Thursday, January 23, 2020

Let’s Fall In Love with Writing



So much of the time I had spent at Bhutan Children’s Writeshop on January 22, 2020, at Changangkha MSS in Thimphu, this group of aspiring young writers was brimming with enthusiasm and desire . . . to learn from me. All about writing.

And after quite a long time, oh goodness, I realized and felt it deep that I was in my rightful place, a little haven of the lovers of words, and where I was simply doing the right thing.

They, many of them, nudged me and said, “Sir, I read your book, ‘In Love with Butterflies and Other Stories’. And I loved it.”

A handful of others added, “I have your book at home. It’s nice.” And their “parents”, “brother”, and “sister” also loved the stories. So my co-writer, Sonam Tashi will also be happy to hear this. Some of them have also read my blog stories, Instagram and Facebook updates.

Such a blissful moment! At least for me!

As I interacted with them, I understood that there are bubbling writers in each of them, wanting to tell their own stories to the world. And while doing a writing activity, I was almost shrieking with excitement on my discovery. Their choice of words, their expression, their thoughts, and their aspirations that they have penned were surprising, astonishing. 

So, what this team of Bhutan Children’s Writeshop—fourteen team members and seven volunteers, mostly teachers on vacation—doing is remarkable, something to be admired and applauded. It’s a non-profit initiative that brings together children during the winter vacations to inspire budding writers. Volume 1, with the theme ‘Let’s fall in love with writing’, held from Jan 20-23, 2020 had hosted 83 children from 40 different schools.

And as I walked out of the hall, after my session, I couldn't help myself from dreaming . . . I was holding beautiful books by these children in my hands!

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Sporadic Sojourn



It was all because of one thing. One special thing though. My friend, Sonam’s wedding. And it was last week. In Phuentsholing.

We called it “Sporadic Sojourn”. For it truly was.  

We were five. Chencho Thinley, Karma T Samdrup, Pema, Sonam Tashi and I. The two days were breathtaking, enriching voyage. We put in the best hotel in town, dined together, drank leisurely, swam in the pool, walked around the streets, and drank chai and ate momo.  
We have been friends since our college days at Sherubtse—to put it more accurately, since the year 2005. It has been fourteen years now. Oh goodness, I can’t believe it; time flies. However, this sojourn was long pending; we wanted to go vacationing in Bangkok.

All along this sojourn, we laughed and made another memorable memory. We teased each other, poking at our weaknesses, silly deeds, and unusual behaviors. We justified that we can have fun in mid-thirties too. The fourteen years has changed nothing in us. Being employed and started earning, now married and fathers, and traveling abroad haven’t transformed us. Not even an inch. We are still the same old bunch of silly boys (Sorry, I should have said, ‘men’), except for our round healthy physiques and thinning hairlines. 

Meanwhile, we rode to Amochhu Bridge through the dusty road just to see and walk across that long suspension bridge beside the new, modern one. In the end, it was all worth it. It was tizzy, a simply fascinating experience being in the air, high up, just marching on the long iron bridge that swings as the afternoon wind blows. We were kids, running and frightening one another.  

We rode further up, towards a hill, Ngawang Ramtey, where tall green trees and cardamom plants surround it. Smiling school children and village folks along the road greeted us. Monkeys were jumping around, and goats grazing graciously. On the hill, next to a small stream, we sat and breathed fresh air. And we were all relaxed, reenergized. It inspired some of us to start spiritual, philosophical conversations. 

The sky was clear, deep blue. That’s what we valued the most about the day. And right there, right then I discovered that all of us have still changed; in fact, the last fourteen years have metamorphosed us. A lot.

We have become rooted, sober, soft, little wise, and hugely responsible. We like less about noise, crowds, dramas, phonies, and vanities. So to say, we appreciate more about love, spiritualism, literature, the Mother Nature, family, and friendship. And for the remaining sojourn, these were the heartbeats of our conversations.

And if you still wonder what has kept this friendship for the last fourteen years and is still going strong, it's all this!

Friday, November 30, 2018

Between Thimphu and Paro


I hadn’t explored much of the places along the highway between Thimphu and Paro. Usually, it was like… travelling straight to Paro, or back to the capital. However, last weekend, on my way to Paro, I stopped at several locations along the road, and I must tell you, I was pleasantly surprised. 

There are so many beautiful hills, villages filled with gorgeous chortens, prayer flags, human settlements, and cattle feeding around freely. And I couldn't stop myself from climbing the hills, up and down, and taking random pictures. Some of the pictures are here. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Rays of Hope


There's so much in the winter lights.
I see beauty; 
And indefinitely, 
Infinite thin rays of hope.
  

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Resurrection of the Wangdue Dzong


Picture: Wangduephodrang Dzong

December of 2004 was the first time that I saw the Wangdue Phodrang Dzong in my life. Indeed, that winter was my first ever travel to the western Bhutan from Bumthang with my school friend, Thochu. 

As we entered Wangdue valley, my eyes so automatically, naturally feasted on the giant Dzong, as if my eyes and the fortress were like a piece of metal and magnet. And so to say, I was completely awestricken; my heart skipped a few beats. 

Then, I craned my neck from the window of bus to look attentively, carefully at the majestic Dzong built in 1638 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel. The fortress sat on the commanding view of the valleys below, on top of a high ridge and between two rivers - one small fast flowing river and another big gentle river.

Surrounded by green trees and mud walls, it was a massive stunning structure with impressive elaborated paintings. The Dzong had illuminated the entire valley of Wangdue Phodrang with its position, power, symbolism and glory. It was like the moon in the sky.

How could the people of the fifteenth century build such structure? I wondered, as the bus ran down the hill from the Wangdue town and then on the bridge over Punatshangchhu. It was so majestic; it was so beautiful.

Then, unfortunately, in June 2012, a disaster rocked the Dzong. A deadly fire virtually razed it to the ground. My heart broke watching the news on the television; in fact, the entire nation grieved.

After that, every time I travelled to Wangdue or other places via Wangdue, I felt hollowness deep inside me. On a few occasions, I just took its pictures and looked at them feeling more aggrieved, agony. It seemed like, to me, something was missing, something was not right. The valley looked bruised, feeble. It just shed darkness in my heart…like a moonless night.

And last weekend, I visited Wangduephodrang. I was surprised - a pleasant surprise though. The Dzong has been rebuilt, substantially. I could see most of structure its being erected. And the good news is that it is targeted to be complete by 2021.

Out there, on the hill, I saw a handful of birds flying. It could be the ravens. And it could be perhaps sent by Zhabdrung to again bless the valley. Camera in my hand, as I looked at the Dzong, I could see its treasure being reinstated, its former glory being restored and its history being lived on.

Ah, my heart again was filled with joy and I could feel something auspicious about everything. Because there is the moon again.


Wednesday, August 15, 2018

We Talk About Blogging at Motithang School


It was a couple of weeks ago. It was at my home. And it was late night. Jambay Dorji, my next-door neighbor and also my fellow-village-folk, and I were talking about social media and how the Bhutanese behaved online. Indeed, online etiquette was a worrying, growing concern.

“The moment I log in on my Facebook account and scroll through the newsfeed, I see only negative stuff,” Jambay stated matter-of-factly.

I agreed with him.

Many of us spent hours on social media everyday but quite unfortunately we often misused social networking sites like Facebook and WeChat causing harms and disharmony in our society. Then we went on talking about how we can make use of social media and also make a living out of it.

“That’s what. Why can’t we focus our energy into making good use of social media rather than posting foul things?” I said.

The clock struck one in the morning and both of were feeling woozy, heavy sleep surfacing in our eyes. Then Jambay, a mathematic teacher at Motithang Higher Secondary School (MHSS), suddenly asked me, “Let’s do a programme at my school. I want you talk to the students and teachers on good use of social media.”

I didn't hesitate.

In a week’s time, Jambay arranged the programme at his school. Sherab Tenzin, a popular Bhutanese blogger, and Tshering Denkar, a solo travel blogger, have joined us. It was a successful programme. Over 400 students attended it and their response was awesome. We felt satisfied, happy. 
Picture: Bloggers with the students
Less than a week later, last Saturday, Jambay again arranged another session. This time, a group of thirty four students wanted to learn about blogging and content writing, specifically. We couldn't deny.

Sherab Tenzin presented on blogging practices around the world and in Bhutan and how to start a blog and factors to consider in starting a blog. His was a very humble, honest and very insightful presentation. But what caught the attention of the young learners was when he said that they could earn blogging and make a living out of it. In fact, Sherab himself earns quite a good amount of money from his blog. His blogging experience is hugely inspiring, as the students kept on nodding and taking notes.
 
Pic: Sherab Tenzin
His final message was, “It is better to monetize your blog and earn money rather than doing a job that pays you hardly anything.”

After that Tshering Denkar spoke on her experience as a full-time Bhutanese female solo travel blogger. Denkar blogs about her travel experience, local foods, hotels and photography. It was a lively presentation with amazing travel pictures, videos and intriguing personal stories.

Denkar said that travelling has helped her when she was going through difficult times in the past. “I love road and travelling to different places within Bhutan and meeting new people. That’s why the name of my blog is Denkars Getaway,” she stated.  
Picture: Tshering Denkar
“I am a solo traveller. I travel by passenger bus and also encourage budget travelling. I use my phone to take pictures and my tripod is my boyfriend,” Denkar said, her face brimming with enthusiasm.

And lastly I talked about my own blogging experience and photography. Most specifically, I taught the students how to write content on their blogs and also talked about the Community of Bhutanese Bloggers (CBB).
Pic: Me talking on CBB
Today, it’s heartening to see some of our students have created their own blogs and they are here: 1) Tashi's Photography 2) Unfold Bhutan and 3) Druk Writer. Similarly, I have received messages from some other students who are in the process of creating their own blogs.

That being said, our special acknowledgement to Mr. Jambay Dorji for going the extra mile by initiating this first of its kind programme at MHSS and creating a platform for us to impart our skills and knowledge to his students.

He stated, feeling delighted, “I only hope that we are preparing our children for opportunities and challenges of tomorrow. I advocate our children to participate in the digital-driven economy. Textbooks and classroom learning are not enough to address the real world problems.”

Pic: Jambay Dorji, the man behind the initiative

Indeed, undeniably, we should have more teachers like you, Sir!

We would also like to thank Madam Principal of MHSS for supporting this kind of initiative at the school and for her kind words for us.

And finally, we thank the enthusiastic students for your time and willingness to learn blogging. Best of luck in your future endeavours!

Friday, June 8, 2018

My Three Friends in Trashiyangtse

I saw them. I found them awfully cute. I took out my camera and took a shot. These little three cute boys and I became friends. Instantaneously. 

So to introduce here…. my new friends are Karma, Sangay and Tenzin. And all of them were studying at Trashiyangtse Middle Secondary School. It was in May 2016. That evening, I was walking around Yangtse town exploring the place on my own.

“Uncle, where are you from?” Karma, who was the most talkative among the group, asked me eagerly.

I walked close to them and responded, “I am from Gelephu but I live in Thimphu.”

“What are you doing here?” Tenzin enquired me in a cute tone, looking at my camera.

“I am here on an official tour and now just walking around your town and taking pictures?” I said. 
Then, they cheerfully circled me and touched my camera swiftly one by one. And they giggled joyfully.

“Uncle, can I take a picture with your camera?” Karma asked me.

I couldn't deny him. Karma took a few random shots and then he passed the camera to Sangay and then to Tenzin. After that, I showed the images on the camera screen. Seeing their shots, they giggled more cheerfully. 

In the meantime, we had become very close and familiar to one another. They suggested me to visit their playground just nearby in the town. It’s an open ground where there’s an old road roller. They animatedly climbed over the dead machine and started their usual act - playing.
They became my guide in the new town of the far eastern dzongkhag. Inhibited by a little more than three thousand people, Trashiyantse town is a secluded commercial centre surrounded by beautiful green alpine trees. The unique feature of the town is that all the buildings have traditional architectural designs.

“What’s so special about Trashiyangtse?” I asked the boys, as we strolled the street.

“Black-necked cranes!” shouted Sangay.

“Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary,” added Karma.

I knew that. On the north of the newest dzongkhag of Bhutan, Bumdeling is home to wintering black-necked cranes. It’s a beautiful place and many tourists visit the place, they explained me. I also learned that it’s home to Ludlow’s Bhutan Glory, the national butterfly of Bhutan and the Yangtsepas have unique skills at woodworking, wooden cups and bowls and papermaking.

“Uncle! Uncle! Chorten Kora,” said Tenzin, running ahead of me.

“Uncle, we will take you there,” offered Karma.
Picture: Chorten Kora
The legendary Stupa is situated on the riverbank right below the town. It stood very tall and looked simply magnificent. There were monks and devotees circumambulating the Chorten. And with my three little friends, I walked the way round Chorten three times and said my prayers.

As the dusk was falling over the valley, we walked back to the town. As a gesture of gratitude, I bought them a bottle of mango juice each.

“Thank you, uncle! See you again!” they screamed and ran to their homes. 

See them again… one fine day… hopefully. The truth is that I may not remember them and they may not remember this time together. But I’m writing this story of us - Karma, Sangay, Tenzin and Riku - to remember our beautiful memory together.

Maybe, just maybe these friends of mine would come looking for me one day after reading our story here. And then that fine day, in the far future, we’d sit down in a good restaurant over a cup of tea, or whiskey and talk about our memory, our life and our aspirations.