Sunday, May 29, 2022

The Ebb and Flow of Life

Humans have theorized the procreation process of the birds, and everything else. And most often we had to rewrite our theories. But unhindered by our many misconceptions, life goes on ceaselessly – neither the lawlessness in Lunana, nor the perplexity of Ex-Dzongda Lhab Dorji’s case will hinder the march of life - it begins and ends as pre-destined.

For the past over two months, I have been keeping track of a bird couple resident at a small stretch of a stream that dissects Dechenchholing Dangrena – my locality. My attention was drawn to the Plumbeous Water Redstart (Rhyacornis fuliginoa) couple – the day I observed that they were on to their mating ritual. Unusually, the game began rather early – early March. My experience is that usually the birds in Bhutan begin their play sometime in early April - but it really depends on species - different species nest and breed at different times. Blame it on global warming – if the Black-necked Cranes can be seen in Gelephu, why can’t the amorous couple begin their game earlier than usual?

By mid April, I realized that the couple had mated, built their home and laid the eggs and even hatched them. I knew exactly where the nest was located – but kept it a secret lest someone go and disturb it. I became aware of the existence of the nest when I noticed that the birds were making repeated trips to a particular location – meaning the chicks have been hatched and they were being nurtured by the parents.

Yesterday I noticed that the chicks – all three of them - were out of the nest and they were put on the path of life – their parents were now teaching them the most important lesson of their lives – the art of gathering food – to survive and to start a new generation of birds – the process of perpetuating life on this planet.



One of the three new born chicks

The hard working mom feeding her three chicks

Dad too must contribute to the upbringing of the chicks

Most animals breed during the spring months. The reason is that during this season food is plentiful. Thus bringing up the young is simpler.

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Looks Like The World Will Wait For Bhutan

“……….. Our latest series I am contacting you about, is a brand-new, presenter-led, eight-part documentary series for National Geographic, premiering on Disney +. 
……….. To that end, we are currently researching Bhutan as a country to visit during our series and we are looking for potential expert communicators who can broadly connect dots in the Bhutanese episode.
I was really keen to talk with you to ask some questions in regards to your beautiful country, that you have taken so many wonderful photographs of - and also we will take the opportunity to find out more about you……..”

Obviously the mystique endures and the allure is still potent. Can we fail ourselves?


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

IVth Je Damcho Pekar Did Not Do It

Ancient Bhutan was flush with coins of some 10 countries – including our own. The earliest silver coins called Narayanis that entered Bhutan were those of the Koch Kingdom - as gift to Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel during his visit to Chapcha – sometime in 1619 from the Maharaja of Koch Bihar. In addition to the silver Narayanis, we had coins from Assam, Bengal Presidency of British East India Company, British East India Company, British Raj, China, French East India Company, Nepal and Tibet.

In my collection: 1 Mohar silver coin of King Yoga Narendra Malla of Patan Kingdom of present day Nepal, hammered during his rule between 1685 to 1705 - around the time when Je Damcho Pekar ruled.

My coin book will carry few images of coins from these countries and a short background on the development of our relations with these countries. Other than the accounts of our relation with Nepal, rest are straight forward and without confusion.

Accounts by writers and historians with respect to our relations with neighbor Nepal is fraught with improbabilities and fallacies. But straightening out the inaccuracies is not a difficult task – because the history of our relation with that country revolves around the supposed, and grossly untrue, role of 4th Je Damcho Pekar and birth of Prithvi Narayan Shah, founder of the nation state of Nepal.

According to one account, 3rd Druk Desi Chhogyel Mingyur Tenpa is supposed to have sent Damcho Pekar to Gorkha land at the invitation of Gorkha king Nara Bhupal Shah. Consequent upon the Tantric rituals performed by Damcho Pekar, the childless Nara Bhupal Shah was blessed with a son - Prithvi Narayan Shah – the unifier of the Kingdom of Nepal.

This account cannot be true since Chhogyel Mingyur Tenpa ruled from 1668 – 1680 as the 3rd Druk Desi. Before that he was the Choetse Chila from 1646 – 1668.

Prithvi Narayan Shah was born only on 11th January, 1723.

According to another account, Damcho Pekar is said to have sent several monks to the land of the Gorkhas, at the request of Gorkha king – to help him beget a son. If this is true, the king would have to be the father of Prithvi Narayan Shah – Nara Bhupal Shah who was born in 1697 and died in 1743.

As per Bhutanese records, Damcho Pekar was the 4th Je Khenpo who ruled between 1697 and 1707.

Thus, this record too is flawed – because the reign of Je Damcho Pekar was already over by 1707 and thus could not have sent any monks to the Gorkha land at the behest of Gorkha King Nara Bhupal Shah. In fact in all provability Je Damcho Pekar would have been long dead and cremated, by the time Prithvi Narayan Shah was born on 11th January, 1723.

Regardless of the confusion in dates and personalities, there is no doubt that a Lama from Bhutan did go to Nepal. According to another account chronicled in Nepali literature, it is written that:

“……… according to the Bhasa Vamsavali (Chronicles of Nepal), Nara Bhupal Shah, being childless, invited Dharmaraja to Nepal and with the blessings and ritual and Tantrik commencement performed by him, he became the father of a child, Prithvi Narayan Shah - the founder of modern Nepal.”

In yet another record, portions of an article appearing in the “The Treasury of Lives” authored by Karma Rigzin, a researcher at the Institute of Language and Culture Studies, reads as follows:

“Migyur Tenpa, the Third Druk Desi is said to have sent him (Damcho Pekar) to build political relations in Kathmandu valley and he may have already been in Yambu (Kathmandu), possibly on pilgrimage, when he was invited to the court of the Gorkha king Ram Shah (r. 1609-1633, d. 1636).  According to legend, the king was desperate for a son, and following a prophetic dream by one of the queens, invited Damcho Pekar to conduct pujas and blessings. The queen subsequently gave birth to a son, and, crediting him with saving the dynasty, the king granted Damcho Pekar lands and villages in the Nepal Himalaya.”

There is problem with this account as well. When King Ram Shah ruled Damcho Pekar was not even born. King Ram Shah ruled from 1606 to 1636. He was born in 1550 and died in 1636.

From all the above, it can be concluded conclusively that it was not Je Damcho Pekar who went to Nepal to perform the Tantric rituals and to bless the royal couple that resulted in the birth of Prithvi Narayan Shah. It was most likely 5th Je Zodpa Thinley (r. 1707 – 1724) who performed the rituals. Or, it may have been 9th Druk Desi Ngawang Gyamtsho (r. 1720 – 1729) who may have sent a learned Lama to perform the rituals desired by Gorkha king Nara Bhupal Shah.

Regardless of what is true – relations between Bhutan and Nepal was at its zenith during the reign of Maharaja Prithvi Narayan Shah.  During the rule of Nepal's Mukhtiyar Bhimsen Thapa (r. 1806 - 1837) – we even had a postal service running between Punakha and Kathmandu.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Bhutan’s Earliest Coins: Determining the Place & Year of Coinage

With awful lot of confusing information put out by various writers and historians on Bhutan’s coinage, it has been a most arduous job in trying to determine exactly when and where Bhutan first hammered our coins. The deep delve has been long, laborious and vexing – the delight of a discovery of new and exciting information has most often ended up being just that – excitingly false and inaccurate. But the start of every journey must see an end and I believe that I have reached my journey’s end on this particular subject of when and where.

Contrary to many historical accounts that claim that Bhutan began hammering our coins within the country sometime towards the end of 1700, I discover that it is not quite true. What transpires to be true is that Bhutan is among the most rare countries whose coining journey began in a foreign land – in exercise of the powers and authority of overlordship over a fallen victim – in the conquered Kingdom of Koch Bihar.

Supposedly Bhutan's earliest hammered coin - the silver Ma-tang. If it is true that this is our earliest coin, then it would have to have been hammered at a place called Ghatika in Koch Bihar because in later years this coin came to be called the "Nyingtang Ghatikap" - old coin from Ghatika.

Sonam Wangdi of Koortoe Jarey was a member of the retinue of over 300 who accompanied Trongsa Poenlop Ugyen Wangchuck during his visit to India in 1906. On their return journey he remembers visiting the Ghatika Mint that was still operational. Sonam Wangdi described the sound of minting thus:  Graab Tsring ..... Graab Tsring ..... Graab Tsring.

At the end of hundreds of hours of boring through numerous literatures on the subject – gleaned from accounts authored by writers and historians from US, UK, Belgium, Germany, Nepal, Tibet, India and Bhutan, I narrowed down to two accounts that I find are the most credible – one by the Bhutanese author Dorji Penjore of CBS and another one by a Bengali writer named Nagendra Singh.

These two authors speak of the exact same events that occasioned the start of the journey of Bhutan’s coining in the erstwhile Kingdom of Koch Bihar. Unfortunately while most of the facts tally, these two accounts give the year of coinage that is many decades apart. However, it was not difficult for me to determine which of the two is the more accurate account.

When I examined the two records more closely to determine which of the two accounts is likely to be the more accurate one – I noticed one common factor in the two accounts – the mention of the name - Raikat Darpa Dev. This name appears in both the accounts.

Written historical records I consulted confirm that in 1773, Raikat Darpa Dev was the reigning Raja of the State of Baikunthopur in the present day Jalpaiguri of West Bengal. He is recorded as a staunch ally of Bhutan's Ja Chila (Jagar Poenlop) Punsutama, seated at the capital of the Koch Kingdom at that time.

Now I am clear as to which of the two accounts is the factual one.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

We Should All Hang Our Heads In SHAME

“……….. Then there were all those dogs running around, and very often there was a big dogfight.  All the people bring their food with them and since there is never any sort of an intermission during the day they just eat when they want to. Now, when there are a lot of loose dogs running around, some funny things happen at times. A dog will run up to some one’s dinner and grab a mouthful of food and away the dog scrams with some rocks being thrown at him, and a lot of yelling, etc., etc.”

The lone chillip during the Paro Tsechu on 13th April, 1965 who submitted the above report to “The D’Xer Magazine” published in Cordova, South Carolina, USA was the legendary Mr. Gus Browning, a celebrated ham radio luminary from USA. He was in Bhutan in April of 1965, accompanied by his wife Peggy.

More than half a century since the report, our stray dogs problem has not improved – infact it has deteriorated even further. All because of the misguided and hypocritical religious zealots who stand up for the dogs but stand down in their responsibilities in providing care and shelter for the dogs. Wagging glib tongues in compassion and allowing the problem to fester and become a problem for the society is not an achievement.

One girl child has been mauled to death – I ask you – how many will it take before the government will look at the problem with an objective mind – and do something different than that which has failed to solve the problem for the past more than half a century.

Please move off the pulpit of hypocrisy and hang your heads in shame because you have collectively helped snuff off a life even before it began.

Who will dare go and console the distraught mother? How will the society compensate her for our failure due to which her little girl has been eaten alive by the dogs that we failed to control and contain? For her – it is too late. For us too it is too late – to say that we are sorry.

I keep reminding people again and again that we should never allow ourselves to arrive at a point when we have to say sorry because by then, it will be too late.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

The Ongoing Resistance To The MDPR Dismantling Brigade

Stealthy, secretive, elusive and something of a mirage called the “Committee on Tourism Reform” is supposedly working on reforming the tourist industry in Bhutan. The tourism stakeholders are clueless about who or where they are and what they are working on. But no matter - eventfully they will have to put the pudding on the table for all to taste.

The whole human civilization is founded on hope – and our hope is that this Committee will come up with something even better than what we already have – I mean that is the whole idea, isn’t it?

There is no confusion which path we must tread - more capable people before us have shown us the way

My continuing worry is the attempt by some interest groups to dismantle the MDPR (Minimum Daily Package Rate) policy that has been in place and working fabulously, for the last close to half a century, since 1974. The MDPR policy, if done away with, will have over two dozen impacts on the government and the people of Bhutan. But today I want to touch only on the following two issues – there are other issues that are even more damaging – but these two impact the government directly:

1.  A drastic drop in the inflow of foreign exchange; and
2.  A dramatic drop in tax collection from the tourism sector.

Under a SDF (Sustainable Development Fund) only regime, the tour operators will be required to deposit only the SDF portion of the tour cost – resulting in a very huge reduction in the inflow of foreign exchange. Instead of US$250.00 per person per night halt, the tour operators will get away by bringing in only US$65.00 per person per night halt. Do your mathematics and see what is the percentage of drop in foreign exchange earnings.

Please read the following Constitutional provision. Will the government be able to fulfill this Constitutional requirement – under the SDF only regime?

          Article 14
          Finance, Trade and Commerce ?
          7.  A minimum foreign currency reserve that is adequate to meet the cost of not
               less than one year’s essential import must be maintained.

In addition to the need to fulfill the Constitutional requirement of holding foreign exchange reserve to meet atleast a year’s essential imports, there is the other issue we must not overlook - our need to buy Indian Rupee from time to time - to pay for our imports. So far, we have been using our foreign exchange reserve to buy the Indian Rupees, whenever needed. With such a huge drop in the inflow of $$, will we have enough to fund the purchase of the Indian Rupees? Ofcourse the inward remittance by none-resident Bhutanese is a welcome development.

The MDPR Dismantling Brigade does not present a true and accurate picture to the government – they are simply enticing the government with the carrot that the government will not lose, in fact they offer to enhance the SDF in the hope that the government will be tempted and take a bite. That is a lousy game to play – unworthy of a true Bhutanese with Bhutanese interest at heart.

Under a SDF only regime, the Tour Operators are open to tax evasion. Because they are required to deposit only the SDF portion of the tour cost, the true size of their business will not be known or recorded. Thus there will be rampant under-declaration of turnover. This means there will be huge drop in tax collection by the government.

Under the current MDPR regime – tax evasion is impossible – every turnover of the tour operator is recorded with the TCB thus, under-declaration is not possible.

Tax collection is important and essential – because it is a mechanism to redistribute the country’s wealth. The tour operators make money through the opportunities provided to them by the country’s natural wealth. Through the collection of tax from the tour operators’ earnings, the tax money can be ploughed back to fund essential projects that will benefit other segments of the society. This way we achieve some level of equitable distribution of the country’s pool of wealth.

In my view, no single person or institution or government can dare touch the MDPR in its present form – because if they do, what will follow will be devastating and irretrievable.

The DNT government has been in an unfortunate position to be caught in the middle of the pandemic and they did not really have the opportunity to demonstrate their acumen. I feel sorry for them and hope that they get a second chance to prove themselves. But I urge them to leave alone a matter that successive governments for the past forty-five years that have preceded them, have seen wisdom in leaving it well alone - and untouched.

I accept that change has to come – but change must come at the right time. And the Bhutanese people – not the carpetbaggers from outside who are starting to muddy the pool in the country - must direct that change.

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

The Bizarre Case of Ex-Dzongda Lhab Dorji

The news that Ex-Dzongda Lhab Dorji had attacked an ACC (Anti Corruption Commission) official with a knife was so incredulous that I was stunned into numbness that whole evening. How is it possible that such a thing can happen – that such an act can take place within the sanctum sanctorum of the land’s highest justice system?

It is not upto commoners like us to question the validity of the proceedings of the three tiers of Bhutan’s judicial system, which culminated in the pronounced verdict in the Trongsa land case against Karma Tshetim Dolma, Ex-Dzongda Lhab Dorji’s wife. To question the wisdom behind the verdict is to lose faith in the institution of Bhutan’s judicial system. It is a dangerous thing to happen. It is not about that at all. I am not questioning the verdict – I am appalled by the act of Ex-Dzongda Lhab Dorji.

Ex-President of JDWNRH Lhab Dorji receiving one of the many donations of medical equipment made by the Rotary Club of Thimphu

What drove Ex-Dzongda Lhab Dorji to commit such an act that is self-destructive?

The Supreme Court upheld the lower Courts’ verdict and ruled that Lhab Dorji would get five years of prison for his involvement in the Trongsa land case. Without doubt Ex-Dzongda Lhab Dorji would know that an attempt to murder would get him lifetime imprisonment. He knew that 5 years was better than a lifetime in prison. And yet, he went ahead and carried through the premeditated act of murder.


Is it an act of a prey whose back has been pushed to the wall and he finds that he has nowhere else to go but forward – a final act in desperate retaliation – the outpouring of frustrations that remained pent up throughout the long drawn legal process?

I met Ex-Dzongda Lhab Dorji many times – first time in his capacity as the Thimphu Dzongda. Then few times when he was the President of JDWNRH, when I had to meet him in my capacity as the Secretary of the Rotary Club of Thimphu – to implement health related projects involving delivery and installation of medical equipment in JDWNRH. I always found him to be a balanced and levelheaded person. Then what caused him to take law into his own hands? Does he believe that the law has failed him?

My heart goes out to Ex-Dzongda Lhab Dorji – not because I believe that he is innocent of the charges leveled at him – but because it is obvious that there are issues that we are clueless about.

Lhab Dorji made a mistake – he got caught in an act of crime.

The thing about crime is that it is a crime only when you are caught in it – otherwise it is not a crime. There are hundred times bigger criminals than Lhab Dorji who are walking free and dispensing morality to people. They are the epitome of human morality.

That is the tragedy of life!

Sunday, May 1, 2022

There Never Was A Ban On Tourism

Hi Kris,

Nice to hear back from you. Good to know that you are all well and safe.

Yes indeed the mad man Putin has lost his marbles and is causing misery to millions across the glob. Obviously, as a member of the inter-connected global community, we in Bhutan too are impacted due to rising costs and shortage of supplies – in addition to the difficulties caused by the pandemic. But we are surviving.

You are right – tourism is our most vital industry and it is at a standstill – we are pushing hard for the reopening of the tourism – but there is this five days quarantine requirement for international travelers that is a huge deterrent. It is our hope that the government would lift that soon. Actually it is not that there is a ban on tourists entering Bhutan – there never was one - tourists were always welcome to come any time but the requirements for their eligibility to enter Bhutan during the pandemic were extremely discouraging - not suited to the majority of our class of visitors.

The industry players were in a state of utter confusion - caused by incoherence in the pronouncement of policies related to tourism in the country.

As you know, cost is not the only determining factor – time is even more important to the class of people to whom Bhutan appeals.

The Tourism Council of Bhutan’s "BHUTAN TOURISM MONITOR 2020" records that the average length of stay by tourists in Bhutan is six nights. This clearly means that our tourists will not want to languish in a quarantine facility - five nights of the six nights they want to spend here.

I get the sense that as long as we are fully vaccinated, the present Omicron variant of COVID-19 should not be any cause for serious worry – unless a more lethal variant emerges. So I do not believe that the cause for our government’s dithering is the fear of the virus. Bhutan is said to have achieved “herd immunity”.

So, if you are planning to come to Bhutan – now is the time to start planning your travel itinerary.

Wolfgang wrote back too – saying that he is fine and safe. By the way could you please send me a digital copy of my article in the Festschrift publication? Thanks.

Bye and take care …. and please keep safe.