Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Bhutan Trust Fund For Environmental Conservation

The world’s first environmental conservation Fund - BHUTAN TRUST FUND FOR ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION (BTFEC) - held an event at the Hotel Le Méridien, Thimphu yesterday. The event was yet another first for the world’s pioneering fund specifically founded for the conservation of the nation’s natural environment. In an era of exclusion and elimination, the event brought together a gaggle of personae from practically every walk of life - regulators, environmentalists, educationists, photographers, members of the bureaucracy, financiers, UN workers, hoteliers, college students, a large troupe of aid workers from NGOs, a motley of journalists from the fourth estate, including a surprise package in the form of Dr. Sean Watson of the Mountain Hazelnut Project fame.

A first-of-its-kind initiative

Truly an event that can be said to be a result of the out-of-box thinking by the management team headed by a brand new CEO in the person of Dr. Karma Tshering, the BTFEC has initiated a groundbreaking initiative that we hope other similar institutions will want to replicate. That said, I hope it does not turn out to be a flash-in-the-pan kind of thing - I hope they stay the course over the long haul.

The event saw participation from a staggering 74 participants - excluding the Foundation officials and staff. If numbers matter, it should speak sufficiently for the popularity and relevance of the event. Inviting the Foundation’s Founder - Dasho Benji Dorji - to speak at the event was a nice touch. But I was sorely disappointed that the BTFEC forgot the past CEOs of the Foundation without whose competent contributions the BTEFC would not be where it is today. I noticed the same lack of social grace during the celebration of the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s 50th Year Anniversary at the Dusit Hotel in 2021. Then too they forgot the pioneering players and trailblazers of the industry who are still alive and contributing vigorously to the growth of the country’s most vital industry - the peerless tourism industry.

I hope people will remember that our present is innately linked to our yesterday - and our today will define our tomorrow.

The discussions and recommendations that ensued during the event were truly meaningful and it is my hope that they would serve as a road map for the BTFEC. It is also my hope that they would make such gatherings a calendar event - so that they can feel the pulse of their aspiring collaborators of the future.

Three of my submissions to the BTFEC during the event were:

1.   Please choose your partners wisely;
2.   Please reassess your past projects so that you avoid known pitfalls; and
3.  Please institute a Reward scheme for the proven environmental champions of the country
      - not a reward for the already rewarded.

My formula for success has always been that we should attempt many, many small and manageable undertakings that are within our financial and technical competence, instead of attempting large enterprises that are outside our capability. It is my hope that the BTFEC would see merit in espousing minor players as well - even as they muddy the waters with big and mighty fish in the rivers.

I have it on authority that the management of the BTFEC did send out invitations to all of the past CEOs of the Fund, for their presence at the event. Unfortunately, none of them could make it - given their prior engagement elsewhere.

Sunday, January 29, 2023

The Tea Girl from Dawakha 2

I located her – my Tea Girl from Dawakha.

She saw me approach her and called out; “Kuzuzangpo la”, with the same beaming smile brightening up her youthful face.

This time she was not selling tea but tending to her sister’s grocery store. This time she did not offer me tea because she obviously remembers from our last tryst that I do not drink tea - particularly not tea with milk.

I asked her; “Where is your tea?”

She replied; “I have it here – do you want to drink?”

I said;  “Yes please.”

She poured me a cup from her Chinese made flask. I began drinking.

An offering of unparalleled value and significance

“So what do you do these days?”

“I help out my sister with her shop here. At other times I help out my mom who runs a store next to our house. My life is just like that.”

My life is just like that” - do I detect a hint of surrender and submission?

We spoke of the reason for her time in Dawakha, number of years she spent there, her age, name of her village etc. We spoke of the humane conditions of Dawakha Open Air Prison - how the atmosphere there bordered on the normal and the regular - nothing like a prison.

Over time, our conversation veered off to other inmates who were there during her time at Dawakha. In particular we spoke of the young willowy dancer of great talent who moved as if she had no bones in her body. We spoke of the successful entrepreneur gone astray, and her remaining 4-5 years still left to serve. Our conversation moved on to another beautiful young girl who bludgeoned her husband to death. And while we did not speak about her, I remembered a lady inmate who renounced her own life to serve time at Dawakha - in order that she may spare her husband’s son from being consigned to a life of imprisonment at such a tender age, even before his life began. A sublime act of compassion and sacrifice.

Not all inmates are criminals - in many cases they are victims of circumstances. But in every single case they are criminals because they had the misfortune of being caught in the act - if they hadn't been caught, they wouldn't be known as criminals. There are tens of thousands who are bigger and more sinful criminals in Bhutan who roam freely - driving Land Cruisers and living in swanky villas - ridding high horses and dispensing morality. Their only virtue is that they are smart enough not to get caught and, even if they are caught, they are powerful enough to hush things up and move about as if they were God’s gift to humanity.

“So, I hope you will now behave yourself and do nothing that will result in having to go back again to Dawakha.”

“No Sir, I will not.”

“Good - hang on there!”

Friday, January 27, 2023

The Tea Girl From Dawakha

“Sir, please have a cup of tea”; offered a young girl at Bebena’s vegetable market last Saturday - beaming with an unabashed smile bright enough to light up the whole of Bebena Vegetable Market, all the way to Tashichho Dzong.

“No thank you”, I said.

Sir, you don’t have to pay. I offer it free”.

“No, no, I mean I do not drink tea - particularly not tea with milk”.

“Oh…… Lass La”, said the girl, about to move away - still smiling.

“Hold on ----- do you know me”?

“Yes la, I do. You are Rotary Sir”.

“Where did we meet?”

“In Dawakha la … I was resident there when you visited”.

Dawakha. !!DAWAKHA!! - a locale most would go to great lengths to conceal the fact of ever having been domiciled there.

Dawakha - an open-air prison facility for female convicts serving time, on transfer from Chamgang Central Jail.

Selling tea to regain her dignity & life 

It was a truly humbling experience - to know that I am remembered - not by the rich and the powerful and the all knowing - but by one who is considered a criminal, a social outcast - a stigmatized person.

I am deeply touched and honored - I mean how often does one get offered a free cup of tea in the middle of a huge throng, by a person who may most likely be living on the fringes of law and society?

Obviously the young lady is a remarkable person. Her beaming smile is proof that she has made her peace with life - buried per past and is now trying to regain her dignity and her life - by selling cups of tea at the vegetable market.

Background: In my capacity as the Club Secretary of the Rotary Club of Thimphu, I had to visit the Open Air Prison (OAP) at Dawakha few times, to oversee the implementation of three Rotary projects at the OAP. The young lady tea seller obviously remembered me from one of my visits to the facility.

It took a while to dawn on me that her offer of a free cup of tea was her way of saying Thank You.

Over the days since the incident of last Saturday, I have been thinking: how lucky I am and yet it was so terribly thoughtless and insensitive of me - I should have accepted the cup of tea and drank it.

I hope it is not too late. Beginning from coming Saturday, at the top of my shopping list will be - a cup of tea from that young lady from Dawakha. Hopefully I will bump into her once again and, this time, I will not fail her.

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Safe Water: The Gift Of Life

Hi Brian,

Thank you for the link to the video .... I went through the whole video till the end.

It was truly nostalgic. I may have resigned ... but my heart is still there ----- in the Rotary.

The launch of BHUTAN2020 Project at the Rotary Convention in Toronto, Canada in 2018

At $ one million, our BHUTAN2020 Project is Rotary Club of Thimphu's single largest humanitarian project, and among the most meaningful. It benefits a few hundred thousand school children and teachers across the country, including, in some cases, even their parents. The Ist Phase of SkyHydrant 120 filters were already successfully installed during my tenure. Five days back I visited the Rotary office and I noticed that 5 filters from the IInd Phase is already in the country - I thank you for keeping the project alive and on track.

Map showing installation sites of 20 SkyHydrant water filters by July 2018

But one worry that had dogged me during the entire duration of my tenure in RC Thimphu was the fear that school authorities could be numbed into a false sense of safety - that since there is a good filtration system installed in the school that everything would be hunky dory. People tend to forget that the very best of systems are prone to failure - that one must never be complacent.

Safeguarding our children

In my capacity as the Club Secretary I did all I could to try and ensure that the school Principals remain vigilant - that the filters are not malfunctioning. The only way to ensure that is by running regular tests to make sure that the filters are dispensing safe water. The schools have been required to make sure that they have the health authorities test the water dispensed by the filters every 2-3 months. It is my hope that the requirement is not abandoned, for the sake of school children’s health.

By the way, you may have heard that thousands of Bhutanese youth are heading for Australia - for education and livelihood. Please keep a look out for any job openings for them. I suddenly realized that NOTHING, but NOTHING, can beat the Rotary network - please spread the word among the Rotary fraternity in Australia. I think this is a great idea - particularly considering that a majority of the sponsors for the SkyHydrant water filters are Rotarians, or institutions owned and run by Rotarians.

Bye and take care ... and I hope you will have the patience to keep going with the good work.


Sunday, January 22, 2023

Photography In Extreme High Altitude Wilderness

This post will be a longish one - and not really suitable for a Blog of this nature. But I believe that it might help some readers, particularly those who are engaged in arranging expeditions to extreme high altitude locations.

Some views that most will never see in their lifetime.


Hi ..........,

Thank you for your mail - I am speechless at the content of it. Even more, I am privileged that a person of your standing should remember me even after close to nine years since we last met. I am ecstatic that there may yet be another opportunity for me to be in your company - an apprentice of the legendary Ansel Adams - considered by environmentalists as a national monument, and by photographers as nothing less than an institution of US of A.

First off, as a rule, I have remained steadfast in my life-long resolve never to accept guiding assignments for photography or bird watching - not at any price. The reason is that I become so engrossed in the activity myself that I fail to provide dedicated service to my clients. In your case, however, I will willingly make an exception - to honor you and your indomitable spirit and remarkable courage in the pursuit of your calling. I will accompany you on the trip - not as a guide but as a companion, should it come to pass - a prospect I fear to be a remote possibility at best.

Are you sure the lovely Pillar will allow you this risk-ridden jaunt into the extreme alpine wilderness of Bhutan? If my memory serves me right, you should be hitting 90, this year. If you are able to convince her to allow you to undertake this trip - which I will call your “Last Tango in Phangu” - you will have a whale of a time, I guarantee you that.

Should your skills of persuasion - certainly not an impossibility for a retired Vice-President of the world famous Nestle Group company - be good enough to persuade the formidable Mrs. Pillar and the trip should happen, it will not be cheap. I know you can afford it but are you willing to loosen the purse strings?

The planning for the trip will be long drawn and has to be exacting to the last minute detail. That will be my job and I will begin forthwith - from the word go.

I suggest that the trip be planned for the month of mid-November when the skies are guaranteed to be clear, sparkling blue, and spangled with a trillion shimmering stars. But trust me, it will be excruciatingly COLD!

We will need to use helicopter service as our principal mode of conveyance. The helicopter will need to be hired on full-day basis - the hire duration may last 7-8 days.

We plan between five to six sorties - to three or four locations in the extreme North of the country - two in the Western region, one in the Central and one in the Eastern regions of the country. Two of the initial sorties will be to places much lower than the actual photo-shoot locations - to allow your body to adjust to the changing barometric pressures that your body would have never before been exposed to.

The logistics in all the campsites at the selected locations will be pre-setup, by independent teams. Each campsite will have their own dedicated support staff - it will be impractical and inconvenient to move camp from location to location, after every shoot. Also it will be time consuming, adding to cost and logistical nightmare.

You will need technically competent clothing - fit for -40 degrees temperature and slashing chilly wind. In time, I will recommend the manufacturer and class of clothing that you will need to acquire for the trip - I am familiar with them, having already acquired them for my own trips in the past. I will ensure that you are warm and toasty - atleast during times when you are at the campsites - on locations you will have to depend on your own grit! 😋

I already have world-class extreme weather camping gear - to equip four different campsites at any given time. I will plan on a minimum of three tents at each location - one for you and Pillar (if she is joining you), one for the camera assistants and me, and the third one for the support team such as cooks and pony drivers. Each campsite will be staffed with a certified guide trained in medical evacuation in wilderness situations - just in case.

Please do not worry - my tents are designed to withstand gusts of wind upto 50 mph.

Given the fragility of your age, we will have to plan on having a medical doctor with experience and training in medical treatment and evacuations - on call, 24 hours of the day and night.

You will have to plan on 4-5 days of rest and acclimatization in Thimphu/Paro before you undertake the trip to the alpine regions. This will also give us time to run you through necessary medical tests to make sure that you are fit to ascend to altitudes over 5,000 Mtrs. Talking of which all your camp sites will be located at altitudes over 4,000 Mtrs.

To fly you to high altitude locations in a matter of hours will be extremely dangerous. Thus, you will be required to approach the first camp site over few days - progressive climb over 2-3 days, gaining a thousand meters and acclimatizing at that altitude for a night or two, before you progress to a higher altitude, gaining no more than a thousand meters at a time. Once you are able to negotiate to the first campsite with ease and in comfort, we will then be certain beyond doubt that the next 2-3 campsites can be accessed without fear of AMS and other related issues.

Your take off point will be 2,400 to 2,500 Mtrs. - altitudes at which Thimphu/Paro are located. This means you will ascend to an altitude of 3,500 Mtrs. on the first sortie and remain there for atleast a day or two. If you remain unaffected at this altitude, only then we will undertake the second sortie, which will be to the photo-shoot location where the campsite will be located.

No activity can be undertaken on the first day of your arrival at the first camp. It will be a day of acclimatisation.

One detail: At sub-zero temperatures and altitudes over 4,000 Mtrs. cooking meals will be a painful experience - even boiling water will be a tedious and long drawn process. So you will have to depend mostly on pre-cooked packaged food for meals. You will need to bring along energy bars to boost your energy level during the photoshoot.

You are provably already aware that camera battery performance at high altitudes and sub-zero temperatures will drop to as low as 40%. Thus you will have to carry loads of extra camera batteries.

I am giving you the above rudimentary details so that you have an idea of the rough cost that will be involved. Once you say you are OK, I will then work on the full detailing of the trip.

Please let me know - and please give MY BEST to Pillar.

Bye and take care


Friday, January 20, 2023

Short-Changing The Short-Term

I began blogging in 2009. As on today, my blog count, including this one, stands at 1,009 articles. So far the year 2022 saw the highest number of articles compared to all other years - at 145 articles - an average of over one article every two and half days.

Significantly, the month of June 2022 recorded the second all time highest number of blogs - at 17 articles. The reason for the frenzy:

Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022

It came to be known that the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022 would be introduced as a Money Bill - meaning it would be implemented immediately upon endorsement by the Parliament. The tourism industry went on an overdrive, to try and defer the implementation of the Bill to a more appropriate date - sadly, to no avail.

Of the many points I made in trying to dissuade the government from rushing through the implementing of the Bill, most pertinent were the following:

That the people were not against the Bill - but at the terrible timing of its implementation. That the industry stakeholders’ plea with the government was that the abrupt implementation of the proposed Bill would severely impact the tourism trade and derail the smooth functioning of the business. The immediate implementation of a new way of doing business that is 360 degrees about-face, from a perfectly working system to which the industry had been used to for the past 48 years, is being unrealistic and impractical. That they needed time to reorient and allow people in the business chain to adapt to the new system - for a seamless migration. That people need time to recover from the ravages of the COVID-19. The industry’s request, which was not unreasonable, was for the deferment of the implementation of the Bill by atleast a year - if not more.

The Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022 was adopted by the National Assembly of Bhutan on 24th June, 2022 - it became law as of 20th June, 2022. Thus, as of June 30, 2022 I halted all further discussions on the matter relating to the Bill/Act - I realized that it was futile. But in parting, and in response to the government’s repeated assertions that in passing the Bill they had the country’s long-term benefit at heart, I made the following point:

“What was the point of the long-term benefit if the people were all dead in the short term?”

The Short-term concerns should have prevailed over the Long-term

Tourism is Bhutan’s most vital industry - it provides employment to the largest number of people; it supports the largest number of ancillary services/industries. It accrues benefit across the broad spectrum of the Bhutanese society - both in the rural as well as in the urban. It earns the highest $$ foreign exchange for the country. Barring few operators, it is also the only industry where tax evasion does not happen.
The Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022 became law as of 20th June, 2022

I tried to dispel the misconception that the tour operators would be the most affected by the Bill - I argued that the hotel industry would suffer the greatest casualty. I was offered a counter argument that the decision of the hotel owners to go into hotel business was purely a business decision, made at their own behest. I agreed, but argued that:

“The decision was made based on a conducive policy that was in place. That when that policy was altered, in spite of the industry’s vehement protestations, the onus of responsibility of the industry’s failure must rest squarely with those who did it - the government.”

Today I am told that hotels across the border in Jaigaon are fully booked - while ours in Phuentsholing are running empty. Even an extremely popular hotel such as the Hotel Druk in Thimphu has room occupancy of barely 2-3 rooms a night.

And yet we cannot give up hope - for all we know, there may be a pattern to the madness that we are as yet unable to see.

We hope and pray that there is.

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Royal Civil Service Commission Is Recruiting

As they say in the comic books ---- I told you so!

I am doubtful about the claim "civil servants" but the RCSC is obviously recruiting more employees!

One of the number of positive sides to the hoards of youth heading for Australia is that it opens up employment opportunities for those who are less fortunate - in particular for those who do not have the wherewithal to obtain loans from the financial institutions. Many of us ignore the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of youth who may harbor the hope of being on the band wagon - but cannot because they do not have savings, nor do they have rich parents, or do they own property valuable enough to qualify as a collateral for the necessary amount of bank loan to finance their trip.

Remember that one-way airfare for two to Perth, Australia will cost close to Nu.300,000.00. The reality, thus, is that it is not the poor and the deserving, who make it to Australia - those who do are those who have the mullah to be able to do so. It is a painful reality - unfortunately no one told you that the world is a fair place.

But all things considered, I still believe that the exodus to Australia is a good thing. That is why I am encouraging the government to do everything in their power to ensure that the good thing that we have going for ourselves, is not jeopardized.

We should ensure that people of doubtful characters are restrained from going and screwing up things for others - people with a record of drug abuse and those with criminal backgrounds should not qualify to go. Today Bhutan seems to have been singled out for special treatment because, I believe that those Bhutanese who are already domiciled in Australia have been behaving themselves and have won the trust of the people there. We want that happy situation to continue.

Some of us fear that those who leave the country may never come back. As I had said earlier on many occasions, we must do all we can, to encourage them to come back. It is for that reason that I suggested that someone worthy should go to Australia to speak to our brood there – to encourage them to come back. But if they still don’t, we have to realize that they were never meant to be.

In the meantime the government is doing all they can to make it worthwhile for those who have to remain in the country, out of necessity. For the sake of the country and the people, we hope and pray that they succeed in their endeavors. I would like to caution the government, however, that they might wish to consider a mix of heart and mind. It is sufficiently apparent that those who are masterminding the transformation of the nation have Capitalist bend of minds.

The all-powerful Transformation Team ought to know that we are a nation and people who have been, for the past 115 years, since 1907, indoctrinated in Socialist way of thinking. We know no other way of thinking, or doing things. It would be wise to keep that in mind.

Monday, January 16, 2023

Goofs A Galore

If all Bhutanese were to be females, it would appear that we are stuck in the cusp between puberty and womanhood - we appear to be out of puberty but not yet a woman. The following are some examples:

It looks like the team at Thimphu Thromde needs to be re-admitted into school. Science tells us that the color black is the ONLY color that will not reflect heat. The color of rainbow is accepted to be the most beautiful color combination - not a bicolor consisting only of red and green. What is revealing is that the enforcement of this rule does not seem to be applicable to other Thromdes or Dzongkhags since we have not heard of such a requirement being imposed anywhere else. So, is this Thimphu Thromde specific rule? Can such a rule/law be legitimate?

I am told that the social media (where I am not) is ablaze with the issue related to the unfair selection process of the new CEO of BDBL. Now that I saw her photograph, Aum Tshering Om certainly looks winsome - surely she merits to be the new CEO of BDBL. Who is impressed that the matter is still with the ACC? Mr. General Manager Pema Wangdi can go count ducks at the Babesa sewerage ponds.

The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) first entices its members into opting for early retirement - with the promise of financial reward, under their Early Retirement Scheme (ERS). Then when the members do so, the rule is suspended and the promised reward is withdrawn. If that were not enough, the rule is applied retrospectively and some of the members, whose resignations were accepted by the RCSC in writing before the rule came into effect, are denied their rightful ERS benefit.

Other than seeking to be reinstated on the ground that the very purpose for which they sought to retire early is no longer valid, I do not see any way out for the poor blighters. If that right of restitution is also denied them, they have the option to go to Phobjikha to count Black-necked Cranes.

The government encouraged the tourism industry players to create enabling conditions to boost tourism business in the country. One of the sectors targeted was the hotel industry - they were encouraged to upscale their operations and upgrade their properties to 3-Star category. They did - investing hundreds of millions with borrowed capital. Then the government springs a surprise - they introduce SDF of US$200.00 per person per night halt - effectively rendering Bhutan as an expensive destination for tourism.

Tourist arrivals plummet - in frustration and defeat tour operators and guides make a beeline for Australia, while hotel owners are reduced to squashing flies and chasing rodents that now infest their property. The financial institutions’ None Performing Loans (NPL) figures rise to dangerous levels - in its wake setting off alarm bells of a looming economic collapse.

The county’s Foreign Currency (FC) Reserve is on a downhill spiral. The situation is said to be approaching dangerous levels. The cause is blamed on falling inward remittances from Bhutanese abroad. This year, and for many years hereafter, the country is expected to record unprecedented dip in foreign exchange earnings from the tourism sector - by far the single largest foreign exchange earner. Also, what is not publicly admitted is that there is large-scale unreported diversion of FC remittances, to destinations other than Bhutan.

In the meantime, whatever little FC we have is spent on import of luxury goods, such as chocolates, toilet paper, potato chips and facial tissue, manufactured in China and elsewhere. Tragically, we cannot even make an attempt to feed our school children with food that can be grown within our own country - the Ministry of Education continues to spend hundreds of millions of Rupees, year after year, importing unsafe food under their School Feeding Program. And farmers lament that they have no market for their farm produces.

The large-scale exodus of Bhutanese youth to Australia and other destinations is a cause for serious concern. And yet, we cannot ignore the good side of it  - doubtless a strange Catch-22 situation. But this is a situation the government must not try and torpedo. Nor should it ignore it. We must not be too complacent about the happy situation that currently prevails. The government should do all it must - to ensure that the conditions currently prevailing are not jeopardized through lack of monitoring, stewardship and regulation.

It is in our interest to ensure that the goodwill of the Australian people and the government is not abused - it is to our mutual benefit to ensure that the Bhutanese who go there are worthy of their hospitality and that they present Bhutan and the Bhutanese people in the best of light. The responsibility is on them - to ensure that the preferential treatment we have thus far received from Australia, over other nationalities, is not jeopardized.

The 4th Parliamentary Elections are fast approaching. The two elections - to the Upper and the Lower Houses - will cost the nation upwards of hundred million Ngultrum. Do we need this expense at a time when we are going through uncertain times? Can we consider deferring them to a later date when conditions are more favorable? After all, if we weigh the cost against benefit, we will come off worst either way. What meaningful change can be expected from a change in government? - it cannot be anything more than a sheep for a goat.

In the meantime, we must not let our guard down - countries around the world are gearing up to battle the return of the menace called COVID-19.

Saturday, January 14, 2023

The Diminishing Allure Of Hydropower

On Thursday, February 22, 2018 I wrote as follows:

"Take, for instance, the matter concerning the de-silting of the dam. How well have they planned/designed it? How effectively are they going to be able to de-silt the mammoth dam of the few trillion tons of silt and muck that will be deposited annually into the belly of the dam, by the flooding Punatsangchhu? Even if they have a good design, where and how are they going to dump the muck?

If the dam ever gets built, what kind of water body is the 130 Mtrs. high dam going to create? How far will the back flow be? Will the water mass trigger earth quakes? Will it alter weather patterns?"

Today, more than five years since, my fears have been proven to be not unfounded. Read the following:

Sedimentation is like pouring sand into a tumbler filled with water. The volume of water drops proportional to the amount of sand poured into it

Bhutan is lucky - in recent years our King has repeatedly cautioned his subjects about the perils of our continued romance with hydropower. We now seem to have accepted that generation of electricity from hydropower is old hat. That it is no longer seen to be economical - technological advances in other forms of energy production has rendered the hydropower redundant, and ecologically unsafe. There appears to be a welcome shift in thinking.

Sadly, something that we cannot escape is the phenomenal cost of decommissioning the dams when their useful life run out. Happily, you and I would be fertilizing some daffodils in some remote wilderness 😂

Friday, January 13, 2023

The Sozzled Himalayan Black Bear

It is bloody amusing! Is it, really? 

First off, have you ever heard of a Himalayan Black Bear getting drunk on XXX Rum (a potent liquor), anywhere else in the world? I have not - it is provably why I must finally accept that Bhutan and the Bhutanese are truly unique.

The case of the drunken bear - proof that their domain is shrinking or that it does not contain food they need for their sustenance

On a serious note, one has to wonder what is a Himalayan Black Bear doing bang in the middle of Bhutan’s largest and most densely populated metropolis? Its rightful domain should be the 70 - 80% forest that we are supposed to have. And this is not the first time it has happened - the last similar incidence was another Himalayan Black Bear that was observed lumbering casually above the IT Park, Babesa in broad day light - at 1.30PM, on 12th December, 2021.

The KUENSEL reported many sightings of the Himalayan Black Bear in the capital city - in places like, Lungtenphu, Serbithang, Upper Motithang, Taba, Chamjeykha, Tango & Chari and Jemina.

It is very simple to understand that wildlife venture out of their comfort zone when their own domain lack the food they need for sustenance - it is then they step into dangerous domains - such as those of the human beings.

Despite our tall claims, incidences such as these clearly indicate that our ecosystem is not as pristine as we say it is. Time is here then that we start to put our money where our mouth is - we cannot hope to put wool over people’s eyes forever. Let us begin to look at the truth and reality squarely in the face - or we will be doomed.

I am now beginning to realize, after more than four decades since, why close to US$5.00 million GWMC project had to go under liquidation, in less than a decade of starting operation in 1982.

I am now wiser why I was called in to be a party to an unthinkable incidence that took place sometime during 1979/1980.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Introduction of Game Fishing in Bhutanese Waters

Recently the Kuensel newspaper featured an article titled “Fly-fishing, a prospective eco-tourism service”. I see a number of problems with the article. It may be that the reporter misreported the matter or the rules may have been framed with an incomplete understanding of the issues related to fishing.

A school of Golden Mahseer jostling towards the tributary river Dhichhu in Wangduephodrang, Western Bhutan. The fish is locally known as Ser Nya.

With specific reference to the Kuensel article, I would like to point out the following:

“Recreational fishing, also known as fly-fishing …..”
This is wrong. Fly-fishing is NOT recreational fishing - it is one of the many forms of fishing used by the angling class of fishermen/fisherwomen - whether for recreation, consumption or for sale.

“According to the regulation, angling for recreation strictly prohibited use of bait of any kind”
This is another problem - how is one supposed to attract and catch fish without the use of baits, also known as lures? The whole enterprise of fishing involves the use of attractive baits - to mislead the fish into believing that it is seeing a sumptuous meal passing by it, or dangling before it. Other than Trap Fishing or Net Fishing, all other forms of fishing use baits to lure fish to bite.

Types of baits
There are two types of baits: Live Bait and Artificial Bait.

Live Baits: These are the bait of choice - for its sheer productivity. However, anglers rarely use them since they are cumbersome and hard to come by. These baits come in various forms:  live worms, fingerlings, prawns, crabs, shrimps, squids, chicken liver, lumps of kneaded dough diced with ant eggs, raw chicken chunks, sliced orange halves, etc. etc.

Artificial baits: These are man-made baits made of none-natural materials. They come in the form of: flies, spinners, spoons, plugs, jigs, etc. etc. Some also come in Balsa Wood in the form of Plugs.

I get the feeling that the rule “strictly prohibited use of bait of any kind” could have been misinterpreted to mean that the use of Live Bait is prohibited. I know of the existence of the rule in Bhutan that prohibits the use of live baits – the logic being that use of live baits kills two lives.

“The angling season is closed during fish spawning in all trout waters in November and December, and for Mahseer water in June, July, and August”
I have always been skeptical about the rule that bans trout fishing during, what the rules state, Spawning Period. In Bhutan, spawning months for Brown Trouts are designated as November and December. Scientific records say that in the Northern Hemisphere, fish spawn during the fall (autumn) months which falls between September 1 to November 30, meaning that Brown Trouts spawn during these months.

Even worst, the banning of fishing for Mahseer during the months of June to August is a terrible idea. The reason is that the Mahseer is a migratory fish and it is said to migrate to its original spawning areas, to perpetuate life. It is known to migrate during these very months.

June – August are monsoon months. During this time, the volume of water in the rivers swell, which enables the Mahseers to travel upstream to the places where they have been spawned. During times when the water in the river is low, these mighty fish cannot make the run, due to their huge size. Therefore, banning fishing during the prime season does not seem like a good idea. Also, researchers are finding that spawning among migratory fish takes place in the tributaries, while fishing is done on the main river.

“They are allowed to use fly-fishing or spin-fishing rods and reels, and artificial flies or lures”
What about Bait-casting Rods and Reels? Why is this excluded from the list? The most used gear for fishing are: Fly-fishing, Spinning-casting and Bait-casting. A rudimentary explanation of fishing and types of gear are given in my following posts:

“Only a single barbless hook is allowed for recreational fishing……..”
What about barbless treble or double hooks? Why are these two hooks disallowed? I get the feeling that it is because the philosophy behind the use of barbless hooks is misunderstood.

Types of baits with barbed/barbless hooks

The merit behind use of barbless hooks in Catch-N-Release fishing
Use of barbless hooks is supposed to give the fish a fighting chance at escape. The barbless hook can come off easily when the fish struggles to escape, while the barbed hook will sink deeper even as the fish fights to escape. Thus, particularly in Catch-N-Release fishing, no damage will be caused to the fish while unhooking for release. The barbed hook, on the other hand, could cause bleeding while trying to unhook the fish since it is not easy to unhook a barbed hook.

Particularly where an angler is inexperienced, he/she may not be able to set the hook in a way that it will not cause damage to the fish. A damaged or bleeding fish is a dead fish - irrespective of whether you release it back into the water or not.

An experienced angler ought to know the proper way of releasing a fish back into the water - there are precautions to be taken while doing so. If the angler does not know, do our fishing guides know? If not they have to be instructed suitably.

Catch-N-Release fishing as a high-end tourism product
I am encouraged that the government is going to allow game fishing in the country. It is a good move. Now lets see we do a good job of it - by making sure that we do not hash it up with unreasonable and impractical rules and regulations.

Monday, January 9, 2023

Nuns To The Rescue

Yesterday morning a Ministry of Health worker joked that his Ministry is hoping to enlist the help of the country’s substantial nun population of childbearing age to abandon their vows of celibacy, and start to get pregnant. He sees that as a real possibility for his Ministry to achieve its latest mandate - to restock the country’s plummeting population through increased childbirth.

It is not funny that we are driven to such outlandish thoughts. Beyond funny, we have to begin to worry: how did we allow ourselves to arrive here?

I can think of two reasons: (1) young couples now view the act of procreation as something of an economic burden that they are unwilling or incapable of shouldering; (2) the steady outflow of human capital - as high as 10%.

Demographic imbalance and plummeting population: Case of Japan
Japan’s trade ministry projects that by 2025, around 630,000 profitable businesses could close up shop, costing the economy $165 billion and as many as 6.5 million jobs. The cause: lack of people of right age to continue the business.

Hidekazu Yokoyama, 73, is a poignant example. He built his successful logistics business over three decades. Last year when he wanted to resign, his children were not interested in the business, nor others. Thus he decided to advertise the business and GAVE IT ALL AWAY, FREE, to a 26 years old dark-horse applicant!

Exodus of Bhutanese youth
This is a time bomb waiting to explode. The most galling problem associated with this situation is likely to come from the most unlikely sources.

What if Australia is hit by a natural calamity so horrendous that we need to evacuate our people from there, en masse? What do you think will be the fallout of such an eventuality? Trust me, it will not be as simple as that when we undertook the evacuation of some 17 odd dozen of our girls from the Middle East. The economic devastation that will be caused by a situation in Australia will be few thousand folds more severe. That is likely to be the final straw on the back of the camel.

It is for this reason that I suggested that someone respected, influential and charismatic in Bhutan should go to Australia to talk to our brood there.

I am under no illusion that the Bhutanese who may eventually return will come back with the same face and heart as that with which they departed the country. But it is my hope that there will still be some telltale remnants of Bhutaneseness in them, which is more than what can be expected, given the reality of the situation.

Saturday, January 7, 2023

Information Blackout

There cannot be any other explanation - the government has unwittingly admitted that they are doing something clandestine behind the backs of the citizens. If not, I cannot imagine why the government has any need or reason to be so secretive about things from the very people in whose interest they are supposedly doing whatever they are doing.
Shhhhhhh .... kept it secret!

Before the advent of parliamentary democracy in the country, the institution of Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) was conceived and established, as a body to combat and prevent corruption. This was timely and the perception that democracy is likely to usher in an era of corruption and misuse of power was not unfounded. However, their role was that of a sentinel - not a law making body. Nowhere in their mandate (at least in what is on display) is it written that law making is part of their function or role, other than to enact rules and regulations designed specifically to prevent and combat corruption.

The Law in the wrong hands

Creating the enabling conditions to legitimize concealment of information from the fourth estate and the citizens is the very antithesis to what is at the core of their functions: combating corruption through ensuring that affairs are conducted in a fair, just and lawful manner.

Hiding and withholding useful and pertinent information from the people can deprive them of their most fundamental right - the right to information sanctified by the Constitution. Withholding information can lead to miscarriage of justice - through ignorance of the real truth. It will cause policy failures because they are based on half-truths, or untruths.

The cascading effect of one faulty policy can result in a hundred flawed public perceptions - because the citizens’ perceptions are formed in an atmosphere of secrecy and concealment.

When Bhutan started the discussion on the merits and demerits of introducing the Right To Information Act (RTI Act) sometime beginning 2011, I was the lone voice - opposing its introduction, tooth and nail. I still believe that we are not ready for it - in spite of the occasional policy misadventures.

Please read my opposing views at the following:

The rule of the ACC ordering complete blackout of information to the fourth estate and the general public does not bode well for the country. It is creating an unfamiliar condition in which the people may be driven to clawing for something that they had received without contest, in the past.

The make of the Bhutanese DNA is wondrous 😝 - you do not want to wake the slumbering Lucifer lurking within the chromosomes.