Friday, June 9, 2023

The Scale-winged Nocturnal

I have always been fascinated by the beauty of the moths - my own view is that they are much more attractive and prettier than the butterflies. Their wing patterns are so complex and exquisite - I love it!

I believe that the above moth is called Brahmaea wallichii, also known as the Owl Moth. It is a moth from the family Brahmaeidae, the Brahmin months - one of the largest species. They are found in both tropical as well as in temperate forests of Bhutan, China, India, Japan, Myanmar, Nepal and Taiwan.

This particular species is named after the botanist Nathaniel Wallich.

Exquisite patterns and beautiful colors

In February this year, the BBS reported that after almost a decade of study, a team of researchers from Bhutan’s Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Forest and Research Training, and the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, Netherlands discovered almost 2,000 moth species in the country, 26 of which are said to be new to science.

A few months back a book titled "Moths of Bhutan" was released - authored by Cornelis (Cees) Gielis, Maurice Franseen, Frans Groenen and Karma Wangdi, a Khengpa working with the UWIFRT, Bumthang. Some of you may remember that Karma Wangdi rediscovered the Ludlow's Bhutan Swallowtail, our National Butterfly.

It is said that the global population of butterflies and months number a staggering 165,000 species, of which only 18,000 are said to be butterflies.

The above photograph of the moth was acquired by me on June 8, 2023 from Dangrena, Dechenchholing, Thimphu at 5:20PM.

Equipment used to photograph the moth:

     Camera Body                    :  Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III
     Lens                                    :  Carl Zeiss 50mm f/2 ZE Makro-Planer
     Shutter Cable Release           :  Canon RS-80N3
     Camera Tripod                    :  GITZO Carbon Fiber GT5541LS
     Tripod Head                    :  Really Right Stuff Ball head Model BH-55

Photographing butterflies is not easy - they are forever on the move and if they are not moving they are shivering. Moths, on the other hand, are simpler to photograph. Being nocturnal, they rest calmly during day - allowing them to be photographed with ease.

Thursday, June 8, 2023

Siddhartha Gautama Would Have Made A Lousy Bird Photographer

There is no greater confusion among people that what they mean when they say ….. Birder, Birdwatcher, Bird Guide, Bird Photographer, Ornithologist etc. etc. … I have been trying to help people distinguish one from the other - but with little success. So I gave up - instead I now focus on photographing birds as best as I could - as often as I could - because I am a bird photographer first and foremost, and not an educator!

But everyone knows that photographing birds is not easy - but “not easy” is not the same as “not difficult”. And, it takes fanatical doggedness to succeed at it. You have to be so dogged at it that over time you should begin to develop an uncanny ability to sense the bird - even before you see it or hear it. That is when you know you have arrived - as a bird photographer.

But being able to acquire a bird image is … well, a child’s play. You need the image to be beyond good - it has to be uncluttered, separated from the background and the foreground, the sharpness has to be even throughout, the bird should be positioned in such a way that most of its body should be clearly visible - the head, the beak, eye, belly, wings, and a good bit of the birds back. The lighting should be subdued so that you are able to capture and record its colors - faithfully. Not to forget the twinkle in the eye!

Getting all the above right is still not good enough - the final qualification is the SHARPNESS - the image has to be so sharp that you have to be able to see every single strand of the bird’s whiskers, the subtle color variations, and capture the complex, intricate patterns on the bird’s feathers.

As they say, the taste of the pudding is in the eating. Similarly, the only way to test if you have got your images right is by zooming in for a close-up.

It is for this reason that people like me put in close to two months - every day - day in day out - to attempt to get an image of the quality of the following dainty, pint sized, Winter Wren (Troglodytes hiemalis), measuring all of 9.5 cms/3.74 inches:

I can guarantee you - you do not get a good bird image by brooding under a Mahabodhi Tree like uncle Siddhartha Gautama - trust me, he would have made a lousy bird photographer 😂

Monday, June 5, 2023

Honoring A Donor During A Moment Of The Celebration Of Success & Achievement

Dear Tomo-san,

Greetings from Bhutan. I hope you have received my yesterday’s mail.

Once again may I offer you my CONGRATULATIONS on your numerous roles in the Council and the Associations of your City. Although I am aware that these multiple roles would mean added burden, and responsibility, it is demonstrative that you have earned the trust and faith of your people and authorities around you. I am in no doubt that you would live up to their expectations.

Today I write to convey to you a news that should surely warm your heart and give you a sense of fulfillment, and even, perhaps, joy and pride in your achievements - not only at home but in places thousands of miles away from your own shores.

You may recall that you had organized the donation of funds that went on to secure 85 acres of farmland with solar fencing, in a remote village called Goleng in Zhemgang, Central Bhutan. That was in 2016. In 2017, you followed up with another funding that helped fence the whole village of Nimshong spanning a distance of 7 KMs - another village - yet again in Zhemgang.

These activities were in support of a young and a fledgling agriculture farming cooperative - started by 16 youth from various villages in Zhemgang District - called Khengrig Namsum Cooperative (KNC), which was started in 2014.

In 2018, you donated a large farm tractor to KNC, valued at Nu.1.460 million. This donation was invaluable in every sense - it survived a fire in the processing facility of the KNC in which they lost everything - but the tractor. During the ensuing difficult times the cooperative faced, the tractor helped them earn much needed cash that helped overcome their difficulties.

If that were not enough, during the CODVID-19 pandemic when human and vehicular movements were restricted, the government authorities used your tractor to cart and deliver essential foods to the most remote parts of the District - to people who were under strict lockdown.

As you can see, your generosity has transcended all boundaries - the benefit has been immeasurable, to say the least.

But this day the reason why I write to you goes beyond singing your laurels - I want to let you know where the fledgling cooperative - the KNC - stands today - 8 years since you lent them your helping hand. The KNC as an organization has grown into something that can only be described as - HONORABLE. The Agriculture Department of the government admits that they are a shinning example of what agriculture marketing cooperatives should aspire to be. It is a measure of their success and competence that, for the first time in the history of Bhutan, they hosted the first ever Watermelon Festival in the Kingdom of Bhutan - yesterday: 04/06/2023. I was invited to the event and, therefore, I am able to share some of the following photos of the event.

The event marked the celebration of the 33rd Birth Anniversary of Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen, Queen of Bhutan

First ever Water Melon Festival held in Thimphu on June 4, 2023

Watermelons distributed during the event - eat to your heart's content - all FREE.

You may be happy to know that KNC is behind Bhutan’s largest export consignment to date - that of ten thousand kgs. of turmeric powder. Even better, they tell me that export of a like quantity of ginger is in the pipeline - yet again destined for the export market.

It is my hope that these success stories would warm your heart - and help you see meaning in what you are called upon to do - selflessly.

The KNC has a long way to go - but as you can see, they are on the path of success already - thanks to your hand holding them during their formative years.

Thank you once again on behalf of KNC and the Rotary Club of Thimphu who acted as the conduit for your funding.

Goleng : 2016

Nimshong : 2017

A day trip to Zhemgang by helicopter - to hand over the US$79,000.00 agriculture production project : 2018

 Charity on wheels - a large farm tractor donated to KNC : 2018

Bye and take care.


Saturday, June 3, 2023

The Dawn Of Light

I love the Indian saying:

Bhagwan Ke Ghar Mey Dher Hai, Aandher Nahin: In The House Of God, There Is Delay, Not Darkness”.

I mean it may have taken us a few generations to come to the realization that we had been doing something utterly stupid - but it is clear that the home truth is finally upon us. I am referring to the recent removal of the restrictions on tourists from gaining entry into, what we call - Monument Sites. What the dang hell is “Monument Sites” any way?

I mean imagine - tourists spend upto, and upwards of US$400.00 per day per person to come to Bhutan to experience our culture, tradition, religion etc. ….. and we restrict them from entering those very sites where they are practiced in their most primitive form? PREPOSTEROUS!!!!

On a similar vein, the Royal Government of Bhutan had recently introduced, what they call, “High-End Fishing”. Quite remarkably, they did so with great fanfare - replete with sounds of red-robbed monks beating drums and clanging cymbals and rattling the Drilbu - to mark the launch of the event. And there too we did not fail to insert our signature idiocy - read the following:

Now that the National Monument Fund and Supervision Committee (NMFSC) has taken the lead, can we please renationalize our rules relating to High-End Fishing as well? It is quite idiotic to have the “High-End” fishermen pay close to a thousand dollar a day, and then have them cool their heels off - waiting for an incomprehensible day to pass.

How can you ask them to pay so much and then forbid them from fishing? Or, is the government going to refund the payment for those days when the poor fellows are asked to twiddle their thumbs? Remember, they did not pay to be laid off - but to fish!

If you want the tourist $$ - make it worthwhile for them. That is the rule of the game - either play it by the rules - or GET OUT OF IT!

There are close to two dozen anomalies in the High-End Fishing Rules as it stands now - I have already submitted my views to the government, in writing - in an attempt to bring some semblance of sanity in what they are doing. I am assured that they would attempt to remedy those during the upcoming NA deliberations. I hope so.

It is sinful that we should want to impose our will on our guests - while not willing to give an inch by way of reciprocity and courteous behavior, for their money! Imagine the shame of it - we even want to charge SDF to donors and supporters! Do you call this a human behavior? What kind of morons think up such immoral thoughts?

It is time that the Bhutanese people learn a simple, accepted fact of life:

If we are happy to take, we should be equally happy to give.

Thursday, June 1, 2023

We Cannot Rescue The Whole Of Humanity - But We Can - One Human at a Time

As a Member of Bhutan Stroke Foundation, I was made aware of the distressing condition of a STROKE survivor. Her details are as follows:

Dependents : 3 daughters aged 11, 14, and 16 years of age
Village         : Lhaushing
Gewog         : Tongzhang
Dzongkhag : Trashi Yangtse, Eastern Bhutan

Aged 48 years, she is a single mother. She is without parents or siblings. Housed in a ramshackle hut close to Changbangdu public vehicle parking area in Thimphu, she supported herself and her three young daughters - weaving Kiras and Ghos.

Make your heart the starting point of your journey - you will do well.

During the middle of the first COVID-19 lockdown in the year 2020, she suffered a stroke - resulting in her total physical incapacitation. Consequently she was deprived of the one skill that provided her and her children a livelihood - weaving. She had no choice but to relocate herself back to her ancestral home in Trashiyangtse - a desperate, last ditch move that was the only option that was open to her.

That was a wise move - the community in her village rallied around her and rendered her support. Some helped her grow vegetables in her kitchen garden, some tiled her fallow land on her behalf, and yet others provided all essentials to keep her home hearth burning. Life for her has been hard - but she has been living a life, nonetheless - proof that community vitality is still alive in rural Bhutan.

During April of this year I stepped in and, through a kind friend in the USA, he managed to get an American Foundation to come to her aid. Henceforth this Foundation will fund the cost of educating the three daughters - they will be provided with everything they need - school uniform, casual clothing, shoes, socks, lunch boxes, umbrellas, panties, and sanitary pads, pencils, books, crayons, facial creams etc. etc., including pocket money of Nu.500.00 per month.

But what about the mother? The American Foundation helps with educating underprivileged children - they do not support struggling mothers. This is where organizations such as the Bhutan Cancer Society and Bhutan Stroke Foundation, lent a helping hand. Through their help, a bakery is being set up in the proximity of her village. The income from this venture will, it is hoped, help the mother be less dependent on the village community. Market for the modest production from this bakery stands assured.

While the bakery equipment is already in place, I now need to train workers on the use of the machine and in the skills of baking. I need to provide funds for the initial raw materials needed during the training, and funds for training in skills of baking and the seed money to kick-start the enterprise and to keep it going during its seminal period. And it is at this stage that I approach the three of you - my siblings - and appeal to your sense of charity. Please help me overcome the final hurdle - to make available the funding to kick-start the enterprise of charity and compassion. I need you to help me put together the funding as follows:

1. Cost of training for four people, for 2-3 days
      including cost of travel to the training venue        Nu. 14,000.00
2. Trainers Fees                                                                 4,000.00
3. Accommodation for the trainees                                 2,500.00
4. Training material during the training period                 5,500.00
5. Seed money to keep the enterprise going               20,000.00
     Total Fund Requirement:                                Nu. 46,000.00

For this small fund requirement, I am limiting my appeal to only three of you: Yangchen, Leki and Lhakpa. I will chip in as well. Please contribute, as you are able. Your contribution may be transferred to my Bank Account, as follows:

Bank of Bhutan
Bhutan National Bank

During mid this month I visited Trashiyangtse with the express purpose of meeting the mother and the three daughters. I met with the schoolteachers of the two schools in which the three girls study. I am assured that the girls are very well behaved and disciplined and courteous - traits that go to make useful citizens of the future.

Currently, the youngest girl aged 11 years of age is the mother’s sole in-house support system - she changes her pads for her and helps her manage her nature’s call. She baths her and cooks and feeds her on a daily basis. Two elder daughters are away in the school hostels to be of any help. The following are the three girls:

We cannot hope to rescue the whole of humanity - but certainly it is within us all to try and rescue one of them - one at a time.

Please help!

( Acho Yeshey Dorji )

Monday, May 29, 2023

Tap Into The Indian Tourism Market

On Tuesday, September 27, 2022, I wrote as follows, to record India’s celebration of Bhutan’s reopening of tourism:

“But for me the silver lining at the end of all the razzle-dazzle and show of brilliance and incomparability, has been the demure event that took place in Jaigaon across the border in India, on 24th September, 2022. The Indian business community across the border celebrated Bhutan’s opening of tourism - with their own brand of celebrations. This was a touching moment - a re-enforcement, if any were needed, of their trust and faith in Bhutan, their joy in our small successes, and their commitment to walk the distance with us - through thick and thin. Proof that they will forgive us our minor quirks, as we are wont to do theirs.”

Today I am so encouraged to see hoards and hoards of Indian tourists flooding our tourist starved streets and hotels and restaurants. They bring respite to that segment of Bhutanese society who really, truly needs it - not the preferred lot who cheat the Bhutanese people blind of our dues and entitlements, through under declaration and concealment and outright defiance.

This is what I have been saying for the past many, many years - TAP INTO THE INDIAN TOURISM MARKET! India has among the world’s highest middle class population - a population group that is the most outwardly mobile. Even in terms of geographical proximity, they are the closest to us.
I have said this before on this Blog - they have so much undeclared cash (black money as it is known) - they do not know what to do with it. Let me tell you a true story of how desperate they are to spend their money that they cannot spend in their own country, freely.

During late 1970’s and early 1980’s I was posted in the Indian city of Calcutta, to handle Bhutan’s exportable surpluses. I had a very rich Indian friend who, one day, ask me to help him do shopping for his sweetheart. We went to a happening place called New Market. In one of the upscale shops there, he began selecting shoes and saris for his girl – all of 30 pairs of shoes and 40 odd pieces of silk saris!

I was shocked!

“Bloody hell!! Why so many?”

“Why not? - she can wear one set a day”

“Still, why can’t you use the money for some useful things instead of wasting it on shoes and saris?”

“I can’t - I can’t build a house, I can’t buy a new car, I cannot donate it to good causes. If I did - the taxman will want to know how I came by the money. I have so much of it, I do not know what to do with it. Spending it on shoes and saris for my girl atleast ensures that I have easy time with her - it keeps her purring happily. This way atleast my money has some use.”

You get the drift?

Lest you forget, Indian Rupee is no less an important foreign currency as the $. We provably need it more than the Greenback.

The trick is - aim at the right pockets - do not scrap the bottom of the pot!

India's MICE market is a huge, huge potential begging to be exploited. No one seems to be thinking of it. It is sad.

Monday, May 8, 2023

Is The Mother Who Bore The Satan Guilty Or Not?

Sometime in 1980-81, I was sent to Kuwait on a puzzling assignment - to determine the suitability of the desert Kingdom - for the establishment of a Bhutanese Consulate office. Puzzling because I was not from the Diplomatic Corps - but from trade and commerce. I spent about three weeks in that dust bowl - at the end of which I returned home with nothing but a lifelong abhorrence for that breed of humanoid who don the Dishdasha and the flapping Keffiyeh.

Few years later, on 23rd of May, 1983, Bhutan's Consulate was established in Kuwait - with retired army Maj. Pem Tshering as the first Consul General.

However, this is not a narrative about my first and last trip to Kuwait - but about a strange human thought process to which I had the rare opportunity to bear witness to.

I was asked to accompany a friend to witness the proceedings of a court case in the city of Kuwait - his friend’s case was coming up for hearing on that day. In lethargic Kuwaiti style the cases began to be heard, one after another. Finally, it was the turn of my friend’s friend’s case to be heard.

Judge: “OK - next case”.

The Plaintiff: “Your honor, I am a driver and owner of a taxi. I would like to seek your permission to make my submission, if I may”.

Judge: “Yes, yes, go ahead - present your case’.

The Plaintiff: “Thank You Your Honor - May Allah Be Praised.

The Defendant had hired my taxi a few weeks back, to go to a location where unfortunately I ended up in an accident. The accident is costing me a few thousand Dinars - to fix the car and to pay compensation to others - for damages and injuries caused as a consequence.

It is my submission that the defendant should bear the costs resulting from the accident - for the simple reason that if he had not hired me, I would not have been in that location and if I was not in that location, I would not have ended up in the accident. Thus, my plea is that the accident was caused because I was required to be at a place and during a time when the accident was destined, by the will of Allah, to occur.

Therefore, it is my submission that the court kindly pronounce the Defendant guilty for the accident and require him to pay me restitution of the sum equal to the cost I am now burdened with.

Judge: “Security - remove this idiot from my courtroom!!!”

Four decades and three years later, I get this sense that the same scene is now being orchestrated in the land of GNH - in the case involving the Royal Government of Bhutan (RGoB), the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO), Amen Bhutan Tours & Treks (Amen) and the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB).

Blowing Hot and Blowing Cold

The RGoB exhibits the tendencies of a kid: blowing hot and blowing cold, alternately. Sometimes it says APPROVED - then in the next breath it says REVOKED - with scant regard for the consequences of its irresponsible actions. It behaves as if it can do whatever it pleases, without owing any responsibility to the citizens - as if they believe that they are beyond reproach and accountability.

ABTO: Crying foul that Amen had stolen some of their members’ clients - as if those members had a monopoly over the clients. If that were not enough - they accuse Amen of unfair advantage - when they damn well know that that advantage was legitimately AUTHORIZED by the RGoB. ABTO fails to point out the obvious and behaves like a limpid reptile consigned to a hot bed of sand. It fails to provide leadership during these times of crisis. It chooses, instead, to single out an industry player for victimization, borne out of their own ignorance and poor grasp of the issues involved.

Amen: A legal entity holding a valid license, issued by the RGoB, to do tourism business and make profit in the process - in the best and most lucrative way they can. If they have been ingenious and creative in their ability to hoodwink the government, that is a measure of their competence - they are not the custodian of the RGoB’s morality - or responsible for the RGoB's failure to do their due diligence. In the meantime Amen is smiling all the way to the bank - while the hecklers are busy barking up the wrong tree.

This is a case of missing the forest for the tree. Nothing new here - it is in the genes of the Bhutanese - to catch the bull by the tail, always!

Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB): The original traitors to the industry. They are the sole reason for the failure of the industry and its present state of affairs - they allowed clueless, rank outsiders to trample them under their stampeding feet. A regulatory authority with forty eight (48) years of experience and wisdom - had nothing to offer by way of resistance when their world was being turned upside down. They failed to foresee the present crisis - even worst - they failed to accept the onus of their failure, and do the honorable.

For the history books - posterity will be reminded that the above lot of concerned citizens tried to do the right thing.

On 23rd of June, 2022, as a Member of the Bhutan Sustainable Tourism Society (BSTS) participating in a meeting with the Hon’ble Members of the National Assembly’s Economic & Finance Committee, I had declared that I was willing to give in writing that the Government, the Tourism Council of Bhutan and the Department of Immigration were, not one of them, ready to implement the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022. We pleaded for the deferment of the implementation of the Bill - by at least a year, in order that old cases could be sorted out first. Regardless, the government bulldozed the Bill through the NA in record three days - totally disregarding the recommendations of the NA’s Finance & Economic Affairs Committee - a group formed with the express purpose to study and make meaningful recommendations. The Committee did a sterling job - but that was not enough - proving the fact that their appointment was merely a sham.

Today many months latter the result is that the tourism industry has been brought to a grinding halt - in the process, impacting livelihood of almost every Bhutanese across the entire spectrum of the Bhutanese society.

Strangely the government went on to implement even that which was not authorized by the Bill - the matter relating to the SDF.

The Parliament endorsed the SDF for tourists only - NOT for the non-tourists. But currently the government is adamant that the SDF is applicable to government guests, as well as to members of the donor agencies and others.

What exactly does "Revoked" entail, in the context of the present controversy surrounding RGoB/ABTO/Amen/TCB? If it does mean what I understood it to mean, the order would translate into foregoing the above economic contribution to Bhutan and the Bhutanese people.

The numbers are computed at 1,600 tourists of Amen - imagine the numbers involved if we where to calculate based on the tens of thousands of tourists who have been deterred from visiting Bhutan as a consequence of the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022.

And no one is being held accountable - every one is getting away scot free - on the excuse that they do what they do - for the long-term benefit of the country - even while dead bodies are piling up by the wayside. Now even a commercial entity like the DHI tells us that they have done what they have done - in the long-term interest of the country and the people of Bhutan. And, that, in their unmatched wisdom, is forgivable and perfectly all right.

Well & Truly AMEN!

Friday, May 5, 2023

Crypto, Crypto Why For Art Thou Crypto?

The Forbes on 15th of last month laid bare Bhutan’s jealously guarded secret foray into crypto currency investment. That forced the Druk Holding and Investment (DHI) to come clean about Bhutan’s hitherto unadmitted investment into the realm of the incredible and the poorly comprehended. From all accounts crypto currency mining is a rarefied domain of the bold and the daring. But all are in agreement that it is the thing of the future!!

The digital Tiru

I am told that one can speak to a million experts on the subject and each of them would have completely different interpretations of his/her own - with one exception - absolute uniformity in the divergence of views. The most outlandish of them would be WRONG and the most innocuous would be RIGHT.

The novelty of the idea is that a minuscule country like Bhutan has dared tread the path that few other loftier nations have not dared walk.

The question whether we did right or wrong will have to remain mute for the present - what is to be admired is that we had the gumption to go for it - full throttle! Striking a partnership with the crypto currency evangelist and China’s #2 crypto billionaire Jihan Wu and his company Bitdeer operating out of Singapore is, in my view, another strategically smart move - his credentials in the field is impressive and second to none.

Strangely some tell me that while most of us within the country remain clueless about the new-fangled opportunity, some Bhutanese abroad are already investing in the crypto wallet - attributing, in part, to the sudden dip in inward remittances of $$.

Bhutan is considered among the world’s most preferred places for locating crypto currency farms. The reason: we have among the world's cheapest raw material for the product. And I believe that over time we can make it many fold cheaper. Perhaps not at the level of what Kuwait can offer currently - world’s cheapest at US$ 1,400.00 per Bitcoin. But at US$11,750.00 per Bitcoin, Bhutan is miles ahead of India’s US$40,450.00 per Bitcoin and the world’s most expensive – at US$246,530.00 per Bitcoin - for Venezuela.

For me, I have only one fear - will the three or four of our crypto currency farms have a bearing on the country’s burgeoning demand for the raw material - for more critical internal consumption? If yes, that is something we MUST NOT HAVE. Remember - a bird in hand is worth more than many in the bush.

In the dark and gloomy lanes and by-lanes of the crypto currency realm, there is not yet a single clairvoyant who can predict for certain the future of Bitcoins. Already crashes and tumbles are a norm.

But hell!! - there is no gain without pain, right?

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Retrograde, Mirrored, Inverted Etc. Etc.

No one ever told me that writing a book in a foreign language would be easy - I am learning it the hard way how fraught with pitfalls it can prove to be. But where I am concerned, writing a book in my own language would have been even more testing - because I cannot write a crummy line in Zhoogkha/Dzongkha 😂

In an attempt to hasten the process of completing my coin book which has been in the works for the past over a decade, I revisited my coin labels - all neatly typed out with descriptions, weights and measurements. I had believed that I was past that tiresome exercise. But one can never be too careful … some careless mistakes could always creep in.

I felt an instinctive uneasiness when I reached the pages where the variety of Sa Maartangs were described and labeled. I stopped to take a harder look at the series of following coin labels:

Retrograde SaInverted NDra? Am I sure I got them right?

I have been vexed by my doubt about the exact meaning of the words, particularly in reference to projected images: Inverted, Mirrored, Retrograde etc. etc. I decided to get a proper understanding of the meaning of the words. I went into a deep delve - including asking uncle Google. I discovered as follows:

          When a planetary object is in motion - on a backward direction.

          An image as seen when reflected back from a mirror.

          When an image is upside down - when the top is at the bottom and the bottom is on top.

I realized that I had gotten it all wrong. The NDra was NOT inverted - it was mirrored. So was the alphabet Sa - it was NOT in retrograde. Thus, now I have the stupendous task of rewriting a large portion of the coin labels - change all the “Inverted” and “Retrograde” to “Mirrored”.

Oh man, SO BORING!!!

Explanation: It is clear that some of the artisans who engraved the coin dies did not know that the dies have to be engraved with the mirrored images of the designs they want reproduced on the coins. Thus, some of our hammered coins ended up being depicted as mirrored images - like thus:

Flawed work of inexperienced engravers!

Sunday, April 30, 2023

Bhutan’s Largest Ancient Hammered Coin Variety

The Bhutanese had started hammering coins as far as one and a half centuries back - never mind that our beginnings have been less than honorable. Badness aside, it is clear that we did not know, more accurately - it would appear that we were oblivious that we were hammering coins that bore the names of kings of a foreign country - that of the erstwhile Koch Kingdom.

Bhutanese coins trace its origins to the hammered Koch Narayani. The currency of the erstwhile Kingdom of Koch Bihar was called “Narayani” - after the surname of their ruling dynasty - Narayan. Their currency was current in the entire bordering states of Assam, Bhutan, Nepal, North Bengal, Sikkim and perhaps even as far away as Tibet.

Bhutan is a minuscule country with a population that did not have a need for money - whatever we needed, we bartered for them - if that was not possible, we robbed them from across the border. But what is bewildering is that for a country that did not have any need for money, we went on to produce a stupendous variety of coins. Going by the number of variety of coins in my collection, it points to the possibility that Bhutan may have produced close to two hundred verities of them - produced by 6 regional rulers, including two central authorities seated at Punakha.

Almost all Bhutanese coin varieties have designs and motifs borrowed from the Koch Kingdom. One coin variety that we can claim to be Bhutanese without dispute would be the Sa Maartang. This is also the coin variety with the largest die variations. Derived from the coins in my collection, I have recorded the following main varieties of the Sa Maartang:

Eight distinct renditions and placements of the Bhutanese alphabet Sa on our coins. They form the largest of all other varieties of coins hammered in ancient Bhutan.

Not only that it is the most varied, it appears that the alphabet Sa held intergenerational appeal among the Bhutanese - from the earliest of times. Look at the following coins - we have used the Sa alphabet on our coins from as early as late 1700, late 1800, 1950, 1954 - to all the way to  1979, as the following coins will prove:

Late 1700

Late 1800 : Named "Norzang Phubchen" and issued in silver and bronze/copper. It was supposedly issued by Trongsa Poenlop Jigme Namgyel from his mint said to have been located at Inducholing, Trongsa. I am not very sure of this - from records I have in my possession, he did not have a mint until much later towards his passing. Before that someone else was hammering coins for him from elsewhere out of Trongsa. Thus although we could accept that the coin may have been issued by him, it cannot be said with certainty if it was hammered by him in Inducholing or, whether he issued it as Trongsa Poenlop or as the 48th Druk Desi. The same coin was continued to be issued by Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck as the 13th Trongsa Poenlop.

This is also among the first hammered Bhutanese coins that bore our own designs and motifs.

Modern milled Sa Maartang of 1950

Modern milled Sa Maartang of 1955 - this one looks almost exactly like the 1950 issue ---- look carefully and you will find that it is different

Modern milled (wrongly spelt) Five Chhertum coin of 1979: This coin was issued in 1979 by His Majesty the IVth Druk Gyalpo - replicating one of our ancient hammered coins depicting the alphabet Sa

So what do you think is the appeal of the alphabet Sa?

Ninety nine percent of motifs/alphabets/letters on our hammered coins are those of the erstwhile Kingdom of Koch. Most obstinate is the word “Ndra”. This word is the conjunct of three Koch Bihari alphabets: “Na”, “Da” and “Ra”, formed to read as follows:

The Koch Kingdom's word "NDra" - formed by the conjunct of three of their alphabets: Na, Da and Ra

You will find the above Koch Bihari word on most of Bhutan's hammered coins - including the earliest known hammered silver coin of Bhutan.

Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Dorji Lhamo: The Bundle Of Spirit From Kheng Panbang

What can you say of a pint-sized girl: all of 23 years of age - one who has dug in her heels resolutely - unimpressed that thousands her age are headed out to Australia - with sparkles of hope in their eyes and monumental dreams drumming against theirs chests - of making tons and tons of $$ and living out lives of luxury and riches.

A spirited girl from remote Zhemgang village of Panbang

To honor her indomitable spirit, I donated to her 10 brand new books in my collection - free of cost - to be sold at prices of her choosing. It is hoped that she would continue to do the Khenpas proud.

This diminutive Khengpa girl from remote Panbang is a package of nerves. I am truly impressed with this unputdownable bundle of spirit. She moves lithely across footpaths strewn with pebbles and stones and mud, with a bag slung over her back and bearing a bundle of assortment of books in her delicate arms. She has a purpose - to sell a book - for a commission. She is not limited by a fixed destination: the whole wide world is her turf!

But I am convinced that in the hands of the likes of her lie the knitting needles that will eventually knit together the tapestry of Bhutan’s hopes and dreams. She is a different breed of Bhutanese youth - a doer - not a dreamer.

Ms. Dorji Lhamo was introduced to me by a friend one Saturday morning at the Kaja Throm in Thimphu. Few days later I invited her to sit with me over a cup of coffee and tell me her story. Her story was remarkably simple: a drop-out at Class XII she tried her hands at baby-sitting, working as a house-maid, working the sales counters and even at construction sites. At the end of trying all sorts of odd jobs, she realized that none of them suited her - not necessarily the remuneration she got paid - but at the pace at which she was paid.

Then one day she hit on the idea of selling books for some select Bhutanese authors - at a commission. She has been at it for the past close to one year ever since. The earning is nothing to write back home about - but it gave her enough to keep her afloat in a dignified manner - with a tidy sum left over to send back home in Panbang - to help out her siblings and relatives.

Dorji Lhamo is a walking bookstore. If she is not traipsing the streets of Thimphu, she is uploading books to her Facebook page from where people can order an assortment of books - for hand delivery. Her FaceBook address: Dorji and her Walking Library.

Monday, April 17, 2023

Excellence Is A Continuous Process

Yeshey, is your book publisher waiting for you in your graveyard?

This is how I am taunted by one of my friends, in relation to the publication and release of my coin book that has been in the works for the past over fifteen years.

But what is a man to do? - particularly a man with an eye for excellence and perfection?

Near perfect images of three of our ancient copper Maartangs. Other than the last two images at the bottom row, the rest are coins from the era of Choetse Poenlop Jigme Namgyel - late 1880s. That fact is validated by the presence of Bhutanese motifs on both the obverse and reverse sides of the coins - such as Nyima/Dawa, Dhug, Ser Ngya, Singye Hapa, Doongkar, Meto Pema, Dorji, Drilbu, Tsuenmoi Nargyen, Gyalpoi Nyengyen, Pelyab, Zho etc. etc. The last two images depict near perfect copies of Half Silver Tanka of Raja Rajendranarayan of the erstwhile Koch Kingdom - from the period early/mid 1770s. This Bhutanese coin depicts alphabets of the erstwhile Kingdom of Cooch Behar - such as Va, Cha, Ra, La, Ma, NDra, Dra etc.

Some tell me that getting history right is near impossible - that most often what prevails over all the rest will be the versions written by the forceful and the mighty. That may be so, but what I have learnt is that no history may outwit the rigors of time - it comes with a fixed lifespan - ultimately all falsehood will tumble and fall - it is just a matter of being patient until the real truth rears its head.

PERFECTION is not my goal - what I do aspire is to minimize imperfections. Friends tell me that imperfections can be corrected through subsequent editions - they forget that I do not have a contract from God that extends my expiry date beyond the date of release of my subsequent editions. And you can trust me on this - having spent thousands of hours poring through volumes of history, it is my experience that a good bit of our history seems to have been written with the most casual attitudes.

Consider, for instance, the history surrounding the appointment of our regional rulers. So far my understanding was that Chogyel Minjur Tenpa was appointed as the first Choetse Chila in the year 1646/47 - by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The claim so far has been that the Zhabdrung appointed only five rulers in his entire life time - Choegyel Minjur Tenpa being one of them. Others being: Daga Poenlop, Paro Poenlop, first Druk Desi and first Je Khenpo - before he retired to a life of strict meditation, or was done in in his Tsamkhang.

To my consternation, just three days back I came across a manuscript that says that it was the 1st Druk Desi Tenzin Drukgye who appointed Choegyel Minjur Tenpa as the first Chotse Chila, in the year 1651. There goes my history 😢

Refining history is one - the other is that I am constantly trying to improve my coin photography so that they are depicted with outstanding clarity and detail. Imagine photographing the same coin over and over and over again - year after year. But there is simply no excuse for not trying to do the very best of job!

I have photographed my coins in a dozen varieties of ways - under varying lighting conditions, and with camera settings that boggle the mind. I have spent hours at the anvil of a silversmith - to rig up a jig on which to mount my coins so that I may capture their uncommon profiles - with every nook and cranny, every pin hole and every minute dent evenly lighted up and exposed - so that every flaw and every imperfection is captured, faithfully.

The biggest hurdle has been trying to photograph objects with reflective surfaces - such as a shinning metal that make the coin. You know what I mean.

But I am glad that results speak for themselves - as someone in Europe said, my coin images sparkle and pop - right out of the pages!