Thursday, June 30, 2016

One day in the life of a talented farmer

I had been telling him to leave his village. I had been persuading him to come to Thimphu and work here. This, I did persistently, loudly. If he’d work in Thimphu, I was thinking, he’d earn a bigger fortune. I know many others, who know Gyembo Namgyel, felt or did the same. 
Gyembo and me
I used to think, this talented man was a big waste in a remote village of Pemagatshel. For he is the most responsible and ethical Bhutanese journalist I’ve ever met. Besides, he is humble and knowledgeable person.

When we were working together at Bhutan Observer, he used to be very consistent and disciplined reporter. He would bring out pressing issues of eastern Bhutan, and through his stories, many lives were impacted (for better). Indeed, I had always aspired to write like him.

However, my telling fell on his deaf ears, my persuasion left ignored. Gyembo never left his village. Gyembo never came to Thimphu. This man was that adamant, believe it or not.
So last March, I visited him. Instead. At his home. In Pemagatshel. In fact, he was more than happy to host me.

Gyembo’s house was a beautiful one-story house with an intimate space, and a wide-open, free and fully alive surrounding. On my first looking, the place gave me so much of comfortable and peace feeling that I felt like my own.
That time it was a little before evening, and the day’s last sunrays was falling full on the house. Indeed, everything around was illuminated brightly golden.

Gyembo took me to his living room and offered tea. Surprisingly, the living room had neither television nor luxurious sofa set. It had simple wooden divans and chodrum, Bhutanese designed centre table. But I was amazed to see wooden shelves on the walls that were full of books and magazines.  
One of the book shelves
“This is my simple library. I collect books. I want to further grow this space,” he said, wearing a satisfied smile, as we sipped on tea.

His collection ranged from fictions to biographies, self-helps to romances, and classics to Bhutanese books. Astounded - to put my reaction in a word.

Gyembo wanted to show me his hard labour, so he took me behind the house. First he showed me his garden, which was growing abundant with fresh vegetables - onions, spinach, beans, green peas, coriander, etc.
Then this talented farmer showed me his main farm asset. Avocado. His face gleamed in pride and satisfaction as he showed avocado plants. There were over 33 plants and most of them were already bearing fruits. It’s a high-priced fruit with medicinal values.
Avocado fruits
“I lost most of my orange plants to pests,” said Gyembo, pointing at his dying citruses and delightfully added, “But this avocado is good replacement.”  

Gyembo also maintained a nursery of hundreds of avocado saplings. And each sapling sells at Nu 1,000.
Avocado saplings
After the exciting short farm tour, we returned to the living room. Outside, the darkness gradually wrapped itself around us and a soft wind blew, rustling the curtains. We grabbed a book each from the shelves and reading already.

Meanwhile, we talked about the books we read. We talked about our own writings. We discussed about our stories published in different newspapers, magazines and online. We conversed deep digging our intellectual curiosity, our creative endeavor. 
I was quite amazed at Gyembo. Living in the village, he could maintain a library and read so voraciously. Working at farms, he could manage to write often. I was more amazed when I found he was already writing a book.

His living is nothing extraneous, but altogether a highly refined and tasteful life. That’s why several high officials and VIPs from Thimphu visited his place, particularly to meet him. 

As the night grew deeper, we went on talking. Of course he has trodden this vale of life longer than me, so he gave me much-needed perspective. Listening to him, everything seemed right there. Seeing his orderly life, everything seemed to me simpler and wonderful.
Exactly when, I realized how wrong my life had been. We really not need to chase the illusion of having a better life in different place or position. In fact, we must make this place, this position right here “livable” and happier. It’s all in our hand.

That’s exactly what Gyembo is doing. 

Note: Some of the pictures taken by Tashi Penjor. 

Friday, June 3, 2016

Magnificient Paro

This valley is mystical, very alluring. The land that is unlikely, unashamedly awe-inspiring and magnificent.  The valley of Paro. I walk this place often and I’ve watched it from the sky, sitting from its hilltop, and while on ride. OMG! It never fails to fascinate me. 

This is a paradise that gives chilips goose bumps while landing at the airport. And you can hear them screaming, looking outside the airbus window, “See! Beautiful! Wow!” Exactly when, your heart swells with both utmost love and pride.  

Well, I’ve visited a handful of the world’s highly sophisticated and developed countries. Still I want to, love to boast about my country, Bhutan. There’s no stopping to it though. That’s the strength of Bhutan.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Dear Pemagatshelpas,

I’ve thought long where to begin this letter. For it’s very difficult to put my thoughts into words here. Still though, I ought to write this chit to you... coz I think I ought to, coz it’s so very urgent.

To tell you, a couple of months ago I’d visited your dzongkhag, fondly known as Pemagatshel, “Blissful land of the Lotus”. There was something about your place that forced me to think hard, something that is too unsavory, something too cruel. And something that unlikely forced me to write to you today.

So I bring to you this message from your homeland, i.e. your dear dzongkhag is sick. In fact, the place of your heart, your home has been suffering silently, feebly for the past three decades.

A cancer called mining has afflicted her, wounding and bruising most parts of her body. It’s gobbling her flesh, ruthlessly ripping the body apart. Her flesh and blood was being sucked out, far away in those jumbo trucks. Her entire body was undergoing very intense pain, trembling.

When I first saw her, I couldn’t believe it. For, I’d never laid my eyes at such painful scenes before. Instantaneously, a deep chill ran down my throat and I almost burst into tears.

Arriving at Pemagatshel, I felt like I’d landed not in Bhutan, at all. I felt I’d entered somewhere else, where the development policy was not GNH but greed and materialism - where the government ventures into evil mining projects even at the cost of ruining environment and its citizens’ health.

The monstrous machines would work at the wounded sites, producing eerie and frightening sound. Even the ride to Pemagatshel was very unpleasant, as the road was in a wretched condition, apparently injured by gypsum trucks.

During my stay there, she was trying to convey many things to me; in fact, she was trying hard to convince me to convey her grief-stricken message to you.

Hey Pemagatshelpas, how could you despise her when she was in such a miserable state? How could you settle in other parts of the world when your dzongkhag is sick and crying out for immediate treatment? How could you migrate to somewhere with an excuse to escape the hostile and aggressive environment?

When I heard there are so many of you - highly qualified, powerful and rich persons in the civil service, corporations, NGOs, INGOs and private sector - it started to bother me in a strange new way. And I became angry. This time not angry at the cancer called mining, but at you. Huh!

What’s the use of your education, high positions and wealth if you don’t bother to help and treat your own rightful birthplace and fellow-villagers? Can you really serve the Tsa-Wa-Sum when you do not heed to protecting your birthplace?

I know that you work dutifully for yourself and your family. But you know what? Our responsibility is more than that, and that’s called natural responsibility, as has been always reiterated by our beloved Kings.

Or, are you scared of speaking up against those big mining companies? Why should you be? Coz Pemagatshel is your birthplace, and you should love your birthplace unashamedly. Come what may, it’s birthright to protect it.

Or, are you trying to avoid it? But how could you avoid the tears of someone, something very close to you? How could you avoid the place where most of your upbringing was spent? How could you avoid the place that gave you your sense of belonging and identity?

By avoiding and remaining silent, you’re only supporting the cruelty and injustice. The truth is that the Blissful Land of the Lotus is suffering not coz of the mining, but from cruel deafness (from you).

I must explain to you, the mining has brought more harms than serving it purpose of utilizing the reserve for economic development of your dzongkhag and optimization of revenue to the government. The mining’s incessant noise, dust, running trucks and uproarious machines have mired the health and living condition of innocent local peasants, your own fellow-villagers.

Their only source of livelihood, crops and vegetables, was affected. Suffocated by the dust and loud noise, everyday they experience unlikely prickly bitter hot weather. The lush green environment was degrading, irreparably.

Well, statistics don’t lie! The mining sector’s contribution to the nation’s economy is at a mere two percent. Pemagatshel received mining activity since 1983, but quite ironically, your dzongkhag still has second highest level of poverty. Only a handful of individuals have been benefited.

Your dzongkhag longs for your embrace and hug. She needs immediate nursing and treatment from you. After all, only you can nurse her, protect her.

Dear Pemagatshelpas, there’s no task too difficult, no distance too far. It’s only matter of priority and how much you care for your root. If you want to be real happy and proud, you have to go back, to be feeling, to be facing.

You should unite together and raise your voice against the mining or ask the government to end such cancerous mining operation in your dzongkhag. Break the silence and make all the appropriate noises - loud and with conviction. The Blissful Land of the Lotus will still be a better place.

Yours charo
Riku Dhan Subba

P.S. You cannot serve the country if you cannot be loyal to your root.

Khotakpa Gypsum Mining; Picture by Tashi Penjor
A mining in Pemagatshel

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Sharing his life through arts

How do you imagine your life without art? How do you imagine this world without art? I started asking these questions after I had attended a Solo Art Exhibition at Nehru-Wangchuk Centre in Thimphu very recently.
Artist and me
Of course, how barren and shallow our existence would be without creative arts and expressions, isn’t it?

With the support from the Department of Information and Media, MoIC, Artist Dorji Gyeltshen put up an exhibition of his arts for 10 days (April 25-May 5). In fact, it’s one of the best non-existing contemporary art exhibitions I had ever attended.
Very vibrant and colourful, the arts were so deeply rich and enthralling. Dorji’s acrylic and watercolour paintings are diverse and connect very well into the concepts of Buddhism, our landscapes and nature, and time.

The more I stayed at the exhibition hall, the more engrossed I was. The more I looked at the arts, the deeper meaning I could derive. The more I admired the arts, the more I could connect to the arts and artist. And I became happier, contend.
That was the power of Dorji’s arts. That was the power of this art exhibition.

Arts can not only bring aesthetic pleasure to our life and enrich our cultural heritage, but they contribute to the quality of life and wellbeing. That’s what I learned from Dorji’s arts.
Dorji Gyeltshen, 32, is one of the founding members of VAST Bhutan in 1998. Asha Karma, Founder of VAST Bhutan, has tutored him. He had also conducted Solo Art Exhibition in Singapore and Sherubtse College in the past.

On the art exhibition booklet, the artist wrote, “My artistic expression is a way for me to share my life and my vulnerabilities with others.”
Tiger's Nest painting
“I live through joy and sorrow, courage and fear, strength and weakness, love, pain, life and death. These are fundamental values that characterize all human existence, and….these human experiences are the subject I like to share with the world,” he stated. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Sad story of sad Pemagatshel

A month ago, I had travelled to Pemagatshel. It was my first visit to this place. Like most of you, this remote southeastern dzongkhag was one among few that I had never been to before. The others were Gasa and Lhuentse. 
So this particular visit made me think why a place like Pemagatshel remains absolutely secluded, backward.

The ride on the Pemagathsel road, after we diverted from the Samdrupjongkhar-Trashigang highway, was very bumpy, rough; to put it more accurately, scary ride. The road was too bad - very narrow, very dusty. Potholes were so common. It seemed like the road was not maintained for many years.
To the locals and travellers, this road was known as notorious for its bad condition and reckless trucks plying on the road. Incessant jumbo gypsum trucks ran along the road like it was a runway, blatantly ignoring the IMTRAT’s notice “This is highway, not runway”. 

However, the infinite forest of coniferous and broad leaf kept me amazed all the time. And quite wondrously, they consumed all the mountains. 87.65% of the total area was under forest cover. 
Being a resident of Thimphu, where I was used to looking at the thinly spread pine tree over the mountains, this forest of coniferous was a real treat to my eyes - so thick, so broad, so green and so lush.

Amidst the slopes of those deep mountains and dark forest, a few pockets of human settlements have rested forlorn, which brought a deep melancholic feeling to my heart. They appeared to me like God’s rare handiwork. 
After four hours of rough and scary ride, I could finally spot Pemagatshel valley. From the top, it has amazing views looking at scattered settlements. The shape and landscape of the valley was like a bowl, like a lotus flower. Several strings of sharp-edged slopes like lotus petals fell around into the bowl, which were dressed by blissful villages. 

Truly, quite accurately, it’s Pemagatshel, meaning “Blissful land of the lotus”.

Then suddenly, an ominous scene right in the middle of the valley, right in the middle of human settlements appeared to steal the scene. The Gypsum Mining, an area of 26.77 hectares in Khothakpa, was an eyesore. It was ripping apart the “Land of the blissful lotus” and its pristine environment.
Looking at it, I just felt a twinge of disappointment and frustration. The mining looked like a cancer digging deep into a human body and ripping apart his flesh. Entire valley echoed, trembled with the sound of the monstrous machines grinding mercilessly at the sites.

After a little while, it put me into such a miserable mood. I felt so bad I almost cried. There’s no doubt that it was a beautiful sunny day. But the villagers couldn’t feel it, as the dust in the sky was obscuring the sun like the day was under the solar eclipse.

Peach plants were blossoming everywhere, but the dust had mired them, suffocated their growth. The clothes drying up outside had collected fresh dust. Roofs and tree leaves were coated with layers of dust. The day was bitterly hot. 
Coming to Pemagatshel, I felt like I was not in Bhutan. It was as though I had just stepped in a mining-obsessed state, where the development philosophy was not GNH but greed and materialism, where they wouldn’t mind extracting wealth at the cost of destroying their pristine environment and ruining their own people’s health and life.  

How long Pemagathselpas have stopped seeing beautiful days? How long they have missed the clear view of the sun, stars, and moon? How long they have been suffocated with the dust-filled air? How long they have been tolerating this unlikely heat? How many lives of the local people were affected by the mining?

Enough is enough. For, you cannot bruise and wound a place more than this. For, you cannot give more sufferings and pains to the innocent people than this. However, the most important question to ask is: How long this will go on?
The locals have been bearing the ills of these environmentally degrading venture for the past three decades. The mining brought more harms than fulfilling its objective of utilizing the reserve for economic development of the area and optimization of revenue to the Royal Government of Bhutan.

If we look at the statistics, the overall contribution of mining sector to the nation’s economy was very insignificant, at a mere two percent. The gypsum mining was started at Pemagatshel in 1983, and quite ironically, according the website of Dzongkhag, the Pemagatshel still has second highest level of poverty at 26.9 percent after Lhuentse.  

So what?

Mining is an undesirable economic venture, which doesn’t serve the community, local people or the interest of the nation. It benefits a handful of people. 
The wound was too deep, but not too late to fix. Pemagatshel still will be a better place, the land of the blissful lotus. The current auction lease of Khotakpa will expire on December 31, 2018. The government should stop such harmful venture. But most importantly, the people of Pemagatshel should knit together and say NO to mining.

Say it loud, and say it bold. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Today I am uploading some photographs; for the first time where I being the subject. Being myself with the camera often, hardly do I get chance to be photographed. However, these pictures say a lot - that I loved being with another photographer - especially while travelling. A few pictures are different, as my colleague who is the photographer and blogger, Tashi Penjor, tried to portray his specialized skill of shadow images. Having photographed myself here, made me a little thoughtful and contemplating about the path ahead of me.
Pemagatshel gate
Mao Khola
Mao Khola and the sunset

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The heart-son of Bhutan in India

Surprisingly, wonderfully, I met this great personality in New Delhi. He has contributed enormously in fostering the friendly relationships between Bhutan and India. Undoubtedly, he is the closest friend of Bhutan. Mr. R.N. Anil. The founder and secretary general of India-BhutanFriendship Association (IBFA).
Initiated by him, the IBFA hosted dinner for us, seven officials from my office. In addition, the dignitaries and officials from the Bhutan Embassy in India and IBFA attended it. 

With a gleeful and dignified smile, Mr. Anil welcomed us formally and all the board members of his association. And the moment he started talking about Bhutan, his voice took on a new high rhythm.

He began, “Your country is beautiful. The people are very hospitable and kind. Moreover, you have such great kings, you must be proud. Your Kings, both the Fourth and Fifth, always give me utmost warmth and hospitality whenever I visit Bhutan.”

Born in Himachal Pradesh, he called on to his Indian counterparts and insisted, “You must visit this country - the happiest country in the world. 
Everyone watched at the speaker, respectful and feeling incredibly impressed. Instantaneously, my heart swelled with a new confidence and excitement. And I felt proud - proud of being a Drukpa, proud of my Kings, proud of my country.

“I am the recipient of the Druk Thuksey award from your King on December 17, 2013 at Changlimithang,” he stated proudly to the gathering. 

Taking a brief important breath, he went on to explain, “Druk Thuksey award means the heart-son of Bhutan. I am actually the heart-son of Bhutan.”

His Majesty the King awarded this prestigious medal to Mr. Anil for his significant contributions in strengthening the friendship between the two countries through his association. 
During the medal ceremony; Pic: HM FB Page
In 1958, he happened to meet India’s first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, after his visit to Paro. Nehru had inspired him to strengthen relations with Bhutan at the non-governmental level.

When Bhutan had opened its representation in India in early 1970’s, he grabbed the opportunity to establish his close contact with the first Chief Representative of Bhutan in India, Lyonpo Pema Wangchuk. In 1973, he established IBFA; however, only in 1978 when Bhutan opened its mission in New Delhi, he formally inaugurated it. 

The association organizes programmes and seminars between the people’s level for promoting understanding at the cultural, sentimental and economic levels. Mr. Anil has worked with the association for more than 43 years.

Often he writes articles about Bhutan and particularly about warm friendship between India and Bhutan in the leading Indian newspapers. The IBFA and Bhutan Embassy in New Delhi are planning to launch a magazine called “Bhutan Panorama” from this March. To be published quarterly, they will distribute the magazine all around the world. 

He knows so many things about our kingdom, our culture and people. In fact, he is someone with whom I would like to have a long talk. In an article published in Kuensel, Bhutan’s big leap into future, he wrote,
”Religion is visible in everyday life. Every house is having a temple of its own. On the slope of the hills one can see dzongs and fortresses, which evoke memories of Bhutan’s rich past. Also, at every bend one can see white prayer flags fluttering in the gentle breeze, confirming the faith of the people in religion.”
It sounds strange to say, but sometimes we discover more about our country when we travel outside. Sometimes we learn to appreciate more about our place and ourselves when we meet a personality like R.N. Anil.

Long live Mr. Anil! Long live IBFA! Long live India-Bhutan Friendship!