Sunday, December 25, 2022

My School Principal: 52 Years On, You Are Still In My Thoughts

Respected Sir,

Thank you for your mail and the good wishes. I wish you and Madam Joyce the same.

What does one call it - good fortune? honor? privilege? - that one receives a loving mail from one’s school Principal of over half a century back; that even after more than 52 years of having parted ways, each of our hearts are still brimming with thoughts of each other.

Consider that the world today is populated with 8.07 billion people. Of that many, I ask you - what percentage of school Principals are likely to remember how many of their students of over half a century? Likewise, how many of the 8.07 billion people in this world today would have the sense of gratefulness to remember their school Principals, even after more than half a century has gone by?

It is something to ponder over and marvel at: what enthuses bonds and connections so strong that they encompass many decades and timespan - that too even while being separated and divided by many oceans and time zones?

As I had written to you some years back, the most impactful event in my life was the need for you to leave our school - in response to a higher calling. Quite obviously, without my knowing (I was then too young to know my own mind), your departure from the school broke my heart so completely that I too decided to leave school a year later - I did not care what I wanted to do with my life - more accurately I did not know what life was all about. Fortunately, my life turned out to be more satisfying than I would have ever had the sense to hope for.

Purportedly, I made a negative decision caused by a situation occasioned by your departure - but I have never for once had any doubt that there was the hand of destiny at play - that it was Karmic that you should depart our school and cause me heartbreak. Without that, I would have never had the occasion, or the reason, to embark on my maiden journey of life - as I did - at a time and place when I did, and arrive where I have. That singular incident set me off on a most fulfilling journey across the seven seas; landed me on the shores of places prettier and more beautiful than the Last Shangri-La, and placed me in the company of people and personalities who helped me understand why life was precious, why the obvious path to choose should be the path of service and humility. Why life must be lived to the fullest, and with courage and noble intentions.

I Thank You for your role in making my life whole. And Thank You for making me feel so SPECIAL.

From all reports, the typical bitter cold and moist English winter will likely be even more so this year. It is my hope that Madam Joyce would derive warmth and comfort from the woolen jacket I chose for her, during your last trip to Bhutan. Even more important, I hope she is able to make another journey soon - for the prospect of a reward of yet another woolen jacket - even warmer and comfier than the last 😅

I remain, yours in gratefulness,

Yeshey Dorji
Class of 1968 - 1971
Gawpey School, Paro

Wednesday, December 21, 2022

An Uncommon Act Of Nationalism

Far removed from the madding crowd - atleast a good hundred kilometers to south of the capital city Thimphu, in a remote village located in a region extremely shorn of vegetation, stands a shanty little dwelling hammered together with rusted corrugated iron sheets and old used tin panes. Standing firmly and regally atop its craggy roof was our national flag fluttering vigorously in the afternoon wind.

An uncommon national flag

Celebration of nationhood. That may be so but the overhead high voltage power transmission line passing over the home seems dangerously too close to the CGI roof. The Dzongkhag Administration should require the power line to be relocated to a safer location - before an accident occurs. Metal/CGI sheets are known to be good electrical conductors.

The day was 19th December 2022 - just two days past our 115th National Day. Thus, the national flag fluttering above any old rooftops should not be a cause for the excitement of my imagination. But it did. There was something curious about the dainty little flag fluttering happily in the wind. Although I was intent upon arriving at my destination to shoot a special bird, which was still a good hour’s drive away, I stopped my car and walked back to take a closer look at the flag. I was right - this flag was without doubt uncommon - it had the word BHUTAN printed on it.

As we all know, our national flag does not need to be printed with the word BHUTAN to identify it with the country - it does so by its unique and distinctive colors. So then why was this flag printed with the words BHUTAN? I was puzzled - until it dawned on me what the fluttering piece of colorful fabric was.

It took my breadth away when I realized that I was witness to an uncommon act of nationalism - and that too at a most unlikely location, and from a person in whose station such emotions are believed to be most unlikely. I was touched deeply by his act of celebration of his kingdom's nationhood - something that many of us fail to do - either consciously or unconsciously.

I can guess that the owner of the house was either too poor to afford to buy a real flag to hoist over his rooftop on the National Day or, he did not have access to a flag, being so remotely located as he was. Thus, in my understanding, he did what would have without doubt caused him much anguish - he decided to tear apart a prized possession - a colorful drawstring bag fashioned after our national flag (most likely manufactured in Bangkok) - with the word BHUTAN printed on it.

For a villager of his meager means, shredding apart such a special possession would have been heart wrenching - but evidently he did, nonetheless. Because obviously for him, the symbolism behind the act of hoisting the national flag to celebrate the National Day was much more meaningful, than a bag that would have, in all likelihood, remained mostly unfilled.

When my day was done, on my return journey I once again passed by the shanty home located in the village of Chumelakha under Darla Gewog, Chhukha Dzongkhag. I was intent on speaking with its owner - Mr. Bal Kumar Karki - to applaud him for his most noteworthy act. Sadly, the man was still not at home - my loss.

A famous Buddhist Parable:
One day God in heaven looked down on Bhutan to see how many of his devotees had offered him butter lamps on this holy day. He was most pleased to notice that a countless number of his devotees had offered him few thousand Karmé Tong Choe” - Thousand Butter Lamps - spread across many regions of the country.

But among the millions of butter lamps that was lit on the day - the one that shone the brightest and the longest, was the solitary lamp that was lit by an aged abandoned woman - fueled by the last few drops of Shingmar oil she was using to oil her freshly washed hair.

Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Not The Complete Truth!

I find that today’s report by the Kuensel or, more accurately, the report by the Centre for Bhutan & GNH Studies on the causes for the drop in Yak rearing in our alpine highlands is incomplete, at best. I would like to attempt to complete the list by adding the following causes that have been poorly reported, or missed out entirely.

Disenchanted by Yak herding!

An incomplete report on the issue
  • I believe that at the top of the list is the economic competence afforded by the income from annual Cordyceps harvest from their regions, authorized/legitimized during early 2000s. The highland Bjops as a community are now richer than their lowland Ngaspos (hosts) who host them during the winter months when they migrate for few months. These Bjops now own a number of multi-storied buildings in urban centers such as Trongsa, Bumthang, Wangdue, Punakha, Paro, Trashigang, Mongaar etc.
  • Some of the Bjops have made permanent relocations to low lands, upon becoming owners of land and other properties - thus abandoning their traditional yak rearing occupation.
  • The yaks’ traditional pastureland where they use to graze has seen invasion by hundreds of pack ponies from the low lands. These ponies compete with the yaks for the scantily available grass. During one of my trips to the remote alpine regions, I have seen quarrel breakout between the yak herders and the pony drivers. The yak herders claim ownership right over the grazing space - while the pony drivers contend that their ponies cannot be denied right of nourishment. At one point I had to pay the yak herders compensation for the grass consumed by over a dozen of my pack ponies because I believed that the yak herders’ rights precedes that of the pony drivers.
  • Thousands upon thousands of Cordyceps collectors storm the mountainsides during the Cordyceps collection months that illegally extend over three months. During these periods, the collectors use up huge amounts of a low-lying alpine bush called “Pam” - for use as fuel wood. This renders the topsoil barren of cover for regeneration of much needed grass for consumption by the yaks, also causing erosion over time.
  • Something that I had never realized before was the fact that a large number of the yaks reared in the high mountains are owned by the monk body and the powerful and rich families in the low lands - only a limited number of the yak herders actually own the yaks they herd under extreme climactic and weather conditions. These traditional part time owners are now abandoning the occupation - for better opportunities and as a result of economic gains afforded by the cordyceps collection.
  • On one of my trips to Merak’s highest peak - Mt. Jumo Koongkhar, I spent a few nights at a yak herding family’s camp. I was witness to a brutal predation on few yaks by the Black Bears - this was the first time I realized that bears were not entirely herbivores, as I had believed. I am told that this is a regular problem with the yak herders.
Perhaps it is time for the government to take a closer look at the consequences of the changing habits of the Bjops.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Duty Free Quota is also HISTORY!

On November 16, 2022 I was elated to have been able to write about the relegation of the state-sponsored corruption called the Car Quota Entitlement to the morgue - after close to half a century of misuse and abuse. But I was a tad disappointed that the Duty Free Quota did not go the same way. No doubt the Duty Free Quota is an evil at a much, much lesser degree - but nonetheless an evil that should have no place is a society that prides itself at being an epitome of Drungnam and Drungdoen. The existence of such a system of preferential treatment among equals is not a sign of a progressive society.

Going, going, GONE!

Happily, the Honorable Prime Minister has now announced in yesterday’s (09.12.2022) Kuensel that the Duty Free Quota would be buried as well - w.e.f. January, 2023. I cannot understand - unless it is designed to suppress and subjugate the poor and the incapacitated - that such a system can find acceptance in a society that aspires to be among the very best in the world. I accept that we can be - but the paper tigers will have to start to emerge out of the closets and do their share - instead of being the habitual piggyback riders.

Announcement of the burial of Duty Free Quota w.e.f. January 2023

No government in the past has had it as tough as the DNT. The COVID-19 pandemic has well and truly stolen their thunder. It is immaterial whether anyone accepts it or not - what is undeniable is that the DNT government simply did not get the opportunity to prove themselves, despite the chance that was offered them. Whether they would have performed under ideal conditions will have to remain mute for now - no one may claim the powers of a soothsayer to tell for sure. 

Look at their record - no other government in the past has dared implement the policies the DNT did - I believe that none in the future are likely to dare, not at this level. Towards the delicate period of the end of their tenure the policies they put into place, the groundbreaking changes they introduced – what can be said of them? Trailblazing! Selfless and courageous! No politics!

It has to be seen if the Bhutanese people are educated enough, and has the wisdom to be grateful for what the DNT did during such a painful period in our history. Regardless, one thing is for sure - from where I stand, at the end of their political term, the Members of the DNT can walk away with their heads held high, and with a sense of absolute satisfaction in the knowledge that whatever little opportunity they had in which to do, they took it to do good for the country and the people of Bhutan.

Ofcourse they are not without failures - one most telling is their failure in the transformation of the tourism sector. The best they could do was to transform the TCB into a department with a multi-colored name that is glaringly un-Bhutanese. Putting them under a Ministry was a good move - but not redefining and streamlining their roles and functions will continue to perpetuate the rot in the industry. To be fair, it is not the people at the TCB - but the confused mandate that they have been straddled with.

Wednesday, December 7, 2022

Mother Earth: Pregnant with Beer Bottles

More than a dozen years back (July 2010), I reported about rural Bhutan being used as burial grounds for empty glass beer bottles. Please read about it at:

What I reported above pertains to an act of a village bootlegger - in the remote village of Kheng Nimshong in Zhemgang. In all fairness, what the man did was an act borne of innocence - he would not have known any better.

It is likely that few million glass beer bottles may remain buried inside our forests across the country

But what is the excuse for the government to do nothing to mitigate such eventualities? Obviously if a clueless Khengpa is doing it in Zhemgang, a Sharchop in remote Sharchok could well be doing the same. So would a Lhotshampa in the South and Bjops in Laya, Lingzhi, Merak and Sakteng, in the North.

Empty beer bottles are heavy, brittle and their resale value is not worth all the trouble of delivering them to the scrap dealers in urban centers. So they end up strewn all over the forest floor and, even worst, deep inside trenches dug into the belly of the earth.

Can we do something about it, for the sake of our environment? Remember - we are known the world over as the champions of environmental protection - we have prestigious awards to prove that!

How about introducing a rule that would require the beer manufacturers/importers to maintain a monetary deposit with the government - for every glass bottle they release into the market. The manufacturer/importers in turn should hold a like sum in deposit from their Distributors, so that every bottle they lift is required to be deposited back with the manufacturers/importers, failing which the deposit gets deducted by the pre-determined value of shortfall in the number of empty bottles. Likewise, the distributors/dealers impose a similar requirement on their retailers.

The manufacturers/importers should not be affected by the rule since the deposit is passed on down the marketing channel. The beer consumer should not be affected greatly since the deposit requirement is likely to impact the pricing of the beer only marginally, if at all. If it does, tough shit!

Today, given the changing taste of the Bhutanese drinkers, I am told that beer is THE alcohol of choice among rural Bhutanese. I understand that the lowly Aara is now infra dig!

Is the ongoing transformation exercise likely to transform anything in Bhutan at all? Or, is it going to be the case of whole lot of EFFICIENCY without EFFECTIVENESS!

Let us dispense with the verbosity - it is time to get down to action for a change!

Monday, December 5, 2022

NOW Is The Time To Visit The World’s Last Shangri-La

Hi …….. ,
Thank you for your mail.
I am happy to learn that you are interested in visiting Bhutan.

On the outset I would like to state that it is indeed timely that you are considering visiting Bhutan at this time. As your friend who recommended me to you would have told you, Bhutan is still relatively unblemished  - we still have an unhurried and laid-back way of life; we still pride that we are a country where culture and tradition matter and that contentment is not measured by the level of material success - all of which point to the fact that we are a country that is at the cusp of madding modernity.
Sadly, all that will change in the next few years - and modernity will surely render us as unique as everyone else. That is why I say that it is timely that you have decided to visit Bhutan NOW.

Bhutan's woven textiles: Weaving artistry at its superlative

Before we go any further, I would like you to consider that visiting Bhutan will set you off by a minimum of US$400.00 per night halt, per person - on a twin room sharing basis. However, this amount will cover almost everything: government royalty in the form of SDF, hotel accommodation in 3-star hotels, guide, conveyance to any part of the country, meals, soft drinks, bottled processed water, laundry etc. Visits to cultural sites are NOT included, and any special interest activities will attract additional charges, over and above the minimum US$400.00.
Does this amount seem like a reasonable sum for an experience that we believe few other countries in the world are likely to match? If yes, next questions to consider are:
What will be the duration of your visit?
Which month do you plan to make the journey?
What are your core interests? - it is inconceivable that you can hope to cover everything in a single visit. Thus you will have to decide what are at the top of your wish list: bird watching, nature, hiking/trekking, festivals, game fishing, whitewater rafting etc. Your interest will determine the month of your visit but as a pointer the most productive months are March/April and October/November.
It is said that Bhutan as a tourist destination is a once-in-a-lifetime affair - not because the cost is prohibitive but because of the remoteness of the location and the mystique surrounding the country - some have likened us to the mythical last Shangri-La. Ofcourse we are not mythical - we are here and now. And, what is our appeal? Please ask your friend who just returned to the USA - after her fourth repeat visit to the country.
Once I have your answers to my above four questions, we can take the discussion further.
Bye and take care.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Doongchoong Taagla Thrikar: Bhutanese Army General In The Employ Of Gesar Of Ling

Years of relentless research into the history of coinage in Bhutan has taken me to destinations never before imagined, and connected me to people I had never before known or heard of. But all of them were rewarding and wondrous to say the least. What is even more phenomenal is that my quest put me face to face with a piece of incredible history that dealt with the history of my family and lineage – that of Taagma Doong.

A year or two back, one Bhutanese scholar had told me that the only Bhutanese who qualified to serve in the army of Gesar of Ling was from the family of Taagma Doong, that his name was Doongchoong Taagla Thrikar.
Gesar of Ling

Since I am the surviving head of one branch of Taagma Doong, I kept a look out for any material related to the issue. Then a week back I got to know of a western scholar/researcher/historian doing research on the Epic of Gesar of Ling. I wrote to the person for validation on the matter and the following is the response I got:

Hi Yeshey,
I hope you will excuse how long this took me. I've been busy and spending time with family (a rare treat.)

I was able to find the general you were speaking of. His name in Tibetan is:

and according to my notes he is "originally from Mön but a brother of Gesar."  So the "brother" thing isn't a blood lineage, this will refer to previous life and karmic connections. As for being Bhutanese, it's important to remember that 1000 years ago borders were different and often didn't matter: it was your tribe and community. So we know that Taklha Trikar was from Mön, but this wasn't really a region at the time so much as a kingdom united by ethnicity. According to what I can find there was a "monyul" or "lhomon" at the time of Gesar located partially in Modern Bhutan and that in the 11th century they converted to Buddhism, which matches with Gesar's timeline of Buddhist conversions in the region.

What does this mean? Nothing 100% solid. As a historian, I believe there is very good evidence for the existence of King Gesar and for his conquests. And this timeline definitely defends a general from Mon becoming a member of Gesar's kingdom. It's not proof for or against, but it's definitely possible and I would even argue likely. So basically what you've been told about your family clan and lineage is absolutely possible! The name is there, the history matches, the locations are correct.  I don't have a time machine, so I can't say 100% if something is true or not, but the info matches.

What a cool family history!

I hope this helps!