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.  

Friday, May 4, 2018

Winter in the Summer

As always, this noon we have snuggled down in our favourite place. It’s a small wooden shelter with an open balcony for people to sit and just relax. We are just done with our work and then lunch.

This particular moment, right now, the rain starts beating down on us. Heavily. As a ritual, extremely chilly wind gushes in. I rub my hands and then my knees furiously to keep myself warm.

We are experiencing a strange weather this year and I can’t believe what’s happening with our universe. It’s already May - you know - it’s already summer, but hey look the cold winter is never leaving us. In fact, quite surprisingly, the days are getting colder. For that matter, we are still using the room heater and not able to shove off our jackets. 

“It seems like there will be snowfall this summer,” my friend sitting next to me speaks.

“Looks like that,” I respond him and after a brief moment I add, “Actually I’d be rather glad if it does. Snowfall in summer…cool!”

After that, I reflect on what I just said and ask many more questions one after another: Will it snow this summer? What would be like it does? Ever in the past did Thimphu receive snowfall in summer? Is it all right to get snow when it’s supposed to be monsoon? What if the cold never leaves us and entire cycle of weather goes awry?

Courtesy: The title of this blog post is inspired by Tashi Yangden's Facebook post.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Bhutan is known as “Happy Country” in Korea

Early April this year, I landed at the Incheon International Airport, Republic of Korea which is extremely clean and organized. At the arrival, an immigration officer asked me looking at my passport, “Which country you from?”

“I am from Bhutan,” I responded.

“Bhu….” she said completely unsure.

My colleague, behind me, reaffirmed her, “It’s Bhutan.”

She shook her head and instead went on doing her work of verifying my passport and visa. She stamped in my passport and smiled at me, as she gave it back to me.
South Korea, particularly Seoul and Gangnam, was very cold then with dark clouds hovering in the sky and intermittent rains. As we drove to our hotel at Gangnam, I found this country is a technologically advanced with glittering tall buildings and sophisticated hotels, expensive vehicles on the excellent roads, good-looking people in trendy clothes, and beautiful parks and footpaths. There were infinite large size digital billboards on the roadsides displaying commercials.

Wow, was my reaction.

Our Korean friend told us, “Korea is beautiful because of maples in autumn and Shakura in spring.”

As it’s spring in the country, I excitedly looked around and felt a little fortunate - the cherries were just starting to bloom. “After a week or two, we will have cherry blooms all over the city,” he added further.

I felt privileged to step in this country for second time. We all know that Korea is very popular in Bhutan and a lot of our young people are insanely crazy about K-Pop and television dramas. K-Pop and Korean film festivals held in Thimphu last year to mark the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Bhutan and South Korea have further popularized Korea. You can see the influence of Korean Wave on our youth by the way of their dressing, hairstyle, and makeup. Quite surprisingly, today, many Bhutanese youth can speak and read Korean texts – that too by just watching Korean dramas, K-Pop music and Arirang television.
Picture: Royal Palace
Technically speaking, South Korea is more than double the size of Bhutan with over 50 million people - of which, over half the total population live in the trendy Seoul city. The South Korean economy soared at an annual average of 10 percent for three decades, which is called the Miracle on the Han River. Today, it’s a global technological powerhouse that produces and exports electronics and motor vehicles such as Samsung, Hyundai, and Kia motors.

Once at the hotel, one staff asked me, “Where are you from?”

“Bhutan,” I said trying to sound myself clear this time.

She grimaced at me and said, “Never heard it.”

After that, I thought that Koreans do not know about Bhutan. After all, Korea is such a developed country and why Bhutan, a small developing country, matters to them.

The next day onwards, we attended meetings one after another at different institutes and agencies. In every meeting and conversation, the Koreans always mentioned about “Happy Country” when they referred to Bhutan and they seemed extremely impressed. And they called Bhutan differently, “Butan” or “Butane”.
One day, my colleagues and I went out in Seoul wearing gho and kira. I was surprised. The Koreans recognized us; they recognized our King and Queen. “Your King is handsome, but your Queen is so beautiful,” they exclaimed every time we talked.

Then, I discovered that Bhutan is quite popular in South Korea. Most Koreans know about our country and they think that Bhutan is the happiest country in the world with generally happy people. In fact, they love Bhutan. And there are reasons why.

Firstly, the President of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, has a special connection to Bhutan. President Moon visited Bhutan in July 2016 and spent two weeks when he met the Prime Minister of Bhutan and Dasho Karma Ura, the Chairperson of Centre for Bhutan Studies and Gross National Happiness. This visit has left a huge impact on Moon and it’s reported that he might implement the GNH policy in Korea.
Picture: Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay and President Moon
Secondly, I learned that it’s Lyonchhen Dasho Tshering Tobgay who is the first foreign leader to call and speak with Moon after the confirmation of his election as the President.

Thirdly, the Korea-Bhutan Friendship Association serves as a liaison between the two countries and President Moon is also a member of the Association. Mr. William Lee, the Chairman of the Association has been working towards promoting Bhutan and GNH in Korea and fostering the friendship between the two countries. Watch his interview about Bhutan here by Arirang.

Fourthly, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Korea recently published a book on Bhutan and it is distributed widely.
Picture: "Kingdom of Bhutan", a publication by Foreign Ministry, Korea
Lastly, Park Jin-do, a professor emeritus at Chungnam National University, published a book, “The Secret of Bhutan’s Happiness”. He visited Bhutan and studied GNH in 2015. The book encourages South Korea “to adopt national happiness as a basic principle for state policy.”

Information courtesy: Mr. Choi, Ms. Miakaw, and

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Coffee and talking heart to heart

We are having coffee in a cozy restaurant. Me and my two friends. On the mountaintops around Thimphu, there’s fresh snow falling gently. The air is prickly itchy cold and it’s quite strange to feel cold at this time of the year. But the hot coffee helps to keep me warm. And I keep sipping it more.

“It’s still cold, isn’t it?” I say, as I sip my coffee.

“It’s because we didn't have snowfall this winter,” Sonam explains.

We have already stepped into the spring season and summer is just about a month away…. yet the cold is never leaving us. Outside, it’s dark and gloomy with stinking clouds enveloping the sky. Yesterday, a kind of bizarre, heavy rain and hailstone showered on us. In fact, the Almighty above unleashed almost everything in its might, disposition – except snow. Sometimes, God is unfair!

“Think about your parents, your children, your relatives…” Sonam consoles, looking at Tashi.

“And friends too,” I chimed in happily.

“I’m glad that I’ve friends like you two,” Tashi talks, finally.

“Yeah, we’re always there for you!” Sonam and I affirm him together and Sonam goes on, “Remember that we’re always concern about you! Remember that we care for you!”

Life is a long journey - the journey that will take us to different uneventful passage - highs and lows, triumphs and troughs, love and hatred, and storms and sunny. More tellingly, the path that we walk is often fragile, tender, and vulnerable.

Sometimes we are hit by the unfortunate storms of life. And we stumble, we fall down, alas, we get bruised and broken. Some can pick themselves up, but not all. Thus, we need friends around you, no matter what.

And even spending quiet time with your friends like this over a cup of coffee and talking it out heart to heart makes you feel a little happier, less hard.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Photographs of Dorokha

Just over a month ago, I visited Dorokha town in Samtse. It’s a very peaceful tiny commercial centre with about 25 shops and bars. As it was winter, the weather was dry and cold. At the moment, the people of Dorokha are the happiest and luckiest, as His Majesty the King visited them twice this winter.  

The most popular spot of the town is Lepcha Restaurant, which sells delicious momo. In the plan, this existing town, which is more than more than six decades, will be replaced with a new town planning. And with construction of Haa-Samtse highway, I hope this place would prosper in the future. Here are some pictures of Dorokha. Have a lovely weekend!
Dorokha Dungkhag Administrative Office

Friday, February 2, 2018

Thank you, Bhutan Telecom Ltd.!

On January 27 this year, I wrote a post on Facebook regarding poor B-Mobile service in my village, Chuzagang, Gelephu. This winter alone, I’ve already visited my village more than three times and during these visits, I discovered that Bhutan Telecom’s (BT) cellular service was bad in the community. 

The connection for phone call was inconsistent, and I couldn't use social media on my phone. And like me, there were many other locals who still want to stick to the B-Mobile and were frustrated with its service.

The number of people owning smart phones in the gewog is increasing and they need good mobile reception for accessing information and news, maintaining social relationships, civic engagement, seeking employment, and doing business. I’m not assuming this. I saw it, my fellow-villagers told me. And I read their posts on social networking sites expressing how difficult it’s to live without proper mobile service in this day and age.
Chuzagang gewog office
Like any parts of the country, the phone and Internet have become an integral part of many Chuzagangpas’ lives and it has become difficult to function without it. Even the Prime Minister Office has initiated G2C, by which they introduced many mobile apps that are extremely useful for the people. All the government and non-government agencies also use social media platform to disseminate their information.

Today Internet has become an important tool in our society not only for enabling good governance and economic functions but also for empowering people, especially those underprivileged ones. In this context, I felt that my village was denied proper access to ICTs and also excluded from the digital facilities, which can be (arguably) demanded as our basic rights from the government in this modern world.

Back to my Facebook’s post, the BT has responded to my post very immediately stating that they “will surely take up and address this issue la. Kindly bear with us.”

I was surprised.

In the morning of January 30, 2018, I received a message from the Marketing Communications Manager of the BT asking for my phone number. She informed me that their technical and marketing officials have already reached Chuzagang for network test.

I was more surprised.

Actually, I didn't expect that the Bhutan Telecom would take my issue very seriously, and moreover, I didn't believe that they would act so fast. Because our system is such that many issues or concerns are just ignored or buried. But the reality of this case is that the BT was in my village and has conducted network test. They informed me that they would update me regarding restoration of the network.

It so happened because of the person like the Marketing Communications Manager of the Bhutan Telecom, I assume, who is extremely efficient at what she does. I informed some of my fellow-villagers and they are very happy about it. The BT Marketing Communications Manager has earned my respect, my villagers’. Thus, the BT has earned too.

I appreciate the efforts from the BT management. Thank you so much la!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A special hotel for Bhutanese in Assam

In September 2008, I asked Mr. C Brahma, the owner of Hotel Himalaya at Chapaiguri in Assam how much his hotel would earn a day from the Bhutanese travellers. Then, I was working as a news reporter with the Bhutan Observer.

Hotel Himalaya in Assam
He responded to me gracefully, “It ranges from season to season. In the peak season - winter and spring - my hotel earns over one lakh rupees and in the off season it’s about seventy thousand rupees.”

For your information, that was the income of his hotel in just one day.

He stated that over 700 to 1,000 Bhutanese travelers stop at his hotel to have food every day. The hotel was then a temporary makeshift house made of bamboo walls, plastic roof, and mud floor with some basic furniture.

A couple of weeks ago, after 10 years, when I was travelling from Samdrupjongkhar to Gelephu, I stopped at the hotel for lunch. Oh goodness, I couldn't believe my eyes! Now, the hotel has been transformed into an eight-storey tall modern building with glassy windows, enormous restaurant with beautiful furniture, and many more staff. I observed that thousands of commuters from Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Panbang, Nanglam, Samdrup jongkhar, and Daipham stop at the hotel, which he has been running for the last 22 years.

This time I didn't ask Mr. C Brahma how much he earns a day or how much he has earned so far. The travellers eating at his place speak. The growth of his hotel speaks. The improvement in his service speaks.  
Hotel packed with Bhutanese travellers
However, the secret to his success that I’ve discovered is not food provided at the hotel but it’s something else. Driving along the National Highway 31C of Assam is always risky, life-threatening. Often the Bhutanese travellers are harassed, cheated, and beaten by the natives on the highway for different reasons. Some had even lost their vehicles and other belongings.

But once the commuters arrive at the hotel, they feel comfortable, protected. Fluent in Dzongkha, Sharchopkha and Lhotsham, I found the hotel staff are hospitable and helpful. When any troubled Bhutanese travellers come to Mr. Brahma for help, he always renders his service to them. He sorts out their problem and also guides them.

In fact, that’s how Mr. Brahma has become so special amongst the Bhutanese commuters. And that’s how he has won the hearts of the Bhutanese travellers. He is the savior, protector!