Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Gelephu Airport- the Biggest Photo Studio

Another Landmark place to visit in Gelephu is of course the Airport. It's a few minutes drive from the Gelephu town on Sarpang Highway. You will be surprised at the security system there- the gate is unmanned and open, you can drive your car on to the runway. It feels very empty to see a brand new facility so deserted, there is not a structure to be seen anywhere within view, forget any aircraft.

Since no plane is landing, I landed there!
The dream of an airport in Gelephu remained on the pillow for ages, but that dream somehow seemed so sweet to me now when I look at the vastness of the plain. If Bhutan wants an airport of international standard Gelephu has the scope. Of course Paro will always remain our iconic airport.

I don't know why Gelephu is so shy about growing. Nothing seemed to have worked well here. It's such a waste of this beautiful place. Even the airport is more like a photo studio, where people come with cameras take picture in different pose.

This is the last post I am writing from Gelephu. But I have some more to write about this place when I reach home. I have been here for 24 days and tomorrow morning at 8 am PaSsu Diary is Signing out from Gelephu.
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Monday, January 27, 2014

The Art and Science of Tshachu

Gelephu Tshachu is the only tshachu I have ever been too, therefore I am assuming other tshachus are more or less of same architectural design. The unwelcoming design of the low-roof shed, and suffocating thick walls around the congested pools don't seem to have any element of art at all. But on the second thought there seems to be a form of art typical to pre-modern Bhutan, which is based on the science Bhutanese understood very early in time.

The Tshachu is under that low Green Roof
There is physics in the circular shape of the ponds, circle is the most accommodating shape. They had to choose circle because they could not build bigger pool for another scientific reason-the science of preserving heat. It led to keeping pools small with thick high walls and even the low roof of the shed. Though it seem like a typical Indian well, sometimes even resembling oven at the cremation ground, they seemed have crafted the best of art relevant during their time with the science that is timeless.

See any aesthetics? Look who is with me. She says people are stinking, I had to explain what was smelling. 
What is disappointing about the evolution of Tshachu is that it didn't evolve with time. It remained frozen. It's time something is done about the architecture of Tshachu. It has become one very important wellness tourist destination for Bhutanese and it's time we place some importance on our own people too.

Modern architecture should intervene and create space and convenience. The pools should be enlarged to accommodate as many people to reduce the waiting time and avoid indecent rushing. The heat science should be taken care by glass walls and wooden tubs. Introducing glass technology will transform the aesthetics of the place with sufficient light and much needed hygiene.

It's also time to pay attention to the huge drains that pose safety risk and adequate amenities should be put in place to avoid gender awkwardness while changing.

To be continued, if possible...

Friday, January 24, 2014

SelFish Sufficient

Last Weekend, I took my fish loving daughter to Gelephu Fishery. It's a place my cousins told me lots of stories about in school days. They tempted to visit the place but it took me over 20 years to make it here myself. In these year I have become a father and even my daughter has developed fascination for aquatic life.

Beautiful Office with romantic campus, but smell of fish is unavoidable
But I was never really prepared to see so big an area for fishery and so many tanks in our own country. Going by the size of the fishery here I am wondering why we are importing fishes from across Phuntsholing. Where all the fishes from Gelephu Fishery go?

Touring the Tanks
I am impressed by the range of projects this fishery is undertaking: from piggery to aquarium making. The piggery is an integral part of fishery. There are as many pigsty as fish tanks. Though it might sound disgusting to hear that the pigshit goes to fish tank but that's the indication that the fishes coming out of this tanks are very organic. 

The fishery is also raring exotic aquarium fishes to be sold along with aquariums and I think it's a smart move because they know best about fishes.

Happy Fish Lover- But we didn't see a fish that day
It was sunday and we had to take special permission to get access to the facility, but without any activity like feeding or harvesting the shy fishes didn't show up, which disappointed my daughter. But she grew excited when we peeped through to window of the exoctic fish unit.

We didn't see a fish that day but going by the size and number of tanks I strongly feel that it can feed whole of Bhutan with organic fishes- because we don't know where and how the fishes we import are rared. Bhutanese deserve to feed on healthy food. 

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Gelephu Tshachu

I have heard badly about Gelephu Tshachu, and the images of it on media made it worse, but I didn't want to go back without seeing this infamous place. So a week ago I took my family there. It was about to be 6PM when we reached there and men were crowding at the gate for their turn. It was already dark and the place was depressing without proper lighting. I was yet to see the tshachu pools when men started gatecrashing and invading the women's turn. There was nobody at the gate to see to it. 
When all men have climbed over the gate and wall then came a young man who open the gate for me. He blew the whistle as if there was anybody left at all. At the pool the scene was very ugly, men were rushing in and women were trying to escape. I thought that was it. I had seen enough already.

I couldn't agree to myself. Am I going to leave Gelephu without experiencing Tshachu? Am a going to deprive myself of a lifetime experience? Am I going to live with that bad impression of that place forever? 

So last weekend I joined four of my training mates who are regular Tshachu visitors. We made it there before 8PM. There were hardly any people at the gate, which was already open. The ponds were packed and surprisingly there were a few men among the ladies. The whistle blew but the ladies showed no sign of coming out. So we readied ourselves and waited at the mouth of the pond that's reputed to be the hottest. There were over 13 people staring at us from the pond and I could hardly see any space to breath. Five of us were waiting in shorts. Then a man brushed across us and went in. I was annoyed at first but after watching him adjust himself among the ladies with good humor I began to like him.

My friends who were already senior visitors told me that we should subtly slip in like the man. One by one we joked our way into the pond and to my amazement the population in the pond increased to 18 and we were still comfortable. Everybody was so welcoming that I could think of no other people in the world who can be as accommodating and forgiving. I spend the next one hour enjoy the hot smelly water and funny company. There were different types of people coming in and going out, and the friendly atmosphere in the pond remained throughout. Every time a new member came in everybody moved a little bit to make room, and every time someone walks out everybody stood up to give way. 


Seriously I have no faith in the healing power of tshachu, I feel any hot water can have so much healing power if we can soak for so long. But what make Tshachu special to me is the social aspect of it. People from different places gather here and indulge in a very rustic and yet so Bhutanese form of social activity. Where in the world would stranger share a tiny bathtub in minimum cloth for hours? This should be one place to visit before you die.

Health Tips: Tshachu is mostly visited by people with different kinds of diseases, and therefore some caution has to be taken. 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tokay Gecko is Valueless

Tokay Gecko was rumored to have the cure for AIDS and therefore was insanely valued in millions. Further there were many websites giving convincing details of sizes and prices of the lizard. I spent good amount of time on internet and yet I didn't encounter this hoax news until the Gelephu incident appeared in the news. This is a case of lack of media literacy at worst. The rumor is more than two years old, how did it suddenly become so viral in Bhutan?

Poor Tokay Gecko
The truth about the reptile will disappoint many people who must have gone too far to become a millionaire overnight. The lizard that is rumored to be priceless is actually valueless. It's neither endangered nor protected species. Taiwan alone imported 18 million Gecko in 2004, because it's used in traditional medicine, but curing AIDS is out of question as confirmed by World Health Organization. It can surely kill mosquitoes.

Dead Geckos to be used in Traditional Medicine 
Everybody heard about the buyers who are ready to pay millions for a Gecko that weighs over 300 gram but nobody actually sold one. Everybody is looking for buyers. There is no buyers. The best price known is USD 50, yes just 50. The online scam has sent hundred of thousands of people to jungles across the world, who must have removed every single gecko from the wild. This could lead to the extinction of the species given the depth at which the rumor has reached. The people responsible for fabricating this story are nothing less than sick Hitler for the lizard world.

Coming back to Bhutan, I am still wondering why the Gelephu incident even happened. The lizard is neither endangered nor protected yet the poor caretaker was arrested and slapped Nu.100,000 fine. This case added gravity to the rumor. Under normal circumstance would anybody be arrested for capturing a lizard? Why is everything that is (considered or rumored) priceless suddenly taken care by law? Is law greedy? Is law ignorant? Tokay Gecko didn't make any Bhutanese millionaire but it has generated lots of suspicion and hatred in the society and criminalized a few.

Please let ignorant people around you know that Tokay Gecko won't make them millionaire. Verify my claims with articles in The Bangkok Post and Global Voice, the only two authentic site that cared to report on the lizard. All the other sites are fake, created just to launch the rumor.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Rubber Forest

Gelephu is a whole new world for me. Born in the north I am up against many warm adventures in the south. I am making heavy use of Sundays that I have to myself and family because weekdays are insanely tight. I wish I had good reception of 3G connection at night to write down all the first hand southern experiences.

The following is the picture of the woods across the Gelephu High School campus. It's two acres of Rubber trees. I joined my friends during the lunch break to explore the woods and extract rubber. Kids were playing with rubber balls they made from the trees. I took a knife along to try out the cutting skill we learnt in high school geography.

Rubber Forest
The trees were laden with milky saps, just a small cut and it comes oozing out. It soon turns into rubber. Gelephu High School had the intention of adopting the trees and harvesting the rubber. They had called Indian experts for advice and found out that each tree could give them at least Nu.1500 a month. This could have made the school self reliant but the idea didn't sell well with NEC for whatever reason- so I learnt.
Oozing Milk
Raw Rubber Balls kids made


Looking at how children have exploited the trees, each tree carries hundreds ugly scars, the trees may not remain harvestable very soon. The question is why are these trees planted if they are not harvested? And even bigger question: If rubber trees grow in our country why haven't we invested in it?

For now, Gelephu High school uses that forest as assembly ground during the hot summers as natural air conditioner.

Thursday, January 09, 2014

The First Bhutanese Nepali Movie- Made in Gelephu

My daughter has been watching the first (and perhaps the only) Bhutanese Nepali movies for quite some time, and as always she watched it over and over until she could repeat every dialogue and hum every music in it. When we were travelling south last weekend she slept till Tsirang and when she woke up she was upset, she wanted to go back.

That's when I remembered the movie. I told her that we were going to place where the Nepali movie was made. I promised her that I will show her all the locations she saw in the movie. That conversation excited her and after a while she happily went back to sleep.

It was in Sarpang we stopped for lunch and after we got back in car, she started insisting on going to the house she saw in the movie. Luckily I could recognize the spot where on comical romantic scene was shot, near Jigmeling. I could see the glow on her face as we passed by the place. After that she came back to the same demand of going to the home and the village in the movie... (Anyone knows where it is?)

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Journey to Southern Bhutan

I have discovered that I am a very bad traveller, worse when I have to drive myself. I feel very exhausted at the very thought of driving, I almost fall sick the day before travelling. My wife adds to this by packing stuffs two days ahead of the journey and reminding me about it by reconfirming about everything that's there in our luggage- I land up unpacking and repacking everything just to reassure her. She makes me wash our car, refuel the tank, check the engine, brake, tyres,... 

But there something about this journey that made me feel very excited. I washed my car without her orders, and did everything that she would ask me to do even before she could think of them. I even asked for something extra to her surprise- to take tea for the road. Because it's my maiden journey to Gelephu through Tsirang, I have always wanted to visit Tsirang and I also have an unfinished quest for Gelephu. My first visit to Gelephu some years ago left a very bad impression, I was sick throughout the ten days I spent there and this time I want to even the account and forgive Gelephu with a beautiful experience.

I learned that I had to keep a comfortable six hours in hand to make to Gelephu before 5PM curfew on Sarpang Gelephu highway. I made some calculation and left myself enough time to stop for tea and photography. 

We made a cozy bed on the back seat for daughter so that she can sleep comfortable when she get tired without bother us. She does that always. Kezang had travelled that road before, but it was too before that she hardly remembers anything. So that made the journey double exciting. I felt sorry for my daughter who could enjoy the new road. She slept.

The road from Wangdue to Wakleytar Bridge is almost like travelling through India, with lots of Indian presence. The Punatshangchu construction madness is very heavy but there are occasional smoothness on the road that is even better than the best road in Thimphu. The project has changed the entire geography of the place, and at two points on the way we could see the giant river disappear into the hills. The river bed was full of activity.
The Lost River
The bridges on the Wangdue-Tsirang highway are something to marvel, they are very soothing to eyes and their strength is evident from the freshness the concrete work has maintained. After all it's built by Japanese!
View Point: Dagana Road on the other side
Tsirang road diverts from Dagana road somewhere near Sunkosh, well Punatshangchu changes its name from here on. The brave river is here on called Sunkosh. The road to Tsirang is all uphill through the paddies and orange trees. I woke up my daughter to show her where the oranges grow. Somewhere on the top we meet a chorten from where we get the panoramic view of the Dagana road, Sunkosh and endless hills.
The View Point
We stopped in Damphu Bazar. I had to literally put my foot on the ground to reassure that I have covered one more Dzongkhag. Kezang bought a bottle of native honey. Infact everything is very native in Tsirang. The cozy cottages along the road, the goats in the paddies, the smell of gungudru everything tells stories of the originality of the place. The influence from outside dzongkhag has not changed anything in Tsirang.

Damphu Bazar
The descending road to Sarpang after Tsirang is already lonely and the fog makes is even more melancholic. It feels so much like Gedu. It's only when we close on to Sarpang that we see the sun again, my northern root has always given me special curiosity for everything in the south. I love the plains and the broad leaf trees.


Gate to Sarpang 
Sarpang town disappointed my expectations of it, it's very small, dusty and unevolved. It's too small for all the problems it faced. We stopped for a very satisfying southern Bhutanese lunch in Sharpa Restaurant- how could I resist mutton curry with raw onion on a big plate. Out of curiosity I asked about the kidnap story and the victim happens to be the son of the hotel owner. She showed the place where it happened and how they disappeared. None of the adults were home that fateful day. The boy is now home and doing well after initial shock.
Sharpa Restaurant in Sarpang Town 
Saprang town ends at security gate which is surrounded by tree laden with Honey combs. Every tree around that place has at least 50 huge combs hanging with juicy honey, and I was told that no one harvests them. Such a waste of nature's resource.
Honey Tree in Sarpang
The road between Sarpang and Gelephu gives you the rare opportunity to try the 5th gear on my old car. The much feared road, where stories of kidnaps are often heard, turned out to be a wonderful experience. Within half an hour we were in Gelephu, and just like any Bhutanese the first thing we did was to cross the Bhutan Gate to feel the air in Assam. Kezang went out for shopping and while I waited I saw some scribbling on the pillars: WE WANT SEPARATE BODOLAND. But it wasn't quite readable which must be the reason why their voice is still not heard. I wasn't feeling very secure there, as soon as Kezang came back I drove back to my safe country.

Assam, the denied Bodoland






Saturday, January 04, 2014

Wang in Phuntsholing, Blessing in Jaigaon

Merchants in Jaigaon have developed a special liking for Buddhism ever since the Wang in Phuntsholing began a few years ago. They say they feel liberated at the very news of Wang in Phuntsholing. They agree that buddhism is the greatest religion because it's the only religion that could bring so many people to Phuntsholing even when country is suffering of rupee shortage.

Photo by Nawang
The pirated CD bhai near Bhutan Gate says that Bhutanese devotee are very dedicated to their religion, they have not only come from different corners of the country but every evening they come on religious walk across the border and return with bags of blessings. He says that pronography CD sells very well.

The pani puri sellers also acknowledge that their health improved drastically ever since the Wang began because they get to do nonstop physical exercise. Their claim is evident from the huge biceps and the whitish fingers. They say that they don't even get time to wash their hands after peeing.

Beggar community however complains to the authority that they need breathing and sitting space. The Bhutanese crowd in Jaigaon during the Wang pose threat to the health of hygiene of the beggars on the street. The authority persuaded them to withdraw their complaint letter with the condition that they will write to Wang organisers to ask the devotees to pay the beggars in rupee.

Bhutanese taxi drivers are in the process of writing a proposal letter to RSTA to allow them to carry at least 20 passengers so that they could compete with the Indian counterparts. But RSTA rejected their proposal. The road safety authority states that only Indian drivers have the religious rights to send Bhutanese devotees to heaven.

Bhutanese Businessmen in Phuntsholing who are not benefiting so much from huge accumulation of people agree that their business is not very good as expected because people choose to visit the Indian side even to buy the things that are sold in Bhutan because the air is warmer on the other side of the border and also everybody knows that Buddha is born in India.

Banks in Phuntsholing have kept several ATMs on standby. They are happy that the machines are put to maximum use. They also have plans to load rupee in the ATMs for the convenience of Bhutanese devotees who otherwise have to stand in long queue at the ATMs in Jaigaon and Birpara to withdraw rupees.

Merchant association of Jaigaon in their press release stated in bold that they are truly blessed by the Wang and they taken the vow do whatever is possible within their means to support the Wang in Phuntsholing. It's also rumored that they are going to sponsor the next Wang to accumulate good karma and to spend their excess Nugltrum.

Bhutan's economic minister expressed his appreciation in Times of India, where he mentioned that Bhutan is a land of Happiness and commended the organisers for taking the goodwill of spreading happiness in Jaigaon beyond mere rupee issue. In reply to that Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh said nothing, he usually says nothing.

P:S: I hope you didn't take it seriously.

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