Monday, April 29, 2024

Taking A Break

Here are some bird images all of which were acquired from the forests in and around Dechencholing, Thimphu during the COVID-19 pandemic period.

Brown Parrotbill

Crested Bunting

Himalayan Bluetail

Plumbeous Water Redstart (Juvenile)

Red-vented Bulbul

Rufous-vented Tit

Ultramarine Flycatcher

Yellow-breasted Greenfinch

Acquiring bird images with the least bit of cluster around it requires patience and skill. But frankly, if you have already acquired the skills, obviously you have gone through lots of patience. 😀

Tuesday, April 23, 2024

A Burden We Need

Even as the Tiger Conservation Conference is taking place in Paro, let us look at some passion that has been expanded ---- in an effort to do our share in the conservation and promotion of tigers’ right to free life and passage in a minuscule pocket of the earth, called Bhutan.

My fight to halt the Shingkhar-Gorgan Road construction that would have imperiled the global initiative to conserve the tiger population started in 2011, running into 16 blogs so far. You can read all the articles at the following:

I am happy that a renewed tiger conservation effort is being initiated in Bhutan. Lest we forget, as the host country, it gives us added responsibility - a burden that we need: to keep us on the lean and the straight.

Image of a Tiger Lamp put together for the Conference - sourced from PemC of Yeewong Magazine, Bhutan

Buddhist scriptures tell us that the tigers lived in Bhutan as far back as the 10th Century, if not earlier. We have to ensure that they continue to do so until the end of time.

Sunday, April 21, 2024

TOURISM: Confusion & Misunderstanding Galore!

It is truly heartbreaking - the level of confusion and misunderstanding in the government, surrounding tourism. Take, for instance, the following report in TheBhutanese:

The government asserts that “they are ready to provide subsidy for tourism marketing”. To my knowledge, no such plea was ever made to the government by the tourism industry. Such a request would be baseless because the industry is in no confusion whatsoever - between the usefulness of “Marketing” as opposed to the long-standing need for “Promotion”.

And, to set the record straight, the tourism industry was never in opposition of the imposition of higher SDF – in fact the popular view among the stakeholders has always been that it was about time that the SDF was enhanced to a more appropriate level. Thus, there is no need for the government to caution the industry that they are “not willing to change SDF related policies”.

Who is asking for it?

Also, just to be sure that everybody is on the same page, no government help was ever sought to change anything that did not need changing. The industry’s submission has been that they change “only those policies that absolutely needed changing”.

Brand Bhutan needs no marketing. In the most far flung regions of the world, Bhutan is celebrated for our pristine environment, stunning snow-laden mountain peaks, uninterrupted biological corridors for the severely threatened wild tigers to roam freely, smiling people, exceptional variety of rare avifauna; as a country reputed to be among the only carbon negative nations of the world and, for our enduring image as a country where GNH flourishes unabated.

Brand BHUTAN is shining like the Sirius in the night sky - what has sorely been lacking is targeted P~R~O~M~O~T~I~O~N!! But that has so far been a dream consigned to another lifetime.

On June 22, 2022 even as the catastrophic Tourism Levy Bill of Bhutan 2022 was at the verge of being passed into law - Bhutan’s only sustainable tourism specialist went on record, through the KUENSEL, to ask boldly:

“Are we in a tourism crisis or are we creating one?”

Alas! the timely note of warning was ignored; the ruinous Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2022 was passed into law, and the all-important tourism industry was driven into the ground - in its wake dashing dreams and robbing livelihoods and triggering exodus of human migrations that we can never ever hope to reverse!

Tourism is an economic activity that keeps every hearth burning, every door open, every dream within reach, every hope alive and every wail of anguish and pain subdued.

Irresponsibility in this sector is criminal.

Friday, April 19, 2024


This morning I was treated to a mail dating back to mid-1973. Attached to that mail, typed on a plain white paper with manual mechanical typewriter, was an image of a Bhutanese copper Maartang dating back to late 1800 - early 1900. I think the Indian collector - since dead - then based in Kalimpong, India was hoping to sell the coin to some Western collectors of Bhutanese coins.

I was truly tickled, in the manner the image of the coin was reproduced - it was replicated on plain white paper by the process of RUBBING. Imagine!! There were no photocopies, scanners or even mobile phones or affordable camera to capture the image ---- people had to resort to vigorous rubbing of the coins to reproduce an acceptable image of the coins they wanted to show to interested collectors located across the seven seas. These days we have all sorts of devices to capture an image - in a flash of a second.

The following is the rubbing of the Bhutanese Copper Maartang that was sent to a collector based in Europe, by AIR MAIL, on 16th May, 1973 - more than half a century back:

Image of the coin produced by rubbing of the coins obverse and reverse - image made in May of 1973

The following is the image of the same exact copper Maartang that is in my collection - captured with Canon’s professional class digital camera model EOS-1Ds Mark III, that can churn out images at a whooping 21.1 megapixel!

Image of the same Copper Maartang, digitally captured, in August 21, 2017

The above coin will be included in my upcoming coin book - it will be one among a group of 15 copper coins labeled Ser Nya Maartang - after the pair of Gold Fish depicted on the coin’s obverse side.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

The Whimper Of The MICE

It is sad - all that the collective brilliance of the RGoB, the DoI and the DoT - managed to do with their MICE Policy, is to put the proverbial Cart before the Horse - a dead one at that!

All dressed up in my Sunday best .... but nowhere to go

It is not my intention to rub salt into the wound but it is apparent that there is total misunderstanding of the purpose behind the government’s promulgation of the MICE policy.

MICE Tourism has to be seen as an important, and as an essential diversification, to our limited tourism product offering. If that is how it is to be viewed, why is it looked upon as something of a Soelra (gift)?

The MICE policy is, no doubt, a veiled attempt at stimulating visitor numbers. Then why are spouses of the participants not included in the rules? My own sense is that MICE tourism will work - we have the necessary conditions: peaceful, unhurried, clear blue skies, azure rivers meandering through lush green valleys, clean fresh air and, above all, NO HONKING!

MICE events are tax deductible and corporate sponsored events. Thus, participants to the event do not bear the cost - their employers do. Therefore, it is expected that there will be vigorous participation to the events.

A participant not accompanied by his spouse will share a room with another participant. On the other hand, MICE participants accompanied by spouses will need to be accommodated in double occupancy rooms - thereby contributing to doubling the numbers and higher spending. No way you can allow the women lot to be left behind - who will do the shopping at the Craft Bazaar?

Think like a Finance Manager - not an Accountant.

Sadly, it would appear that the RGoB’s cluelessness seems to be rubbing off to some of the industry players as well - look at the following confusion of the HRAB, reported in TheBhutanese:

The HRAB attributes it to the superior competence of the actors across the border - for the dramatic fall in hotel room occupancy. Nothing can be further from the truth!!!!

From my point of view, the falling numbers should be attributed to the twin disasters caused by:

a.  DrukAir’s atrociously high airfare - causing wholesale diversion of tourist traffic to points of entry
     - away from the traditional point of landing - Paro.

b.  Introduction of the Tourism Levy Act of Bhutan 2022 that went on to demolish a brilliant
     business philosophy called: MDPR. For over half a century, the MDPR ensured that the
     government, including every tourist, every tour operator and every player in the tourism business
     chain stood to benefit from a policy that was the envy of the whole world - in its ingenuity and fair play.

Alas! now the fix-all formula is touted as the magic number of 300,000 tourist arrivals by the year end!

To be fair, it is not impossible to achieve the number - but the question that has so far REMAINED MUTE, is:


Will the targeted number improve the DRC’s tax collection? Will foreign exchange inflow improve? Will the promised increase in tourist arrivals prevent exodus of tour operators and guides to Australia and, grudgingly, to Canada and the Middle East? Will the numbers contribute to a jump in the Bhutanese tour operators’ income? Will the hotel owners see a quantum jump in their profits because of increased room occupancy? Or will their income dip even further, as a result of heightened competition in a situation where cash dealing is rampant and kick-back in one form or the other is now becoming an industry norm?

You can bet your last broken Chhetrum that no such thing will happen! The DrukAir will ensure that tourist traffic is continually diverted to competing operators and markets, while the current tourism policy will continue to encourage tax evasion and business outflow.

And sadly, unaware and unknown to the uncaring world, the phallus carver from remote Lhingzhi who used to sit by the road side in Chubachu carving wooden phalluses, has quietly passed away into the nether world - because his supply of alcohol ran out - because there were no tourists to buy his wooden phalluses that was his lifeline.

Thursday, April 11, 2024

The Mutating Ngueltang

I was quite content to accept that Bhutan’s earliest coin was called Ngingtum Ghatikab – old coin from Ghatika. Its credentials were impeccable – its place of birth – Ghatika, a small hamlet in the erstwhile Koch Kingdom - is still in existence in India’s West Bengal District. In 1906, on his return journey from Calcutta, India, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck - then Trongsa Poenlop - is supposed to have visited a mint in Ghatika - ostensibly to explore possibilities of improving the quality of his variety of coins.

Bhutanese coins find their origins in the Koch Kingdom’s Silver Narayani and, above all, the Ngingtum Ghatikab has all the qualifying birthmarks – such as the Bhutanese alphabets andselectively inscribed on its obverse and reverse. Even the metal used in the production of the coin is spot on – silver.

That all changed when someone knowledgeable suggested to me that the term “Ngingtum” could also mean “Precious Coin” – depending on how the word is spelt. It turns out that the Bhutanese spell the word in two different ways:

Old Coin

The other acceptable way to spell the word – depending on what is implied - is:

Precious Coin

Certainly, I see merit in both the points of view. However, when I began to tumble and flip the ideas in my mind – I came up with a third, even more credible, possibility - “Ngueltum”:

Silver Coin

I reasoned that the coin was fashioned out of silver. To the people who conceived the idea of the coin, if a name were needed for the coin, the most obvious would have been “Silver Coin” – because it is a coin made of silver. They could not have thought up “Old Coin” – because it was not old – it was brand new. “Precious Coin” would be overstating the obvious – I mean money is precious, that is something everyone knows.

So, until something more convincing starts to confuse me yet again, I am going to call our oldest coin – Ngueltang Ghatikab: Silver Coin from Ghatika. That would be in keeping with what is currently in vogue – we call our money “Ngultrum” – although a shamefully misconceived nomenclature, in addition to being wrongly spelt!

Our Nu.5 bank note, along with all the rest of the other notes, should have been correctly spelt as:

The following is how we spell the word now:

May be the people are right – it is a definite sign that the quality of our education has dropped! I had always held the view that it is not the quality of education that has dropped .... but that the quality of our children has dropped. Looks like I have to accept that the people may be right, after all!

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Record of Earliest Metal Currency in Bhutan

For me the burning question that takes precedence over when coins were first struck in Bhutan is the question: when did coins first appear in Bhutan? The answer, according to what is generally accepted is: 1619. It is written that during that year, Zhabdroong Ngawang Namgyel visited Chapcha in Chhukha Dzongkhag at which time there is an elaborate written account of the Koch Kingdom’s “Gyalpo Pema Narayan” having offered him the following Buelwa (offering):

List of Buelwa made to Zhabdroong Ngawang Namgyal by Gyalpo Pema Narayan of Cooch Behar

The Gyalpo under reference would have to be Maharaja Prana Narayan – and not Pema Narayan as quoted.

However, there are serious problems with the above record, as follows:

Firstly, it is not possible that the Zhabdroong would have had the luxury of time to go preaching in Chapcha, having arrived Bhutan less than three years earlier – in 1616. It is generally accepted that he was busy subjugating the recalcitrant Lam Kha Nga, including warding off the repeated invasions from the North by the Tibetans, in an effort to regain possession of the holy Rangjoong Kharsapani which Zhabdroong had carried off, upon his fleeing Tibet.

Secondly, according to dependable written records, Prana Narayan ruled the Koch Kingdom between 1626 and 1665. This means it is not possible that Prana Narayan would have made the above Buelwa offering in 1619!

If it was indeed Prana Narayan - and it appears that it was him who made the Buelwa - our historical records yet again goes for a toss! It means that Zhabdroong Ngawang Namgyal’s visit to Chapcha would have to have been made in, or after, 1626. If this is true, then we will need to rewrite our history yet again – we will have to record that the earliest coins entered Bhutan in the year 1626 or thereafter.

It is quite possible that a Tibetan contemporary may have made a noting of the Zhabdroong's visit to Chapcha - I am currently pursuing that angle. If anyone can speak with authority on the subject - it would be that person - namely: Tsang Khenchen Pelden Gyatsho.

Whichever year is the correct year, one thing is beyond doubt - one of the coins that would have been offered to Zhabdroong, as part of the Buelwa, would have to have been the following Silver Tangka issued by the Koch Kingdom's Gyalpo Naranarayan, in the year 1555, upon his coronation as the second Koch King.

The above Silver Tangka of Naranarayan of Koch Kingdom (a copy of which is in my collection and will be featured in my book under the category "Foreign Coins Used in Bhutan) was acquired from a family in one of the villages under Chhukha Dzongkhag adjacent to the erstwhile Buxa Duar. According to the past President of the Indian Numismatic Society, the coin is the absolute first copy of the silver Tangka issued by Maharaja Naranarayan.