Sunday, August 31, 2014

Face of Buddha

It's my seventh year in Wangdue and I have lived it well. I have considered it my home. I have explored so many corners of this place and wrote so many stories. There are places I should have been to but I have no regrets because I haven't spared the ones around me.

However, after all these years, and all these stories I wasn't ready to accept that I had missed on a very special landmark. It was right there for anybody to see, large and distinct and unbelievably very close. It's an image of Lord Buddha's face formed out of natural rock, not even carved. I don't understand how this has not become a sacred place, when people are ready to accept a hole on the rock as Khandrum's buga or Guru's footprint.

The Buddha Face rock is located on the elephant shaped hill on which the Wangdue Dzong is built. The face is distinctly visible from across the river, anywhere between the Wangdue Bridge and the Damchen Fuel Pump.
The location of Buddha Face (Not exact but somewhere very close) 
 The special rock could be an amazing geographical accident, but accidentally it could have looked like anything else but Buddha's Face. There are lots of rock we worship that are naturally intriguing and there are other man made places that are equally overwhelming. I have been very selective in appreciating those places but when I saw this rock I could not believe it. It's so authentic. It can't for for nothing.
You don't even have to believe to see it!
I don't know how it looks close up because I haven't been right there though it's accessible by foot, the foot paths are running all around it. But from across the river it's nothing less than the calm face of Buddha. I don't understand how this place is not recognized as one of the holy Buddhist sites, though some people already knew about it. I went to verify after I saw a picture in my friend Yam Rinzi's mobile. Only after seeing it for myself, and getting convinced beyond all doubt I dared to blog about it.

Disclaimer: I am NOT the first person to see it.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Bhutanese Mask Collector

Forgive my ignorance but I have never heard of any Bhutanese Mask Collector, or for that matter any sort of collector. We consider that as the prerogative of foreigners. I have rather heard of Bhutanese smugglers who buy antique mask to be sold in black market across the border, never to be seen by any Bhutanese ever. I have also heard of foreigners who collect mask, antiques and ingenious art pieces and fly them away from Bhutan. Many of us are more than happy to see our priceless art pieces fly away overseas.
Believe it or not, there is a Bhutanese who is doing his share of collection. He won't let us sell all our arts to the foreigners. His name is Kelden Jigme Namgay (Call him KJ). You won't believe he is just a two year old if you see his mask collection. This afternoon I went to meet him and with the approval of his parents and grandmother took pictures of him and his collection.  
KJ with his collection
He is not only the youngest mask collector but also perhaps the only collector in Bhutan. He is just an ordinary little boy who is born among the kids who love wearing Spiderman and Batman mask but quite strangely KJ started asking for scary Bhutanese masks ever since he could demand for toys. Sometimes he would ask for a specific mask and his parents have to scan all the handicraft shops. His collection is built mask by mask, from Paro, Thimphu and Bumthang. He knows the masks by their names and can even locate where each of them are bought from.
The Collector. Photo Source: His Parent's Collection
It was this summer that his parents could finally make him happy after finding the last missing piece in his collection: The Dudhar Mask, the white mask worn in the dance of death. They couldn't find it in any of the handicraft shops. It was finally found in Paro Airport handicraft shop. He almost rescued it.

The Last Mask: Photo Source: His Parent's Collection
It's hard to say if KJ was born with that interest or he acquired it later but one thing that we must acknowledge is the way people around him nurtured his unique passion. Children of his age are after Ben10, Chota Bhim, Spierman, etc but remember no child is born with love for cartoon films, it's the lazy parents who let such movies babysit their children and overtime they tend to like it. We force children to like cartoon movies but KJ's parents and grandma didn't let that happen. They let him be different.

KJ lives with his parents and Grandma in Punakha.
Enjoy his collection:

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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Our Cup of Pesticide?

I love tea, I love it best without milk because milk spoils the true color and aroma of the tea. I prefer slipping it from a transparent cup because seeing the color makes it more tastier. I had all the reason to believe that I was drinking the healthiest drink until I read a Kuensel report on how imported tea could contain pesticides. 
My Cup of Pesticide (?)
Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA) is soon going  to conduct tests on all tea brands coming to Bhutan, which is not very late yet. Despite worrying if we have the technology and capacity to undertake the test I am very hopeful that lives will be saved across generations. Going by the Green Peace India's report as given in that Kuensel article, pesticide residues were found in all 49 brands tested, of which 29 brands contained mix of more than 10 pesticides. Out of the 34 different types of pesticides found in different tea brands, 68 percents are not approved to be used in tea cultivation at all. 
Then are the tea brands coming to Bhutan among those 49 tested? Perhaps all of them are, which means we were consuming pesticides all our lives. If it were vegetables or fruits, which definitely contain high deposits of chemicals from pesticides, we could partly wash them before consuming but how can we wash tea? Therefore we could be sipping huge amount of toxic chemicals from tea than anything else.
That perhaps answers why cancer has become a common disease in Bhutan? It's increasingly becoming common for people who never smoked or drank to die of cancer and we silently take it as a disease of fate. If we do a serious research on the cancer patients, we might reach the conclusion that they were heavy consumers of tea. I have seen so many deaths in my Dzongkhag Haa caused by cancer, while there could be several other chances but more than anything we Haaps are tea addicts. Just in one sitting one Haap would drink more than a regular family could drink in whole day. Tea begins the day and tea ends it. Imagine the amount of pesticide they are consuming. 

I have always been a proud black tea drinker but now I feel like I was drinking the most refined cup of pesticide all this time. While it's early to conclude before BAFRA completes their test, I think there is no surprise left given the results in Green Peace India's compilation. Therefore, it's time to ask, is it safe to drink as much tea as beer? 
Tea Plantation in Assam
Southern Hills of Bhutan are most ideal for tea cultivation considering the popularity of Darjeeling tea but god knows why we never made an attempt to grow our own tea!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Breaking the Shoemaker's Curse

In 1920s Germany, there lived two young brothers, Adi Dassler and Rudi Dassler, whose father worked in a shoe factory and mother ran a small laundry business. The brothers went to the shoe factory with their father, and later began making their own shoes in their mother laundry room. They began 'Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory', which prospered.
Turning point was in 1936, then Adi drove all the way to Olympic village with a suitcase full of their shoes, and made an African American sprinter wear their shoes. The sprinter went on to win four gold medals and that made their shoes shined best in the sport world. Then World War II set in and the brothers were divided. They became rivals.
Rudi started his own firm and called it Ruda (Rudi Dassler), which was later re-branded as Puma, and Adi stared his own firm and named it Adidas (Adi Dassler). This is the story of two greatest shoes makers- Adidas and Puma.

My interest in the German brother began in 2011 when Dawa Drakpa started ShoeVival, a shoe laundry, the first of its kind dared by a Bhutanese. His parents had sent him to get a degree in BSc Nursing from Bangalore, but to their disappointment he returned from Mumbai with a shoe laundry franchise, and without the degree. Unimaginable, but that's the strangeness of destiny.

In a society that has chronic traditional hierarchical ego, where mending shoes was always associated with expat cobbler families, a young Bhutanese university student proudly establishing a brand was a history in itself. He broker the curse. Overnight he turned what was earlier perceived as 'dirty job' into a sexy profession. He made a strong statement, and most importantly he lived the example well.
Bhutan Dragon Motorcycle Club
How much adventure can one have in a shoe laundry business? Wait until Dawa Drakpa rode with Bhutan Dragon Motorcycle Club on their gorgeous Royal Enfield monsters to 'Help Shoe Bhutan'. His laundry collected, refurbish and loaded 5996 pairs of shoes on the back of a DCM truck that followed the bikers across the country. They distributed shoes and collected smiles from so many corners of the country, they reached some places where no shoe has reached and touched some feet that were never touched by shoes.

After 5996 shoes, perhaps it dawned on him that if he gave man a shoe, it ends with that shoe, but if he taught man how to mend his shoes then it will last across all the shoes the man and his neighbors will ever have in their lives. This was the beginning of another adventure for the shoe man.

Help Shoe Bhutan trip to Gasa
He is now on a long journey to saw his seeds across the country. As I write this story, he must be somewhere in Bumthang teaching school students his trade. He is now setting up Help Shoe Clubs in fifteen school across the country. The journey began in Dashidingkha MSS in Punakha where the club was set up and students were given thousands worth of tools and million worth of skill and inspiration. The man is travelling east and he is going to inspire many Dawa Drakpas on his way, and perhaps a few Dassler brothers.

These are the schools in the first phase list: Dashiding MSS, Sherubling HSS, Jakar HSS, Yadi HSS, Phayum HSS, Tashigang MSS, Rangjung HSS, Baylling HSS, Samdrupjongkar MSS, Sonamthang MSS, Damphu HSS, Sarpang HSS, Dagana HSS, Nangkhor HSS & Nanglam HSS.
Help Shoe Club in Trongsa Shrubling hereby certified!
One day there will be a time where every Dzongkhag will have a Bhutanese professional cobbler who is proud of his job, and one day the expat cobblers who lived in Bhutan for over three generations will close shop and say, "Saaaala, Now Bhutan has changed", and that day you know whom to remember.
Pride of my generation.
I am proud to be born in the crazy generation with people like Karma Yonten, Farmer Sangay and Dawa Drakpa. The thrash man, the Farmer, and the shoe man.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Democracy and Love Marriage

When I was invited to speak to Democracy Club by their club master Ms. Sangay Lhaden I was sure that the members would want to listen to anything but democracy. They have been listening to so much about it that any more theory would make them want to leave the club.
With Drukyul Decides I- Photo by Sangay Lhaden
I began by introducing the three signed books they received as gift from the author, Gyambo Sithey. The books are about everybody, everything, everywhere minus the rumors about the first two elections and the five defining years between them. If schools are seriously meaning to make differences through democracy club then they should consider investing in the books. I have shared this with Election Commission of Bhutan and perhaps the schools might receive it for free. Fingers crossed.

I was done with the books and now had to say something about the subject they have already heard too much, to many times. The following is the organized and edited version of my original random talk.

Democracy is like marriage, love marriage to be specific, you choose you own leader, I mean spouse. The courting and dating is the campaign period and finally you cast your vote one day without anyone's influence. The 100 days pledges go well in marriage but after a year you begin to see that the mole on her cheek is too big, that his snoring is very disturbing, that her nagging is not cute and then there will be nights you sleep angry, mornings you wake up sad and there are hundred little things you fight about, forgetting that you chose that person from among 7 billion people on earth.

But then one morning you say sorry and you love again, laugh again and everything works perfect. That's human. That's how real relationship works. You can't go on smiling when you are slapped, you can't forgive when he comes home late every night, you can't be and shouldn't be obsessively in love at all times because it's not Bollywood movie.

But you also don't hate your wife permanently for scolding you, you have to love her when things settle down and when she gives you that smile. You don't hate your husband forever for forgetting to wish your on your birthday, you have to love him when he takes out a surprise gift. You have to be human or you will be divorced. And in divorce both lose. Family fails.

That's how democracy has to be. You can't religiously support one party or oppose another at all times. Good decisions and bad decisions are made- success of democracy depends on how we react to that.And our reactions depend on which group we are in among the three: The Lovers, The Haters, and The Concerned Citizens.

The Lovers are the ones who swear by one party, and regardless of how good or bad the decision the party makes they will not move an inch into disagreement. They are like a obsessive husband who could go and hug his wife after she has thrown a hot pan on his face.

 Contrary to that The Haters are the ones who turn blind eyes to all the good things a party does and suddenly becomes so loud when they see a flaw. They are like an angry husband who would slap his wife even when she gifts him a bouquet of flowers.
My Illustration of Democracy
If we have more of these two groups of people then democracy is at risk. They could fail a country. Therefore we must strive to be and saw the seed of The Concerned Citizens in our youth. Educating and inspiring them to grow the heart that is courteous enough to acknowledge the good even if it's done by an enemy, and courageous enough to condemn even when the wrongdoer is a friend. That like a very human and loving husband.

The only difference between marriage and democracy is that in democracy you go to poll every five years and change the government if you don't like it...

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Audience With His Majesty

My greatest dream in life, like any Bhutanese dream, is to stand in front of my king someday with the guiltless satisfaction of having done my job well. For that I have been working every day in preparation, honing my skills, molding my attitude and defining my dreams. But I never thought I would be so lucky to blessed right here in the beginning of my journey. I was greatly honored and humbled to be granted a personal audience with His Majesty the King yesterday, August 10, 2014. This day shall inspire me in seeking meaning in my living, and I thank all the people who wished me well to see this day.

I had a sleepless night of countless thoughts, I was struggling for words to describe that powerful emotion within me, it's like having won the Nobel prize. I was recollecting every word His Majesty said to me during the overwhelming two hours I spent at the Lingkana Palace. It gave me goosebumps remembering how much His Majesty knew about his ordinary subjects like me. It's so heartwarming to realize that the king is watching everyone of us everyday, he cares about our efforts. He knows who is doing what, no matter where in the world we are. He understands our ordinariness, and therefore the royal expectation of us is nothing extraordinary. He wants us to do the best that is ordinarily possible of us. Because so much is possible.

His Majesty's expectation of his people reminds me of Martin Luther King Jr.'s words,
“If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michaelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.”

His Majesty expressed his regard for my humble efforts, and reminded me of the long way that lies ahead of me. His Majesty wishes to see consistency, dedication and humility in what I do. His Majesty gave his blessings on my blogging passion and inspired me to be socially active and responsible citizen. He advised me to remain locally useful and globally relevant at all times.

The joy and fear of carrying the king's earnest words weigh equally and heavily on my soul, and I am going to put every piece of myself and every piece of this life to thank His Majesty in action. There is so much to do, and long way to go before I truly deserve the royal audience I was granted.
With His Majesty, 2009 Convocation 

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

First Dzong in Haa

Let alone the rest of the country even most Haaps won't know that we had Dumcho Dzong in Haa before Wangchuklo Dzong. The present Dzong was built in 1913 by Gongzim Ugyen Dorji after Dumcho Dzong was destroyed by fire that year. Dumcho Dzong was located somewhere near Lhakhang Karpo in Dumcho, about a kilometer away from the present dzong.
Except for the ruin of the foundation, there is no trace of Dumcho Dzong, which was once a power house of the region. One record suggest that Dumcho Dzong was built in 1895 after the establishment of post of Haa Drungpa but going by the only picture I ever saw of Dumcho Dzong taken in 1905, it has to be way older than recorded.
Gongzim Ugyen Dorji posing in front of Dumcho Dzong (1905)
The picture taken by John Claude White in 1905 is the only visual evidence of how the disappeared piece of history looked like in its glorious days. Eight years later, 1913 the Dzong was heavily damaged by the fire and instead of reconstructing it a new Dzong was constructed at a new location- Wangchuklo Dzong.

Every time I see an old picture of our past I thank John Claude White, it was this man who left us priceless treasure trove of our history. He was a close friend of our first king Ugyen Wangchuk who was then the Trongsa Penlop, and I say the friendship was evident in the amount of time and films White invested in shooting every aspect of Bhutan in the early days. I am now on the mission to get a copy of John Claude White's book "Sikhim & Bhutan: Twenty-One Years on the North-East Frontier, 1887-1908" hoping there will be more pictures of our past than the dozens I could get on internet.

Wangchulo Dzong
Today I am sent on a long history trip by the inspiring historian Tshering Tashi. He posted the picture of Dumcho Dzong that took me on a nostalgic journey back in time. This is not the first time Tshering Tashi has inspired me, there were many moments where he would post a piece of historic record and I will be lost in time. Today after I saw the picture, which was the first ever picture I saw of the Dzong, I went on internet hoping to find more of it. But turned out that it's so rare that it's not even included in the huge collections of White's pictures. But on my way I found so many pictures I have never seen before. I even called my mother to confirm about the location of the Dzong before I illustrated the following map. Thank you Au Tshering Tashi, you inspire me, you make history exciting, and you make me believe.

Illustration of Location of Dumcho Dzong and Wangchuklo Dzong

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