Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Emergence of the Idea of Paper Money for Bhutan

Every nanosecond, history is being made and remade and unmade, in some corners of the earth. The intention behind their making is not always premeditated – a good portion of them are accidental - pure chance and, at times, out of frustration. Ostensibly, one such history was played out in Paro – to be precise at Ugyen Wangchuck Academy in Satsam Chorten – possibly the earliest emergence of the idea of paper money for Bhutan, in place of the weighty and cumbersome cupro-nickel Tikchungs.

A verbal narration given to me by a friend goes like this:

Mr. Michael Rutland, currently the British Honorary Consul to Bhutan, joined Ugyen Wangchuck Academy in 1971 – as a Royal Tutor. He had to be paid monthly salary, which he believes was delivered to him on horse back - from Ugyen Pelri Palace in Paro. Her Majesty Queen Ashi Kesang Choeden Wangchuck wanted to make sure that Mr. Rutland got paid, and in time. Her Majesty instructed the late Finance Minister Lyonpo Chogyal to personally oversee the delivery of the salary – in the form of Tikchungs packed in cotton bags.

In keeping with Her Majesty’s orders, Lyonpo Chogyal ensured that the salary was delivered to Mr. Rutland in time and in the right amount. Not to say that they were any use to him – there was nothing that he could buy with them – even for a piece of cake he had to drive all the way to Swiss Bakery in Thimphu.

One evening Mr. Rutland met Lyonpo Chogyal at a dinner and he had the opportunity to thank him personally for delivering his salary in time. Lyonpo Choyal wished that there was a simpler way to deliver the salary - he wished that he could issue a written document signed and sealed by him to Mr. Rutland, and he could use it to purchase whatever he wanted. The conversation resulted in Mr. Rutland pulling out a British Pound bank note and showing it to Lyonpo and telling him that back home in England – they used paper money to pay for services and everything else. They were light and available in various denominations.

Although not educated in western education and their monetary system – the profundity of such a concept did not escape the old man Chogyal. The idea stuck with him and he began to ponder over the possibility of introducing Bhutanese paper money. Eventually, while it is not clear if he was responsible for the happenstance – Bhutan’s paper money got printed and issued, for the first time, in 1974.

Bhutan's earliest bank notes released in 1974

Lyonpo Chogyal is no longer alive but Mr. Michael Rutland is still around. I had the occasion to ascertain the veracity of the oral account as narrated above. He confirms that the account is accurate - to the last word.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

I Think I Finally Nailed It!

For the past over one year, I have been trying and trying and trying, to improve my coin photography. I wasn't getting it - however hard I tried. Unbalanced lighting, ghosting, uneven sharpness, reflection and shadows caused me misery. I was not at all satisfied by what I produced. But I am not one to give up - I aim for perfection.

Then a few days back - I nailed it! Take a look at the following three sets of coins and you know what I mean.

The coin set at the top and middle are Bhutanese Maartams - hammered between 1790 and 1910. The coin set at the bottom is Tibetan Sho Gung - minted during the 1st Year of 16th Rabjung (Fire Rabbit Year: 1927).

As you can see, there are no shadows, the sharpness is spot on and the color is vibrant! Goes to show - if you keep trying, you will eventually get it. Never give up!


Thursday, July 22, 2021

The Aliens Did Not Do It

Garbage is ugly – it is dirty and it stinks. Regardless it is not the aliens from outer space that generate them – it is us who do. Thus, it should be us who should take on the responsibility to dispose off the garbage safely, securely and in a way that it does not harm the natural world around us. But we won’t – because we reason that there are some agencies and organizations that are charged with the responsibility of managing the garbage – and they are paid for the job and they draw sustenance in the name of managing garbage. The truth though is that garbage should be everybody’s responsibility. If the people who are charged with the responsibility fail to do their job, we should not fail in fulfilling our duty - as responsible citizens.

The case of the two piles of garbage by the wayside in Dechenchholing area is a case in point. For close to two months, I noticed that there were two huge piles of garbage dumped by the roadside – on two separate locations – on the road leading to Dechenphu Lhakhang. For a while I believed that they would be disposed off by the people and agencies responsible – but at the end of nearly two months, they remained where they were – unmoved, unattended and threatening to be gnawed open by the rummaging stray dogs.

Monks, religious aficionados on their way to Dechenphu Lhakhang, archers and fitness freaks and even romancing couples pass that road on a daily basis ... and yet the two piles of garbage remained unattended to. Finally I realized that no one was going to be bothered about the unsightly piles – neither the garbage collectors nor the pseudo environmentalists. I decided that I would have to do the job myself. Over two evenings, with the help of a DeSuup, I broke up the three huge piles of garbage into manageable sizes and carried them in my car, to be deposited at the garbage drop off points.

The piles of garbage on the way to Dechenphu Lhakhang as photographed on July 7, 2021

On July 11, 2021 I managed to carry away 2 of the 3 piles of garbage. I could not manage all three because they needed to be broken up into manageable bundles so that they fit into my car

By the evening of July 12, 2021, all the three unsightly garbage piles were removed and the area looked green and clean

Let us not be hoity-toity about handling garbage – we created them – we have to be responsible for their safe and proper disposal.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Lonely But Busy As Hell

Rotary Club of Thimphu is the lone Rotary Club in Bhutan. It was chartered in 2012 under the aegis of the DPT government. Since then, the Club has never looked back.

We may be lonely, but certainly we are among the world’s busiest Rotary Clubs - even in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, including seven projects that are currently in the pipeline, the Rotary Club of Thimphu has completed 91 community service projects, valued at over Nu.140.00 million.

While a large section of the Bhutanese population has been rendered jobless and hapless, the Club officials at the Rotary Club of Thimphu have been running helter-skelter – handing over projects and delivering project equipment. In the middle of the raging pandemic, we are proud to have have been able to deliver the following:

21st October, 2020

The following photo is from the Club’s archives – it shows the Club's Past President Rtn. Dr. Lam Dorji and Foundation Chair Rtn. Tshering Choki handing over the donation of a 30 Kgs. per charge capacity medical waste incinerator to the officials of the Ministry of Health. This is the first of three units being donated by the Club to the Ministry of Health. This unit was destined to be installed at Memelakha, for use by the JDWNRH, Thimphu.

First of the three units of medical waste incinerators being handed over to the Health Ministry officials

July 6, 2021:

Handed over a 100 Kgs. per charge capacity medical incinerator to Paro Dzongkhag Health officials, including Dzongkhag authorities. This is the second of the three medical waste incinerators that our Club is donating to the Health sector – to combat COVID-19 pandemic. This one is due to be installed at Paro.

Second of the three units - this one a 100 Kgs per charge capacity medical waste incinerator - being handed over to the Health and Dzongkhag officials of Paro Dzongkhag.

July 7, 2021:

Handed over another 30Kgs capacity medical waste incinerator to the Ministry of Health – represented by Ms. Pem Zam, Infection Control Program Officer, MoH. This is the last of the total three medical waste incinerators that our Club is donating to the Health sector – to combat COVID-19 pandemic. This unit is destined for Nanglam Government Hospital. With the handing over of this unit, the Rotary Club of Thimphu completes its Medical Waste Incinerator Project with the Ministry of Health – valued at a total of Nu.6.5 millions.

Last of the three units of medical waste incinerator being handed over to the Health Ministry official - this one is destined to be installed in Nanglam, Eastern Bhutan.

July 8, 2021:

One of the Club’s principal areas of focus is agriculture production. In line with this area of focus, we handed over the completed construction of a mushroom incubation and harvesting shed - measuring 60’ in length and costing Nu.583,000.00. The project was handed over to the group leader of a women farmer group in Phangyul village, Wangduephodrang. The funding for this came from a private donor and Rotary Club of Brooklyn Bridge, USA.

A 60' long mushroom incubating and growing shed being handed over to the farmer group leader accompanied by local government officials and Agriculture sector representative.

July 8, 2021:

The same day before the above handing over ceremony, the Club officials visited a very remote school in Punakha called Lakhu Primary School. The school wanted one additional water filter – we had already donated one earlier. After the visit it was ascertained that they really do not need the additional filter since the student enrolment is less than a hundred. The matter will be discussed further among Club Members to see if it would be more meaningful to support them with installation of electricity in their bathrooms that are currently without electricity.

Water filter that was supplied sometime back by the Rotary Club of Thimphu - working very well at Lakhu Primary School, Punakha

July 9, 2021:

The last in the series of project implementations for this month, we handed over a 12,000 lts. per day capacity SkyHydrant water filter to Dechenchholing Higher Secondary School in Thimphu. Dechenchholing HSS has the country’s largest number of students – totaling close to 2,000 including teaching and support staff. This is part of our Club’s ongoing project valued at AUS$1.00 million – to supply safe drinking water to Bhutan’s largest educational institutions - in collaboration with Disaster Aid Australia. Installation of all the promised 120 filters will be completed this September – the last of the 23 units are in stock with us - awaiting installation. The progress of installations have been rather slow due to limitations placed by the pandemic.

The Past Presidnet Dr. Lam Dorji handing over the SkyHydrant water filter to the Vice Principal of Dechenchholing HSS

There is no respite - in the coming weeks, I start work on a funding proposal for a agriculture project in Chhukha Dzongkhag, followed by a number of COVID-19 related projects to help the government contain the COVID-19 pandemic.