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!

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Dating Our Ancient Hammered Coins

Other than very, very few coins, dating most of Bhutan’s ancient coins is near impossible. Thus any attempt at doing so would have to be a journey, at best, fraught with inaccuracies and ill-conceived suppositions.

I do not expect that I would be able to put a date of coinage to a large number of my coins. But this is not to say that I am not tempted to do so. If I could, I would be happy to be able to put a rough, if not an accurate, date to every coin that I display in my book.

But something I have to advantage is the fact that our coins have been inspired by the silver Narayanis of the erstwhile Koch Kingdom - right from the earliest of our coinage, to almost the end of 1800, when Trongsa Poenlop Jigme Namgyel began to introduce coins entirely composed of unmistakable Bhutanese motifs.

Of particular excitement to me, among others, has been the Silver Half Tanka of Raja Rajendra Narayan of Cooch Behar (1770-1772) – marked with a CROSS to the right of Ndra.

The Bhutanese authorities - ostensibly - Druk Desi Sonam Lhundrup alias Zhidhar (1769 - 1773) abducted Raja Dhairjendra Narayan and carried him off to be imprisoned in Bhutan. Thereafter, the Bhutanese placed Rajendra Narayan on the throne of Koch Kingdom. He ruled for a short two years - even while being no more than a vassal of the real power behind the rule - the Bhutanese. It was during this period - between 1770 to 1772 - that Rajendra Narayan issued the following Silver Half Tanka, to mark his accession:

Silver Half Tanka of Raja Rajendra Narayan of the Koch Kingdom, issued between 1770 -1772 when he was installed on the Koch throne by the Bhutanese

Although I have pored through few thousand Maartangs, Zangtangs and Ngueltangs, I came across only one single copper coin with similar markings comparable to that of the Koch Silver Half Tanka - except for a few extra dot or two here and there. But what was prominent was the CROSS (X) mark to the right of the Koch word “Ndra”. The following is the one and only CROSS (X) coin I have in my collection:

Other than the two DOTs around the Koch Word "NDra" on the reverse of the coin, the Bhutanese copper Maartang depicted above is an exact replica of the Koch Silver Half Tanka of Raja Rajendra Narayan

Having examined the coin from all angles and observed the near prefect match with that of the Silver Half Tanka of Rajendra Narayan, I was tempted to believe that it was not a Bhutanese coin. But as luck would have it, I had the good fortune to make contact with the Ex-President of The Numismatic Society of India. During the course of our many discussions, he informed me that Koch Kingdom never ever issued their coins - in any other metal, other than silver. Thus I was sure that the coin was, without any doubt - Bhutanese.

Not only did it become beyond doubt that the copper CROSS coin was Bhutanese - something else became almost as certain - that the coin would have to have been hammered no earlier than early/mid 1770AD. It could not have been later than 1880s since, by then, Jigme Namgyel had introduced coins bearing Bhutanese motifs.

When finally my book is released, you will read that colonial British India officials actually went as far as to accuse Bhutan of producing spurious Narayani coins - when, actually, the Bhutanese were merrily hammering the real stuff - clandestinely - in lousy quality base metal!!


Wednesday, April 12, 2023

The Confusing Case of Ngueltang and Chhetang (NU. and CH.)

A friend sent me the following image on WhatsApp Chat - prompting a hectic discussion on when exactly the terms “Ngultrum” and “Chhetrum” were coined:

Two of 1966 nickel coins denominated in Rupee and N.P., including one of the nickel Thala of 1950

Me         : Shameful coins of 1966
Friend : Why shameful?
Me         : Read the denominations on the coins. That is why my coin book stops at 1954
Friend : Rupee
Me         : Yea …. and N.P.
Me         : The mindless work of the English Lawyer Edward St. George who designed and
produced Bhutan’s nickel coins of 1966
Friend    : Nu. was introduced in 1974 when our earliest paper currency was released
Me         : Nope - it was introduced in 1962: Nu. and CH
Friend : Proof please
Me         : For proof read my Blog

Set of 7 postage stamps: Bhutan's earliest definitive postage stamps released in 1962, denominated in Nu. and CH.

Me : Something that intrigues me is how come this English lawyer made the
disastrous mistake while his very good friend and business partner Burt Kerr Todd
did not. You may recall that Burt Kerr Todd designed and printed our first postage stamps of 1962.
He correctly denominated them in Nu. and CH.
Friend : Year?
Me         : I told you: 1962
Friend : But does not say on the stamp
Me           : May be - but you know very well that Bhutan first issued these postage stamps in 1962.
It is a matter of historical record
Friend    : OK
Me       : Read my Blog under “History of Postage Stamps
Friend.  : Currency Notes printed in 1974. Interesting development
Me      : Yes
Me     : That is why I am refuting the recorded history that the terms “Ngultrum”
and “Chhetrum” were coined for our currency notes released for the first
time during the coronation of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.
Friend. : Accept your sound reasoning!

Someone contends that the term “Ngueltrum” or “Ngueltang” was used as early as 1958 - on a Lagthram supposedly signed by late Lyonpo Tamzhing Jaggar, Home Minister. I do not think that is true - but I will confirm (I confirmed yesterday and it turns out it is not true - the date turns out to be 1968). The reason is that for the first time in the history of Bhutan, Minister or Lyonpo as we know it in the modern context, was appointed during the 28th Session of the National Assembly by His Majesty the Third King, only in 1968. I am not sure that Tamzhing Jaggar would have been vested with the authority to sign a Lagthram then ( - as far back as 1958 - ten years earlier to his appointment as Kidu Lyonpo).

It is a matter of historical record that as His Majesty the Third King’s Representative, Azhi Tashi Dorji arrived Trashigang on 8th June, 1954 - to sort out the landholdings and Lagthrams of the eastern regions of the country.

Even the term “Ngueltram” and “Chhetrum” is a matter for discussion. My view is that Ngueltrum should be Ngueltang (Nguel = Silver; Tang = Coin) The term : “Tang” being a derivative of the term "Tangka" used by the Koch Kingdom, Tibet, and erstwhile Kingdom of Patan (now part of present day Nepal). Since our coins find their origins in the Koch silver Narayani, I believe that we would have borrowed the term from Koch Kingdom’s currency.

The term “Chhetum” should actually be “Chetang” (Chet = Half; Tang = Coin). If you look at our earliest machine milled silver Thala of 1929, it has “Jatam Chet” inscribed on the reverse of the coin. It meant that the coin was valued at “Half Indian Rupee”.

Reverse of our earliest machine milled coin - the silver Thala issued by the Second Druk Gyalpo in 1929, with the inscriptions: "Half Indian Rupee in the Earth Dragon Year"

Our oldest silver coin was also called: “Ngingtang Gatikhap” – meaning “Old Coin from Gatikha”. Gatikha was where the mint that minted our earliest silver coin was located. This mint was visited by Trongsa Poenlop Gongsa Ugyen Wanghuck on his return journey after attending the “Darbar” at Delhi, in 1906.

There is also an opinion expressed that the term "Trum" means to" "Trampel beyni" - to circulate. I think that is merely conjecture - without any historical basis.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Containing My Passion

On my way to a meeting early yesterday morning, my eldest daughter took a ride with me - on her way to her office. Out of the blue she popped me a question:

“Dad, do you have any regrets in life?”

“Absolutely NONE!”

“So you lived your life well?”

“That I do not know - but I lived it to the fullest?”

“So, why don’t you write a book on your life?”

“Are you NUTS? It would run into hundreds of volumes?”

“Keep it short, tey.”

“Are you kidding me? My story would have to begin at the beginning - as a man all of 7 years of age.”

“Meaning since the time you can remember”.

No, since the time I took on the role of a man!

I have no idea what prompted my daughter to ask me the question but it set off a chain of thoughts in my mind. One thought that prevailed over all others was that I needed to contain my PASSION. Passion is good - but NOT when it verges on consuming your very soul.

So I have decided to take a “TIME OUT”. I will give it a break for a while on blogging on matters related to tourism. For the next few days, I will focus on another of my passions - history of Bhutan’s coining journey.

Until I return on the subject of tourism - feast your eyes on the following haunting image - it ought to tug at your heartstrings.

A face worth US$2.5 million?

Am I giving up on tourism? NOT BY A LONG SHOT!! See the following WhatsApp Chat Record:

My WhatsApp Chat record with a friend on Saturday; 8th April, 2023

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Government Playing BHARAKUTI

A friend forwarded to me TheBhutanese’s front page news report of April 8, 2023 that read: “Govt allows around 1,600 more tourists at old SDF rate”. Since I am not on the Facebook, or any other social media sites, I do not know the full content of the report. But I fear that some may miscomprehend the issue. Thus I would like to make the following clarification so that the matter is not twisted out of context.

Venue       : ThePema by Realm, Motithang
Day               : Saturday
Date       : June 18, 2022
Occasion       : Informal briefing by the Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bhutan
Subject       : Government’s proposed changes in tourism policy of 2022
Attended by  ~ Hon’ble Prime Minister of Bhutan and select Members of the PMO;
~Director General of TCB and some Members of the TCB management;
~Two Members of the government’s Transformation Team;
~Dasho Kinley Dorji (Ace) past Secretary of MoIC; and
~Four Members of the non-traditional media - yours truly included.

His Excellency the Prime Minister honored me by inviting me to initiate the discussions.

I submitted that I speak on my own behalf and that of Bhutan Sustainable Tourism Society (BSTS) - of which I am a Member. I submitted as follows:

That the government has the right and the authority to introduce any and all changes as it sees fit;

That the tourism sector was not against the policy - but at the timing of its implementation;

That for a seamless migration from the old to new ways of doing things, the industry will require time - to understand and adapt;

I submitted that tourism business was not like running a grocery shop where you up the shutters and start selling your potatoes and onions;

That tourism business is conducted over days and weeks and months and even years. That introduction of new rules and regulations out of the blue would severely disrupt and lay asunder the tour operators’ ongoing negotiations with overseas agents and other prospects;

Lastly, I pleaded that even if the government is adamant about implementing the new rules with total disregard for the operational difficulties, the government should honor the commitments made by the tour operators - based on the rules and regulations that were in force - when the discussions were initiated. That reneging on the commitments halfway through the discussions would portray Bhutanese operators as unreliable and untrustworthy, with long-term implications to the industry;

I pleaded that if nothing, the government should honor all commitments made by the tour operators - before the new rules were sprung on them - whether or not the tour was confirmed, and whether or not payment received.

To this, the Hon’ble Prime Minister asked me:

“But Aue Yeshey, how can we verify that the business was in discussion?”

I said that it was simple - ask the tour operators to provide trails of their emails - validating that the business was in discussion before the introduction of the new rules.

Consequently the Hon’ble Prime Minister remarked thus:

“Aue Yeshey gii labmi lu denba du. DG Dhradhul, please sit with the tour operators and sort this out. If they can prove that it is a business-in-progress, we should not have any problems accepting them under the old SDF rate”.

POINT: If the Cabinet has recently allowed 1,600 tourists to come in under the old SDF, I would like to point out that the decision to do so was made by the head of the government on 18th June, 2022.

It should not be seen as an act of favoritism on the part of the DNT government. Or, as an act in deviation of the standing rules. What is to be seen is whether the tour operators - Amen and Rewa - were able to substantiate convincingly - if the tours were already in discussion before the new rules came into effect.

Let us not be petty. 1,600 tourists is a big number for a minuscule country like Bhutan - it means a lot to us, particularly when we have been reduced to clutching at straws.

Like a lady tour operator told me yesterday at the VAST over a cup of lemon-honey tea - courtesy of Azha Karm - that the government has been playing “bharakuti”. That does not mean we citizens have to – we have to keep our heads firmly screwed on over our shoulders.

Saturday, April 8, 2023

Of Bruised Egos & Erased Edifice

Three days back I caught up with a friend and struck up a conversation, which unfailingly, centered around the disastrous post-pandemic tourism policy and its devastating impact on Bhutanese society and the chain of reactions set off by it. The friend said something intriguing:

“By now the government ought to have realized that their tourism policy was a colossal blunder - so why aren’t they doing something about it? What will it cost them, other than a bruised ego and loss of face? Isn’t that better than to continue to endanger the lives of hundreds of thousands of Bhutanese? Where is their sense of responsibility and ownership?”

I had no answer - because I am myself totally bewildered.

After the troubled talk with the friend, I had to drive past the barricaded ruins of the dismantled Hotel Jumolhari - one of Thimphu’s oldest hotels. I stopped to gaze at the rubbles that now littered the grounds over which the hotel had once stood.

At close to 40 years old, Hotel Jumolhari was among Thimphu's earliest hotels. It is no more πŸ’”

I was sad - during my initial days as a private sector entrepreneur, I had set up my first ever office inside one of the rooms in this hotel - it was from this place that I had launched the country’s pioneering IT business during early 1980s. But I wasn’t reminiscing about my formative days as a businessman - I was looking with sadness at the dust-filled void - at the iconic edifice that has now been raised to the ground - and erased forever - a direct fallout of a policy gone horribly wrong.

But at the end of many conflicting thoughts that ran through my mind, I was comforted by the realization that the owners of Hotel Jumolhari had exhibited lot more common sense and astuteness, than most other hotel owners. They were quick to grasp that there was simply no hope for the hotel industry, given how things were panning out.

Thus they did the smartest thing under the circumstances: within months of the announcement of the new tourism policy, they opted to pull down the hotel - rather than continue to pursue an untenable fantasy.

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

DOKLAM Yet Again!

Yet again, the false alarm of smoke has been set off - among the Indian media - over the much-maligned Doklam. Surprisingly even Vishnu Som of New Delhi’s NDTV has chosen to enter the muddled pool of misinformation and falsehood that Doklam is now reduced to. I had always believed that he was a journalist of substance - putting out balanced and well-researched reports on domestic as well as international issues. I was sorely disappointed by his poor sense and grasp of the subject - not that many Indians or Bhutanese are any better informed. If Vishnu Som did not know any better, he should have let well enough alone.

It is no longer clear what exactly our Prime Minister had said during his recent foreign visit - with respect to the ongoing Doklam imbroglio. But The Times of India, in their March 29th issue, seems to suggest that our Prime Minister had implied that China has “equal say” on the Doklam issue.

Now, what is wrong in that? It happens to be the absolute truth. Frankly I do not know who is exactly claiming Doklam - China? Bhutan? Regardless of who is the claimant, without doubt the world knows that China is, for now, the other party to the supposed dispute. Thus, there is no question that they do not have “equal say” on the matter.

Bhutan should truly appreciate and thank India for their well-intentioned desire to get involved in the matter. But the truth is that India does not have a direct role in the matter concerning Doklam. India’s stand is not that China has infringed on their territory. Thus, it is important for the Bhutanese and the Indians to know that there is a tri-junction of borders: that of Bhutan, China and India - there is NO tri-junction of claims or disputes. Other than the unfounded fear that China might try and wring India’s famous Chicken-neck, the matter is out of India’s hands.

India’s spirit of volunteerism and unabashed attempt to protect our interest is praiseworthy. But good intension alone cannot solve delicate issues.

To my knowledge, to date the dispute remains between Bhutan and China - it still remains an unresolved dispute – even after tirelessly working for the past close to four decades since 1984. Obviously it is clear that we are still working at determining who has legitimate claim over that desolate piece of frigid land.

India tossing a spanner in the works does not help - it unnecessarily prolongs the process of settlement. I know that India believes that it is to their interest to muddle the issues - but it has to be understood that one day the issue has to be settled - and even God cannot alter the eventuality that truth will, and must, prevail over drama and theatre.

Speaking at the GLOBESEC, India’s Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar famously said:

“We have a difficult relationship with China. But we are perfectly capable of managing it”.

By contrast Bhutan does NOT have any difficulties in our relationships with our northern neighbor. Thus, we are in an even better position to manage our relations with China.

Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar is an extremely intelligent man and, thus, I believe that breach of protocol and lack of diplomatic finesse notwithstanding, our beleaguered Monarch would have been very pleased to have been received by a person of Jaishankar’s competence, including the fact that Jaishangkar is not an unknown person - having met him before in Thimphu during his official visit to the country.

Here is wishing the very Best of Luck to Bhutan-India relations!

Monday, April 3, 2023


When the Druk Air was created in 1981, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo could not have had any lofty commercial aspirations - not with one unpressurised 18-seater Dornier 228-200 turbo-prop aircraft and one airstrip measuring less than one-and-a-half miles long. I believe that it was His way of making a statement of nationhood - an assertion of independence - an announcement to the world that Druk Yuel was an independent nation with the necessary apparatus of nationhood in place.

Today, forty two years since, look around you - I guarantee you that you are unlikely find another Bhutanese national institution that has gobbled up more public money than the Druk Air. For those of you who care, know that Druk Air is an institution behind which the government has invested few thousand million Ngultrum of public funds - 100% Bhutanese money. And, all that money remains tied up and incapacitated - to be annually depreciated to prop up the Druk Air’s profitability on paper, instead of serving some meaningful social service for the good of the Bhutanese people.

Comparative study of DrukAir's fare as opposed to that of Qatar Airways'. Can we compete? We cannot!!! - we should not even think about it!

If public money is used to fund a public institution, it is done so that it can serve a public cause. Sadly, no Bhutanese public derives any benefit from the airline’s existence. Instead, the services of the carrier funded by public fund are priced so high that it is beyond the reach of the common Bhutanese public - the part owners of the airline. Even rich western tourists are unable to afford their services, resulting in diversion of routes and traffic to competing airlines, translating into loss of revenue for Druk Air.

Given the inherent limitations under which the airline is required to operate, profit making cannot be its mandate - it is simply impossible - unless it does so at the cost of the whole of the tourism industry. The national flag carrier can be an effective apparatus in helping others make profit; it can help boost tourism - through building of carrying capacity, through diversified routes, through efficiency of operation and rendering of dependable and timely service.

Today the management of air transport sector in Bhutan is so pathetic that I am told that we do not even have bowsers in any of our domestic airports. Thus, aircrafts are required to carry fuel for the return journey - thereby impacting carrying capacity, resulting in increased cost of operation, resulting in higher ticket cost for the Bhutanese travelers.

Today we are told that we are in an era of massive all-round transformations. That is good - it was long overdue. Now lets us put our money where our mouth is - let us see some transformation in the Druk Air. Let us prove wrong the accusation that there is private interest behind why a national apparatus of great value has been turned into a national spoiler.

To understand what a national flag carrier is all about, read the following:

~   Loss of Revenue: through loss of traffic caused by unaffordable high airfare.
~   Loss of foreign exchange: through loss of national business to competing non-national airlines.

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Yet Another Brew Inside The Government’s Wort Kettle

Seems like something pungent is yet again brewing inside the government’s kettle. According to the most recent pronouncement coming from the head of the government “tourists could be allowed to stay in non-star hotels”.

At a mandatory SDF of US$200.00 per person per night, the tourist could be allowed to be accommodated in a non-star hotel? PREPOSTEROUS!!!

Antar Mantar Janturu, Tiru Ngagi Zanturu

The government seems to have forgotten that even at SDF of US$65.00 per person per night halt - the RGoB required the tour operators to provide 3-star accommodation. At SDF of US$200.00, the tourists ought to have the right to insist on 10-star hotel accommodation - in the class of the likes of Dubai’s Burj Al Arab!

One and a half decades later, what my French friend told me in disgust is coming true: “You Bhutanese think that the world owes you a living”.

But to be fair, does it really matter what class hotel? Recently I went on an inspection trip to select hotels for my guests who were due to arrive in the country during the mid of last month. It was amazing what I discovered in some of the supposedly 3-star hotels. Few of the carelessness I observed were the following:

…   One Suite Room had a master bedroom’s wall mirror all of 24 inches square;
…   A room I inspected in another hotel had a creaking bathroom door;
…   The wash-basin in a bathroom of another hotel was placed so low that its
      use could have caused severe back pain;
…   One bathroom I inspected had such a slippery floor – I would not have dared use it;
…  One hotel’s bedroom was so poorly lit that I would have had to use a headlamp to see anything;
…   One hotel room did have intercom system – but there was no direction as
      to what button to punch – to access any of the hotel’s services, if any;
…  In another hotel, I had to wait for the Receptionist for nearly half an hour – his excuse:
      he had to go for lunch. This means the Reception Desk is left unattended during lunch/tea/dinner breaks.

I earnestly plead with the government that before they do anything further in the area of tourism, I request that they rationalize the SDF rate to a level that is commensurate with our competences.

I do hear unsubstantiated rumors that the government is in fact working on revising the SDF rate but according to a friend, what is being considered is something rather - in his words - “CROOKED!”.

I asked: “What kind of crooked”?

“I am told that the government is contemplating giving 50% waiver on SDF. For instance a tourist visiting Bhutan for ten days will be charged at US$200.00 per day for the first five days - the second 5 days will be SDF FREE.

“Why such round-about mathematics - why not straight-forward SDF of US$100.00 for the entire duration of their visit”? What if a tourist comes only for three days?"

“What can you say - crooked minds work in crooked ways

I loved that one - simply priceless!!!! πŸ˜œπŸ˜œπŸ˜œπŸ˜œπŸ˜œ