30 May 2015

Rainbow Over Yangthang

I am happy to announce that the Yangthang READ Centre was formally launched on May 27, 2015. This day shall be remembered as the beginning of a new era in my village and as the beginning of many good changes to come. Village elders came to me and placed their thumbs on my nose in appreciation.

They knew that the centre was funded and built by READ Bhutan and I had nothing significant to do with it but they were simply happy with me because they think I was one among very few who kept in touch with the roots back in the village and done something beyond mere annual visits.

With completion of Yangthang READ Centre, READ Bhutan has completed seven centres across Bhutan in their effort to improve quality of rural lives. On behalf of my village I have expressed our gratitude to READ Bhutan team, and I have asked Mr. Stevens, the READ Global’s Asia Regional Director, to convey the same to our sponsors, the students of Singapore American School (SAS), Singapore.

The centre in my village, like all other enters, has a Library, a Computer Lab, an Audiovisual Room, a Conference Room, a Women Section, a Child Section and an outdoor park. These seven services are like the colours of the rainbow that has finally fallen in my otherwise backward village.
The Rainbow

As believers of signs and symbolism, we were overjoyed when during the opening ceremony my village was haloed by a real rainbow. I personally took this as a very good omen.

Once Upon a Time

Then ....
and Finally now: The READ Centre
The Children in my village and villages nearby can visit the centre any time to use the service or just use the space for completing their assignments. Preschool children can come and play at the centre with educational manipulative while the parents are busy working in the field and forest. The elderly people can sit on the soft cushions in the AV room and watch TV all day (Most households don't have TV). And there will be regular training for women empowerment through skill training such as knitting, weaving and tailoring that will improve the quality of their lives. Health education for general public and creative sessions for children will happen from time to time. All good things are coming. 

The Library. Seen in pic are Mr. Stevens, Ms.Karma Lhazom and Mr. Nawang P.


The Thee Builders telling their tales
Our Funders, the students of Singapore American School (SAS), Singapore. Pic: Ganesh, READ Bhutan

During their visit in Spring. Pic Ganesh, READ Bhutan
I was given to speak at the end of the opening program during which I spoke a bit about the kind of childhood I had in the village. Though we were connected with road even before I was born our lifestyle was very primitive, and the kind of childhood games we played could shock anybody today. When I left my village to study in Paro, I was already in grade two but I still struggled with alphabets. It took me many years to catch up with the rest of the children of my age.

Another worrying factor in my village was the number of school dropouts. It's every family's good dream to see their children do well and live a meaningful life but somehow most of our children find it hard to cope with the rest of the students in their schools and finally give up and return to the village. 

Now I am hopeful that the centre will provide all the opportunities and exposure the lucky children get to my village children and make the next generation of Yangtobs ready the any kind of future that awaits them beyond our village.

My Special gratitude to my dear friend Nawang Phuntsho, through whom I knew about READ Bhutan and its activities, and for helping me and my village right from the beginning; Mr. Ganesh Chhetri for being their on the ground and working with the villagers during the entire period, and for all the positive energy he has shared with my folks; Ms. Karma Lhazom, the country director for being very supportive of the projects from day one. In fact her first official visit after her appointment was to my village. May the blessings of my villages elders and the local deities be with you throughout your lives. 

29 May 2015

Udumbara, the Mythical Flower in Yangthang Gonpa?

I heard about a mysterious flower growing in the compound of the Yangthang Gonpa that is located on the hill overlooking my village Yangthang. They told me that the flower was the mythical Udumbara. I have played in the courtyard of the Gonpa on many occasions as a young boy but I have never heard about any special plant growing there. 
Yangthang Gonpa, In its glorious form after the reconstruction that is funded by His Majesty.
The caretake Asha Kadi from my village, told me that the plant was believed to be brought there by a Tibetan Drupthob in the 15th Century. The Drupthob was on a lifelong pilgrimage and had promised to plant the last seed of the flower in the place he would end his journey. Yangthang Gonpa was where he was said to have ended his journey, before he returned to Tibet. Along with the flower seed he planted he also left behind a Tashigoma (Tashi-Gomang), which he had carried throughout his journey.

The Chest that holds the Drupthob's Tashigoma. One of the most beautiful Tashikoma I have ever seen (I have the picture of  the Tashigoma)

'Udumbara' is a Sanskrit word meaning 'An auspicious flower from heaven'. It's said that the pure and holy flower blooms once in every 3000 years. A buddhist scripture (The Huilin Phonetics, Vol 8) has this to say about the flower:
“Udumbara is the product of ominous and supernatural phenomena; it is a celestial flower and does not exist in the mundane world."
However, the mythical and mysterious flower, according to online sources, was sighted across the world in different countries. One popular claim is that the flower looks like a tiny white bell on a silken thread, with no leaves and nothing green on it. There are pictures taken by different people, available online. However, science has explained that the alleged flower was rather the egg of lacewing insect.

Another literature claims that Udumbara is the unseen flower of fig tree. It's 'unseen' because it blooms inside the fruit of the fig tree. Both the claims define Udumbara as a tiny little flower without leaves.

But the Udumbara at Yangthang Gonpa is a big green plant that could not be identified with any species of plant so far. It's said to bloom on the 15th day of the auspicious fourth month every year. This year, according to the belief, the flower should bloom on June 2 but the caretake Asha Kadi told me that on the night before His Majesty's visit to Yangthang Gonpa five petals opened. His Majesty has asked about the plant and also looked at the Tashigoma.

Until the plant is identified as another worldly plant, this is Udumbara. And if it's falsified then the myth will live on.
'Udumbara' of Yangthang Gonpa 

Top view of the Plant.

Asha Kadi explaining the Legend...
*If you know the ID of the plant I have posted please share with me in my comment box.

25 May 2015

Indian Cars with White Number Plates

It's said that the Nepal earthquake disaster was a big blow to Himalayan tourism, which seems to be true looking at the huge drop in the number of western tourists visiting us at this time of the year. However, it hasn't deterred Indian tourists. Thimphu and Paro are filled with Indian visitors these days. Along with them, countless Indian cars have entered deep into our country when we have enough of our own taxis and tourist cars lying idle this season.

Why are Indian tourists not taking Bhutanese cars?

The short answer is the affordability. Most Indian tourists love to travel cheap. But the bigger question is how could Indian cars offer such competitive price that the Bhutanese can't beat. There comes the logical reasoning. It's like buying one item from a legitimate shop at certain rate and another exactly same one from footpath at almost half the price. The footpath guy could sell at cheaper price because he didn't have to pay any form of tax.
 White Number Plate. Courtesy: Celex.co.in
There are two types of Indian Cars coming into our country, one with white number plate that are private cars and other with yellow number plate that are taxis. The yellow ones are rare, even across the border. Why would anyone want to register one's car as taxi and pay commercial taxes when one can easily use private cars as taxis. There must be regulations on paper but our neighbour across the border didn't find it necessary to bring that regulation on the street.

West Bengal Taxi, which is hard to see
Indian cars neither have to pay import tax, nor green tax, which places then at an advantage over Bhutanese cars. On top of that, without the mandate to register their cars as taxis, the cars with white number plates are bypassing every local tax in the land. This is how they easily beat our cars in the market. Nothing surprising.

Indian tourists don't have to pay $250 per day, in fact they don't spend that much during their entire tour. The tour operators across the borders use the cheapest hotels in Bhutan, and send in their own cars, thereby contributing almost nothing to our revenue. If carefully calculated, we might find out that they contribute more in polluting our air than building our economy. Not to mention the pressure the additional cars put on our fuel supply.

Considering all these, I feel our government should take a simple decision to disallow Indian cars beyond Rinchending (Kharbandi) or allow only those cars with yellow number plates, which is helping India curb the problem of illegal taxis. Any of the two decisions would compel the Indian tour operators to hire Bhutanese cars or tourist buses, contributing more to our economy and livelihood of people living on transport business.

One Bhutanese tour guide per group should be made mandatory for the safety of Indian visitors, to give them right guidance, sensitise them to the local culture and habits, especially while visiting the Dzongs and Lhakhangs. This will ensure that our visitors will have the best travelling experience, our roadsides will be clean, our culture respected and our tour guides have constant source of income. Happiness then is truly a place.

18 May 2015

The Picture of a Lifetime

My mother received the honour of offering tshogchang to His Majesty the King, Her Majesty the Queen and the Prime Minister during the tokha in Yangthang Tshakha. My mother would not have dreamt about a day even faintly close to this, to see their majesties up close, talk about her life and children, and pose for a photograph, with His Majesty's hand on her shoulder. 

This is a photo I will cherish for the rest of my time, the best moment in my mother's hard life.
My Mother with His Majesty the King, Her Majesty the Queen and the Prime Minister (Source: Ashi Jetsun Pema's official Fan Page)

12 May 2015

Portable Toilet

Last weekend I have finally met Lavish Madiya with whom I had shared my aspirations of bringing home prefab toilets. In fact we met online because of my very interest in toilets. He has just ventured out to produce exactly the thing I wanted, just some 30 km away from our Phuntsholing gate.

He has come to market his products in Thimphu, which includes among other things park benches, tiles, window frames, door frames etc (See his company site) but I went to meet him specifically to understand about the prefab toilet.
My Little one with the Little Toilet

His wife Neha, who's also a writer and social worker, used the cute little prototype to explain to me the composition, features and management of the prefab toilet. They knew I was their most potential client with no money. But they have seen Bhutan Toilet Organisation on the top of Google rating in Bhutan and knew how passionate I was about it. Neha kindly shared with me the basics of getting the organisation started because she has been part of many such initiatives in India.
Lavish and Neha

The real toilet they are intending to bring in will have:

  1. Net weight of 70kg 
  2. Everything is detachable
  3. Attached tank can be used by 25 people for a week
  4. But the tank can easily be connected to a styptic tank
  5. It will come with a water tap, wash basin, and urinal 
  6. Tallest person in Bhutan can easily stand inside it
  7. Can be customised for people with special needs
  8. But the scariest part is the price- without the tax it sells at about Nu.30,000 in India
Considering the cost and transportation of cement, bricks, toilet pot, pipes, basin, walls, roof, labour charges and time I am wondering if Nu.30,000 makes sense. But it will be a while before I figure out where the money is, and meanwhile I think tour companies and event managers could consider. If I succeed you will see these toilets at your service during events like Tshechu, trade fair, book fair, clock tower events, and may be at strategic location in populated communities.

By the way, I am told that during one of big events in past years we brought in quite a number of prefab toilets from China, can anyone please enlighten me on where and how they are kept? Lets use them, if they are still there.

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04 May 2015

Bumchu Talozam and the Spiritual Copyrighted Songs

First, congratulations to Au Kencho Wangdi for successfully running four seasons of Druk Super Star singing contests and discovering many national treasures. I wish him health, knowing he has all the other factors in himself, to continue entertaining the nation and bringing out the best in our youths.

Among the many singing talentshe discovered, Bumchu Talozam has become a household name in the last many months. I have heard her name in towns and villages; I have seen people stop on the street and crowd over shop windows when she appeared on the TV, and I have seen humble villagers spend their hard earned money in voting for her.
Bumchu Talozam
Her melodies from Talo charmed the nation and rejuvenated people’s love for Zhungdra, which was earlier only appealing to the elders. Zhungdra was disappearing because of its difficulty in singing, slow pace, philosophical lyrics, length, and it could only go well with one musical instrument, Dramney. Younger generation found it hard to like, since our times, and had to be compelled into preserving it by making it a mandatory item on school stages.

But Bumchu Talozam suddenly made Zhungdra sound like a new genera and people started humming. History shall remember Kencho Wangdi and his treasure Talozam for the great Zhundgra Revolution.

Talking about history, it’s said that the reincarnations of Zhabdrung composed the songs Bumchu Talozam sang. Since 1705 four reincarnations of Zhabdrung lived in Talo; Zhabdrung Jigmi Drap, Zhabdrung Jigme Chogyel, Zhabdrung Jigme Norbu and Zhabdrung Jigme Dorji. I knew about this from a Bhutanese scholar who presented on Talo Tshechu during the 7th Colloquium on Culture and Environment in March 2015 at Kichu Resort.

The songs, believed to be very holy, were heard widely by the older generations from Ap Dopay, who is also from Talo. But it’s said that the songs though exceptionally melodious never went beyond Talo. Ap Dopay, a natural singing star never taught these songs to his students from outside Talo. It’s believed that Ap Dopay respected the spiritual copyright, a Kasho issued by one of the Zhabdrungs, which apparently said that the songs and dances from Talo should not be reproduced by any person or community outside Talo. (Need to find out which reincarnation of Zhabdrung)

Today, Bumchu Talozam won runners up prize and I am very happy for her. What she won from the show is far beyond any powertiller, she has spread the love and melodious history of Talo that was dying a natural death, and that without breaking the Zhabdrung Code (After all she is from Talo and it’s her spiritual right). She has become a cultural ambassador. She is Kencho Wangdi’s gift to the Nation.