Friday, February 25, 2022

Be Innovative - Never Give Up!

For the past close to two months I have been unfailing in my chase of a pint-sized bird called Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis) – every day: morning afternoon and evening. That is close to 200 hours of effort dedicated to one single bird! Regardless, all my efforts to date did not result in an image that I can claim to be, what I call, a “KEEPER”. I shot hundreds of images of the bird – all of them were consigned to their burial ground - the Trashcan.

The problem is the bird's foraging/feeding ground and the preening/frolicking perch. The place where it forages and feeds is a messy, slushy drainage that is clustered with dried branches and twigs. It feeds in this particular area every day. But photographing the bird in this feeding/foraging area is impossible – it is terribly crowded and impossible to separate the bird from the clutter around it.

Once it is done with its momentary feeding, the bird will unfailingly run off to fool around on/in a pile of white/grey colored splintered boulders. This is where I try to catch it – when it begins to display its dainty pretenses. Unfortunately, the boulders being white/grey in color, they come off all washed out, even if the bird is tack-sharp. This pile of boulders is located at a suspended construction site.

I am faced with an impossible situation – a perch that does not work and a feeding ground that is an impossibility. How is a man supposed to photograph a bird under such hopeless conditions? Only good thing is that the bird visits these two places without fail – day after day.

Then two weeks back I decided that to retrieve the situation I needed to give nature a helping hand. I gathered up a number of differently sized and colored wood pieces and arranged them haphazardly on top, and into, the cavities of the rock pile. The idea and the hope behind such an endeavor is that the bird would eventually decide to perch on one of these wood pieces – and not on the boulders. When it does, I will finally be able to acquire an image of my liking - with a pleasing wooden perch!

Foraging and feeding area of the bird - slushy and yucky!

The pile of white/grey boulders in their original state

The pile of white/grey boulders - with wooden pieces placed on top/stuck into their cavities - to act as a more pleasing perch for the bird.

Well, the invitation has been sent out to the dainty little fellow - now all that I can do is WAIT … AND PRAY AND PRAY!

The trick worked – yesterday afternoon it perched on one of my wood pieces - I could finally nail the frisky fellow! But it still took me close to two weeks after the innovation, to get the following image  – that is very close to what I consider a “KEEPER”.

Finally nailed the dainty fellow yesterday

The following is the image of the bird - perched on a boulder - totally washed out.

For the record, I had to shift and rearrange the wooden pieces every day because the light source in the morning is from the East and in the evening it is from the West. While doing so, I have to be mindful about the background – the bird should not be projected against the white of the buildings surrounding the location. I had to make sure that the background is not too blue or green or have large voluminous objects that will show up as dark obtrusive hindrance to the overall image. As you can see in all my images, I like to have my background buttery smooth.

ENJOY! ….. and remember you have to keep at it – until you get it right – No “it is OK” attitude!

Thursday, February 24, 2022

Look For Habitats – Not Birds

Yet again we are in a LOCKDOWN situation – I am not sure if it is a cause for comfort - but I am told that this time it is a SMART LOCKDOWN. I have not bothered to find out how smart is a smart LOCKDOWN. Well, I am placing my trust on the government and the Health authorities - to do what is best for us. It is simpler to keep up my trust - than go bonkers being worried over something over which I have no control.

But something positive about the LOCKDOWN is that it gives me the time and the opportunity to write. You may have noticed that I have been writing one article a day - well almost.

My last article was on bird photography and how one must remain focused on the bird in hand and disregard all the rest in the forest. Today’s article is also on bird photography - and in the same vein – how not to be distracted by a promise that is uncertain - stick with what you know is certain.

When I started my journey of bird photography, I use to cover 40 – 50 KMs a day - hunting for birds. The thinking then was that if I covered more ground, I would see more birds and therefore be able to photograph a lot more of them. It did not occur to me that covering more grounds was no guarantee that I would see more birds. It took me many years and hundreds of miles of walking up the garden path – to finally come to the realization that what one ought to look for is not many birds to photograph – but a place, a location, a habitat that has the conditions to support bird life

Few months back I relocated to Dechencholing Dangrena. The place turns out to be an extremely bird-rich habitat, being located at the edge of the forest. First few days I spent taking count of the birds and noting them down – to make sure that I have a comprehensive list of birds that frequent the place. I counted over 45 of them – including the common ones like Russet Sparrow, Rufous Sebia etc. The following is a partial list of birds found around my locality.

Alpine Thrush, Ashy-throated Warbler, Black-tailed Crake, Blue-fronted Redstart, Brown Parrotbill, Chestnut-crowned Laughingthrush, Dark-breasted Rosefinch (Male), Dark-breasted Rosefinch (Female), Eurasian Woodcock, Hodgson's Redstart (Male), Hodgson's Redstart (Female), Hodgson's Treecreeper, Long-billed Thrush, Maroon-backed Accentor, Himalayan Bluetail, Plain Mountain Finch, Rufous-breasted Accentor, Rufous-breasted Bush Robin, Rufous-fronted Tit, Rusty-cheeked Scimitar Babbler, Slaty-backed Forktail, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, White-browed Bush Robin (Male), White-browed Bush Robin (Female), White-browed Fulvetta, White-browed Rosefinch Female, White-collard Blackbird (Male), White-collard Blackbird (Female), Winter Wren, Yellow-bellied Fantail, Yellow-billed Blue Magpie etc.

For the past close to two months I have not gone anywhere to hunt for birds – I have been combing the upper Dangrena area – to try and capture all the birds found here. I know that there are many birds in other places – but I adamantly refused to go to a new locations in search of birds – not until I am sure that all the birds in Dangrena are firmly in my pocket. And it paid off! Look at the following impressive list of birds I managed to capture – and almost all of them are “KEEPERS”!!!

List of "KEEPERS" so far captured by me in Dechenchholing Dangrena area

I am not chasing the Black-tailed Crake because I already have good images of it from Babesa sewerage tank area. The Eurasian Woodcock is eluding me despite hunting for it every day - morning, afternoon and evening – but I remain relentless. I am not so happy with my image of the Winter Wren – but I am working at creating an ambiance that should result in a much more pleasing image – I hope to nail it soon.

Lesson: Do not look for birds – look for a bird-rich area and stick with it until you are done with all of them. Don’t go hunting for new places until the old one has been thoroughly combed and all the birds in it are firmly in your pocket. If it takes you months to cover all the birds in the locality – so be it. I have spent two months – in the same spot - photographing the above birds. But it has been rewarding – I managed to photograph almost all of them – and 99% of the images are KEEPERS!

Monday, February 21, 2022

One Bird In Hand Is Worth Hundreds In The Bush

As of 05:41AM of Monday the 21st of February 2022, the Bhutan Birdlife Society has 252 registered Members. The figure represents 0.036% of the country’s entire population. This is a significant number – and that is not counting those who have not yet registered. This goes to show that there is lively interest in birds, birding, bird guiding and bird photography. Thus I believe that I must heed the call of many, to speak more about my journey as a bird photographer.

Sometime in 2004 - 2005, I was commissioned by You2 Publishers, Thimphu to work on a book on the wild birds of Bhutan. The publishing house was specifically created to bring out a book on the wild birds of Bhutan – to be dedicated to His Majesty Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck. My book titled “Bhutan Birds” – Bhutan’s first coffee table book on the subject - was published and released in 2008.

This post is dedicated to all the budding Bhutanese bird photographers. In it I tell of one very important lesson I have learnt during my journey as a bird photographer. The story begins in Sengore, in 2004.

Since my bird photography camera gear is very heavy – close to 15 KGs. including the Wimberley tripod, I needed an assistant to help me carry the gear. Thus I hired a Khengpa youth to accompany me in my daily hunt for the birds.

As we walked the roads in Sengore, Yongkola and Lemithang in the East of the country, the Khengpa boy would carry the gear and I would scan the treetops and branches – for birds. When I see a bird, I would take over the gear and try to take a photo of the bird. Occasionally – in fact more than occasionally – the Khengpa boy would see a bird and he would draw my attention to it. I would promptly move to try and shoot the bird pointed out to me by the Khengpa boy.

This went on for weeks and months. The boy became more and more enthusiastic in pointing out birds to me. More and more, I began to chase the birds he pointed out to me – rather than focus on the birds I had myself seen. Since I was concentrated in photographing the bird I had seen, I was constrained by the need for focus – while the Khengpa boy had all the time in the world to scan the forests and the treetops – so he ended up seeing more birds than I.

Then one day I realized that my success rate was extremely poor. After months of chasing hundreds and thousands of birds – I had very little to show for it. I sensed that something was not right. So, one day I stopped chasing birds and began to systematically go over what I was doing. I thought of the time of day I start the hunt, the topography and geography of the places where I searched for birds, the trees and plants I focused on etc. etc. Then BANG! ..... it hit me.

It dawned on me that my focus was haphazard – I was getting waylaid.  The damned Khengpa Ollo was infringing on my focus! He was distracting me. He was the prime cause of my failure.

So I called him and delivered him a warning and an ultimatum:

“From this day on, in fact from this very moment on, YOU ARE NOT GOING TO POINT OUT ANY BRIDS TO ME. I SHALL BE THE ONLY ONE WHO WILL SEE ANY BIRDS – YOU WILL SEE NONE. If you show me any more birds – even a single one – pretty or ugly, I shall make you walk all the way from Sengore to Thimphu!”

That day I learnt my life lesson: if you are chasing one bird at any given moment – stay with that bird. Do not be distracted by others that are fleeting about. Close your mind and eyes to all other birds - nail the one you are set on – only thereafter move to the next. Going after every bird you see is the surest way to lose them all. Remember, there are close to 800 bird species in Bhutan – you cannot hope to get them all, all at one go. But certainly you can aspire to get the one you are after – provided you remain dedicated and true to your current pursuit. Even in life, this dictum is valid.

There is wisdom behind the proverb: One bird in hand is worth two in the bush.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Remain Calm & Realistic: DO NOT PANIC!

Yesterday Bhutan recorded the highest COVID-19 infections to date – at 527.

I am not sure if all the reported cases were new infections – it is quiet possible that some of them may be old undetected cases. May be these old undetected cases are the cause of the sudden surge in community cases. However, it is inconsequential whether they are old undetected cases or new cases. What is worrisome is that the unprecedented surge in new cases has begun to create panic within the Bhutanese society.

Panic is bad – misjudgments are most often committed during panic situations. Panic is what we do not need during these testing times. The government and the committee of experts must remain level headed and calm and focused – and REALISTIC.

I am in total agreement with COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group Member Dr. Tshokey the idea of living with the virus is TOTALLY RUINOUS.

Resulting from the panic caused by the proliferating new cases, and severe difficulties brought on by the lockdowns, some are suggesting that the Bhutanese people should now be charged with the responsibility of self-quarantine and isolation. THIS IS A BAD, BAD IDEA! The Bhutanese people are self-centered and they are irresponsible and indisciplined. If the government takes this route – trust me – we will have an irretrievable disaster in our hands.

Those of you who read my posts, you would remember what I said – that even after installing a huge signboard that reads “NO FILTERING RIGHT”, the Traffic Division of the RBP still has to post a traffic constable on the spot - to make sure that the traffic is not filtering right.

You know that despite thousands of DeSuups, RBP, RBA and the local volunteers in the frontlines and affected areas, His Majesty still makes trips after trips after trips to these areas – because His Majesty is fully aware that without constant monitoring and on-the-spot leadership and direction, things will begin to fall apart.

Look at how we behave – the moment lockdown is announced or lifted – the whole population will invade the shopping malls, restaurants, roads and the fuel stations - without a care in the world.

Looking reality squarely in the face - the government and the expert committee ought to know what the doctor ordered.

We are all aware that there are some sections of the society who are suffering extreme difficulties - but if it helps others remain safe and secure - it should be acceptable that some of us can perform acts of benevolence. In our collective fight to rid ourselves of this virus, let us be tolerant and charitable because, in the final analysis, if we do not help ensure safety of others around us - it is a noose around our own necks.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Doing The Right Things Is Better Than Not Doing The Wrong Things

As of yesterday the 17th February 2022 AD, the global Coronavirus numbers stand as follows:

Total Infections : 419,890,900

Total Deaths         :     5,878,817

Total Recovered : 343,549,292

The above numbers include our own daily records, which, as of yesterday, stand as follows:

Total Infections : 8,683

Total Deaths         :        5

Total Recovered : 5,930

Our highest infection in a day was recorded yesterday – at 386.

It is a matter for alarm that despite our renewed vigilance, Bhutan is seeing heightened incidences of infections. What are we doing wrong? Or, more accurately, what are we NOT DOING RIGHT?

Now let us sit back and ponder on this question: what are we NOT DOING RIGHT? Unfortunately, as I have pointed out many times in the past, the Bhutanese are not a pondering lot and, that, I believe is at the core of why we are seeing daily increase in the infections: WE ARE NOT THINKING AND IN THE PROCESS DOING WHAT WE ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO DO.

Yesterday I was forwarded a recording of a woman in Phuentsholing pleading for respite from the lockdowns. She makes an impressive case on the grounds of which the King and the government should consider letting up on the lockdowns. But in that long drawn heart-wrenching appeal, she makes no mention of how she is going to contribute – to help the King and the government to achieve conditions that would make it possible to consider easing lockdowns.

This makes it sound as if I am supporting lockdown – I am not. Some readers – both inside Bhutan as well as outside have accused me of “justifying” the government’s actions based on their misunderstanding of what I wrote in my last post titled “Stop Grumbling” dated 11th February 2022. This is yet another example of how unthinking the Bhutanese are. If you revisit my post, you will see that the absolute last sentence of my post reads:

If lockdown is deemed necessary, if it is the only way forward, let us have lockdown”.

This means that what I am saying is that I am leaving it to the incumbent government who has the responsibility to do what needs to be done. This means that I am leaving it to the committee of experts to do what they are qualified to do.

This also means that if you know any better – step forward and contribute to the national effort – instead of grumbling and drawing wrong conclusions, through thoughtlessness. If you think the current method of implementing lockdowns is flawed, suggest what is a better way of doing it.

Even small things matter. For instance, when the lockdown was eased in Thimphu, my first thought was to restock on essential supplies. But unlike some, I did not go to 10 vendors to pick up 20 items of my need. I wrote out a complete list of what I need and gave it to one lone vendor - to fill in all my needs. This prevents me from visiting 10 stores that could present a threat.

I have also decided that wherever possible, I will buy my vegetables from the hawkers on the roadside - this will keep me away from crowded vegetable shops.

One other stupidity I see is the vehicle owners thronging the fuel stations. Recently a fuel price increase was due. Whole lot of vehicle owners rushed to the fuel pumps to tank up – in the process creating a long queue and snarling up the traffic. Little realizing that their car idling in the queue for close to an hour would have consumed whatever savings they had hoped for, in addition to precious time lost in the process.

Particularly in a pandemic situation we should know that creating a crowded condition is exactly NOT THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

The lockdowns will ease the day the Bhutanese people begin to think and DO THE RIGHT THINGS. If we fail to do the right things, the lockdowns will continue - that is for sure!

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Tourism in Bhutan: Refining the History

On my post of Saturday the 13th of July, 2019, I had written that Mr. Lars-Eric Lindblad of Lindblad Travels, USA brought in the first ever tour group into Bhutan – which is true and it was faithfully recored by me in my post: History Of Tourism In Bhutan: PART III of V. However, one Mr. Mukesh Gupta of makes the following comment on my Blog Post of 12th July, 2019 titled “History Of Tourism In Bhutan: PART II of V”:

Mukesh Gupta February 10, 2022 at 11:39 AM

I am somewhat surprised that who ever complied this arduous history forgot to mention the fabulous contribution of SUMMIT TOURS and Fr Richard McDonald of Darjeeling. It was him and his agency Summit Tours that was the first agency to actually send western tourists to Bhutan way back in the mid 70's. This was a group of American / Western Tourists organized by the legendary Lars Eric Lindblad of the iconic Lindblad Travels. I was personally involved with Summit Tours as well as with Wangcha Sangay and coordinated with him in running trekking programs, etc. and was the person to bring in the first group of experts into Bhutan for a reconnaissance of river rafting possibilities into the kingdom. Thank you


There is no factual error in what I had written – Mr. Lars Eric Lindblad of Lindblad Travels was indeed the person who led the first ever tour group to Bhutan in 1974. What I had omitted to mention – of which I was not aware then - is that there was an Indian tour agent involved behind the tour group – Summit Tours of Fr Richard McDonald from Darjeeling.

The history of Bhutan’s tourism is so much richer because of the input of Mr. Mukesh Gupta. Thus I am making a minor addition to my post of 13th July, 2019: “History Of Tourism In Bhutan: PART III of V” which can be accessed at:

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Bird Photography III: The Trick To A Sharper Image

A good bird image is one with even sharpness throughout, well positioned, a sparkle in the eye and, above all, well lit up. I use the singular form “eye” because a bird is best presented when shot from the side – the profile view – either right or left. Never from the back or front. Only if you shoot the bird from the front, you will see both the eyes – an image you do not want. Also, the profile shot is better because it is able to show parts of the head, throat, belly, back, tail, the underpart and the rump of the bird - frontal or rear shot will not show all that.

For the uninitiated and the novitiate, the following image will look like the last word in bird photography. But in the professional world, the image will earn no respect. There are many problems with the image: the head and shoulder may be tack sharp – but the legs are totally out of focus – so is the tail. And, there is a disturbing shadow to the image.

Many problems with the image

The uneven sharpness is the result of me being in a wrong position when shooting the frame. I would have to have been in an angular position – that is why the head and shoulder are tack sharp – while the tail and legs are out of focus - soft. It is also apparent that the point of focus is wrong. However, the biggest problem is that I was too close to the bird which is not a good thing.

Getting very close to the bird can get you sharp images because the lens can pick up better feather details. The other good thing about being close to the bird is that any camera shake will be less pronounced. But being very close to the bird has one terrible disadvantage – it will result in very shallow DoF – giving you an image that will most likely be uneven in sharpness – like my above image.

From the image, an expert will see that the image was shot under a sunny condition – the shadow of the bird is proof of it. Shooting in sunny conditions is not good for bird photography. The image will be very harsh and most often the colors are not rendered faithfully.

On the other hand the image below is the kind of image one should aspire for. Everything falls into place in this image: it is tack sharp and the sharpness is even throughout, there is a glint in the eye and there is no clutter around the image. And the lighting is mellow and subdued – showing off the bird in all its majesty. The subject separation is near perfect.

A good image that is well exposed and well framed

Getting a perfectly exposed image is every bird photographer’s dream. But that also means the photographer must get out of the habit of saying: it is OK – it will do. As they say in the professional world:


Friday, February 11, 2022

Stop Grumbling!

 John Adams said: “Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Recently someone asked me to write an article for his paper on how democracy is doing in Bhutan. I accepted – then few days later I apologized and declined to do so. I offered him the reason that democracy cannot work in Bhutan – the Bhutanese people do not have the temperament for it. The Bhutanese people understand democracy as something where they have all the rights but have relinquished all their responsibilities.

For democracy to function, we need citizens who understand responsibility and citizens’ duty. Unfortunately, time and again we have proven that these are outside our sphere of thinking. To demonstrate how unthinking Bhutanese are as a society, let me give you three examples:

1.  There is already a huge signboard in place that reads – NO FILTERING RIGHT. And yet, the Traffic Division of the RBP has to station a traffic police to ensure that traffic is not filtering to the right. Normally, it should be simple enough for a licensed driver to understand and follow the direction.

2.  Being mindful of the difficulties His subjects are bound to face during the unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic, His Majesty the King ordered the waiver of bank interest on housing loans. It is my belief that this gesture was intended to benefit the poor people – by bringing some relief in the payment of their house rents. But last I heard, most house owners did not pass on this benefit to the poor tenants, but pocketed the benefits resulting from the kidu.

If the house owners are collecting the house rents full throttle, then where is the need for relief on interest on housing loans?

3.  Today there is an uproar in the social media – surrounding the supposed failure of the government in competently handling the COVID-19 crisis. Frankly people should remember that talk is easy – and very, very cheap. We have to remember that we are constrained by many compulsions – we are short of manpower, we are short of funds, we are short of skills, we are short of required number of skilled health workers, we are short of hospital beds, we are short of quarantine facilities, we are short of PPE for our frontline workers. And, worst of all, we are short of responsible and dutiful citizens who refuse to contribute to the cause of the pandemic.

We have to remember that we are dealing with an invisible enemy. This unseen scrooge has ravaged even the very best of economies around the world. And yet, by comparison, Bhutan’s record is among the very best and most competent – in fact we have not done badly at all - our performance so far has been sterling. Even our King has turned himself into a foot soldier and is leading the battle from the frontlines. What more can you ask for?

There are bound to be some slip-ups. Since when have we become such a competent society that we are able to build an airtight defense against everything and anything? Please remember that we are constraint by many things. Under the circumstance, lets be thankful that there are people who are working tirelessly – while others know nothing beyond grumbling.

Just because there was an Omicron outbreak in the community in Wangdue recently, people are going crazy. Did you really believe that Bhutan could have prevented community outbreak forever, when the whole world is experiencing it? We have to be really stupid to have believed it. Please remember that failure is not because of the sum total - but because of the failure of one or two.

If nothing, atleast let us not complain so much. Ofcourse there are bound to be difficulties – we are not on a holiday – we are not in a Last Tango situation. We are in a crisis - we have a serious problem in our hands. Complaining does not help. What helps is DOING what we are supposed to do, and NOT doing what we are not supposed to do.

We believe that we understand the problems people are facing – that is a falsehood. We simply have no idea what some people are suffering – the extent of their suffering is beyond imagination. Think of the government and the King – I can’t even begin to think how they are coping – but they are.

Let alone everything else, simply thinking of the cost of vaccinations, cost of hundreds of thousands of RT-PCR tests and cost of quarantines – it leaves me breathless. SO PLEASE STOP GRUMBLING! If lockdown is deemed necessary, if it is the only way forward, let us have lockdown.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

LOCKDOWN SPECIAL: The Collection Of The Natural Wonder Called Cordyceps sinensis

Although it is tantamount to tooting my own horn – I must confess that very few can claim to be as lucky as I am. I have been blessed with good health, energy, stamina, power of endurance, determination, daring and audacity – at a level that is almost uncommon. All these qualities helped me embark on many of my jaunts into practically every extreme alpine regions of the country – from Singye Dzong and Jumo Koongkhar in the East to Gangkhar Puensoom in the Central and Chundugung and Nob Tshonapatta in the West.

I made two trips into the mountains of remote Lunana – both on photographic assignments to photograph the collection of the magic worm/fungus – Cordyceps sinensis. Another trip I made was to the Northern extremes of Dhur in Bumthang – for the same reason – to photograph the collection of Cordyceps. The account I present to you below is that of my trip to Dhur. It is my hope that these will engage you, even if for a short while – during these tiresome times of the lockdown.

Bhutan is one among very few countries in the world where the magical Cordyceps sinensis is found. This crazy, crinkly and extremely expensive amalgamation between a caterpillar larva and parasite is one of the most important ingredients in the TCM (Traditional Chinese Medicine). According to one of my friends in the USA, she swears that the thing is so potent that its administration to her dog cured it of the problem of hair loss.

The Cordyceps sinensis occurs at altitudes around 16,000 ft. and above. Its collection is truly arduous and conditions under which it is collected tests human endurance to the limit.

My Dhur assignment was during May of 2010. The journey began from Dhur village in Bumthang. The trail is among the worst I know – the reason is because the Cordyceps collection season falls during the rainy months. Look at the condition of the trail – it is very muddy and sloshy. Trudging through knee deep mud cannot be any one’s idea of fun. But it is how it is.

Trudging up into the extreme Northern regions of Dhur - over a trial that is muddy and sloshy. Those of you who may have read my series of posts on "Ladoog", you would recall that I said that I always take a minimum of one unladen spare pony - in the event of an unexpected accident. When Western guests are involved, I also take along one riding pony for every four guests - incase they fall sick. You can see the spare pony after the lead pony that is laden with my camera gear.

On the fourth day we are approaching the collection fields where I will be camped for about ten days. As you can see, we are way past the tree lines – we are now in the interiors of Dhur’s extreme North.
On our fourth day of trek, we are approaching the camp site where we will be camped for close to ten days.

We see that some of the collectors are already camped out at the foothills of the mountains where they will start the hunt for the Cordyceps.

Life is difficult for the collectors – look how they live out in the extreme weather conditions. One camp I see is tucked into the cave – with a flimsy plastic sheet keeping off the chilly winds that blow unabated.

Apparently not every one goes collecting – some remain in the camp to keep house and cook and such. Look at how tough the lady is - she is merely wearing a rubber slippers without socks - and washing her hair with the icy water from the brook nearly.

During my rounds around the campsite one day, I happened to arrive when the pretty lady was washing her hair by the small brook running close to her camp – she was stripped naked on the upper part of her body with her breasts dangling out – but she was not bothered about my presence – she looked at me straight with a smile. From this I realized that she must be a mother already. In rural Bhutan, women do hide their breasts – but once they become mothers – they seem to have no qualms about displaying their breasts in public – they feed their babies any time any where – just like that.

The campsite gets seriously cold during the nights and mornings – see the condition of my tent – it is sagging with the weight of the frost formed on it.
My tent frozen stiff from the frost

There was a beautiful lake close by  - it was crystal clear and so calm that I could see the stones and boulders at its bottom.

A pretty lake as clear as a mirror

The mountains at this altitude are jagged and strangely shaped – without a blade of grass on them. One particular cluster was unusually interesting. I photographed it - capturing its three different moods.

Very early in the morning, the mist begins to rise before the sunrise - eventually revealing the jagged cluster of mountain peaks

The cluster of jagged mountain peaks looking majestic in the early morning sun's warmth and brilliance.

Almost mystical - the haphazardly protruding mountain peaks are brightly lit by the brilliance of the moon's light in the night.

The following images show just how extremely hard life is for the Cordyceps collectors – no wonder they are so expensive. Ofcoure I am not sure which is more deserving of such astronomical prices – for the extreme hardship involved in their collection – or because of the supposedly magical properties it is supposed to possess.

Very early in the morning the collectors start their journey for the hunt for the Cordyceps

Crouching over the grounds - every inch of the ground is inspected closely for the worm.

On their belly and knees - searching for the Cordyceps under foul weather.

The following are the four life cycles of the Cordyceps sinensis, which begins its death journey when released by its parent - a moth. The larva of the moth which grows underground gets infested by a parasite. Slowly as the parasite grows, the larva is robbed of is life and the parasite turns into a fungus. Over time, the fungus sprouts out of the ground and becomes visible to the human eyes. It is then harvest time.

An extremely rare occurrence - a moth larva that has not been infested by the parasite. This larva grows underground until it is infested by the parasite which ultimately kills it.

The fungus portion of the Cordyceps sinensis visible above the ground

How the Cordyceps sinensis looks when plucked out of the ground

Cordyceps sinensis: washed, cleaned and dried - ready for the international markets, mainly China.

Dr. Phuntsho Namgyel, a forestry scientist, is marveled by my find of a moth larva that escaped infestation by the parasite. He tells me that it is an extremely rare occurrence. According to him – very few human would have seen a live Cordyceps - without a fungus on its noggin.

Saturday, February 5, 2022

Efficiency Without Effectiveness

The following is a short WhatsApp chat between Dasho Kunzang Wangdi (of Election Commission fame) and me – a few days back, on the matter concerning the recent announcement of the RCSC’s intention to “manage out” 50% of their top bureaucrats – on grounds of incompetence.

Dasho Kunzang Wangdi: “Yeshey, your worry is unfounded – if 31 goes, there are hundreds waiting in line to fill the vacuum”.

Yeshey Dorji: “Agreed Sir Dasho – but those hundreds would be beans formed and molded in the same pod”.

It appears that Bhutan has now entered a season of confusion and confoundment. An exasperatingly taxing situation is about to befall the RCSC.

The RCSC has already declared that 50% of their top bureaucrats are destined to be put to pasture. In the meantime a second tranche of their lot is under scrutiny.

True to trend, another 50% of the second rung of the bureaucrats would likely be declared unfit to hold their posts. This would give rise to a strange situation: some of the 50% remaining from the second tranche will be moved up to fill the posts of the top bureaucrats who have been released on Tsedar. This means that there will be precious few left in the positions in the second rung of the bureaucracy. This will call for assessment of the third rung of bureaucrats – to be selected to fill the vacuum created in the second rung of the bureaucracy – as a result of 50% of them being declared unfit, and some of the remaining 50% having to be moved up to fill the posts in the top rung of the bureaucracy.

In the process the RCSC will discover that, yet again, another 50% of the bureaucracy in the third rung needs to be “managed out”, if not more. To me the RCSC’s approach appears to be an exercise in futility - a never-ending case of diminishing returns.

In management parlance it is known as: “Excellent efficiency without effectiveness”.

We all acknowledge that the civil service is a house with structural failure. However, dismantling it is not an option. We need to reinforce it, mend its crumbling walls, strengthen its foundations – reinforce its posts and pillars and prop up its sagging beams.

The civil service is a zombie without a soul. Let us put back the soul – as the first step.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

My Fourth “Lifer”

Yesterday evening was yet another high for me – I got my fourth “lifer” in less than a month. In bird photography, this would a record of sorts. However, please remember that unlike in the birding community where a “lifer” is a bird that he/she sees for the first time, in my world, I consider a bird “lifer” only when I am able to acquire an image of the bird that is a “keeper”. My fourth “lifer” that I speak of is the following bird called White-browed Rosefinch (Female) (Carpodacus thura). The image is not really so hot becuase it was acquired late in the evening when the quality of light was poor – but I assure you that I will post an improved verion over the coming days:

My fourth "lifer" - White-browed Rosefinch

Along with my "lifer", I also want to show you an image that would be considered unconventional because everything about this image is topsy-turvy: the bird is shot from the rear side; it is positioned on the wrong end of the frame and to most readers the bird is unidentifiable. But there comes a time in every photographer’s life when he/she captures an image not because of its conventional beauty – but because strange and perplexing elements in nature come together to present an appealing and intriguing complexity. To me, the following image of the Hodgson’s Redstart (Phoenicurus hodgsoni) is one such image. I saw the bird perched with its back to me - a round fluffy ball of frayed feathers, sitting on a richly colored perch and the vine to the right of the bird – as if a snake was creeping in on it for a strike – the overall scene was beautiful. I needed to shoot the scene – and I did and I love it! I hope you do too.

An unconventional image - but attractive on its own right

Along with the above two images, I also present you with the following two beautifully captured bird images. Their beauty lies in the detailing and sharpness and near perfect exposure. Some readers will most likely say that I PhotoShoped the background – that is not true. The images are presented as they were photographed. The Rufous-breasted Accentor’s background has a strange shade of ochre. The reason is that I moved around to position the bird against a Bhutanese traditional window in the back – the rest of the trick to obtain a silky smooth backdrop was achieved by the manipulation of the lens’ aperture, and the knowledge on how the DoF works.

Moving around to position the bird against a pleasing background

Use of nature's colors to render a silky smooth backdrop to the image

For aspiring bird photographers – please remember that an image is not all about the central subject – the ambience around the subject of focus is also very important – what you place and what you exclude from the frame finally go to make the image.

I apologize to my none-photographer readers for the occasional use of photographic terms – but you may have noticed by now that my post on bird images are targeted towards birders and bird photographers.


Wednesday, February 2, 2022

The RCSC Likely To Be An Empty House Soon

The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) declaring that 50% of their senior most bureaucrats are incompetent and will be “managing out”, is both an understatement and scary at the same time. It is an understatement because the figures cannot be factually correct – it should be lot more. It is scary because the RCSC is threatening to continue with the exercise. They should stop it here and now, because if they do continue, it would be catastrophic – there is a real danger that the RCSC might end up being a Commission without members.

Today everybody are braying for heads to roll – I ask you, how many of them? All of them? The RCSC is talking of “managing out” or weeding them out – how many of them? All of them? This is a very scary talk.

The truth is that if the RCSC is accurate and fair in their assessments, more than 95% of their members need to be put to pasture – including, perhaps, most of their own. If “managing out” is tantamount to being terminated on grounds of incompetence, it throws up a number of challenges and creates some human situations the repercussions of which will be even more compelling, and disastrous.

Quiet clearly we have a need to transcend the emotional and the sentimental and the romantic – and introspect as to why we are where we are.

Some thoughts on the civil service

From where I stand, if the brood called the civil service has failed, the onus of responsibility of their failure must squarely rest on the RCSC. It means that they have failed in their responsibilities of stewardship; it means that they failed in their mentoring responsibilities. It means that they have failed to arrest immoral practices and irresponsible behavior among the civil service. If, for the past many decades, their members have been openly and brazenly negotiating car quota prices in the black market, and selling them to ineligible members of the society, the RCSC had, and continues to do so, condoned what is clearly an immoral and unethical behavior.

We cannot fail to recognize that the failed journey of the civil service did not begin with their own first steps – they were put on the path of failure by those who failed to give them proper direction and guidance, when they were most needed.

Five years back, when I was invited to give a talk to a bunch of trainee tourism guides, a portion of my talk dwelled on the civil service. It went as follows:

“Today as I stand before you, I am happy to tell you that you have made a bloody good choice – that of not joining the civil service. To join the civil service is to ruin your life forever. Please realize that guiding is not a job – it is a profession that will take you places in the future”.

The truth is that over the decades the civil service has come to promote and imbue a culture of callousness, utter disrespect for hard work and responsibility, and tolerance towards corruption. They have come to claim their salaries as a matter of their monthly entitlement – and not as remuneration for the work they need to put in to earn it. My experience with them has taught me that they will not work unless it translates into money inside their personal pockets. They are shameless about not fulfilling their responsibilities – they will think nothing of millions of Ngultrums worth of public property going to waste through thoughtlessness and negligence. Those of you who had dealings with the civil service will know that even the little work they do – they do it grudgingly and as if they are doing it as a favor.

To me it seems like “managed out” is not the way forward – if you do you will find that the whole house is empty. What we need to do is work at changing their culture, which has been allowed to go corrupt. It will be decades before we can bring change – but there is no other way. But side-by-side we work towards creating a whole new breed of Bhutanese – distinct from the present lot. And for this we need to work on the young, unblemished minds of the upcoming generation - taught and raised away from the stink and stench of the present generation.

I believe that the key element in bringing about change in the attitude and work ethics of the civil service – is the suffering public. So far the civil service has been acting the dashos --- we should now take over that role. If we see a civil service playing archery at the archery ground instead of being at his work place doing his job, we must bark at them – to go and earn their keep. If a clerk or an officer asks you to come back tomorrow – insist that you want the job done now and today. If they give you the excuse that he/she has no budget, then tell him/her that in that event you will ask that a donkey be placed in his/her seat.

Let us not accept their lame excuses. Let us not tolerate their thoughtlessness. Let us demand change!