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.

1 comment:

  1. It is for the readers to judge, if indications are for doom or otherwise....the following brief report on what TCBS has done to date on this subject might be of some help...

    Signboard rectification to Dochula:

    1. Introduction
    The signboard portraying the view of mountain ranges were installed at Dochula in 2019. The construction works were undertaken by M/s Keunga Auto Builders.
    Due to the heavy snowfall on the 5th of February 2022, the signage was damaged causing the roof to topple over due to the heavy load on the 7th of February. After lockdown was lifted on the 20th of March, a team from IPDD, TCB undertook the official site visit to Dochula on the 22nd of March in order to assess the rectification of for the signboard.
    During the site visit, the contractor was also involved in order to conduct joint inspection and subsequent rectification of the signboard. The following findings and recommendations were drawn after the joint inspection.

    2. Findings and Recommendations:
    • The heavy cornices and roof truss will be replaced with simpler structure in the new design.
    • The additional vertical and horizontal support to be provided to enhance stability as well to strengthen resistance against the wind load.
    • The works will be awarded to the previous contractor to fast track the rectification works and to enable incorporation of lesson learnt experience in the new construction.

    3. Follow up Actions:
    • According to the findings and recommendations, a new design and cost estimates were developed by the 26th of March.
    • Construction work was awarded to M/S Kuenga Auto Builder on the 20th of April 2022, with the contract duration being April 27th – May 27th 2022.

    ---with respects TCBS, April 27,2022