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.  

Friday, May 4, 2018

Winter in the Summer

Picture: Thimphu City

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.
Picture: South Korea during spring
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: Gyeonbokgung 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

Picture: Peach blossom in Bhutan
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