Saturday, July 30, 2022

Break The Caucus!

Our Prime Minister was bold and said it with conviction - that if you cannot afford the increased price of petroleum to power your vehicles, take to walking. Ofcourse it was a politically insensitive thing to say - but if the perpetual grumblers ignore the facts of life, hard talk is what is called for. Unfortunately his Finance Minister was not as hard hitting - on the contrary he was rather limpid - in what he had to say to the Kuensel, with regard to the country’s depleting foreign currency reserves. The best he could do is hint at discouraging and restricting import of non-essential goods.

We keep saying that we may be missing the forest for the tree – I suspect that it is lot worst – I think the whole forest is on fire, let alone the tree.

Thus the Finance Minister should call for complete ban of imports of non-essential items such as quota cars destined for the black market, cigarettes, cosmetics, alcohol, Tulip blankets, prawns and fish, chips and wafers, canned food, shoes and sandals, clothing, crockery and cutlery etc. For God’s sakes, even toilet papers and facial tissues are imported from Bangkok and China. Talk of irresponsibility!!!

I have a feeling that there is a nexus between the import of these non-essential items and the huge dip in the inward remittances, and fall in import duty and sales tax collection. Dig a little deeper and I suspect that we will unearth a whole lot of dirt from under the carpet.

Come on DNT – be your usual bold self! BREAK THE CAUCUS!

If you have the guts to try and attempt to delink the inter-generational/cross generational Past from the Present, and Present from the Future, I know you can do this!

Thursday, July 28, 2022

BHUTAN: Destination for MICE Tourism

If the worrisome news that our $$ reserve is likely to run dry in the next 15 months were not enough, the Kuensel this morning reports that our INR reserve too has fallen by more than 50%. This news should be even more worrisome but for the fact that a credit line has been opened to borrow from the RBI, should we need to do so.

Under normal conditions, we could sell $$ and buy INR if such a need arises – but these are not normal conditions – the $$ kitty too is drying up.

China’s middle class population is expected to reach 1.2 billion by 2030. Close on the heels of China, India’s middle class population is expected to reach over 800 million by the same period.

So why aren’t we targeting these two countries - our closest neighbors - to provide us the tourist numbers? Their proximity to Bhutan is an added advantage - particularly in a situation where the global air travel has become so expensive as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

I spoke to one of the officials of the TCB – to suggest that Bhutan should now target the international MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) market. I offered the suggestion that the upcoming WHO’s SEARO Regional Conference RC-75 scheduled for September 2022 could be a great opportunity to promote the concept, when 10 Health Ministers of the region will congregate in Paro for a number of days.

Unfortunately the official tells me that they are too busy transforming the tourism industry. Well, what can I say?

But Bhutan should seriously look at the MICE market – we have the right conditions in place: tranquility, serenity and uncluttered ambience. With the right approach we can make the endeavor a successful one – given that institutions and organizations fund the MICE – meaning no money out of the pockets of the participants. Best thing is that those who come for the MICE are people who will leave no footprints – other then spirited business opportunity for the tourism industry players.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Time For Tightening The Belt

The Honorable Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering is right to worry - I do too. Bhutan has been hit with a double whammy - the anticipated fall in dollar earnings from tourism as a result of tripling the SDF, and more than 50% dip in the inward remittances from the none-resident Bhutanese working and earning abroad. But just talking about it is not enough - what is called for is single-minded, bold and resolute action. If we hesitate to act now, we are doomed.

I was being cute when I wrote in my post of July 24, 2022 that I hope the RMA would throw the rule book out the window and jack up the $$ to Ngultrum currency conversion rate to Nu.100.00 per $1.00 – and hold it there for the next 2-3 years! We all know that it does not work like that. Even more important, I know for sure that this is not the route to take.

But being cute is in poor taste – particularly when the proverbial Dionysius’ sword is hanging over our heads. In all provability the single strand of horsehair that holds in place the sword that dangles perilously over Damocles’ head is at risk of snapping any moment - goring him to death.

“The world may soon be teetering on the edge of a global recession, only two years after the last one,” Pierre-Olivier Gourinchas, the I.M.F.’s chief economist, wrote. Put simply, the outlook for the global economy is “increasingly gloomy,” he added.

Such ominous predictions can only mean greater pain in the coming months and years. It is now time to tighten our belts and brace ourselves for another round of even greater hardships.

The tourism industry collectively is perhaps the biggest tax payer: at the first stage the government collects SDF from every tour sold, it collects BIT from tour operators at the end of the year. Across the tourism industry chain, it collects BIT from hotel owners, vehicle owners, handicraft outlet operators, restaurateurs etc. But with the tripling of the SDF, that well is all set to run dry.

Businesses who are supposed to bring in $$ are supposedly parking them outside.

The inward remittances from none-resident Bhutanese have apparently taken the Hawala route for greater bang for the buck. All these means our foreign exchange reserve will not get replenished – it will run dry in the next 15 months as publicly confirmed by our head of government.

So what do we do?

Two simple steps: We halt the outflow of foreign exchange. We torpedo the Hawala transections. 

Do away with the issue of vehicle quota – Kuensel editorial of this morning says Thimphu has one vehicle for every two residents. Import of vehicles is a big drain on the foreign exchange. What benefit we derive from generation of hydroelectricity is wasted on import of fossil fuel, to power the vehicles. For decades I have been going hoarse shouting that this is not justified.

Disallow imports of goodies such as chocolates, cigarettes, alcohol, noodles, biscuits, blankets and the like – we can do without them.

Limiting or restricting import of these none-essential items will effectively control the transections between Hawaladars – thereby redirecting the flow of remittances through the traditional banking system, thus improving our foreign exchange reserve.

It is an occasion for every Bhutanese to recognize our vulnerabilities – time is now to show that we care. There can be no gain without hardship.

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Death by Ladoog X

Ladoog” is a deathly condition that can result in fatality. And yet, it is the most misunderstood of all maladies. It is a sickness brought on by high altitude. There is this totally uneducated belief that since we are mountain people, we cannot be affected by it. That is totally wrong – we can be and we have been. I am told that few deaths had occurred during the operation “Lower the Thorthormi Tso” few years back. I can tell you that those would have been caused by AMS – but blamed them on Ladoog – mountain poison.

Having come to know of a near death experience by a friend who had gone to Laya and who did not know that she was afflicted by AMS, I wrote a series of articles on the issue. Between 19th to 30th of October 2021, I wrote nine articles on the subject. I even requested the BBS to do a Dzongkha program on the subject because I notice that lot of Bhutanese go on pilgrimages to high altitude places and some deaths have occurred – I was witness to one in Singye Dzong. Despite my repeated requests to descend to a lower altitude, the group refused to do so - with the result that one group member died of AMS, on the third day. The Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) agreed to air the program but there was no one to come on camera and speak authoritatively on the subject – I could not because my Dzongkha is not so good.

My series on Ladoog - Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS) – or simply altitude sickness was earlier categorized under “Health”. But because of its importance, I have this morning segregated it from “Health” and gave it a separate category – "Death by Ladoog". I did this because I want my readers to read the series and be better educated on what AMS is all about. I have also included exhaustive tips on how to prepare for high altitude treks.

I urge you to read, I repeat please read the series at:
I took the pain so that you may be better prepared to tackle Ladoog that can mean sure death - if you do not know what to do or how to tackle it. Ofcourse not all of us are susceptible to it – but a large number of us are.


I hear that some pilgrimages are conducted by helicopter - say, for instance, to Nob Tsonapata to the north of Haa. This is terrible news particularly where people expect to spend days at the pilgrimage sites. Going by helicopter to high altitude sites and spending days there can be dangerous. The reason is that you gain height all of a sudden. For people who are susceptible to AMS, this is very dangerous and can be fatal. You must gain height gradually so that your body has the time to adjust to the changing barometric pressure.

Strangely the TCB - the regulatory authority - does not regulate trekking - they don't even know if the guides who are leading high altitude treks are qualified and knowledgeable on AMS related issues. TCB should regulate and also train trekking guides on AMS and on emergency evacuation procedures in cases of AMS.

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Rising Dollar: To The Rescue of Bhutan’s Tourism Industry

The Kuensel sounded a tad disappointed by the rising dollar. I, on the other hand, am jumping with unbridled JOY - at its rise, and rise, and rise and rise. May it soar even higher. The $$’s spirited rise against the Ngultrum has many advantages in an era when the tourism industry is headed for a serious tumble downhill. Not only the tourism industry, but I believe that it bodes well for our foreign exchange reserve as well.

Dearer the $, better for Bhutan's tourism industry

The recent three-fold increase in SDF introduced by the government has caused serious concerns to the tourism stakeholders in the country. All are in agreement that inflow of tourists will dwindle to a trickle. The increase of the SDF from US$65.00 to US$200.00 means that the tour packages need to be sold at rates bordering around US$350.00 - US$400.00 per tourist per night halt, to be able to offer a level of service that is expected of the operators at that price range.

The superior purchasing power of the $$ against the Ngultrum means that the tour operators can breath easier, because whatever little dollar payments they receive will attract higher $$ to Ngultrum conversion value. This will help them offer tour packages at lower rates.

Elsewhere, it is likely that $$ inflow into the country will now see a marked increase – RMA had reported that the inflow during the month of January had recorded a dip by more than 50% compared to the same period in the previous year. A number of causes for the dip has been reported: poor currency conversion rate; poor investment opportunities, unrealistic land prices which are rumored to be more than those available outside the country and, massive transections between the none-resident Bhutanese and the importing community of Bhutan – using the “Hawala” route to pay for the importers’ merchandize transected in places like China, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam etc. I am told by a reader of my blog that this route accounts for transections totaling more than hundred fold what comes in as official remittances that are recorded by the RMA.

If this is true, there must be huge under invoicing happening in the import trade – resulting in lower import duty and tax collection by the taxman.

Another benefit of a dearer $$ is that it will help curtail useless imports such as chocolates, cosmetics and noodles, and purchase of VEHICLE QUOTA financed cars against against hard currency - from third countries.

I hope and pray that the RMA throws the rule book out the window, and jacks up the $$ to Ngultrum currency conversion rate to Nu.100.00 per $1.00 – and hold it there for the next 2-3 years! If they do that, it will more than offset the painful SDF increase, and the tourism industry will continue to remain buoyant.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

US$200.00 SDF Calls For Going Beyond The Ordinary

Hi ……….. ,

Upon your acceptance of the reworked itinerary, I am happy to attach herewith the following:

1.  Reworked trip itinerary - more focused on nature and wildlife
2.  Trip Costing Sheet
3.  Bank Details
4.  VISA Form: Blank, including a sample how to fill it

Would you like an outdoors experience? I would like to suggest tented camping at Berti in Zhemgang for 2 nights. I have top class tents and other gear for a real comfortable sleep. Should the idea appeal to you, I will send you a PowerPoint Presentation Show of the gear I will provide. Since you guys are outdoors lovers, I thought it would be a nice touch. The campsite will be close to the river banks of the mighty Mangdechu river.

Please let me know.

Bye and take care

That suggestion sounds perfect. Thank you!!!


Hi …………… ,

Glad that you accepted the suggestion .... I will personally go to Berti and oversee the setting up of the Camp that will be located by the banks of the Mangdechu river.

Here is the gear list I will provide for your comfort. When I provide trekking services into the wilderness ... the list is lot more extensive.

Bye and take care

Yeshey Dorji

Friday, July 22, 2022

The Laborious Process of Winning Over Visitors

 Hi ……………. ,
Thank you for your mail. I would like to answer you as follows:
Orientation towards nature and wildlife:
If your thing is more for nature and wildlife, I would like to remove Bumthang from the itinerary and, instead, replace it with Zhemgang. Zhemgang is home to some rare and near endemic animals and birds. You can see the Gee’s Golden Langur – an extremely rare primate that is found only in Bhutan and in a small pocket of upper Assam in India. You can also see the rare Rufous-nacked Hornbill – it is estimated that only about 10,000 individuals of these huge birds are in existence in the world. You can also see the Great Hornbill.

With luck, we can sight the Red Panda – but the fellow is a very elusive animal – so chances are that we may have to give it a miss.
I attach herewith the images of Gee’s Golden Langur, Red Panda and the Rufous-necked Hornbill – all photographed by me.

The rare threesome

Fortunately, I am aware that Binturong is listed as a mammal that is found in Bhutan. Unfortunately I do not know where they are found. I will find out and let you know.
In order that you have more days for nature and wildlife, I will also remove Gasa from the itinerary. Instead I will add one additional day in the beautiful Phobjikha valley – a valley that I consider the very best in Bhutan. You and Katie can do a whole day nature walk – I will arrange to pack lunch during the trip. Maybe, if you enjoy it enough, you can walk all the way to Khotokha - another stunning valley. Phobjikha is also the wintering grounds for the Black-necked Cranes – but I am afraid that the birds would have returned to the Tibetan Plateau by the time you arrive here.

I urge you to pack walking shoes – and a light jacket since Phobjikha can be chilly. Also remember to pack sunshades and lotion – at our altitudes the sun does not make you sweat – but sears you. Walking sticks are not needed since you will be walking over level grounds.
The Takin, Bhutan’s national animal can be viewed – but in captivity – in a zoo in Thimphu.
I did not include Taktsang since the Tourism Council of Bhutan had announced this month that visitors would be charged Nu.2,000.00 per person per visit. I prefer to wait for you to arrive here and decide whether the place is worth paying Nu.2,000.00. As you have rightly noticed, my proposed itinerary does not include visits to any Dzongs and popular temples like Taktsang – since you have to pay to access them, and pretty hefty sums at that, I prefer that you make the decision after arriving here.
I have included River Rafting in Punakha – a friend owns a rafting company there. You will actually do river rafting and love it – and it is on the house! Just brace yourselves to be drenched by copious amounts of glacial water as you glide down the azure Punatsangchu River.
I can arrange a session in traditional Bhutanese archery shooting – I will arrange it in Zhemgang, by the banks of the mighty Mangdechu - one of the principal rivers in Bhutan that hosts the annual migration run by the endangered Golden Mahseer - one of the biggest fresh water fish of the world.
Unfortunately there are no Tsechus during your planned trip.
I will be happy to arrange for you and Katherine to learn how to make Momos – we leave that towards the end of the trip – maybe in Paro.
Please do not worry about all the questions and suggestions – Bhutan is becoming increasingly dearer for people to visit – thus the onus is on the likes of me to make it as meaningful for you as existing conditions will permit.
Please confirm that replacing Bumthang with Zhemgang finds acceptance with you – thereafter I will forward to you a reworked itinerary. I will also submit to you the trip costing sheet for your approval and acceptance.
Bye and take care

Thursday, July 21, 2022

An Interesting Page Out Of Our History

Early this morning (7:12AM) historian Tshering Tashi forwarded to me a copy of a page from a book by Dasho Karma Ura titled “The Hero with a Thousand Eyes”. It is an interesting account of, I believe, lives and times during His Majesty the 2nd and 3rd Kings.

Tshering Tashi obviously forwarded me the page because of my ongoing deep delve into the coining journey of Bhutan. Indeed it was interesting - the mention of the terms "betam" and "zangtam".

I offered the view that the term “betam” may well be either “Boetang” – silver coin of Tibet, or “Baltang” – silver coin from one of the independent states of the Paharis, or “Balyuel”, the collective term employed to identify present day unified Nepal. Both the coins were current in Bhutan since the early 1700s.

For a moment I wondered if the terms “betam” and “zangtam” were employed erroneously. The reason for my doubt was because the “Zangtang” was issued in 1931. That year, His Majesty the 3rd King would be only 3 years old - thus too young to serve as a Changgap in the court of his father.

Zangtang of 1931 - only 10,000 copies were milled in the Government of India Mint in Calcutta

The other reason is that only 10,000 Zantangs were supposedly milled - meaning that the coins would be extremely difficult to come by. So I reasoned that the “zangtam” may well have been the “Sa” Maartang.

"Sa" Maartang of 1950 - a total of 260,000 of these coins were struck

But then I realized that first of the two “Sa” Maartangs were issued in 1950. By 1950, His Majesty the 3rd King would be 22 years old - meaning that he would have been graduated to higher responsibilities of the state, and not be confined to being a Changgap. In fact he served as XXVth Paro Poenlop (1949 - 1952), after serving as the Trongsa Droegner as of 1943.

Thus the “zangtam” coin mentioned in the book has to be the “Zangtang” of 1931.

A page out of our history

Monday, July 18, 2022

The Accidental Tourist

When Aum Rinzi Om of WHO Bhutan Office requested me to participate in their just concluded Social Media Training Workshop on Digital Literacy and Content Creation, I was reluctant at first - but eventually agreed to be a part of it.

Training session in progress: truly intense and extensive. The WHO Bhutan Office hopes to upskill the local media's reporting competence, particularly in the social media platform. Other than Bhutan Today, all the rest of the media houses were represented: BBSBusiness Bhutan, Centennial RadioGyalchi SarshogKuzoo FM, TheJournalist, Yiga Radio, TheBhutanese, including JAB, both digitally. Passang Tshering of Passu Diary and I represented the Blogging community.

Venue of the training workshop: Le Meridien Riverfront Paro

I did not realize I was being drawn into a world of complex technological whirlpool that is the social media, of which …… PHEW!!! … I adamantly refused to be a part.

The Annual Conference of the SEARO of the WHO for the year 2022 is scheduled to be held in Paro during September of 2022. The RC75 Conference is so impactful for Bhutan and the region that the WHO Bhutan Office conducted a 4-days training Workshop for Bhutan's media fraternity at the Le Meridien Paro Riverfront.

As the first day of the Workshop was followed by the second, and then the third, and finally the fourth, I was walked through a plethora of technological innovations and tools of the trade that were available to the influencers of the social media. The experience was dizzying - caused by my own cluelessness on the subject. The very competent presenter of the Workshop - Phub Dorji, a Social Media Manager at the Internet technology firm of Nyingnor - rattled off scores and scores of tricks and tips on how to remain on the sunny side of the mighty Facebook by doing nothing that would result in deflecting traffic away from them. He listed out sites, applications and tools that would do all the work for the social media users and managers - he demonstrated computer applications and programs that would help a user achieve amazing things - like make an obtrusive branch disappear from a picture, or morph a monkey into a mouse. One thing dawned on me - the burgeoning use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) has the very real danger of rendering the human breed into complete idiots!

The WHO’s Workshop in Paro made me realize why the present generation is not as hardworking and passionate as my generation. They do not need to be - all the hard work has already been put in by others on their behalf - all that they need is the likes of Phub Dorji to tell them where to get all the tools they need to do their stuff.

For a while I was saddened - there could very well come a day when the AI could take over the HI (Human Intelligence). But on deeper contemplation, I realized that the HI is the creator of the AI - meaning that the relationship between the HI and AI is that of a master and a slave. Thus, it is impossible that the slave can overwhelm the master. It was thus that when a participant asked me the question: Which is more important - the camera or the photographer - in creating beautiful images? I answered thus:

The photographer is still the master - the camera is the slave that does the bidding of the master. The photographer will tell the camera what shutter speed to select when the master chooses to engage a certain aperture setting. The Master will do the framing of the image, the master will decide the time of day to capture an image, the master will decide how shallow the DoF should be, the master will decide what angle to shoot from, the height from which to shoot. The camera will only meekly follow the master’s bidding - it is an inanimate object that has no capability to argue with the master, or to tell the photographer what to do.

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Bird Watching in Bhutan

Hi Peter,

Greetings from Bhutan. I hope you are keeping well and safe.

The last I read, you are listed at the third place among world's top birders, and your bird count is listed at 9,684 species.

One of the two "life birds" for which Peter Kaestner came to Bhutan.

Have you improved on this? I have been asked to write an article by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) on birding in Bhutan and you will find mention in the article - having come to Bhutan for two of your life birds. I would like to get my facts right --- thus I would like your confirmation.

By the way, should you wish to come for a repeat visit to Bhutan - I am happy to inform you that we are opening for tourism towards the end of September 2022.

Have you sighted the Beautiful Nuthatch? If not I am happy to report that the vulnerable bird can now be sighted at Chhukha, an area that you can access on the same day of landing in Paro. 

Bye and take care --- and it was an honor to have guided you during your birding trip to Bhutan in 2009.

Yeshey Dorji


So good to hear from you.  I have wonderful memories of my visit to Bhutan.  You were a wonderful help.

My list today is 9,685, as I saw a new bird on Saturday (Caspian Tit). I would love to come back some day to Bhutan, especially with my wife.  There are not many possible birds for me in your beautiful country.  They are:

Himalayan Thrush, Rufous-vented Laughingthrush, and Blanford’s Rosefinch.

Best wishes,


Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Worrisome Fall In Inward Remittances

As numbed as I am by events of the recent past, an inconspicuous news report in the Kuensel issue of 2nd July, 2022 has been nagging me for days. It simply won’t go away. But I am helpless - my weather-beaten antennae are tuned to ring alarm bells when something out of the ordinary occurs. And, certainly, a drop in inward remittance of over 50% is alarming - in fact terrifying - both in scale and in scope. And why in 2022? I began to examine the matter from all angles - to try and understand what may be causing it.

What is the cause behind more than 50% drop in inward remittances?

The exodus of human capital out of the country has been a source of some worry. The primary concern has been that the country is getting shorn of young and able-bodied youth. But the positive side to the malice has been that the country has recorded inward remittances in the billions. The none-resident Bhutanese have been sending money back home, they have been buying properties and building homes, funding the education of their siblings and generally supporting their families and relatives live an easeful life - through their hard work and earnings abroad. This has been all hunky-dory so far.

In my reading, this trend was indication that Bhutan mattered to them, that their families mattered to them and even more important – it indicated that they would come back home some day - to bask in the accomplishments of their many years of toil in a foreign land.

But now we have to begin to worry: what exactly is causing the drop in remittances – by as much as over 50%?

Is there a dramatic shift in thinking?

Have they decided to park their earnings in the host countries of their domicile, instead of sending it back home?

Are they buying properties outside – instead of in the country of their birth?

Have they decided to take roots and raise families in a foreign land, and not come back to Bhutan?

Or, if none of the above are reasons behind the fall in remittances, have the none-resident Bhutanese found some other channels that are more lucrative than the official channels - to send their earnings back home?

The choice of whether livelihood matters more than life is a choice they have made – but as far as I am concerned, we want the Bhutanese back – we are already so precious few.

I hope the government will institute a study as to why this potentially dangerous trend has taken place. And I pray that this is a one off happenstance - that the trend will reverse in the coming months.

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

The Power Behind Bhutan’s Earliest Coin

By 1765, Bhutan’s stranglehold over the Koch Kingdom was complete. Nothing moved unless the Ja Chila, posted by Bhutan at the capital of the Kingdom, authorized it. It was during this time that Bhutan’s coining journey began for the first time – in the independent kingdom of Koch Bihar.

One of Bhutan's rarest coins. Unlike what most western writers record, Bhutan's coining journey began in the Koch Kingdom in the year 1765 (and not in Bhutan around 1790 as recorded), upon installation of a Jagar Poenlop - called the Ja Chila - at the Koch Kingdom's capital. The Ja Chila issued this coin - Bhutan's first - for circulation in Koch Bihar.

To the western world, Bhutan’s earliest coin, in silver metal, came to be known as the “Ma” coin because it had the alphabet “Ma” on the top right hand corner of the coin’s Reverse. To the Bhutanese however, the coin is identified as “Ngingtang Ghatikap” - meaning old coin of Ghatika - because the coin was hammered at a mint located at a place called Ghatika in the Koch Kingdom.

But today’s post is not about Ngingtang Ghatikap – but the power behind the coin’s issue – Gya Chila, or more accurately Ja Chila. Ja is short for Jaggar and Chila is the title given to a Poenlop with religious background – as in Choetse Chila Chogyel Minjur Tenpa.

The fact that he was designated “Chila” means that the person must have been a Lam. Unfortunately his name is rather confusing. There are three different versions of the name. Different records name him as follows:

Punsuthma    … Official website of the government of Cooch Behar
Punso Toma  …  Historian Ram Rahul in his book “Modern Bhutan”
Punsutama    …  Researcher Dorji Penjore of CBS in his book titled “Zhidar Matters”

I believe that none of the above is correct. In all likelihood the name may have been “Phuntsho …….... something”. I am still trying to find out – so far without success.