Friday, April 29, 2022

Know Your Bja Throong Throong Karm

I have been photographing birds for close to two decades. I had never intended to be a bird photographer - but we have seen that our life’s pattern is not woven in the way we will it, nor do we always arrive where we intended to. Life seems to have a life of its own – distinct from how we desire it. So it has been with my journey of bird photography – of all things, it was set into motion by the accidental capture of an image of a very scrawny, heart-wrenching female bird called Plumbeous Water Redstart (Rhyacornis fuliginosa). That puny little bird triggered my lifelong passion for bird photography – I never looked back since. My bird images have been featured in publications spanning the glob. One of them have even featured in the “Guinness Book of World Records 2012” – another one is included in a book titled “100 Birds To See Before You Die”.

My image of the White-bellied Heron featured in this book as the world's rarest heron

My image of the Little Forktail featured in this book titled "100 Birds To See Before You Die"

Number of birds found in Bhutan is approaching a whopping 800 species, which is more than most bigger countries. Of this number, I believe that a large number of Bhutanese would have heard of, or know of, the migratory bird called the Black-necked Cranes (Grus nigricollis). The bird is known by the local name of Bja Throong Throong Karm. These birds migrate to Bhutan during the winter months.

In an attempt to enhance the knowledge of the Bhutanese about the famous bird, I present the following images which I have captured over the years. But before the images, let me present some facts of the birds:

Bird Count
Current estimated global count of the birds: 8,000 – 11,000 individuals.

Life Expectancy
Between 20-30 years.

Alpine meadows and wetlands

Countries Where They Are Found
Tibet China

Physical Attributes Of The Birds
Adults: Head, neck, wings and tail are black - with a red crown and a small light grey spot extending backward from yellow eyes. Body has ashy gray feathers, with tall legs.

Juveniles: black and gray body plumage, with cinnamon-brown head.

Identification Of The Sexes
Both male and female look the same thus rather difficult to make a distinction. However, the male is supposed to be marginally larger than the female.

Threat To The Birds
Loss of habitat due to human pressure on the wetlands and increased grazing on the limited pastures near the wetlands - leading to the degradation of the wetland habitat.

The Black-necked crane is the State Bird of the Union Territory of Ladakh, India.

Threesome: father, mother and offspring

Riding the thermals to arrive and depart Phobjikha valley, which they make their home during the winter months

Faithless - nevertheless they pass by a Buddhist stupa and white prayer flags fluttering in the winds

A dainty Black-necked Crane lass - welcoming and ready for any male with adequate levels of testosterone

The show-off - preening for attention

Executing the mating dance: a male with adequate levels of testosterone

The birds in front of a traditional Bhutanese house: testimony that these birds are indeed resident in Bhutan. Without the inclusion of the Bhutanese traditional house, the bird could have been photographed in any one of the other three countries where they are also found

On the runway: all set to ride the thermals - to depart for their summer homes

Bhutanese Myth Surrounding The Bird
The Bhutanese people believe – erroneously – that the birds circumambulate the Gangtey Goenpa (Gangtey monastery) in reverence, upon arrival in Phobjikha valley. They are said to do the same – when departing for their principal habitats in the North. That would not be true - the Black-necked Cranes are not Buddhists by religion – all birds are faithless creatures.

The reason why they run circles around the valley is to lose or gain height as they land or begin their long distance flight. In the process of circling the valley upon arrival, they are able to lose height gradually and steadily, so that they are able to land softly or gently – landing at once would kill them. The birds gain height by circling – to get lift and enter the zone of the thermals – which help reduce the amount of energy needed to stay afloat and remain in constant flight.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Fallen Labor Of My Love

The sight I beheld early morning yesterday during my birding trip to Dochu-La broke my heart. At a national level, the sight – ominous and foreboding - was a stark reminder of how deep the rot runs; how utterly futile it is to attempt to resuscitate the tourism industry that has seen steady decline over the last few years. 

At a personal level, it was a case of defilement and neglect of my labour of love and care - for an industry that I deeply care for and believe is the most vital for Bhutan and the Bhutanese people.

No other site in Bhutan attracts as many tourists as does Dochu-La. The site’s biggest draw is ofcourse the stunning view of the snowcapped Eastern Himalayan Mountain Range that extends ninety degrees across the northeastern end of the view, in addition to the very photogenic Druk Wangyel Chortens. More than ninety percent of the tourists who come to Bhutan make it to Dochu-La – the reason is that it can be accessed by all age groups of the visitors to the country - because they can drive to the site without the need for laborious uphill trek, like in the case of Taktsang.

Sadly, most often, the view of the mountain range is masked by thick clouds and rising mists, causing much disappointment to the visiting viewers. Most visitors to Dochu-La return without having seen the one sight they came to view – what a disappointment. 

I decided to launch a personal initiative - to try and improve the visitor’s experience at the famous site.

Towards the end of 2018, I approached the Tourism Council of Bhutan and proposed that we install a gigantic billboard showcasing the full mountain range that is visible on a clear day. I would provide the photographic images, oversee the printing of the final collaged image, and ensure that the construction and installation of the board is done properly – ALL ABSOLUTELY FREE OF COST. The idea is that the visitors, if unable to view the range due to foul weather, can come and view it on the billboard – so they know what they have missed.

The TCB management agreed to carry through the idea. With that firmly in the pocket, through appropriate channel I sought Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck’s permission to dismantle the hand-sketched board that was earlier installed at Dochu-La, to be replaced by a huge photographic billboard that would depict the full mountain range with their names and heights. Her Majesty was kind enough to give her consent.

Early January 2019, I began photographing the mountain range – in multiple sections. I had to buy a special rail device to shoot the frames. A single wide-angle frame would not work - the image captured would be too miniscule. I needed to use a telephoto lens - to draw in the peaks that I would later stitch together. To maintain perspective, it is important that the camera slide horizontally to capture each succeeding frames of the panorama. Turning the camera will not do. I used vertical format so that I get to cover as large an area as possible - so it can take a lot of cropping post shooting.

Over five different mornings, I captured the images – the series of images had to be captured fast because light changes every second. In time I handed over the images to a digital darkroom artist – to stich together the images – to produce a single image measuring close to 24 ft. long.

In the following months the construction and installation of the billboard began. I made many trips to Dochu-La to ensure that the work was being carried out correctly. I insisted that I want to take a look at a sample print (being printed in India) – before the final image was produced on special weather resistant photographic paper. The billboard took months to produce – but the project was successfully completed and installed during mid 2019.

The massive billboard installed at Dochu-La during mid 2019

A close-up of the billboard that depicts the full range of Bhutan's highest peaks spread across 90 degrees of the view

Sadly, unable to stand the weight of the heavy snow early this year, the massive billboard had collapsed and crumpled to the ground. And there it remains to this day – broken, uncared for and gathering dust and grime - a victim of apathy and mindlessness - an indicator of the state of affairs in the tourism industry!

Indicator of things to come - fallen, broken, untended and neglected!

The success story of Bhutan's tourism industry has been an inter-generational endeavor - each succeeding generations have added a verse, a line to the poetry that is Bhutan's tourism industry. But now indications are that it is headed for doom.

Will you choose to carry the burden of tourism's failure on your memory? Think carefully - like I said - by the time you arrive at a point when you have to say you are sorry - it will be too late.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Flippant Conversations

All signs are that the storm has now passed and the dusts are beginning to settle down, giving way to moments of nervous relaxation and flippant remarks that tell the inner angsts that have replaced the fear of death by COVID-19.

Lockdowns are lifted, kidu (relief) is now infra-dig, rents must be paid in full, interest meters at the financial institutions will start to jingle; monthly loan installments will be demanded to be paid regularly and in time.

All reliefs, concessions and waivers occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic are now off the table.

Two evenings back, sitting in a restaurant sipping whiskey, I was party to a number of saucy conversations among friends.

I am now convinced that no less than 80% of the Bhutanese have been infected by the virus. I believe that it is for that reason that the government has announced that no further lockdowns will be imposed. All COVID related restrictions have been lifted. Citizens are advised not to visit JDWNRH - because doing so is guaranteed to get the visitor infected with the Omicron virus. 

This means that Bhutan has achieved “Herd Immunity” which is a good thing – this is an ideal condition that all nations aspire for.

That means the tables have now turned – we now have to worry about Bhutanese people infecting the visitors to the country (tourists) – and not the other way round.

No wonder the government is laying an egg on the decision to reopen tourism – they are scared we might infect the visiting tourists.

Board Members of the apex tourism body: The Tourism Council of Bhutan

What is happening to the decision on reopening of tourism?

The donkeys in the government are sitting on the decision.

What donkeys – they are worst then donkeys. The donkeys will atleast snort and wiggle their tails or kick once in a while. Our bureaucrats are numbed into stillness and dormancy - they are motionless.

Mashey marey – I have stopped caring about my tourism business. Early next month I am heading for Australia and will spend a month or two there, to spend time with my partner. I may decide to resume my tourism business or may be I will just forget the whole thing – it is no longer what it used to be. Trowa mep yasoi (no enthusiasm).

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

All About Being Right - Not About Being Not Wrong!

A new Chief Executive Officer had joined a shoe manufacturing company. Hoping to increase sales and market reach, he decided that he needed to open up new markets. He put together two separate marketing teams to look for and assess new possibilities.

He sent the first team on a trip to a distant island to explore possibilities of marketing their shoes to the island dwellers.

The team came back and reported:

“Sir, that island is a waste of time. None of the people there wear shoes - they are all hundred percent of them bare-footed. The people there do not seem to have a culture of wearing shoes - they do not wear any form of footwear. We suggest that we look elsewhere."

The CEO then called the second team and sent them to the same island. The team came back all excited:

“Sir, that island is a gold mine!!!! None of the inhabitants own a pair of shoes – we have a huge opportunity there – we can sell by the tens of thousands! We must move in now before others get wind of the opportunity that exists there!”

Bhutan - a glorious and happy place - all gagged up and fortified against tourists

The above will demonstrate that different people perceive things differently. On the face of it, both the teams are not wrong. But the company has to decide not based on who is not wrong – but on who is right.

The tourism industry has stagnated over the years – with decline picking up pace in recent times. The cost of government’s indecision is impacting the broad spectrum of the Bhutanese society. Tourism is all encompassing – it benefits practically every one in the country – tour operators, hotels, vehicle owners, guides, waiters, cooks, dishwashers, pony drivers, vegetable vendors, thangka painters, handicrafts shop owners – even the phallus carvers. Inactivity in tourism impacts all these people, in the hundreds of thousands.

I have already written 47 articles on tourism (48 including this one) – because I care – and I will continue to do so. Because I am paranoid about the eventuality of the first group of the above marketing team being declared wise and the educated. Bhutan has no dearth of potentials but they remain mostly untapped. By contrast, tourism has shown signs of being the capable provider but now it is in danger of being waylaid by the clueless, the greedy and people without foresight.

When there was a danger of demographic imbalance in Singapore, the late Lee Kwan Yew declared that he would import Chinese from Mainland China - if he has to - to maintain, what he called, demographic balance.

If Bhutan goes wrong, we have no such luck – we will sink irretrievably. Thus citizens have to be unfailing and tireless in cautioning the government to do the right thing – but at the end, it is their call.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Time For Decision is NOW!

What a friend told me few years’ back still reverberates in my mind – the wisdom of which is beginning to sink in only now – many years later. The friend told me in disgust:

“Yeshey, remember the world will not wait for Bhutan.”

My friend was right then, and few decades later she is still right – the world is passing us by and we are blissfully rooted in lethargy and indecision. Yes, I am talking about reopening of tourism.

Time is here to be decisive – to act, to move ahead, and not have an orgasm over it all – thinking, talking and discussing endlessly.

And, by the way, who are doing the talking and the thinking and the discussing? Apparently not the industry stakeholders who know best – Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO), Hotel & Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) and Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB). Upon these three sector associations collectively submitting a written request to the TCB Secretariat to convene a Council Meeting so that the matter relating to reopening of tourism may be discussed, they were told that the matter is being discussed at the government level. The Council Meeting remains suspended as of 11th March, 2021. In the last more than a year, the apex tourism authority has not once held their Council Meeting!

How can the government discuss the matter, in isolation of the industry players? How are the bureaucrats and the civil service better qualified to discuss the matter – better than the stalwarts in the business of tourism? What is the rationale behind keeping the industry players in the dark? Why is the decision being left to the clueless and the uninitiated?

We need to reopen the country’s most vital industry - AND WE NEED TO TAKE THE DECISION WHEN TO DO SO – NOW! Even if we take the decision now, the ancillary services will need atleast three months to be ready to accept and receive the tourists. So, effectively, if we decide now, the actors in the industry will only be ready to receive the tourists sometime in August/September.

Tour operators will need time to spread the word, potential guests will need to plan and allocate time for travel, tourist class hotels need time to carry out repairs and renovations and refurbishing, cooks need to be recalled, guides need to be reinstated, overseas agents need to be informed and given time to start promoting the country.

Just swishing the magic wand will not translate into instant arrivals – more than two years of inactivity has caused rust to form – we need time to oil the spindles and tighten the screws that may have come undone.

ONE IMPORTANT REQUEST: For once please start being more creative. My experience so far has been that whenever discussions happen on vitalizing tourism, the discussions unfailingly hinge on one single issue: doing away with the Minimum Daily Tariff – the one component of the tourism policy that has proven to be the MOST CREATIVE.

If we do away with the Minimum Daily Tariff, within a year the country will be overrun with impactful tourists and we will experience the burgeoning of fronting operations (it is rumored that some hotels are already run by non-national partners) and the inflow of foreign exchange will see dramatic drop, including drastic fall in tax collection, through concealment of income.

Please shelve your self-interests and look at the larger interest of the nation and the long term good of the people of Bhutan. I know that there will always be greedy people trying to spoil the broth – but I also know that well-meaning people still outnumber the greedy spoilers.

Usually I can do a blog article within half an hour – but this article has taken me over three hours to do – every time I touch on the subject of tourism – I am overwhelmed with emotion and my mind goes for a spin. I become paranoid about a wrong decision being made concerning our tourism that ranks as the country’s biggest employer and a net gain industry. A wrong decision on tourism will have all round and serious repercussions on employment, livelihood, environment and cultural and social vitality.

I implore those of you who are in the corridors of power - please exercise caution and restraint and decide wisely - but decide NOW!

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Know Your National Bird

A large number of Bhutanese tend to confuse our National Bird - Common Raven (Corvus corax) for the Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos). The reason is provably that more than 95% of Bhutanese would not have seen the National Bird because they live at altitudes around 14,000 ft. and upwards. The more common Large-billed Crow can be seen all over the country.

It is really simple to distinguish between the two Ravens.

The Common Raven is much larger and has a flatter head while the Large-billed Crow is smaller and has a domed head, with thicker bill. The national bird has prominent throat-hackles and the feathering extends halfway to the tip of the bill.

They have two distinctly different calls – the national bird’s call is much more louder.

The National Bird: Common Raven (Corvus corax) photographed at the base of Mt. Gangkhar Puensoom in October, 2010

The Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos) - found all over the country

The Bhutanese term for the National Bird is Bja Oro while the Large-billed Crow is called Bja Ola.

There is a saying in Bhutanese that goes:

“Ngado Goe Gii Chaag; Kaang Oro Gii Jiip”

Translated into English, the saying would go thus:

“The Raptor cracks open the thigh bone but the Raven gets the marrow”

The wisdom: Someone puts in the hard work but someone else reaps the rewards.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

BCSR (2018) Article 3.3.16 Is Null And Void

When the Kuensel report on the compulsory retirement of the two forestry officials appeared and I blogged on the issue yesterday, a senior member of the Bhutanese society sent me a message saying that it is now time for us to create an NGO to fight against abuse by some apparatus of the state. That makes sense – particularly in light of the glaring incidences of miscarriage of justice.

In a response to yesterday’s Kuensel report, the Ministry of Agriculture is strident and takes on a posture of defiance, and states as follows:

The two forestry officials were compulsorily retired with benefits for insubordination – for violating order for deployment and for violating the Civil Service Values and Conduct as articulated under Chapter 3 of the Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations 2018.

While attempting to invoke Chapter 3 of the BCSR (2018), the Ministry of Agriculture is obviously trying to justify their action based on the following provision of the BSCR (2018):

BCSR (2018) Article 3.3.16

A civil servant shall refrain from making any statement of fact or opinion in the media (broadcast, print and online) or in any document which may have adverse effects against the policies or actions of the Royal Government.

It is my understanding that the Ministry’s supposition is untenable. The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan is clear that any law or rule that is inconsistent with the Constitution shall be null and void. It provides as follows:

Article 1.10 of the Constitution of Bhutan

All laws in force in the territory of Bhutan at the time of adopting this Constitution shall continue until altered, repealed or amended by Parliament. However, the provisions of any law, whether made before or after the coming into force of this Constitution, which are inconsistent with this Constitution, shall be null and void.

The Constitution renders the BCSR (2018) Article 3.3.16 null and void

Thus, the application of the BCSR (2018) Article 3.3.16 is unlawful since it is in conflict with the Constitutional provisions.

There is no ambiguity about the rights of a citizen empowered under the Constitution – whether civil service, politician, armed forces or a stone crusher by the roadside. The Constitutional provisions read as follows:

Article 7.2
A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression.

The Ministry of Agriculture attempting to muzzle the two forestry officials based on a rule that is automatically rendered null and void by the Constitution, may not find acceptance in the court of law. I believe that the Ministry should reconsider their stand.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Outlawing Making a Statement Of Fact, Or Expressing An Opinion

Something is terminally wrong with the Ministry of Agriculture, Royal Government of Bhutan. How can any one institution bungle so many times on so many issues?

Now they are once again in the news – this time for terminating their officers on the grounds – of all things – for breaching the BCSR’s Clause 3.3.16 that, according to the Kuensel reads:

“A civil servant shall refrain from making any statement of fact or opinion in the media (broadcast, print and online) or in any document, which may have adverse effects against the policies or actions of the royal government”.

I am not sure that the Kuensel has got it right – but if they did, then it seems like a case of shooting the messenger for the message.

I was muzzled by BBS TV for speaking the truth during a BBS group interview in 2012:

Since when did it become illegal or an act of crime in Bhutan, for making a statement of fact or expressing an opinion? Notwithstanding what the BCSR’s Clause 3.3.16 reads, what does the Article 7.2 of the Constitution of Bhutan say about a citizen’s right to freedom of speech, opinion and expression?

You shall not speak the fact or express an opinion!

It is sad and perhaps I am proving to be wrong in having fought tooth and nail – the introduction of the Right To Information (RTI) Act in Bhutan. I fought because I was convinced – I still am – that we are a country where making a statement of fact or speaking the truth, or expressing an opinion is legitimized by our Constitution.

I know of not a single case where a citizen has been victimized for “making a statement of fact or opinion”. Why are the Foresters victimized just because the civil service wants to usurp the right of the individual, that is sanctified by the country’s Constitution?

I pray that justice and fairness will prevail so that those of us, who place our faith in the system, are encouraged to continue to do so.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

A Most Rare Postal Card From Bhutan: Land Of The Thunder Dragon

It has been reported that during late 2019, a unique and rare Postal Card was auctioned off among the worldwide philatelists – fetching several hundred dollars as bid price. This Postal Card originated in Bhutan – The Land Of The Thunder Dragon. The Card was rare in every sense of the word - because it had elements of uniqueness about it that few can fathom.

~  The Postal Card was Bhutan's – but it was mailed from another country – from the Kingdom of Sikkim;

~  Curiously, the Postal Card was affixed with stamps of two independent nations – Bhutan and India;

~  While the Postal Card was mailed from Sikkim, Indian postage stamp was used - presumably because
     Sikkim never issued its own postage stamps;

~  During the time when the Postal Card was written out sometime most likely between 1957 - 1962,
     Bhutan did not have a postal service – Bhutan’s postal service was established only in October of 1962;

~  The Postal Card ought to have the distinction of being among the rarest case where a fiscal stamp was used,
     and accepted, on an international mail cover;

~  The Postal Card also must be the only Postal Card on which a stamp was affixed – although the mail
     would have been delivered on foot by a postal runner over the Nathu-La Pass in Sikkim;

~  Best of all, the Postal Card was mailed by a reigning Queen of an independent Monarchy
     – the Kingdom of Bhutan.

Back of the Postal Card: Depicting Dechencholing Palace, Thimphu as seen during mid 1950s

The front of the rare Postal Card - dated 18th June, affixed with stamps of two different countries - carrying cancellation mark of Gangtok Post Office and most likely that of the personal seal of Her Majesty the Queen of Bhutan

Other perplexities are the following:

The Postal Card has a date – but no year.

Her Majesty the Queen writes, “This is our new house in Thimphu” – indicating that the photo on the back of the Postal Card was that of Dechencholing Palace.

The construction of Dechencholing Palace was completed in 1953. This means that the Postal Card would have to have been posted after 1953/1954. This would be correct since the IVth King of Bhutan His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck was born in Dechencholing Palace on November 11, 1955 – proving that the Royal Couple was resident in Dechencholing Palace in 1955.

However, the fiscal that was affixed on the Postal Card was issued only in 1954 – thus the Postal Card would have to have been mailed after 1954. But that is unlikely since the use of the fiscal as postage - for internal mail - was authorized by the Third King only as of September 17, 1955.

Thus, the Postal Card would have to have been mailed sometime between September 17, 1955 and October 10, 1962. After October 1962, Her Majesty would have used regular postage stamps.

What is even more mysterious is that the Postal Card is quiet apparently a machine printed Card – the pre-printed dotted lines and the bold line at the bottom of the right face of the Card is proof of it. Normally a country’s postal authority issues Postal Cards – but our modern postal service was established only in October 10, 1962. Thus, the existence of a printed Postal Card reinforces the fact that there did exist a form of organized mail service within the country – even before the advent of modern postal service.

A machine printed Postal Card in use - validating the fact that a form of mail service existed in the country even before the arrival of modern postal service

The Postal Card is addressed to the wife of George Sherriff, the Scottish explorer and plant collector who made a number of trips to Bhutan accompanied by the English naturalist Frank Ludlow - their last trip being in 1949. Our National Butterfly - Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail (Bhutanitis ludlowi) was discovered during their trip in 1933-1934.

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Refining Postal History of Bhutan

One reader of my blog writes as follows:

"Note that according to the map on the stamp depicting His Majesty Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck, the country north of Bhutan is Tibet, which was already taken over by China at the time of the release of this 1st stamp set in 1962. So there were also speculations that that was one more reason to withdraw this particular stamp from especially domestic usage".

This was with respect to my blog post titled “Bhutan's Earliest Postage Stamp Gives Joy To A Sikkimese". Please read the full article at:

The reader implies that one of Bhutan’s earliest postage stamps – a set of seven, issued in 1962 had some serious problems – resulting in it having to be withdrawn from circulation. The stamp was the one depicting His Majesty Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck, Bhutan’s first hereditary monarch. The stamp had two problems: wrong date of birth/death of the monarch and a serious diplomatic faux pas!

Supposedly withdrawn from circulation for a number of errors

The first problem with the stamp was that it depicted the image of Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck with his date of birth/death wrongly rendered. The other problem was that the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China was named as Tibet, not realizing that Tibet was effectively a part of China as of 7th October, 1950.

The nation states of Sikkim and East Pakistan are named correctly - Bangladesh came into being only in 1971 and Sikkim was annexed by India only in 1975.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Bhutan's Never Released Liquid Crystal Scout Stamps of 1973

An article appearing in the March, 2022 issue of the Postal Himal 189 titled “The Premature Announcement of the Bhutan Liquid Crystal Scout Stamp Issue of 1973” authored by Leo van der Velden, some very interesting accounts pertaining to our postal history have been reported.

In a letter dated July 22, 1969 addressed to late Lyonpo (Minister) Dawa Tshering who then served as the Minister for Development, Burt Kerr Todd, a part shareholder of the company appointed as worldwide Agent for marketing of our postage stamps until 1974 based in Nassau, Bahamas, wrote as follows - quoted verbatim:

Dear Mr. Tshering,

We have discovered a remarkable process, just invented by a very small company here in the United States, which we think is one of the most revolutionary discoveries of our time. Made into a stamp issue, it would be another first in the world for Bhutan.

In response, by a letter dated December 22/23, 1969, Lyonpo Dawa Tshering conveys the approval of the Royal Government of Bhutan for the production of the proposed stamp, using the “revolutionary” process, as Burt K. Todd described it.

Letter of Approval for the production of the Liquid Crystal Issue Stamps

Sadly, the self-adhesive imperforate stamps never saw the light of day because, subsequently, on January 3, 1974 the Royal Government of Bhutan, via a telegram, forbade Burt K. Todd's company from producing the proposed stamps. Ofcourse by then the stamps were already produced and its release date of December 28, 1973 was prematurely announced to the world collectors by Burt K. Todd’s company – Bhutan Stamp Agency, Ltd., on December 6, 1973,

The stamps in question were a series depicting the following four emblems of the Scouts movement.

The Liquid Crystal Stamps depicting the emblems of the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Life Scouts and International Scouts

In his letter to Lyonpo Dawa Tshering, the “revolutionary” production process of the stamps, involving liquid crystals, were described by Burt K. Todd in his following exact words:

The process is called Liquid Cristals. This exciting phenomenon are crystals bonded between microthin plastic, which change color (all spectrums of the rainbow) in response to minute changes in temperature. A slight increase in temperature and they scatter brilliant reds, yelloes, greens, blues and violets in that order. On cooling, they reverse themselves to complete a cycle that can be repeated over and over. The crystals can detect a change in temperature in one-fifth of a second.

The stamp series were to be called the “Liquid Crystal Scout Stamp Issue of 1973”. They never saw the light of day. However, some quantity of these stamps was delivered to the P&T Department in Phuentsholing where they were reportedly destroyed – but apparently not before 200 sets of these stamps were stolen by someone in the P&T Department. These stamps which were never released found their way into the international collectors market. A collector even has a cover with the Liquid Crystal Scout Stamp affixed on it with official cancellation stamp of Phuentsholing Post Office, dated 10.11.1972. This has to be an inside job of a person working within the P&T Department.

A cover with the never released Liquid Crystal Scout Stamp affixed on it and bearing the cancellation mark of the Phuentsholing General Post Office

It appears that there was an in-house thief lodged inside the confines of the P&T Department in Phuentsholing who regularly lifted unissued stamps and sold them to collectors around the world.

It is provable that this same person was also responsible for the lifting and release of the "1974 Reading and Writing Series" of stamps – many years before the official release of the stamps on 2nd May, 1993, after having remained locked up in the Bhutan Customs warehouse in Phuentsholing for close to twenty years. Please read the full detail of the case at:

From all accounts our postal history appears to have been shaped by numerous colorful events – unfortunately most of them rather unsavory ones.

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Be Sensitive

One of my transnational readers wrote me a mail asking what the terms meant; in my blog post titled “Images That Tug At Your Heartstrings”. The terms were:


!! Clueless and Confounded !!

Since these are Bhutanese terms the reader did not understand what they meant. Thus this morning I revisited my post and inserted the English equivalent of the words – or rather narration of what they meant in English.

This opened up my eyes to the fact that I have not been sensitive to my international readers. Thus from now on I will remember to be mindful that my blogs are read by people a large portion of whom do not understand Bhutanese words. I will remember to give the English equivalent of the Bhutanese terms I use in my blog. I am duty bound to ensure that my posts are as coherent as possible, to readers who are none-Bhutanese.

This should also tell the mainstream media in Bhutan that as an act of thoughtfulness and consideration towards their international readership they should do the same – give English equivalent of the Bhutanese terms they employ in their reporting.

I have now revised the last paragraph of my blog post “Images That Tug At Your Heartstrings”, to read as follows:

Leaving the old and the aged to fend for themselves – in villages devoid of the young and the able handed – is a cause for serious concern. The resulting Goongtongs (abandoned households) that over time will translate into Yueltongs (abandoned villages), and finally Gyaltong (abandoned kingdom), is a scary thought, but a real possibility, if no interventions are put into place.

Monday, April 4, 2022

The Other Face Of Lockdown

The greatest angst for a person who is a victim of habit – is when he/she runs out of that one thing that he/she craves for, the most. Those of us who are casualties of the force of our own habits know what it means to be deprived. The extended lockdown totaling over a month would have caused boundless miseries to many people – one among them being me.

Halfway through the lockdown, I ran out of my favorite whiskey. The locality in which I live unfortunately do not sell my brand of whiskey. And I was not allowed to drive or move out of my Zone.

Fortunately for me, two of my friends had collectively gifted me a total of 4 bottles of the much coveted TER Single Malt Whiskey, aged 18 years. For over two years, the bottles had remained untouched – they served to act as window dressings on my shelves. But now it would appear that their St. Martin’s Day had arrived - it seems like a good moment to relish them – for the first time in my life.

The subliminal Elixir

WOW!!! I did not expect it to be this good – it was silky smooth – with a dizzying aroma that set my nostrils aflame. As it made its way down my throat, there was not a hint of burn or harshness – even when sipped neat/straight – as single malts are supposed to be sipped. Its silkiness surpassed the very best of Cognacs of the world. It has got to be the absolute best among the AWP Gelephu’s offerings.

In addition to the product being of the highest standard, the packaging is superlative. I love the bottle – its shape, its considerable weight and solidity, its classy embossed stopper, the letterings and the round holding case in which the product is packaged. I loved it so much that I spent nearly an hour photographing the bottle and its casing presented above. I am not sure what is the degree of value addition – but this is one product/produce that I am proud is associated with my beloved country – Bhutan.

Thank God the lockdown got lifted – otherwise there was a real danger that I could have gotten hooked on it – that would be tragic – because it is one drink that I cannot afford.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Images That Tug At Your Heartstrings

Tomorrow the 4th of April, 2022 the whole of Bhutan and all those who inhabit it will come unshackled! The release of emotions and the soaring of the spirits will take on different hues for different people. Being liberated from the lockdown will no doubt mean different things to different people. But one thing is bound to be universal – each one of us will sigh the sigh of relief at long last.

But for some of us – it is a time for heightened worry – a time for double masks and a need to burrow even deeper into the safety of our personal realms. Suddenly, the world has, upon our own determination, turned lot more deadly and dangerous. But I have always said that worrying is pointless and unproductive. The thing to do is to do what needs to be done.

In the midst of trying to take stock of what lies ahead, I am faced with a number of images in the social media that has gripped me with alternating emotions of joy, foreboding and sorrow.

Look at the following images of the celebration of the arrival of the first tourist group of 32, since the pandemic. I am overjoyed – this can only mean that our tourism reopening is going to happen soon. We desperately need our tourism to reopen – it is the biggest employer; its benefit is accrued across the broad spectrum of the Bhutanese society. It is also perhaps the only industry where tax evasion is practically none existent – given how the business is regulated. Thus no one should dare fool around with this industry.

Rolling out the welcome wagon: Champagne & Cake for the group of 32
Image curtesy of DrukAir

The Group of 32 landing in Paro airport yesterday
Image curtesy of DrukAir

In the midst of this jubilation – comes along the following image. The image shows hundreds of Bhutanese youth queuing up to register for IELTS at the IMS. These youth hope to depart the country to seek employment and livelihood elsewhere in the world. This brings in its wake the steady outflow of human capital – in a country already constrained by falling birth rate. And yet, the bright side to the malice is that remittances from Bhutanese working aboard have now surpassed that of the earnings from the tourism sector - until now the highest foreign exchange earner. In 2020, the inward remittance by Bhutanese working abroad amounted to Nu. 8.269 billion, as opposed to a total of Nu. 6.648 billion from the tourism industry, in the year 2019.

Hundreds of Bhutanese youth jostling for space - to register for IELTS

While the flight of the Bhutanese youth to work abroad are contributing to the much needed foreign exchange earnings of the country, their exodus out of the country is creating a situation with long term implications. Increasingly, Bhutan’s rural population look like the following.

The face of the inhabitants populating the homes of rural Bhutan

Leaving the old and the aged to fend for themselves – in villages devoid of the young and the able handed – is a cause for serious concern. The resulting Goongtongs (abandoned households) that over time will translate into Yueltongs (abandoned villages), and finally Gyaltong (abandoned kingdom), is a scary thought, but a real possibility, if no interventions are put into place.