Monday, November 29, 2021

1875: Bhutan’s External Trade Statistics

One of the most successful British India government’s initiatives to keep Bhutan away from the ambit of Chinese influence was to start trade fairs in a number of places within the Duars bordering Southern Bhutan - principal among them were Darranga, Subankhala, Charigaon, Udalguri and Mongoldoi. These annual events attracted Drukpas from Bhutan, Khampas from Tibet, Monpas from Tawang, and Manipuris from the North-East, among others.

These annual trade fairs also served to keep open the trade routes to Tibet for the British colonizers. To a large part, their commercial interests prevented them from harboring colonial designs on Bhutan. It is clear that British Indian administration attached great importance to Bhutan’s role as a dependable ally, rather than as a renegade tributary state.

Trade figures of some of the goods traded by Bhutan, and their corresponding values, during these fairs in 1875, were as follows:

Look at the amazing prices: Gold dust was sold at Nu.20.00 per Tola – the current ruling price is around Nu. 48,000.00 per Tola. Musk at Nu.10.00 per Tola was valued at 50% of gold. Ponies were then sold at Nu. 60.00 each – the best of them today fetch close to Nu.100,000.00.

Another amazing thing is that we sold onions – I was under the impression that onions were a recent phenomenon that did not feature in the Bhutanese diet before the 19th century. Another shocker – we exported chilies – we now import them.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Hydropower Projects: A shift in Thinking

Yet again there is discussion happening on our failed hydropower projects.

Discussions are good, provided they culminate in sound policies. But all indications are that no sound polices or thinking are emanating from these discussions. A case in point is the contemplated barrage for the Punatsangchhu I, in place of the failed Dam.

I have said many a time before: I am not against hydropower – but against the manner in which it is done in Bhutan. No sane Bhutanese can or should support any project that vandalizes the environment, result in human displacement, and with cost overruns that total close to 400% at 10% annual interest.

My view on the Barrage Project for Punatsangchu Project I:

It will be nothing more than a depository for trillions of tons of debris that will be deposited into it by the annual flooding of the Punatsangchu.

One of the issues that remained conspicuously silent and un-discussed with the P1 Dam project was the issue related to the silting and de-silting of the Dam, even if it got built. Did the Project Authorities have a foolproof plan as to how they were going to tackle the mammoth problem?

In my thinking any discussion on Kholongchu Project is futile – that project is not likely to happen given the compulsions surrounding it.

The law makers need to know something at this point in time so that they may make informed decisions. The inefficient design, planning and implementation of the projects have a direct bearing on the cost to the Bhutanese home energy consumers.

The government can absorb it – the project can absorb it – the industries that consume the energy can absorb it by passing on the additional cost to the consumers. The only persons who cannot absorb the high energy cost, resulting from the inefficiency of the project authorities will be the poor people.

It is therefore poor people like me who have to resort to whaling cries of woe – year after year.

The planners and lawmakers should now stop talking of new hydropower projects. In fact they should stop talking about hydropower projects entirely.

Instead, let them talk about constructing a water storage reservoir on the Wangchhu – to augment water supply to the two existing projects downstream - during the winter months. Bring to focus the import bill of electricity during the winter months.

The lawmakers should talk of cheaper funding sources – not sources that charge us 10% annual interest rates.

Remember, India got their funding from Japan for their Bullet Train Project. They were charged only:


Let us wisen up!

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Not All Forest Lands Are Tree Lands

Hi ………..,

Thank you for your mail. The pleasure is entirely mine.

I will leave it to the vast experience of PDG XXXXX and your own spirit of giving - to decide how the monies for our planned project are to be channeled.

I am in no doubt that this project will be impactful and, even better, the impact will be visible and will hopefully encourage even more committed actions from the authorities. They sometimes tend to be carried away by their own verbosity - rather than translating them into real actions on the ground.

You may have seen during your visits to Bhutan that the mountaintops surrounding the population centers such as Thimphu, Paro, Punakha and Wangdue - are shorn of mature trees. The reason is that the construction of massive Dzongs and temples in these places exact a heavy toll on the surrounding environment. Tens of thousands of trees are cut down for conversion into timber for the construction of these massive structures. Quarrying for stones for masonry work has scarred large tracts of hillside in these areas, rendering them infertile to bear or support trees, without the intervention of the human society that has been responsible in the first place to render them thus.

The Bhutanese people proudly claim that we have 70-80% forest coverage and that these naturally standing forest stock help sequester carbon dioxide by the millions of tons. What we misinterpret is that not all the claimed 70-80% forested land is populated with trees - but land that remain un-harvested. It is untrue that all un-harvested land are made up of trees - but steppe land and grassland and marsh land and alpine wilderness that do not contribute to carbon sequestration.

Alpine wilderness without trees

Thus, even to validate that Bhutan contributes to the well being of the human race through conservation of our forests - and helping in sequestration of the CO2 being released by the people in the industrialized nations, Bhutan needs to plant trees - even if only to make our claim good.

Sorry for the long winding mail - but I wanted to impress upon you just how profound your contribution will be to Bhutan and the human race, through this planned tree plantation project, in partnership with the Rotary Club of Thimphu.

Bye and take care…. and please keep safe.

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Whether To Or Not To

Once again it is that time of the year when I have to go through moments of painful indecision – whether to or not to – start the room heater in my office. Talking of which I realize that I do not have a heater – the one I have is for the sitting room – just too big for my small home office.


Indecisions notwithstanding, I do have to start the heater at some point. I mean this is already third week of November and my fingers are beginning to freeze and my trouser feels chilly against my thighs as I start work around 5.30AM. It does not help that my lodgings is located at the extreme north of Dechencholing.

The electricity bill is what I dread. Last winter months my bill was upwards of Nu.9,000.00 per month. I whaled about it and I suppose I will do the same this winter as well. Regardless, I know that my pleadings will fall on deaf ears and will be unfelt by the hearts of stone.

Despite so many rumblings, something that remains unanswered is this:

Why is a country that supposedly has electricity as its highest exportable surplus – is something the common Bhutanese people cannot afford - that they have to queue up at the fuel stations for hours to buy imported energy, trucked from across thousands of miles away?

If hydropower is so beneficial, why is the benefit not accruing to the people of Bhutan? What is the catch? Why is imported energy cheaper than homegrown one?

My readers who have commented on my following blog on the subject are providing some answers and reasons why our electricity is so expensive:

The fallacy surrounding the claim that hydroelectric energy is the cheapest and most environmentally friendly is now under serious debate. The destruction caused to the environment both during and after the construction is so great that thinkers around the world are now hesitant to list hydroelectric as environmental friendly.

If it is cheapest, why are we not able to afford it?

If it is environmentally safer, why is so much destruction caused to our landscape and natural environment? Why is the fact that huge amounts of greenhouse gas Methane will be released into the atmosphere by these projects that cause 86 times more damage than CO2, is concealed?

On this Blog, I have 65 articles on hydropower related matters - second highest after photography at 102 articles. You can read them all at:

The problem is that it does not matter to the rich and the powerful – they can afford it. Quite obviously the poor people do not matter.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Chasing Nirvana

Dear ……….. ,

Thank you for your mail.

It may come as a surprise to you – but I had never intended to be a Rotarian – I was shooting birds in the Eastern parts of the country when some cheeky fellow nominated me to be a member when the Rotary Club of Thimphu was being formed, in 2012. But once I got to understand the mechanics of how Rotary works, I realized that here was an opportunity to do real good for my community. Rotary institution is like no other.

I began with the belief that I owe it to my community – to sacrifice time and money – because I realized that the Rotary institution can, and has, brought meaningful impacts to nations and societies. But over time, I came to the realization that I am among only less than a handful who thought on those lines. Yet I continued to keep at it – with the belief that I cannot lose heart because some idiots are incapable of doing their jobs – only to come face to face with the reality that I am up against a whole gaggle of them, who couldn’t care less.

Finally the question – how much can one man do and for how long?

I put my own business and personal interests on the back burner for the past six and a half years (that is how long I have been the Club Secretary) – at the end I am getting more and more burnt out and, even more dangerous, I am getting terribly disillusioned and beginning to wonder if there is any merit in the Rotary maxim “Service Above Self” – I am beginning to arrive at that dangerous threshold where I am wont to imagine that this one has begun to sound muted and lacking in resonance. But I know that that is not true - I am still of the firm belief that the Rotary dictum has not lost its sheen – it is the mindless beneficiaries who cannot fathom their good fortune that there is an organization called Rotary that can bring meaning into their lives.

In closing, you have understood correctly – YES, I am leaving Rotary and going to do some serious photography work and finish my coin book and work on the second edition of my bird book.

Star-spangled night sky at Sinchae, Lunana. My Cabela's Extreme Weather dome tent is all lighted up from inside - under a night sky dazzled by a trillion shimmering stars.

I am going to go on treks and lie on my back atop a freezing peak and photograph a few trillion stars dazzling up the night skies.

I am going to chase Nirvana.

Bye and take care.

Saturday, November 13, 2021


Energy Globe Award for Rotary Club of Thimphu’s BHUTAN2020 Project

During an official ceremony on 10th November, 2021, Rotary Club of Thimphu’s signature project “BHUTAN2020”, in collaboration with Disaster Aid Australia (DAA), was awarded the “ENERGY GLOBE AWARD”. The project, which was launched in Toronto, Canada in 2018, was assessed for the award - against hundreds of thousands of other projects implemented around the world.

This achievement is even more significant considering that the Club is being recognized during a time when the entire humanity is rendered asunder by the COVID-19 pandemic.

More on the award at the following:

The Energy Globe Award honors the best projects addressing environmental issues since 20 years. This award takes place at an international level. The independent Energy Globe Foundation, Austria, organizes the award.

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.

Under this project, the Rotary Club of Thimphu, with funding from the DAA, pledged to donate 120 patented SkyHydrant water filters to a like number of Bhutan’s largest schools.  Given that water quality is poor in the South, our emphasis is for schools in the South of the country.

So far 111 of these filters have been installed in schools spread across the country – not a single one of the 20 Dzongkhags (Districts) have been left out.

The project is nearing completion – only 9 of the 120 filters remain to be installed. Of that 3 are already in the country – ready for installation.

Provided the precious civil servants and the related government agencies are willing to do their part, the Rotary Club of Thimphu is all poised to embark on the Phase II of BHUTAN2020. Our international partners are firm in their commitment that they want to extend the project beyond 2023. Even more encouraging for thousands of Bhutanese children, our international partners have agreed that Phase II will be all encompassing - the project will henceforth include children of qualifying private schools as well.

Launch of the Project BHUTAN2020 during the Rotary Convention in 2018

Three models of the patented SkyHydrant water filters that are being installed in 120 schools across Bhutan

Logo of the Award Winning Project

The Club officials hand over a number of SkyHydrant water filters to the officials of the Ministry of Education

Even as my time with the Rotary is nearing its end, and I have sworn to severe all ties with the great institution called Rotary by end December 2021, it is my hope that this project will continue to see the light of day. There is no reason why it shouldn’t – provided each player is willing to do his/her part.

In parting I would like to say that Bhutan missed out on a rare opportunity to recognize one of its own – but we are happy that the Energy Globe has seized the opportunity to do so – we thank the organization.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Layap Girl: Amazing Grace

One of my photos of this young Layap girl that I took in Punakha in 2001 seems have managed to get itself a whole lot of attention in recent times. This is not quite true actually - she featured on the official Poster of the Tourism Council of Bhutan, some years back.

Photographed in March, 2001

It was a joy to photograph this girl - she was so natural and she had all the right angles to present. And she moved with an amazing grace and posed with a practiced composure that would put the most seasoned model to shame.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

All I Write is Not Necessarily BLOGGED

I am not sure if what I wrote made any difference but in posting this blog, I want to prove to a friend that I do not have to write about every important issue on my Blog – I can, and do, outside of it. A few days back, a friend accused me of going on and on and on about “Ladoog” - while, according to him, I could channel my energies towards highlighting some important issues that remain neglected. It is my hope that with this blog post, the next time the friend sees me, he will look at me with downcast eyes - in meek subservience.

On 19th June, 2020 I wrote to the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB), as a concerned citizen, pointing out two important issues that could have long term implications if not averted - but those that had every indication that they were gaining primacy among people in the decision making process. One concerned the very important tourism sector, and the other, the watchdog organization responsible for the health of the country’s environment.

The following is what I wrote – quoted here verbatim:

ISSUE A: Waste Management & Stray Dogs Population Control Flagship Program under the NEC

This is a direct conflict of interest. A regulatory authority such as the NEC cannot be the implementing agency for waste management. There is every chance that this project might fail because the NEC as the implementing agency is bound to cut corners in its stewardship and oversight responsibilities. Simple reason: officials who are supposed to regulate and monitor are the same ones who are implementing the project.

The government might wish to consider delinking the Waste Management & Stray Dogs Population Control Flagship Program PMU from the NEC and an independent body set up – sans the officials of the NEC in the PMU. This way we can expect better monitoring, regulation and stewardship from the NEC – and ensure that activities of the Waste Management & Stray Dogs Population Control Flagship Program PMU are in line with the provisions of the law.

Charging the NEC with the responsibility to implement waste management projects is akin to asking the Drug Regulatory Authority to set up medical supplies shops.

ISSUE B: The possibility of hoteliers being allowed to book tours 

There is a sense in the market that the tourist class hotels are likely to be allowed by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) to book tours in the regional tourists segment. There are a number of problems in this:

aaa.  The standing rule of the RGoB is that each business activity is separately licensed. Thus the rule does not permit hoteliers to venture into tour operation activities. Operation and conduct of tours is separately licensed, under the category of “Tour Operator”. Thus if a hotelier is desirous of entering the tour operation business, the law requires that they obtain a tour operator’s license – which is simple and without hurdles.

bbb.  The TCB is not vested with the authority to determine which business entity can conduct what business – that is within the purview of the Ministry of Economic Affairs (MoEA). Thus the TCB determining that hoteliers can engage in tour operators’ business is overstepping their mandate – it should be in the domain of the MoEA.

ccc.  It is most likely to cause unnecessary and avoidable rift between the hoteliers and the tour operators because of a number of impracticalities of a joint operation - the most serious among them being fixing accountability in the event of problems and failures.


The Logo of NEC looks sharp and clear because I digitized it - GRATIS - when I was contracted to Edit the book "WATER Securing Bhutan's Future" for the ADB/NEC.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Images With A Story To Tell

In my many years as a photographer, there have been photographic situations that beg to be told and recounted. Unfortunately, until I stumble upon a particular photograph with a story to tell, I am not able to remember them all. Some that I remember with some interesting, if at times tragic, sorties are the following.

Lets us begin with the uncommon:


One day I was on my way from Sengor to Kurichu where I was headed to try and photograph a breeding couple of the rare Palla’s Fish Eagle. When I reached Thridangbi, I saw a large cornfield with ripe corns ready for harvest. I noticed that there were a number of macaques calmly feeding on the ripe corns. Close by an old man stood watching the whole scene with a Buddha like calm.

I asked him; “Whose cornfield is that?”

The old man said; “Mine”.

“So why aren’t you chasing away the monkeys?” He replied:

“Let them eat - I will be harvesting the corns in a few days time – until then how much can few monkeys eat? Like us humans, they have every right to gather their food from wherever they can. You must remember that they mean no harm. Theirs is not an act of destruction - as far as they are concerned, my cornfield is a source of easy food – so why shouldn’t they feed on the corns? There is no malice behind their act.”

Now here was a Bodhisattva at whose feet I would shamelessly prostrate in obeisance.

I was truly humbled by such an uncommon act of charity. I was tempted to spend few nights in his company – and try and unravel a mind that truly belonged to a Buddha. But I had to go and photograph a rare bird – which, alas, I did not succeed in doing.

Man with a heart of a Buddha


During one of the many Paro Tsechus I have attended for photographic opportunities, I chanced upon a nicely turned out and well-packaged young girl. She caught me photographing her and gave me a glare, grumbling:

“You know, you have to ask my permission to take my photograph”!

She walked away with a haughty look on her face. Well, I am a licensed professional photographer and I am allowed taking pictures of any one as long as it is in a public place. However, no point arguing – so I let it pass.

Few years later, she saw her photograph appear on the cover page of Bhutan Airlines Inflight Magazine: KUZUZANGPO la. She went to great length to track me down – to ask for a print of her photograph. She loved it she said. I gave it to her – sans the haughty look.

Good looking but grumpy


One time I was coming down from Pele-La where I had gone to try and photograph the famed Satyr Tragopan - considered one of the 10 most beautiful birds of the world. When I reached Kelekhar, I saw this very beautiful, dignified silver-haired old lady sitting on the doorsteps of her home, which was bang close to the road. I stopped and told her that I would like to photograph her. She agreed. I asked her permission because she was not in a public place – but in her home.

Few weeks later, the KUENSEL reported that her relatives had bludgeoned her to death – to rob her of her cash.

Her family did her in for her cash


I had an assignment that called for photographing HH Gyeltse Tenzin Rabgye and a statue of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. I went to Tango Monastery to acquire the images. The Truelku was a young boy then and loved being photographed. That was not a problem.

One of the senior most Lopoens of Tango went to great trouble to extricate a statue of the Zhabdrung from the alter room so that I may photograph it. I must say that it was a very nice statue. I did my work and delivered the images to the clients.

Nearly a year later, I got to know that the statue I photographed was NOT that of the Zhabdrung – but someone else. It nearly caused a disaster – because my image was the central image around which an exhibition relating to the Zhabdrung was planned in Thimphu. Fortunately the mistake was discovered just at the nick of time and the situation was saved.

That is why I say that even the most primary source – in this case a most learned source - needs to be verified.

Oooops ... I am not the Zhabdrung


Aap Tham (Tham means weaver) Dawa was a bashful person – even when he was in his late 70’s. I had to go to Bumthang to photograph him for an article. I met him and got the photos I needed. But I was intrigued – why was a man in a woman’s profession. He said he loved weaving. So I asked him - Was it enjoyable? He said in the beginning it was torturous!

Apparently he was the only male weaver in the court of HRH Ashi Choki in Wangduechholing Palace – rest were all women much older to him. He said that the ladies would gang up on him and gag him and strip him naked every once in a while. While the women around him giggled and guffawed, he would quietly weep in a corner in frustration and shame. However, over time he got used to the pranks.

I met two of the naughty lady weavers who contributed to his misery – Aum Lemo and Aum Naley. When I got the three of them together for a conversation, they looked at him with eyes of longing and adoration - it was obvious that they cared for the man deeply.

Aap Tham Dawa

He passed away a few years back.


Feast your eyes on this truly organic Bhutanese woman – wholly grown and cultured without pesticides and weedicides. I photographed her in 2010 at the Paro Tsechu grounds. Passu of the famed Passu Diary tells me that some unknown photographer had photographed the same lady – 24 years back in 1986 when she was barely 16 years old – at the same Paro Tsechu grounds. You can see that she is still wearing the same set of “Jurus” as the Parops would call it. The image was featured on the cover of a publication titled “Arcarama” of 1986.

Passu is intrigued – how can it be that two photographers are attracted and drawn by the same person – nearly two and a half decades apart? He is convinced that all photographers see and think alike.

I do not know about that – but I still call the lady “Ngi gi Aum Jarim” every time I meet her at Kawajangtsa.

Aging gracefully


I photographed this young girl child in Punakha in the year 2001. Twenty years later, another photographer – Karma T Dorji of the DrukPro design house photographed the same girl in her village in Laya - last month.

Ravages of time and march of age

My photograph of the girl child of 2001 was selected as one of the faces to represent Bhutan and featured on a poster produced by the Tourism Council of Bhutan. It intrigues me – would the TCB consider featuring this grown up girl on another one of their posters? I doubt it – at this ripe age, her unbridled innocence that had drawn my attention to her is no longer an element that went on to make the whole of her, in 2001.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021


I generally log on to the Internet any time from 3.30AM or 5.30AM to start work. But today I am logging on only at 8.31AM. I have been struggling to fight down an urge to do something that would impact many thousands of people.

Would I be doing the right thing in contemplating to do what I have a strong urge to do? Would my behavior be any less irresponsible than those of the few who compel me towards the option that is open to me?

It is a very difficult decision – I know it is not correct that because of some idiots I should imperil few thousand people. And yet, for how long can one continue to condone irresponsibility and mindlessness and abject disregard for duty and ownership of stewardship? Because I am fully aware that the problem is not merely superficial – it is almost pathological and deep-rooted.

It is not just one or two spokes in the wheel that are dysfunctional – nearly all of them are none performing.

The state of Bhutan's civil service

Under the circumstance, what duty of a higher calling would I be performing - in continuing to suffer heartburn on a daily basis, year after year?