconveniences to a lot of people. Inconveniences would be an understatement – I can imagine a few hundred problems people may be facing – different kind of problems at different levels of society. We are already seeing one ugly face of lockdown – a spike in domestic violence.

The rich may have the money to buy whatever they fancy – at whatever asking price. Unfortunately, they have a problem – their money cannot buy what is not there to be had. The poor man on the other hand has a problem quite distinct from that of the rich man – he has the problem of lack of purchasing power – he does not have money to buy the most basic needs – not even at half the price.

There are rumors of incidences where clandestine lovers got caught in the lockdown - in hotel rooms – with someone else’s wives. By contrast, lovers are pinning away for company and togetherness – rudely separated by the lockdown, at each far end of the city.

My problem I suppose is something of a universal problem – how to stop gaining weight during these inactive times. The moment I heard that the lockdown is being extended by two more weeks – I got serious about keeping the weight down. My answer:

Oranges and Kiwi Fruits

I determined that the first step - for a while at least - is to cut down on intake of carbs - cut down on the rice. As of yesterday, I am onto fruits - oranges and kiwi fruits - I don't like apples. I hope it helps. And I hope these fruits remain to be available - until the end of lockdown.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Fakes and Forgeries of Bhutanese Stamps

Collectors - whatever or wherever they collect – are a breed apart. They are passionate, zealous and obsessive, to the point that at times they become easy prey for the immoral and the nefarious. It appears that the world community of philatelists, on occasions, have been duped with forgeries and fakes of our stamps. Actually it is a matter of pride that people have found it lucrative to produce fakes and forgeries of our stamps. I mean it proves that our stamps were popular and sought after – enough for some to invest money and time to produce fakes and forgeries of them.

In an article by Leo van der Velden and Iiro Kakko titled “Forgeries, Fakes and Bogus Stamps of Bhutan”, they record the following fakes and forgeries of our stamps.

It is sad that some of the above forgeries are executed so poorly. One can notice that whoever the cad was who did it, he used a rubber stamp to surcharge our 1954 revenue stamps. Even worst, the stamps of the fish has Laotian alphabets while declaring it Bhutanese stamp. In my opinion, there cannot be an excuse for a poor job – even if the job is intended to crook and hoodwink others. In fact here is where one should endeavor to do an EXCELLENT JOB!!

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Did We or Did We Not?

It is now confirmed that there existed an organized mail service in ancient Bhutan. As I had suggested in one of my earlier posts, they used a relay system – a postal runner from the originating Dzong would deliver the mail to the next Dzong on the mail’s route – and from there on to the next … and so on and so forth. That is why you see cancellation marks of a number of Dzongs on the mail’s cover.

It is also said that district judges were given the responsibility to transmit the mails from their districts to the next. This needs to be swallowed with a pinch of salt. District judges came much later – perhaps in the early 1900s, or perhaps even earlier. District administrators such as Dzongpoens and Poenlops were there as early as 1640s. Thus if any body acted as the transmitters of mails, it would have to have been these regional administrators.

One account goes on to say that initially it was mandated that mails should be dispatched every five days. Upon introduction of the revenue stamps and its approval for use as a postage stamp in 1955, other than that of the King, all mail covers were required to be affixed with a revenue stamp of a set value. In due course, the frequency of mail dispatches was hastened to two days a week.

It is also more or less established that Bhutan did not use the post offices of China or India based at Yatung – for delivery and transmission of our mails. It was hand delivered by postal runners over Yatung-Nathu-La Pass-Sikkim-Kalimgpong. As I had said in my earlier post, an experimental Post Office was set up in Bhutan House in Kalimpong, which would have ceased operation after 1962 – the year we introduced modern postal service and released our first set of 7 postage stamps. But it is possible that the Post Office in Bhutan House would have remained beyond 1962 since it would still be faster and more convenient to deliver mail over the Nathu-Lass pass. Remember that we started building motor road only in 1961.

Nathu-La Pass as seen from Bori Goma, North of Haa and close to Nobtshonapatta. This is the Tibetan side of Nathula - I think on the other side is Sikkim

An Indian Postal Advisor by the name of Dr. K. Ramamurti joined Bhutan Postal Service in 1964. He streamlined the system until his departure in 1968. Upon his departure, late Lyoenpo Lam Penjor took over as the Director of Department of Posts & Telegraphs.

Interestingly, one reader informs me that instead of a Post Office, we had a wireless station at Yatung. He tells me that from time to time His Majesty the Drukgyal Ngipa would trek up to Yatung, to do wireless talk. Wireless messages were also regularly transmitted and received through this station at Yatung. Ofcourse by 1955, we already had wireless station in Bhutan – at Dechenchholing, at a place called Wirelesspang – behind Dechenchholing Palace. N. Chawna of Mizoram was the instructor and trainer at the station - he was later joined by is uncle - S. Saja. You can read all about early wireless days under "Ham Radio History" listed on the column left of this page.

One record has it that the Post Master at Haa during those days was someone named Babu Agye Tshering. But there could not have been a Post Master in Haa since we did not have a Post Office back then – the first one came in October of 1962 – in Phuentsholing, although the Post Office building itself was inaugurated only on 2nd May, 1967. I confirmed with the daughter of the only Babu Agye Tshering I knew and worked with – and she tells me that he was never a Post Master. But she confirms that he was in Haa during the period under discussion. He was working for the late Prime Minister Jigme Palden Dorji. Thus it is more or less confirmed that it would indeed have been him who handled the mails in Haa – given his proximity to the late Prime Minister and the Lyoenchen’s proximity to Bhutan House in Kalimpong.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Please Extend The Lockdown II

All across the world a good number of countries have started to administer COVID-19 vaccines to their population, as authorized by their individual governments and regulatory authorities. Luckily, in Bhutan we are not talking of vaccines as yet, and that, to my mind, is a good thing. Let us give it few months before we decide if the vaccines are safe, in addition to being effective.

On the other hand some of us in Bhutan are pleading with the government to extend the current lockdown by few more days - until the recent surge in new cases are brought under control, or until we are able to determine what is the cause behind this sudden surge in new cases. A glimmer of hope is that we had only 6 new cases yesterday - an encouraging drop in cases for the first time since the announcement of our second lockdown.

It is encouraging that some Dzongkhags have not reported any cases. Is that a cause for relief and rejoice for the people of these Dzongkhags? Or should they worry that perhaps their active cases remain undetected and unreported. What are the chances that there may be cases that are simmering to spiral out of control? Have we done enough to determine that they truly are free of positive cases? Do you think we need to find out – to be certain beyond doubt – before we heave a sigh of relief?

Certainly the arrival and administration of the vaccines is good news. Now we have to grit out teeth and wait a few months to see that in their wake the vaccines have not unleashed a Lucifer even more deadly than the COVID-19.

But one thing is for sure – the onus is on us to do the right thing – to behave responsibly and follow instructions as determined and proven to be necessary. While the government does not have a monopoly  on common sense and wisdom, it certainly has better access to know better.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

What You See Is What You Get - But What You Got Is Not What You Wanted

As pointed out in my last blog, it appears that some of the mail covers that are in the possession of collectors around the world – do not quite tell the real deal. Something is amiss. Like I said in my last post, the following cover is simply impossible. It is affixed with a revenue stamp issued 19 years back. Once our postage stamps were released in 1962, revenue stamps would have been disallowed, to be used as postage. However, a senior philatelic historian contends that the fiscals (revenue stamps) continued to be used sparingly way past 1962. I will confirm this from three oldest postmasters who are still living. Thus  it is unlikely that the originating Post Office would have allowed this Post Card to be dispatched to the intended destination. Further, revenue stamps were only used for internal mail.

In addition to the above, take a look at the following cover. It is clear that the mail was sent by the Home Minister to the Ramjam of Trashiyangte. This also does not make sense. Why I say this is because the cover carries a revenue stamp of 1954. This means the mail would have had to have been issued by the late Kidu Lyonpo Tamzhing Jagar – first Home Minister of Bhutan.

Upon the establishment of the Ministry of Home Affairs by the Council of Ministers during the 28th Session of the National Assembly, the Third King appointed Tamzhing Jagar as the first Home Minister – in 1968 which post he held until 1985. This means this cover would have to have been issued after 1968. By then postage stamps were already in use for the past 8 years. This is another anomaly that does not fit.

All these point to the possibility that there may have been serious mischief in the philately world – surrounding Bhutanese stamps and covers.

To give you a hint of what happened, consider the following:

An experimental Post Office was started in Bhutan House, Kalimpong in the early 1960s. At some point during the period, a person named Kesang Dorji served as the Post Master in Bhutan House. Like me, the Finnish philatelist Iiro Kakko also did not believe that the covers were the real deal. During an interview he conducted, Kesang Dorji admitted to him that he produced the covers – for sale to the world stamp collectors.

This means whole lot of covers – and perhaps even postage stamps - currently held by the world collectors are – fakes.

Bhutan's first Post Card, issued in 1966

Saturday, January 2, 2021

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

It turns out that the history of philately in Bhutan is ten times murkier than that of our coinage. It is one truly tangled world – one that appears to have been shaped and molded by characters mostly clad in grey. But I will get to that later – for now there appears to be a need to reassess and bring clarity to the matter concerning what has been told so far, about how our mail was delivered over Yatung and Nathu-La Pass, on to Sikkim and from there on to Bhutan House, Kalimpong.

I have been brooding over it for the past two days – and somehow I believe that that narrative is not tenable. It just simply does not gel!

First and foremost, we neither had post offices nor a postal service  in place then – during the 1950s.

Second, one sticks a stamp – whether revenue or postage - onto a cover only when the cover is intended to be carried through the postal network.

Third – the covers you see above supposedly sent over the Nathula Pass had been stuck with additional Indian and Chinese postage stamps – supposedly at Yatung. The question then arises: who stuck the postage stamps at Yatung and even more important – who paid for them?

Fourth – the addressees of the covers are private individuals with incomplete delivery addresses such as: Pasang Lama C/O D S Lama, Kalimpong. Does a letter get delivered with that kind of address – particularly to a highly populated place like Kalimpong? I don’t think so.

As we know, we used postal runners to deliver mails internally. Thus it could be argued that we used postal runners to deliver the mails upto Yatung Post offices of the Indians and the Chinese. This argument would not hold water since if we used postal runners, where was the need to stick a revenue stamp on the cover? Postal runners can carry the mails without the need for postage. And even more important, postal runners were not used for private mail – only official mails.

Look at the following Post Card – it is surreal, to say the least! Consider:

The Post Card is the second issue by Bhutan P&T – I think sometime in 1969 – the first was issued in 1966;

The sender sends the Season’s Greetings on 01.05. 1981;

The postal cancellation is dated 02.05.1981;

Strangely a revenue stamp of 1954 is affixed when we had already released our postage in 1962 - nineteen years before the Post Card was posted. By 1981, revenue stamps should have been disallowed to be used as postage but I am told they were still used, sporadically.

Thus I have concluded that there is something fishy about these covers over the Nathu-La Pass. In my next article in the coming days, I will try and bring some facts to light, which hopefully will enable the readers to assess the matter in a more objective light.