Thursday, October 31, 2013

Everything that autumn brings

Fall surrendered quickly in Thimphu. And what seemed like minutes, the trees were already turning yellow, slowly stripping off their leaves. By the way, it’s still October. Oh, a long winter lay ahead of us. But I loved it.

Yes, I loved an increased blueness and depth to the sky that autumn brings. Strangely, it got cold so quick this fall. But I loved the feeling of chill air and putting on my warm clothes.

The way smoke comes from my mouth, I loved it too. That’s exactly what I’m doing, right now, right here.

And going through your blog, reading it non-stop. One more thing, this writing my blog post in this year’s autumn’s chill was simply overwhelming.

To put it precisely, you would love everything about the fall. 

Photo courtesy: Kinzang Tshering, MoHCA

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A simple life

Everything was brighter after the rain, once more. Here in Thimphu. Even the dark clouds were simply pulled away on mountain-tops, then way beyond. All so happened in a small wedge of time; as if commanded by the almighty above. It seemed to me like a military troop taking back their force after a daylong war.

And suddenly, quite wondrously, the day has become all clear, beautiful. The sun appeared once again and started sparkling tantalizingly over the valley.
It seemed a perfect proposition to Sonam, my friend, to go to Khasadrapchu, to pluck apples in his orchard there. I and Tshering accompanied him to Khasadrapchu, south of Thimphu. It took us about 30 minutes by car.

Perched on a giant piece of land on the valley of Khasadrapchu, Sonam’s apple orchard was all enclosed by rice fields and pine trees. A dozen of households scattered all over the valley. Everything was so serene and beautiful here.  

“Riku, I always want to come here, again and again. Here, I feel as if I have come closer to myself,” Sonam started the conversation, as we plucked apples, red and ripe. Then he burst into whistling.
So excited, we went onto our day’s chore of plucking apples. It’s a simple task though.

Once done, we walked down a footpath becoming intoxicated by the fragrance of apples and the fresh smell of cow dung. This footpath ultimately left the fence of the orchard and came out to a huge rice field.  

On a giant rock, at the top of the field, we just sat and continued our conversation.

“It’s a lovely place,” I exclaimed.

“Yes, it is. After my retirement, I will live here,” Sonam responded, his voice genuine and crisp.

He mused for a small moment and added, “I don’t have any outrageous dreams, but only to live a humble life. I will build a small cottage and spend all of my remaining years here after the retirement.” 

It really surprised me, honestly. Because all other people in Thimphu wanted to go overseas and earn, then construct tall buildings in Thimphu and buy big cars. But this young man, a friend of mine, is very different. I stared at him for a moment, strangely impressed. And how I wish I could describe his feeling.

I didn’t know what to say, at all, so I stood in silence. More tellingly, I was awed by his outlook of life, his simplicity, and his understanding of the life’s essence.

As Sonam rolled his hands, searching for words, my eyes stretched for miles all over the valley. The Wangchu River flows gently, right in the middle, dividing the valley into two. Far away on the other side, over this river, I caught sight of a few households. A chorten sat nearby, adorning and protecting these households for eternity. And a herd of cows were grazing around the chorten, graciously.

Now I came to realize Sonam’s words that as we come closer to the nature and serenity of this quality, we become so close to ourselves and understand ourselves better. For we dread inside of us and become more aware of our own perceptions, feelings and motivations. So we understand our purpose of life better. I hope it so.

On the way back to the orchard, we were invited by a farmer for cup of suja in her house. We declined, but she insisted on. She took us in her house, served us with suja and snacks. We shared a small talk as we sipped on hot suja.

Outside the house, we came across a group of children playing and making spontaneous laughter. As soon as they saw us, they smiled and giggled.

“We all go to schools la,” the kids responded to us, choosing their words with care, with apparent shyness.

We packed apples in our baskets and walked down a farm road that leads us to the highway. For the next bit of few minutes, I stopped and gazed at the most capturing valley for the last time. Oh, the setting sun was incredibly beautiful here.
The simplicity of life of this village dazzled me; their innocence gasped me. More importantly, they taught me that ordinary things are often the greatest strengths of all. A serene smile. A cup of tea. A small talk. A sincere thank you. A small compliment.

All this make you to open your heart and feel better, a little happier. And this is precisely what my friend, Sonam, wished for. A simple life!     

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Serving tea

It’s stark midnight. Out on Thimphu Street was frost-cold and bone chilling. Drayangs, karaoke and discotheques - all nightlife entertainments – sprang into life. On the street, you can see rebellious teenagers picking up fights with policemen. Others were simply drunk and run-rounding the street, no different from those stray dogs, barking, foul.

Amidst all this, you can find a group of young people here, on Thimphu Street, walking around. Go closer to them. Watch carefully. You can see some of them carrying hot flasks and snacks. All night, they walk around the street and serve hot tea and snacks to the late night Police Patrolling Party. And you can see the brightest smile and happiness on faces of policemen as they sip on hot tea.
You don’t know how thrilled I was when I first learnt about this youth initiative. My heart swelled with both pride and amazement at these youth, exceedingly generous souls, who make so much for our police and our community.

According to the group, this initiative is called "HANDS OF TRUST" and is being coordinated by the Bhutan Youth Foundation (BYF). Mr. Bharat Rana, the founder of BYF, wrote,

“This small Project is a partnership project to support and respect the Royal Bhutan Police for…protecting our community from all kinds of Danger. They make lots of sacrifices to safeguard our community. We launched this Project…Distributing Hot Tea and Snacks to the late night Police Patrolling Party.”
In actuality, what they give was so little. Just a cup of tea. But it’s one way how we can show some grace and appreciation to our police force, the guardians of peace.

Because of them we are protected, we sleep peacefully, we walk free from dangers. This initiative is not only about distributing hot tea to our police at night, but trying to show them support and respect. I believe that this would certainly make our policemen a little happier, their work a little easier, and make their day better.  
BYF conducting a seminar for Bhutanese students in India
The Bhutan Youth Foundation was first founded in October 2008 in Bangalore, India to promote brotherhood and community values when Bhutanese youth were away from home. The BYF conducted several activities like seminars and workshops on drug awareness, leadership, character cultivation, live in relationships for Bhutanese students studying in India.

I can’t wait to tell you BYF’s other initiatives here:  
Support for senior citizens 

Providing lunch for Draktsho special children
Tutorials for Changjiji youth
Feeding program at Begana lhakhang
Reading program for kids in Kanglung
Photo courtesy:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Their Majesties celebrate Dasain in Thimphu

On October 14, 2013 at Durga Mandir in Thimphu, His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen joined the Hindu community of Bhutan in celebrating Dasain. Dasain is declared national holiday in Bhutan and is still widely celebrated by the Hindu community every year. The Hindu priests offered tika and prayers for the wellbeing and longevity of Their Majesties and for continued peace and prosperity in the country.

Photo courtesy: MB Subba 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

A Bhutan’s senior national football team player retires at early age

I know Yeshey Dorji since my college days at Sherubtse College in 2005. We studied together, taking up BA in English Honours. Since then he proved that he has an extraordinary drive to play football. He nurtured his drive, his talent and has transformed himself into one of the strongest attacking midfielders in Bhutan. This earned him a huge fame amongst football enthusiasts. And he was widely known as Bumlay.
Bumlay played for the Bhutan Senior National Team for the past several years. He has appeared in the national squad 30 times, playing in the SAFF, AFC Presidents’ Cup and other internationals. He captains for Yeedzin FC and was awarded the player of the tournament award in 2011.

However, very recently, he announced his retirement from the national squad. He was only 26 years old, and of course was at the peak of his career. It’s very sad to hear this. Even his coach says, it’s a big loss for the national squad.
Several reasons why Yeshey retired from the national team are (source Kuensel):

1.     There was no future playing football in Bhutan.
2.     The Nu 4,000 monthly stipend paid to the national squad was also withdrawn recently.
3.     The football management isn’t serious about the senior national team.
4.     There is a lot of focus on grassroots development; whereas, the senior team is completely ignored.
5.     The passion for playing in the national team couldn’t sustain a life. 

I don’t have anything to say on Yeshey’s decision to retire from the national squad so early. But I can apparently see loads of frustration in this young player. Every reason he gave for his retirement saddened me.
I don’t want to criticize here any concerned authorities of football management in Bhutan (be it BOC or RGoB or BFF). For, I don’t know much about the football management in Bhutan. Even I don’t know how much budget has been allocated for football development in the 11th Five Year Plan. I don’t know what are the strategies developed by the concerned agencies in exploring sponsorships and funds for the sports in Bhutan. 

But I can sense a lukewarm support even from the government in developing sports in Bhutan. If it’s wrong, then I beg pardon here.

Yes, we have youth unemployment. Yes, the government cannot provide civil service jobs to over 2,400 university graduates and thousands other classes X and XII graduates. We are happy that our government is exploring ways to send unemployed youth outside for works. Very good.

But sport is one area that our government needs to stress on to engage more youth and to create more employment opportunities. More sports infrastructures. Stronger sports management. Proper support system. Those talented sportsmen need not have to stay in Bhutan for their livelihood. They can play outside and earn. The purpose of the government is also to understand and address the needs of the people. 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Changjiji Community Café

If you happen to come to Changjiji in Thimphu, I earnestly plead you to visit a café called Changjiji Community Café. It’s located at the Changjij Square, Block #51, right behind the Trowa Theatre. The Café is run by a group of four out-of-school youth to earn their own livelihood and serve their community.

It’s quite inspiring to know that when their friends were still looking for jobs in the civil service and other sectors, this group of youth has indulged into such an impressive entrepreneurship and creating gainful employment for themselves.
We are concerned about our youth, aren’t we? For we talk about them all time, about the youth unemployment, and mostly about youth taking up a blue-collar job.

So, here, you can see a group of youth doing exactly what you want them to do. Taking up a social enterprise. And I must say that without our support, they really can’t make it bigger.

I’m not begging you to donate for them (though their Café requires a proper showcase, furniture and kitchen utensils). But if you happen to come to Changjiji or want to eat burgers, pizzas and sandwich, please visit this place.

Who knows that this could be an enormous support for them. Perhaps it would give a push to their motivation and further strengthening their enterprise. And maybe other youth would take up similar initiative. 
By the way, the Cafe serves you delicious, affordable fast foods, sustainably sourced from local vendors and farmers. Moreover, their menu is small in order to ensure the freshest of ingredients and highest quality taste.

The Café is a youth-run social enterprise initiated by Bhutan Youth Development Fund (bhutanyouth.orgin partnership with UNICEF Bhutan and a private donor that employs and empowers out-of-school youth to serve their community.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Paro – the paradise on earth

The late afternoon sun was beating down gently over the valley. I opened my umbrella, and set off outside. Walking. I wanted to stroll around this beautiful valley of Paro and explore everything in my short stay here. For, I’ve always loved Paro. So much. If there’s a paradise on earth, then Paro truly is.
Paro Town, located at an altitude of 2250m above the sea level, has bosomed a population of over 20,000. This small town stunningly retains a distinct traditional architecture with richly decorated buildings. It’s very unique and profound.  

As I passed over the street, I carefully scanned it - the shops, small buildings, and natives. The town, serene and splendid, sells local weaving products, precious imported stones, local vegetables and fruits, and antique silverwares. It gave me a beguiling charm.

I marched out of the town, and a dozen minutes’ strolling down a road has brought me to a vast plain, lush and green with rice grown abundantly.
I walked in the field, and was greeted by a group of farmers, all weeding together. As they worked, they sang, cheerfully. The songs of rustics, the songs of theirs, of their own creations, inherited from their ancestors. Meanwhile, they would crack jokes and break into loud laughs. I couldn’t help myself from joining them, so I removed my shoes and jumped into their company.
I helped them pulling out weeds as I joined laughter with them. The sun was heavy on our backs, but it didn’t, at all, deter us from laughing and working. And, my new found mates kept singing, they kept laughing.

My small observation has found that these farmers live in a plentitude and bliss, owing to their fertile valley. Politics seems so trivial a matter for them; whereas, the materialism has been remained all the more secondary. They remain firm and rooted to what they have been doing for generations – practising a simple, strong and happy life, their culture and values ever integrated. 

After that I walked a footpath, uphill, that follows a tiny village way up on the mountain. On the way, I met farmers leaving for their homes after the day’s farm work, grateful and happy. We exchanged greetings, Kuzuzangpola. We exchanged, too, serene smile.   
On this hilltop, beside a prayer flag pole, I sat down. The hill has amazing views looking down at the valley, the wide and beautiful valley of Paro. Paro Chu, flowing gently south, feeds the entire valley, the farmlands.

On the hill other side, Paro Rinpung Dzong, a fortress stands overlooking this giant piece of Paro valley as if safeguarding the valley since eternity. Right above the Dzong stands an ancient watchtower called Ta Dzong, the National Museum of Bhutan. It’s so fascinating to see a medieval bridge, built in ornate style, over the Paro Chu, further decorating the place.
As I stood on the hilltop, still looking down, I remembered everything about the valley. All that I had studied in the classrooms, during my school days. Names of the legends. Dates. Incidents. Everything. One by one, they came as a rich and significant history, slowly understood. The valley is full of legends, heroism, glories, and natural splendor.

I remembered and understood, gradually, how this Rinpung Dzong had served as an effective defense against numerous Tibetan invasion attempts. Also, I recalled when Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel came here in 1616 from Tibet and established dual system of governance. More eloquently, I remembered how the Paro Poenlop was defeated by Ugyen Wangchuk, the Trongsa Poenlop at the end of 19th century and became the first king of Bhutan in 1907.

All this culminated what Bhutan still is a sovereign and peaceful nation. Perhaps Paro could be the place from where the concept of Gross National Happiness has been inspired and proliferated.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Chatting with my Best Friends

I visited Nepal last month. Its population about 27 millions, Nepal was still striving for its fledging peace and reconciliation process. The entire political system was affected with political divides, regionalism, and corruption.

Unfortunately, this led to economic crisis, poor infrastructure development, poverty, youth unemployment, and brain drain in the country. More shockingly, this deprived millions of young Nepalese from even getting a proper education and reliable source of information and skills. That’s why these young people continued living a difficult life, and were often confused, victimized, and exploited by different political parties.     

However, during my weeklong stay in Nepal, I came across a life skills-based youth radio programme called Sathi Sanga Manka Kura (SSMK), Chatting with my Best Friends. So when feeling isolated, confused, depressed and victimized, every week, 7.2 millions of Nepalese youth turned to this 45-minute radio show, their “Best Friend”.
First initiated in 2001 by UNICEF Nepal, the SSMK was institutionalized with Equal Access Nepal and being broadcasted from 40 different FM Stations. Today, this radio show has become an essential lifeline, trusted confident, and inspiring best friend to young Nepalese on issues ranging from dating and sexuality, HIV awareness and prevention, to caste discrimination, exploring new livelihoods and participating in Nepal’s politics and policy making. 
With SSMK producers
Those young listeners, often with not much education and no reliable source of information, learnt important life skills and knowledge through on-air discussions, peer-peer outreach programmes, innovative mini-drama, banners, listeners’ clubs, publication of magazines and life skills pamphlets, and web outreach.
An outreach program to highlight the problems of Dhading youth  
It has significantly boosted the youth’s confidence and self-esteem. More importantly, it empowered them to make informed decisions on different issues and inspired them to rise above daily conflicts, stressful circumstances, ignorance and difficulties.

It’s quite exciting to know that that the SSMK received millions of mails (letters, text messages, emails) and calls (toll free) every week. In a week, they received over 25,000 handwritten letters. A large part of the SSMK production team would spend their time reading letters and file them into different categories. By the way, the letters were categorized in 82 different themes.
SSMK host reading out a letter for us
Interestingly, everyone who writes to the SSMK gets a reply with a set of life skills booklets. In each episode of this radio programme, four to five letters were read out and discussed by the co-hosts who suggest possible ways of responding to the senders’ or listeners’ problems using life skills. They solved risky behaviors of young people.

This is why the listeners of the programme, who often were unable to share their intimate feelings and concerns to their friends and family members, started pouring out their fondest hope and deepest fear to the SSMK. This has created a very close and interactive relationship between the young listeners and the show, thereby, the programme hosts feeling like a best friend to millions of Nepali youth.
A Listeners' Club organizing bi-cycle rally to stop female students abuse
Today, Nepal has over 350 FM Stations. Such SSMK program is also replicated in Cambodia, Laos, Niger, Mauritania and Chad. 

Visit the SSMK website here: