Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Un-confusing the Confusion

After more than fifteen years of obstinate probing into the bewildering journey of Bhutan’s coinage, I am finally beginning to see merit in my unbending nature in not docilely accepting half-truths and uncontested theories of probabilities - in the construct of the history of our coinage, and everything else. Too often I have been dismayed by the inaccuracies in the historical accounts put forward by those whom we considered knowledgeable and wise - time and again it has been my experience that our historians and academicians have proven to be not so learned in their dissertations. Thus, over the years, I have become wary about accepting any historical facts - whether written or oral - as dependable truth - unless I validate them with my own research and cross verification. It is for this reason that the publication of my coin book has been hanging fire for more than fifteen years - because I want to ensure that when I finally do publish my book - that it is a book that may not be absolutely flawless in its accuracy - but a work that contains the least bit of inaccuracies.

Consider the case of our following first machine-struck silver Thala, issued by His Majesty the 2nd Druk Gyalpo:

Bhutan's earliest modern machine-struck silver Thala

The Year on the reverse of the coin reads:

Sa Druk Lo

When translated to Gregorian Calendar, the Year translates to:


So, lots of historians around the world began to assume, and record, the coin as having been minted in 1928. Then one day, my relentless research led me to the following record released by the Director of The Mint, USA, that included a report on the production of precious metals by Calcutta Mint during the Calendar Year 1929:

The above record clearly states that coins worth Rs. 10,000.00 – or 20,000 pcs. of silver Thalas - were minted by the Calcutta Mint, in the year 1929!

I was puzzled! 1929? But the coin is clearly dated Sa Druk Lo on its reverse – meaning 1928. So which is right – and what is correct? I went into deep delve – I read records from USA, England, Denmark, Germany, India and Bhutan. None could give me the correct answer – but I persisted. Then I hit on the truth!

The basic concept for the coin’s design was supplied by Bhutan in the year Sa Druk Lo - 1928. In Calcutta Mint where the coin was minted, the coin’s die was engraved by the famous English master engraver Mr. A P Spencer. It is said that his work of the design and engraving of the silver Thala’s die was considered his life’s finest.

Now, engraving a coin’s die is not an easy task – it is tedious, long-drawn and time consuming. Thus, it is my belief that although the designing of the coin was conceived and released to the Mint in 1928 and accordingly dated, it is obvious that it was not before a year that the coins could finally be minted - resulting in the minting date of the coins being recorded as 1929 - in the Document No. 3025 of the Treasury Department, Director of the Mint, Washington DC, USA.

Thus, we will have to accept that our earliest silver Thala was minted in 1929, and not 1928. Even then we are still not sure when it was actually released for circulation.

The perplexity of this particular coin, and the second issue of the same coin minted a year later in 1930, does not end here - there is even more intriguing matter that surrounds the coins - but the details are too lengthy for inclusion here - that will be dealt with in great detail in my book, when it is finally released 😋

Monday, February 26, 2024

Saying Thank You Isn’t Easy

I am currently engrossed in an endeavor to launch a crowd funding initiative in Japan – to raise funds to acquire a small ambulance for donation to a struggling NGO in the health sector. While everything is being readied by a generous friend in Japan, my responsibility at this end is to craft a suitably worded THANK YOU note – to be presented to individual donors for their generosity.

Thank You Note printed on Desho paper for presentation to donors

Mindful that people are going to be donating hundreds of thousands of Ngugies destined for a cause in a country most do not even know where it is located, I am trying to make the Thank You note a worthy one. The only way I can think of doing so is by printing the note on our elegant Desho – traditional handmade Bhutanese paper - made from the bark of wild Daphne trees. I mean, gold-rimmed, diamond-studded Thank You notes are beyond my means.

But boy!!! I did not realize how difficult the endeavor would prove to be – of translating the idea into a presentable product!

The entire gamut of desktop publishing services in town declined to print my Thank You note! Their reason: the rough surface of the Desho would damage the print heads of their InkJet printers. What a ridiculous reason!!! This shows how uneducated the service providers are about their profession and what they do.

For the life of me, I could not convince them that they are wrong – that the InkJet printers are, what are called, None-Impact Printers. This means that the printers print without the need for contact between the print head and the paper surface on which the images are printed. In fact, the InkJet printers DO NOT HAVE print heads – they use a series of fine nozzles to spray microscopic droplets of ink onto the paper to form the images – THE NOZZLES DO NOT TOUCH THE SURFACE OF THE PAPER AT ALL!!!

No Go!

So, in frustration, I ended up buying a brand new Epson InkJet printer to do the job – what a drag!

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Para-Gliding? Hang-Gliding? Or Cable Car?

Surprises never cease in this county … I mean Bhutan looking to invite Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) for starting gliding in the country? PREPOSTEROUS! Pray, tell me, what is so complicated about gliding? It is not a high technology venture ----- neither does it require investment at a level that cannot be handled by the Bhutanese. While it is not clear what gliding they are talking about – Para-Gliding or Hang-Gliding – regardless, I happen to know that we have few hundred Bhutanese who can handle this level of investment with ease.

Let it be known that notice has been served!

Best of economies around the world welcome FDI – for the value they bring to the country – by way of finance, employment, as well as advanced technology and skills. Not to be outdone, Bhutan has endeavored to attract FDI for the past many decades. And we did attract some – sadly our experience with almost every one of our FDI partners has been that the country has come off the loser. Most of them have been shameless in abusing our sense of welcome. They broke every law in the book – and we watched helplessly, as though they were doing us a great favor.

But I am encouraged that our moment of awakening may be here!

During the get-to-know trip to the Ge-Sar on 4th January, 2024, one of the points made by His Majesty the King was that there was no shortage of investors for the Ge-Sar. But what about Bhutan? Just because investors are there for the picking, do we surrender our soul for a bagful of cash? No!!! Thus, we were told that the best of legal brains around the world were being engaged – to work out the most ideal terms of engagement that is beneficial for all.

Same goes with the FDI investment – we have to be lot more careful than we have been so far. Above all, we need to make sure that economic opportunities that are within the scope and capability of the Bhutanese, and in areas where investment level is within the capability of the locals, are reserved for the nationals.

Talking of which why is gliding the investment of choice - for attracting tourists? What about scenic Ropeway Cable Cars?

Scenic Cable Car ropeway to Phajoding top. Feast your eyes on the jaw-dropping view as you glide past the Phajoding Goemba.

For years I have been promoting the idea that someone should invest in setting up a cable car ropeway system to the ridge above Phajoding ….. construct two dozen plus tourist class cottages for the visiting tourists. The cable car ride that will glide past the lush green hillside of Thimphu will be breathtaking. It is bound to be a hit amongst Thimphups as well. We are always on the lookout for a gate-away that is not too far removed from Thimphu, and yet distanced enough from the clatter and clang of the noisy metropolis – calm, still, secluded, and supremely exclusive!

As a tourism product – cable car ropeway will beat the gliding proposal – HANDS DOWN!

Friday, February 16, 2024

The Gift

Imagine the joy of the news that I am due to receive an unexpected gift of unparalleled meaning and value – I was delighted and absolutely WOWed! Surely, with this, I would have had to have hit my life’s High Note!

Then, one day, unseen and shielded from envious eyes, the gift arrived – meticulously draped inside a bundle of shimmering red silk, containing the following:

The Gift: Canon EOS R5 Mirrorless Camera body with all the essential paraphernalia that will enable me to couple my older generation EF lenses to the latest RF lens mount on the R5 camera body. The camera projects a delicate and slender look - but the beauty comes with a whooping  45 MPEG full frame sensor encased inside a body crafted from magnesium alloy and poly carbonate with glass fiber!

There are no words that can accurately describe the joy and honor I feel – suffice it to say that I am well and truly speechless!

But this uncommon angle visit finally makes me decide on something that I have been dithering for the past one year. I can now resolve to do it, with my eyes firmly shut. It is only just - and fair, that I should share my good fortune with those who are less fortunate.

During my visit to Trashi Yangtse last year to administer a grant to support the education of three little girls, I met a school teacher who had started a bird watching club in his school. I donated a number of Field Guide Books of the wild birds of Bhutan – a handbook authored by me. But I wanted to do more, for a cause that is after my own heart. Now I need no further encouragement - the above gift encourages me not to delay the act of giving any longer. So, during my upcoming visit to the areas, I am giving away the following complete assemblage of camera gear suitable for bird photography - for the use of the school’s Bird-Watching Club at the Trashi Yangtse Primary School:

Sharing my good fortune: My gift of a complete set of camera body and lenses suitable for bird photography at a mid-pro level.

In the olden days, a joke used to be told that the only person in Iceland who knew how to make Ice Cream died without passing on the recipe to any one - resulting in a situation where no Ice Cream could be had in Iceland for many generations. It is my hope that we can prevent such a thing from coming to pass in Bhutan – I would like to encourage some kids in Trashi Yangtse to perpetuate the joy of bird photography many generations into the future – an act of conservation that may be the only means by which we can ensure that some of the bird species that are bound to go extinct, are recorded and conserved/preserved in digital format, for the benefit of future generations of Bhutanese.

Friday, February 2, 2024

Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2022: Need for Rethink

I just returned from an overnight trip to Punakha where I was invited to be a Guest Speaker at the on-going Cultural Tour Guide NC II Level Training at the De-suung Skilling Program (DSP) Training Center at Phadula. Of the 30 PowerPoint Slides I presented during the speak that went on for the whole day, the following was one of the slides:

The other slide was the following – to prove what some countries around the world do - in an attempt to woo back the tourists. By contrast, Bhutan chose to triple the SDF to US$200.00 per person per day – from the earlier US$65.00.

Thankfully the SDF has since been reduced to US$100.00 but there are other damaging provisions in the Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022 that needs to be removed without further delay. If that is not done proto, the government will find that it had not only shot itself in the foot – but its belly as well. Even more dangerous, there is the possibility that we may never be able to make amends, as we wish - should we delay action any further.

All that it will take is half a day of discussion among genuinely qualified people who know better – so that the sticks in the mud are ejected and we can look forward to an era of bountiful tourism business.

Also, we need to rein in the Lucifer - DrukAir - who is strangulating the industry with its atrocious airfare. It is not only losing business for itself; it is driving away potential tourists to the country.