Monday, February 29, 2016

Birth Place of Khandro Sonam Palden

Across the river at Wang Sinmo, the sight of the ancient house in Danglo is so prominent that one can't help stealing several glances from the highway at it. The house, blacked with age was the home of Khandro Sonam Palden, consort of Phajo Drogom Zhigpo who lived from 1184 to 1251. The fascinating details of the lives of the divine couple has survived centuries undiluted. Their popularity is evident from the Bonko festivals held in most village in western region, which is an enactment of life of Phajo. 
Ancient History of Bhutan can be compared to a blank sheet of paper with few dots separated by huge gaps. After Guru Rimpoche's visit in 8th Century the next dot of history documented is probably the story of Phojo and Khadro. 

To pinpoint the 900 year old birthplace of Khandro Sonam Palden today is intriguing, although the house itself being that old is out of question because over these many years we can assume the house must have been rebuilt and renovated dozens of times.
I stupidly asked if there was any direct descendent of the khandro, since there was noone currently occupying the house. The monk said, 'it has been over 900 years and if we trace back we all would be direct descendent of Phajo and Khandro.'

I must have travelled on that highway for hundreds of time and that many times I have looked at the house and wished to visit it. It was just there across the river and all these years I have pushed it for another day. Now I think I have reached the age where if I wish to do something I go and do it because I have realised the importance of take charge of my life. It's equally important to have friends who share your passion to make every moment worthwhile.


With Nawang Phuntsho I just have to tell him my next plan and he would be there ready to go. Our passion dragged our families and even my cousin's family to the place. And from there I looked at the highway and wondered why I took so long to take this short journey. 

Our Guide Passang Dorji
Our Tour Guide 

Upon reaching the village the road winds away from our destination, so we stopped to ask a little boy standing by the roadside for direction. The boy said he would show us and began running ahead of our cars. We followed him for some time and realized that it was farther than we expected and though full of energy the boy was exhausted. We asked him to get in the car and he did. Once in the car he introduced himself as 7 year old Passang Dorji studying in PP. From the way he talked he sounded like a 50 year old. By and by he became our tour guide and stayed with us for the entire duration. He didn't know the history and significance of the place, which I am sure he will learn now, but he made our tour special. What I envied most about the boy was his independence, which can't be taught in the school. He led a group of adults with so much confidence. He rightfully earned a decent fee for his service.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Third Bhutanese Bloggers’ Conference

During the Annual Bhutanese Bloggers’ Dinner we unanimously decided to have the 3rd Bloggers’ Conference on 6th February in Thimphu considering the schedule of many members of the community. Bhutan’s alpha photographer and blogger Aue Yeshey Dorji took charge of the logistics. He showed us all how tough a taskmaster he was and how things were done; he pushed things so hard that we were ready a month ahead. This happened for the first time.
He not only had the venue ready but also the location map of the place, not just the menu but also the fund needed for all of it. The core team had only to get the four speakers ready and a moderator. The community co-founder Nawang P Phuntsho jokingly shared that he should first look for the moderator next time considering the difficulty he faced in getting blogger Nim Dorji to moderate.
With the opening remark by Rekha Monger the conference kicked of at 3pm in the RSPN conference hall. We had a cake cut to celebrate the birth of our Gyalsey. 

The first speaker to take the stage was our very own Chador Wangmo, the author of La Ama. She shared about her journey to Langdorbi in Zhemgang to help the children of men who lost their lives in a boat accident. She said that she had only been the bridge between the charitable souls and the victims, but I know she has been more than that. Mother of three little children and jobless, Chador showed to us how possible it was if you really meant to help. Her project not only took care of basic necessities of the children there but also gave them their fair share of childhood with gifts of toys.

The blogger who went beyond his blindness and showed us wit and wisdom of life spoke on what it meant to be disabled in Bhutan. He made us laugh with his humors as he narrated the story of his life. He said that ‘Bhutan is a compassionate country for the disabled people to live in’. He has never suffered any sort of open discrimination but he lamented that our infrastructures were not at all accommodating. We hardly have buildings that have access to wheelchair let alone the streets and shops.

The star photographer, Aue Yeshey Dorji simply ran us through some of his best photographs and on each slide he stopped to tell us stories, either of the subject or the process. By the time he finished I was wondering if there would be any other Bhutanese who would have travelled the length and breadth, height and depth like he had done. Then I realized that he didn’t become him by luck.
During the question session he was asked how he could be so bold on his blog, to which he said, “ Since when did we have this feeling that writing the right thing would get us into trouble.” He however said that it’s important to research and get the facts straight.

The final speaker was Binu Creativedonkey, one of the sweet naughty boys on social media who has thus far treated us with his instant wit and satires on almost every social subject. He runs three special blogs one being the satire blog called Shobnews.com. He began by insulting himself and then told us how satire was not one of the favorite subjects in Bhutan. He shared about how his satire on film industry cost him some contracts. He promised he would rock the hall next time because it was his first public appearance.

Just when we were about to wrap up Dawa Knight landed, four hours late for the conference. But over the phone he expressed his desire to do a standup comedy and that was exactly what we needed over the post conference drinks and dinner. Upon little persuasion he started his usual comedy, which I have heard hundreds of times. But with a mike in hand and facing the crowd he was magnificent. I laughed all over again.
Now we are seriously considering coming up with a YouTube Channel of Bhutanese satire and comedy with Dawa Knight and Binu Creativedonkey.

The most memorable part of the Bloggers’ conference is usually the social break after the conference where we get to meet the community members, take pictures, and share light moments. And because I am a night person and I bring my family along I don’t need to rush anywhere therefore I am usually the last person to leave the hall. I love the look on people’s face when I ask them to stay a little longer. It’s always Nawang, Che and Tharchen with me in the end. Dasho Sangay Khandu never missed any conference and would be the last guest to leave. He would kindly agree to drop off a carful of bloggers.

Acknowledgement

The conference was fully funded by five members of Rotary Club of Thimphu including Aue Yeshey Dorji himself. The partial support we received from BOB shall be used for next conference. The magnificent venue was provided for free by RSPN and their communication officer Pema Gyamtsho stayed throughout the conference to make sure we have the best of audiovisual and WiFi connectivity.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Museum on the Highway

If you are travelling to Thimphu and have half an hour to spare would you like to time travel three centuries back into Bhutanese history at Wangsisina? It’s not known when the house was exactly built but in 1788 the 19th Druk Desi lived in that house, which is evident that the house existed even before that. The house remained a huge source of mystery for many years.
Just there!
When I was younger, every time we travelled that road someone in the bus would always tell a story about this huge house below the road. I heard different stories on different occasions ranging from legend to myth to folktales, all surrounding that massive house.
I heard there was a lake underneath the house where a wish-fulfilling mermaid lived. I heard a whole episode of Gasa Lami Singye story set in this house because it was said that Changi Bum Gylem was reborn in this house. It was also said that this house produced more Dashos than any other house. I vaguely remember another story involving the massive cliff on the other side of the river.
There is a lake below the house, if not beneath 
Now that the house is opened to public as a heritage museum anyone can visit and discover the inside of the 18th century structure. The face of the house we see from the road was a recent addition after the road was built from above the house. Other than that nothing much seemed to have changed over the centuries. The house is facing the river, along which the tradition route runs and the architecture of the front is nothing like we see today. The architecture we see today in our villages must have evolved in the 19th century.
Look at the architecture of the windows. 
As we walked into the courtyard of the house the first thing that overwhelmed us was the massive compound wall. It’s the tallest wall I have ever seen. The door, the staircase and every piece of woodwork and the walls showed the age of the house, and the deep craters on the railings and stairs told stories of generations of powerful families whose hands touched them.
Back of the house then.
Only half a century ago it was said that the family kept over hundred servants and given the size of the room that stored grains it’s no exaggeration. The massive compound walls and the remains of the numerous what-seemed-like servant houses told that it really did have an army of servants. Why not, the house was seat of three Druk Desis and other prominent figures since 1788.

1788: Druk Tenzin, 19th Desi 
1792: Tashi Namgyel, 20th Desi
1805: Sangay Tenzin, 23rd Desi

But more than the generations of powerful male members the house was known for the female members with the title Wangsisi Chum (Rich Lady of Wangsisna). Six generations of Wangsis Chum are recorded after 1805; They were Chimi Wangmo, Tandin Bidha, Dargom(1911), Phub Sithu(1927), Sangay Dema(1948) and Dechen Wangmo, who is currently living there with her children. Her children are the 12th generation of the family. Perhaps one of these ladies must be the reincarnation of Changi Bum Gylem that I heard of.
History is in everything

The best part of the museum is that it hasn’t changed anything at all. Everything is left as it is. To cater to visitors they have built a dinning room outside the campus wall that can accommodate over 30 guests at a time.

Tuesday, February 09, 2016

The Fifth of February is Now More Than Just a Date

On 6th February, when the grand announcement of the birth of Gyalsey warmed the cold mountain air my mother called me to tell me that I had forgotten to wish my little sister on her birthday yet again. It wasn’t the first time I forgot her birthday and it always broke my heart. But this time I promised her that I shall never forget her birthday anymore because Fifth of February is never going to be just another date on the calendar. The Fifth of February is now an auspicious occasion for all times to come. I felt so proud that my sister now shared birthday with His Royal Highness, the Gyalsey.

The Fifth of February will go down in history as the day the luckiest Crown Prince in the history of the country was born. Since the beginning of monarchy in the Bhutan this day has never happened where the crown prince was born in the presence of his King Grandfather. His Majesty and Her Majesty have therefore given the best 60th birthday gift to the Great Fourth and to their people. This makes us the luckiest people in the history to be living in this glorious time and witnessing what’s nothing short of perfection.

We have already witnessed two of the greatest events in the history; the crowning glory of His Majesty the King and the Royal Wedding, both of which were extraordinarily significant because of the presence of His Majesty the Fourth King. The happiness that the nation experienced in these moments was crafted, piece by piece, over a long period of time by the king who knew the source of perfect happiness.

Three Generations of Kings in the First official Photograph of HRH Gyalsey

Today, on the auspicious day of losar we were given the gift of the first glimpse of our Gyalsey through the official photograph. The picture was so absorbing that I kept looking at it for a long time. It showed our glorious past and the beautiful present looking at the promising future. The right hand of the Great Fourth wrapped affectionately around Gyaltsen's shoulder and the left across His Majesty's lap holding the newborn- Oh it's made in heaven! It's a picture that can make your forget everything and be happy. And in this overwhelming moment the only words that keep coming to my mind is Thank You.






Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The First Bhutanese Writers’ Retreat

We called it a retreat because it was too modest to be called a festival. This was something we have been looking forward to since the time we founded Writers Association of Bhutan (WAB) in 2009. This time around we entrusted two of our prominent members in Phuntsholing to lead us. Kinley Wangchuk and Namgay Tshering took less than two months to make the first ever Bhutanese Writers’ Retreat happen. It was a distant dream for the longest time, and now it seems like we have finally found our way. Thanks to the leadership of the two men.
Aue Supe with Super Presentation 

The event took place on 23rd Jan 2016 in a quiet conference hall of Centennial Hotel in the middle of busy Phuntsholing town. The attendance at the event was as modest as our event but quite a few people believed in us to travel from Thimphu to take part in the event while some seemed to wait till we are big enough to deserve their time. We might never make it there but if we ever do we shall remember the people who were with us during our small beginnings, who did more than just watching us struggle. It’s been years now and I know if some of our established writers showed a little faith and came together we could have already come up with something substantial to proudly call our own.

Super Cop in Deep Muse 
In 2003 I completed my first book of short stories and invested all my pocket money into printing the manuscript. First I didn’t know where to go and second the places I went to didn’t even read my stories, and at last they threw away my manuscript. Thirteen years have passed and I haven’t published that book yet. This need not happen to any aspiring writer now. There are people at WAB who will read the manuscript and if the stories are good then we have a team to edit the story, layout the book, design the cover, find financial support for printing if necessary, and produce a book that is of international standard. This already happened with at least six new authors. With each new book we have learned better ways to do things.
The Modest Population
And the Retreat is to celebrate and showcase our team efforts because everyone at WAB is a part timer and every new author is a new team member. So at the retreat we come together to share experiences, to promote books, to have workshops on writing, editing, publishing, and book designing. It’s basically to beat the path to publication flatter.
My Friend and Co Founder Nawang on Alternative Publishing 
Following list of activities from the event will tell you what the retreat was all about:
  1. Mindfulness – Namgay Tshering
  2. Book Promotion and Sale: Kadrinche-beyond words, Cronical of a Love Foretold, Darkest June, La Ama, Barnyard Murder, and Restless Relic
  3. On the road to publication- Experience sharing by Kinley wangchuk and Karma Tenzin Yongba
  4. Poetic Inspiration- Tshering C Dorji
  5. Simplicity in Writing- Kunga Tenzin Dorji (Supe)
  6. Writers and Blogging- PaSsu
  7. Editor’s Story- Needup Zangpo
  8. Elements of Detective stories – Karma Tenzin Yongba
  9. Crowd Publishing- Alternative Publishing- Nawang P Phuntsho
  10. Book signing by Authors; Karma Tenzin Yongba and Kinley Wangchuk

The day was overloaded but every session seemed to bring another dead cell in me back to live. That evening I threw myself on my bed in complete exhaustion but I couldn’t help smiling in satisfaction.  I have never been more motivated to dust my old manuscript and dream of publishing again.
Among the many conferences, retreats, and forums I have attended on my own expenses so far this one put an additional smile on my face because I was given a free accommodation in a nice hotel, not to mention the magnificent venue and meals since our arrival on 22nd Jan evening till our departure on 24th Jan afternoon. Therefore I would like to thank the duo Namgay Tshering, and Kinley Wangchuk for paving the difficult path and would like to join them and their supporters in thanking the event sponsors on behalf of WAB:
  • Proprietor of Dophu Transport, Karma Dophu Thinley
  • Proprietor of Namgay Woods, Dasho KS Dhendup
  • CEO of Bhutan Polythnen Company
  • CEO of Rabdhuen Pvt Ltd
  • Mr. Sonam Wangchuk and Yanka of Phuntsho Norphel Trading
  • Proprietor of Centennial Hotel


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