Sunday, October 29, 2023

The Case Of The Rotting Potatoes

In recent times, there have been repeated reports of hundreds of tons of farmers’ potatoes rotting in the auction/storage yards of the Food Corporation of Bhutan (FCB) in Phuentsholing.


Why are the potatoes allowed to rot?

Hundreds of tons of potatoes are allowed to go to waste - through rotting!
Photo courtesy of BBS

In the aftermath of the COVID-19, the government was encouraged to set up a network of cold storage facilities across the country so that surplus or unsold food produces could be stored safely – for release during times of shortage.

From what I know ---- in the last year or so Bhutan has set up a substantial number of cold storage facilities at strategic locations spread across the length and breadth of the country. Then why are they NOT used? What is the reason?

Are the facilities none-functional? Or, are the farmers too greedy?

There is a need to get to the bottom of this!

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Of Rare Birds & Pretty Butterflies

A legally protected butterfly in India, Kaiser-i-Hind (Teinopalpus imperialis) is the State Butterfly of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. This beautiful Swallowtail Butterfly was supposedly discovered around Dochu-La Pass, Thimphu by some Japanese Lepidopterologists many years back - a claim sadly not backed by evidence.

In 2021, Sonam Dorji, a driven conservationist doing pioneering work in the area of bird life and their habitat, and butterflies, in the East of the country discovered a dead specimen of the butterfly, in an area called Kheng-Thong Mani - close to Kanglung/Yonphula areas of Trashigang - conclusively proving that Kaiser-i-Hind - Emperor of India - does exist in Bhutan. The specimen is currently lodged at the UWICER, Bumthang. Sonam also observed that during season the butterflies could be seen flying above and around the tree crowns - sadly, just too high for him to photograph them.

Sonam is currently documenting the life cycle of Bhutan’s other rare butterflies - the Ludlow’s Bhutan Swallowtail (Bhutanitis ludlowi) (Bhuan's Naional Butterfly) and the Bhutan Glory (Bhutanitis lidderdalii). By the by, he is also studying the habitats of some of Bhutan’s rare and beautiful birds - the world’s three vulnerable varieties of Tragopans: Satyr Tragopan, Temminck's Tragopan and Blyth's Tragopan.

More than a decade ago, Sumit Sen, one of India’s foremost birders got 38 birders - among them I was one - to short-list 10 of India’s prettiest birds. Thereafter, he put them to open vote. He received a total of 544 votes. I fielded above image of the very pretty Fire-tailed Myzornis captured at Dochu-La in 2007. The bird was adjudged the second most beautiful bird in India.

This bird is one of the few that the lady embroiderer in the East is attempting to replicate on tapestry.

In an effort to educate the local populace on the importance of conservation, Sonam has been encouraging local youth to engage in efforts that help conserve and protect species that are fast disappearing elsewhere in the world. One of the initiatives he has undertaken is to get young talents to reproduce rare species such as butterflies and birds - on tapestry. He has been supported with a small grant from the Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation.

My small cash contribution to augment Sonam’s admirable conservation work helped a young lady purchase much needed threads - so that she could practice her skills at embroidery. For a novitiate, the work she produced was pretty remarkable. She sent me her first work - as a gift. In appreciation of her thoughtfulness, I honor her by reproducing her work as part of my Blog’s latest Masthead, above.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Six Years Since : Down Memory Lane

Hi Andrew,

Greetings from Bhutan.

I learn with great pleasure that you are still with DAA and busy installing SkyHydrants.

Although I am not in the Rotary anymore .... DAA honors me by continuing to send me their Quarterly News Letters and the recent one (received yesterday evening – 23/10/2023) tells me that you are currently busy in Nepal .... doing the same things you do best --- installing SkyHydrants.

Please keep up the good work ...... !!!

I cannot thank you enough --- for your role in "BHUTAN2020 Project". It is now into its 5th year. As you are aware DAA has successfully delivered its first three years, one million dollars Safe Water Project ----- for 120 of Bhutan's largest schools. No doubt you know that DAA has been kind enough to renew the project for another three years. From all accounts ----- things are going well and on track ...... Thanks to your "batting" (in your own words) for Bhutan after your first trip to Bhutan as a DART Member of DAA in 2017. You may recall that I was the first Bhutanese you met - upon landing at Paro airport when you arrived from Nepal on 30th September, 2017 - to deliver two of DAA's first SkyHydrant water filter systems for Bhutan.

Launch of the three years BHUTAN2020 Project in Toronto, Canada on 25th June, 2018. Under the project Bhutan received 120 SkyHydrant Projects for installation in 120 of Bhutan's largest schools. The project has been renewed for further three years for the same number of these patented water filer systems.

Bye and take care ... and Thank You once again. Do you bump into any Bhutanese down under? There are many thousand Bhutanese studying and working there in places like Perth, Melbourne, Canberra, Brisbane and Sydney etc. Should you come to know of any opportunities that might be suitable for them, please do not forget to "bat" for them as well ---- as you did for thousands of Bhutanese students after your first trip here.

MoE's Letter of Appreciation to DAA

Please convey my VERY BEST to Phillip Gribble another of DAA's DART Member who accompanied you to Bhutan during your second trip - to deliver four of the first six units donated by DAA - before the start of the BHUTAN2020 Project.

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Alpha Five Two Alpha Alpha Live from Bhutan

After struggling for two days - the struggle is still on - HAM Operator Abie Alexander from the USA who has been allocated the visitor's local CallSign of A52AA is now on air from Jambayang Hotel in Thimphu. He is still experiencing massive interference - it is yet to be established whether it is a man-made one or it a solar activity that is causing such severe interference. We think it is electrical noise - caused by some unknown electrical activity - but that is a wild guess.

Today we are going to try something that hopefully will confirm or eliminate the possibility that the noise is caused by radiation generated by electrical activity .... 

Recording of a live QSO between A52AA from Bhutan and a VU2JFA from India.

Something tells me that it is electrical activity that is the cause of this unusually powerful interference. If I am right, I have to wonder what unknown operation is underway in and around Thimphu Municipal area and its periphery that is the cause of such massive electrical radiation? There are no radars installed atop our mountains ... so what is that that is pulsating and throbbing at such a monumental scale? Damn .... !

So far the A52AA station has made connection with Japan, Russia, India, Bangladesh, Uruguay, Brazil and few other countries ..... He hopes to cover many more countries during the remaining days of his operation from Bhutan.

I wish him BEST OF LUCK!

Friday, October 20, 2023

CQ …. CQ …. CQ …. A52AA Calling from the Land of the Thunder Dragon, Come in….

Beginning this morning, a HAM Radio operator from the US of A will start broadcasting SSB HAM Radio voice signals from Jambayang Hotel in Thimphu. He is provably the first HAM Radio operator to operate from Bhutan - after the legendary “ZORO” - Mr. Yasuo Miyazawa of Japan went “Silent Key” in March of 2022. Zoro maintained a permanent Ham Radio Shack at the Royal Thimphu College from where he operated Ham Radio to the delight of Hams around the world, whenever he was in Bhutan.

A52AA arrives Bhutan and begin operations as of today

A SAARC HAM Radio Member operator based in Guwahati, India announces to the world the arrival in Bhutan and operation of HAM Radio by A52AA

Bhutan’s first HAM Radio Shack - called a QTH in HAM parlance. It was located at Wirelesspang, above Dechenchholing Palace. It became operational in 1954-55. For the first time Bhutan sent out HAM radio signals in 1954 from a place called Rida in Wangduephodrang. The operator was N. Chawna, a wireless instructor in the employ of the Royal Government of Bhutan.

Ham Radio is a form of wireless communications that is so versatile and efficient that one can operate it from the top of Mount Everest - or the middle of Atlantic/Pacific Ocean. It is one communications system that will never go down - when every other communications is down. It is a critical communications mode and system that is first to report world’s most devastating calamities, from the remotest of locations. In times of emergencies, this is the communications of choice - without parallel.

When every form and method of communications was blocked and disbanded, His Majesty Palden Thondup Namgyal, 12th and last Chhogyel of Sikkim used HAM Radio communications system that was installed inside his Palace, to inform the world community that his Kingdom was being besieged by India, in 1975.

I have been trying to get Bhutan to train people in the use of this mode of communications. This is critically important for us - given our land-locked geographical positioning. Sadly, no one is interested.

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Rest & Respite

When one’s soul is on fire and the heart is singed with disappointment, one tries to find solace elsewhere ---- not necessarily that you will find it - but it gives you momentary diversion and respite from the monotony of chasing a seemingly hopeless cause.

But failure to achieve success cannot cause life to stop and living to come to a standstill - it should be the very reason why one must persist, stubbornly. As they say, if you knock hard enough, the dead will rise and open the door for you.

Time out for a while!

To allow myself the much-needed adjournment, I rummaged through my collection of old CDs where some of my very earliest photographs are stored - when external hard drives were too expensive. I stumbled onto some photographs of novitiate monks that I had taken some 22 years back - on Monday, January 1, 2001 at 6:00 AM. The location was Dechenphodrang Monastery, Thimphu.


Some of these monks would most likely be in their early 30's now. I wonder how life has treated them?

What am I saying? .... there cannot be any doubt - life would have treated them as they deserve. That is the thing about life - one eventually gets what one deserves - that is the irreversible law!

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Bhutan’s Culture of Mulling: Part II

It has been my experience that it is not in the character of the Bhutanese people to act with speed and precision. The sloth-like pace at which we act would explain why progress in this country is lethargic at best. For the bosses at the helm of things, it does not really matter - the dogs can continue to bark  - the caravan will move all the same. They are not the leaders - they are merely the seat warmers. Corporations like DrukAir can tumble and rot away, in the process causing misery to one and sundry - there is no one to whom they need be accountable - it is not money out of, or into, their pockets. If more is needed, there is the public exchequer into which they can dip their hands at will. Small wonder then that His Majesty the King speaks of our wanning Ngar! For proof, read the following:

Shingkhar-Gorgan Road
The Shingkhar-Gorgan road construction debate went on for close to one and a half decades. The law is clear why it cannot be done - and yet three successive governments “mulled” over the matter for years. After having “mulled” over the issue for close to 15 years, the issue of the road seems to be finally put to rest when, on 29th January, 2020, DNT’s Works & Human Settlement Minister Dorji Tshering said;

“Shingkhar-Gorgan road won’t materialize. Since 2008, there were 15 discussions on the topic. It is stale.”

The Timbre-less Timber
It was in 1979 that Bhutan decided to ban the commercial harvesting of our abundant timber stock. There was very good reason for it. But sadly, the forests remained locked-up and rotting for close to half a century, thereafter. Only last month the DNT government woke up to the realization that there was money to be had from harvesting our timber that remained rotting in the forests. The government has now lifted the ban - but it took 44 years to do so!

Vehicle Quota System
The Royal Audit Authority (RAA) reported rampant misuse of vehicle quota system. They found that the state lost Nu.3.00 billion in tax revenue during a five-year period under review, in addition to turning certain class of public workers into crooks and lawbreakers. The RAA also reported that the quota system contributed to “exhaustion of the country’s foreign currency reserves and increase in import of vehicle, spare parts and fuel”.

The Vehicle Quota System was introduced during mid 1970s. The country spent “mulling” over the issue for close to half a century before the DNT government thankfully axed the quota system in 2022. Today if you ask me very, very few have any understanding as to why the quota system was introduced - you may be surprised the reason behind it.

Alas, true to form, this has yet been another case of a good intention gone terribly sour. Sadly, there are already scavengers lining up the corridor - waiting to pick up the eventual carcasses that are bound to come tumbling out of the goody bag of the government - whoever is next in line.

Duty Free Quota System
I am not sure when this came into being. But it was many decades before the government saw evil in the system. It came to light that some supposedly respectable members of the society were merrily peddling their Duty Free entitlements in the open market. It not only contributed to depletion in foreign exchange reserve through import of such silly things as chocolates and perfumes and cigarettes etc., it bred whole lot of unethical people in the government/public sector. Thankfully the DNT government removed this most vile practice - late last year.

Hydropower Projects
After I spent close to two decades hollering to go easy on the mismanaged hydropower initiatives, it was not until in 2018 that finally the Hydropower Committee recommended going slow and smart on hydro projects - that is 44 years after the ill-fated hydropower initiative that first began in 1974.

In the next year (2019) – that is 45 years after deciding to systematically desecrate our entire river basins, the DNT government announced that two of our 7 river systems will remain hydropower free for all times - Chamkharchu in Central Bhutan and Amochu in the West-South of the country. The rest of the river systems - Wangchu, Punatsangchu, Magdechu, Kurichu, Drangmechu, Gamrichu and Nyera Amachu - all of them being fair game for hydropower. Mercifully, in recent years, the hydropower as a technology of choice for electricity generation has lost its sheen – hopefully we are now safe.

Freedom of Speech
In 2008 the Constitution granted every Bhutanese the freedom of speech - among others. Yet, year after year the media and individuals continued to be muzzled of the freedom of speech - some even lost their jobs because they had a mouth. It was only after fifteen (15) years that a sitting Prime Minister had the courage to reiterate the Constitutional provisions. Prime Minister Dr. Lotay Tshering announced on 28 of January, 2023 that:

“Sharing information with the media is our responsibility. By sharing information with the media, they are not doing any favor, they are doing what they are mandated to do and they are doing what they are paid to do. Whatever we do, if it is for public benefit, the public must know. For this important information to go to the public, the media is the only thing that we can ride on”.

But alas - we are constrained by almost everything - doing is not always easy. But I have also repeatedly made the point that achieving greatness does not necessarily have to do with doing great things - dismantling great evil is also greatness. All it takes is courage!

Sadly courage is in short supply in this land of surplus verbosity.

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Bhutan’s Culture of Mulling: Part I

It is incredible that the government is still “mulling” over the issue of the URGENT need for a major reduction in the fares charged by the DrukAir - a state owned air transport company that is single-handedly jeopardizing the country’s tourism business and, consequently, the livelihood of hundreds of thousands of Bhutanese people.

The DrukAir and how it is functioning is a living example why certain state apparatus should not be accorded autonomy - they tend to go against the state’s larger interests, in order that they are able to protect some private interests. The DrukAir is not only causing problem to heir own solvency, but their irresponsible behavior causes problem at many levels:
  1. Loss of company business to competing airlines in the region - because they are priced too high compared to other players playing the field;
  2. Loss of revenue to the company through loss of turnover - because what business that can be had – is being channeled to the competitors;
  3. Diversion of Bhutanese tour operators’ business to the competition across the border - because the inbound/outbound tourists find it cheaper to fly the Bagdogra route thereby preferring to employ operators in Jaigaon - instead of the Bhutanese tour operators who are going out of business for want of work;
  4. Loss of billions in foreign exchange: the Indian Rupee - because neither the airfare nor the SDF, or the tour payments are received in Indian Rupees because the Jaigaon operators pocket the inflow of Indian currency and payments to Bhutanese authorities and service providers are made in local currency; and
  5. Loss of billions in foreign exchange: third country currency such as $$ …. Because the dollar paying potential visitors find the air fare too expensive – thus choosing competing destinations such as Sikkim, Darjeeling and Nepal, for their annual holiday trips.
It is truly mystifying why the DHI and the DrukAir and the RGoB are still unwilling to act - even after it is clear that the airline is all set to sink the country’s tourism business 10 ft. deep into the ground.

What exactly is the matter? I am beginning to wonder - something sinister is afoot! I mean even a kid of 10 years can understand that the surest way to sink oneself is by out-pricing oneself from the market. Why is the DrukAir doing it? And when one is operating as a near monopoly in a restricted market on whom depends a few hundred other institutions of commerce, it is evil that one should behave thus!
  1. The Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) is not doing anything;
  2. The Hotel and Restaurant Association of Bhutan (HRAB) is not doing anything;
  3. The Guide Association of Bhutan (GAB) is not doing anything;
  4. The Handicrafts Association of Bhutan (HAB) is not doing anything;
  5. The Bhutan Chamber of Commerce & Industry (BCCI) is not doing anything; and
  6. The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is not doing anything.
As a last resort, can we now appeal to the Parliament of Bhutan to do something about it?

Does the Parliament have the right to intervene when it is obvious that the country's economy is being desecrated by some irresponsible agency of the state?

Sunday, October 1, 2023

The Lambs Have Submitted

The KUENSEL has it on record that it is now all signed, sealed and delivered - on the 28th of September, 2023. As dictated, all the five political parties hoping to contest the upcoming 4th National Assembly Elections have submitted their party manifestos to the Election Commission of Bhutan (ECB) - for scrutiny, appraisal and final approval. And, while the political parties await their instructions from the ECB as to what to say, how to say, and the final directions on how best they might put forward their shackled feet, the last of the 3rd Parliament’s final session is scheduled to begin today. But as they say in the comic books, the drama and theatre must go on.

Things are looking bleak: our political parties appear to be without any spines - not a squeak has been heard from them, in protest of the usurpation of their most fundamental rights. It is rather unsettling - if they are incapable of protecting their most basic rights, how can they convince us that they have it in them to protect ours?

Buckling under the burden of the Controller

From all indications, the voter turnout this time round is likely to hit rock bottom - resulting from a number of factors, such as large scale exodus of registered voters to third countries, relocation of voters from their homes to places of their current domicile, denial of the opportunity to cast Postal Ballots by the floating population and, finally, disillusionment in the democratic system and processes.

However, in truth, that is not really my worry. I mean, take a hard look at the landscape - scan the horizon - and you will find that democracy is still an unfamiliar term to the majority of the Bhutanese rural population who really matter - it is simply not within their scheme of things! For them the Kidu still flows from the Throne. It is only to a motley of people in Thimphu to whom democracy resembles something akin to a wiggling worm on the muddy floor.

To me what is unnerving is that we are steadily emerging as a race of people who speak things that we do not mean - we do things we are not supposed to do; we say we are a democracy but democratic institutions are the first ones to deny people the most basic of democratic rights. We say we are a GNH country, we say we are pristine, that we are beautiful, we say we are God-fearing and religious – but there is no indication that we are most of them, if any at all.

Those in the leadership positions are Dashos and not Dakshos – a self-serving bunch who routinely ignore the relationship between cause and effect.

Today the country is aspiring for a stratospheric rise in wealth acquisition and technological advancement and competence. Our Monarch has laid out a stupendous, bold dream - a once in a millennium plan to hit our proverbial High Note. A plan at this scale is likely to take few years before it can be brought to fruition. But while that is being overseen under the watchful eyes of the King, side-by-side, it is imperative that the people and the government of Bhutan project an image that permeates confidence, political stability, good governance, dependability, reliability, and trustworthiness. It will go a long way in winning over investors and supporters - to take a second look at what we say we have on offer for them. Words are so much hot air - actions matter!

But what do we do? We shove undemocratic requirements down the throats of the cowering political leaders! I am aghast that there is not a single person in the ECB with the creativity to think up something by which they can have their cake and eat it at the same time. Why does it have to be the gory, the unlawful, the unethical and the tyrannical?

Trust me, the international community are a hyper sensitive lot - they watch and take note of every one of our missteps. They will factor in all that - when they do their sums to decide whether or not, Bhutan is worth it! And, that is when such behaviors as those of the ECB is going to cost us dearly!

We have to be particularly sensitive in what we do at home - even more so when we are muddying the waters with the big boys in the international arena.