Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Passing Through the Dark Economic Days?


One year ago, I wrote a post titled "eventful" July 2013. I chose to call it a "memorable month". With new set of politicians in power that promised "service with humility" and "power to the people", I had reason to harbor lots of positive expectations. Their alluring 100 day manifesto, I thought was the promise of the century. The much needed "change" it seemed was in the offing. Especially to an impoverished service man like me, they showed the pay revision candy and I acted like a child. In brief, I was actually dying to see the July 2014.

Now here I am, nearing to end my most awaited July 2014. The flames of much talked about pay revision has subsided. Back then National Council members fought against the pay hike. The reasons are still hard to understand, but it could be either of them; 1. the marginal hike accorded for them or 2. Their real Buddha nature. Love for the Nation? Well. I doubt! And interestingly and paradoxically, back in Korea I was skipping my meals to adjust my budget. What an irony of life!

Anyways, as per maths done by some of my colleagues, I was told that I would be getting an additional sum of Nu. +4000 monthly. Had it not been for the double digit market inflation, I think its a lot of money. Home Minister has started replacing the Finance Minster. It seems Finance Minister have no words left to utter. Recently Trade Minister has shown his deepest possible concern. He was sighted in the town doing a day long market research. His conclusions are astounding "There is no inflation in the market" was his finding. Somewhere, his results must have left academicians scratching their skull in awe.

"There is no inflation in the market". Hence our Politicians thinks taxing people is most suitable option. I am amazed. Green tax for the gas, service tax for telecom facilities, more tax for car import,  more TDS, more PF, more HC and more GIS and on goes the list. I may be wrong but I am little confused with the glorious economic policies we have before us. Indications are so vivid that, child Politicians are fiddling with fiscal policy like a toy.

Saving will continue to be a myth. 
Hand to mouth, we shall all survive. 
Pitiable we were and broke we will be. 
Owning a car, our distant dream,
A fairy tale, it shall remain.
oh! Miserable Economic dark days
Find thy own silver linings friends
Drive not they car to office
Use not they phone for official cause

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Monday, July 14, 2014

In Bangkok watching World Cup Final 2014

After five hours in the air, I landed in Bangkok S/bum international airport in the best of my health. The flight from Seoul to Bangkok was another memorable experience. Back in the air, I shared a seat next to a Thai lady.  I am not sure but it seemed she had some stomach problem. She kept on farting all through the journey. I am amazed! I did not complain because I was Ok too, sleeping most part of my journey.  

Despite all the hyped political news in the mainstream media, Bangkok, the capital city of Thailand, I think is still a wonderful place to be. The rain in the evening was so so wonderful. The cooling effect it brought to the city was sensational. Thanks to some of our Bhutanese friends, I was able to put up in a five star hotel. But the night before, I slept in a host-less apartment in Bhutanese Embassy village. 
 TESCO, my best shopping place in Bangkok
In fortune town, I went frantic. I felt the child in me wanting to have everything in the store. With limited budget at my disposal, I realized how I was running out of permutation and combination to buy as many items as possible. I changed the screen guard for my old phone. I am happy that it looks like a brand new phone. I bought a cover for it too. I bought few shirts and a pair of slippers each for my three daughters. I bought a hair gel for myself and a shampoo for my wife. Pencils for my daughters and pen for my wife...oohh! I got the sensation that I was emptying the entire store. I never thought $100 could buy me so many items. 

Now I am waiting for the World cup final to begin. Argentina vs The Germans. What a match we have in hand. Although I never picked teams in the beginning, now I would want to see Argentina win the cup. But at the same time, I feel Germany is too good a team to be defeated. While my heart whispers Argentina, my head thunders Germany. Both teams have world-class players and both teams are equally deserving of the most coveted cup. It's very difficult to predict. It'll be unfair all the more to discredit either of the teams. So lets sit back and enjoy the game. Tomorrow morning we should be able to see one team in tears and other in more tears. In tears of victory and tears of  defeat.

And before I end this post, there is one thing I wanted to say. I am still not able to recover from the shock of Brazil loosing to Germany with 7:1 scoreline. 

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

For Now, Good Bye to Seoul

After a meaningful 2 weeks in Seoul, Korea, I am finally going back. My training has been a  great achievement. I had the opportunity of being trained by some of the best analysts in the world. At the end of our training, fours of us, -me and my friends from Bangladesh, Philippines and Sri Lanka, we all learned that report writing is fun but at the same time can be sensitive too. In my opinion, I think it takes a lot of experience.


Although, we thought that DSA of $30 was a lot of money in the beginning, somewhere in the middle we came to realize that it was little less. I had to skip some meals to adjust my budget. But however in the end, with the supreme hospitality of our hosts, Korean Customs and other RILO AP officials, we actually thrived on that $30. All of us had lot to shop in the Meongdong market, all of us bought a lot of beautiful Korean souvenirs. I remain ever grateful to all the RILO AP officials for being so so generous with us. Even in our drunkard state, we all agreed that we are humans beings first and we feel for each other, irrespective of our diverse nationality.
With Deputy Head of RILO AP (tallest in the group) 
I will remember those dinners, both private and official. Our drinking sessions with lot of sensual communications had been a truly a memorable one. I will remember Mr. Nasier of Bangladesh singing "Ari-ari rang- suri-suri-rang" and touching the hearts of our Korean friends. I will also remember the lively atmosphere our RILO AP Head and Deputy head  had created during our official dinners and luncheons. They are truly intelligent and witty people. Probably that explains why Korean Customs administration is one of the best in the world. 


Our cultural excursion was even memorable. I had the good opportunity of visiting some of the UNESCO heritage sites in Seoul. By the way, South Korea have 10 cultural sites and 1 Natural site listed as UNESCO heritage site. The geomancy of Korean architecture is truly spellbinding.  Starting from the roof top to window panes, each part have a holy and auspicious significance of  their own. For example, during the last King of Joseon dynasty, the palace for the Price was built in the east, because Korean people believed that Price is like a rising Sun.
With female Culture Guide
Tour guides in their traditional Chima (for ladies) and Majoga (for men) dress at the sites are even more enthralling. They display a lot of pride and happiness in their cultural heritage. Although its a second language for them, they speak flawless English. They do no fumble like some of our guides in Bhutan. To, me they are a living history book. they are the stars of Korean culture. 
Female Culture Guide
I was told that most of the cultural sites were once destroyed by the invading forces of Japan. However they were rebuilt to their original glory. Unlike in many other countries, they were not left to ruin. One of the guides told the Japanese people in our group to take it as History. She said, otherwise the Koreans love Japanese. You see, they are even diplomatic!  
with a male  Korean Culture Guide
With these beautiful moments, I would like to bid good bye to this beautiful country. But someday, I would love to come back again. Anneongi-gaseyo
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Monday, July 7, 2014

Tenda Tsechu In Shingkhar 2014

 I am writing this post from South Korea.

Today (on the birthday of Guru Rimpoche) if I were in Bhutan, I would have been among the people of my village. I would have been with my father and mother, with my siblings and with my relatives. I would have got all sorts of accolades and applause from our elders for consenting to sponsor a day long Tsechu. I would have been in marvelous lhakhang being built by our Lama. 

Drore Rinchen Goenpa then
In the past, the event used to be sponsored by Gomchens from the locality. I have a distant memory of the same Tsechu being once sponsored by my Gomchen brother. He probably must have toured length and breath to find the resources, merely to make the day grand, one, worthy of being called as the birthday of our greatest master. And I think he did. I was little boy then, I remember how all the people from our village, old and young, males and female came to attend the same. Paa- rice was served which was once a was a luxury then.  A lot of Arra was served too. All most all people got drunk both with Arra and by the mirth. Everyone danced and sang.  It was quite a fun day then. Well lot of beautiful memories though..

But but of late, the likes of civil servants from the community has taken turn to sponsor the same. This time around, the affair of Tsechu has become an expensive deal. That's why some were even forced (to be the sponsors). I am being told. And after all the ordeals of preparations, not many people turn up, for the reasons best known for themselves.

In my case, despite all my economic predicaments, my parents genuinely thought I was capable of shouldering the responsibility. They all know I have a small pay cheque but a large family. But they also knew that I have a big heart too.  And without actually knowing from where and how to find the resources, its my big heart that said 'yes'

Drore Rinchen Goenpa Now
Photo Credit:  Lama Ngodup Dorji.
Coincidentally 10th day in Bhutanese calender is my daughters birthday too. So last year on the same day when my mom and dad respectfully received the white scarf from our lama  and upon receiving the message of the same from them. I wrote this lines on my facebook page: 
"Five years ago, after an eventful day with the ward lady, my daughter Sonam was born in Thimphu Hospital. Traditionally she share her birthday with Guru Rimpoche. She is five now and she is growing faster and lot bigger than her age. One year down the line, when she become six, I will be not only hosting my her birthday but also Guru Rimpoche's Birthday in beautiful village of Shingkhar."
So, had it not been for this important training, I would have really wanted to go home and be among our locals. I would have wanted to be the first sponsor to host Guru's birthday in the brand new Lhakhang being constructed by our Lama. Our lama, I believe have not only the biggest heart but also have tenacity and patience ( to have actually undertaken such a project single-handed). Few months ago, I was just telling myself that if Bhutan have 20 such lamas, then reconstructions of much talked about Dzong like Wangdiphodrang should not be a problem. 

Lama Ngodup Rimpoche of Shingkar dechenling

So today, I would like to congratulate our Lama and offer him my sky-big, earth-big Tashi Delek for all the painful efforts he has put in in creating this marvel in our community. May our Lama live long, happy and prosperous for eons. May he continue to live and bless all the sentient beings. 

With this, I would also like to thank few of my friends for their heart felt generous contributions. I am sure good fortunes are on your way. I would like to thank my dearest wife for all the preparations she made for the Tsechu. May your wishes come true dear. Most importantly, I would like to thank all, my mom, dad, sisters, achos, for their part in making the day a success, especially Acho Karma Wangda for all the extra initiatives he had to make to cover up my absence. May Lord Longchenpa bless you all with long life, good luck and happy days ahead.

One of my sister serving Arra
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Sunday, July 6, 2014

Chang Deok Gung Palace of Joseon Dynasty

Few months ago, I wrote a short post on Joseon Dynasty of Korea. By the way Korea was ruled by the Kings of Joseon dynesty for good number of years. Today the dynasty is long dead and gone. But there is an air of respect and gratefulness which Korean people still show to the their long lost leaders. Some of the palaces built as early as the 13th century are still preserved as though the royal family were there the day before. 

The palace at the outskirts of Seoul city called Chnagdeokgung is one such palace built by the by the third King of Joseon dynesty in 1405. unfortunately, the palace was destructed by the Japanese invasion in 15th century. However it was recreated to its former glory in 16th century. For some reasons, known only to the King, it became his favorite palace. Later, king also created a secret garden, where royal family used it as a place to relax and rest. 

The tour was worth Korean won 8000 (excluding the transportation and lunch). Thanks to this trip I am now able to use the subway metro system. It was an amazing feeling to be able to travel in Seoul without any problem. I am finally starting to understand what world class public transportation system actually means. 

Its been quite a number of time that our Government has been fiddling with policy of vehicle import system. Sometimes they have put up a blind ban. This time they have now decided to impose an of abnormal import duty. I am starting to think that, if they really care and dare, then first thing they should do is to improve our public transportation system. May be we can take a lot of inspiration from Korea. 

By the way, I took few pictures in the Palace compound, Please enjoy the beauty of palace.

At the main entrance gate of the palace

That's me in crocs and and shorts. Mind you crocs cost Won 69,000 (=USD 69) in Korea 

I with beautiful Korean Girls. They  look more like the statues (I mean the beautiful statues) we have in our Temples

Entrance point of King's secret garden. Once upon a time,
Nobody entered this gate without King's permission

One resting place of King inside the secret garden

The beams and the pillars made me think that King must have well been the reincarnate of Zow Vishu Karma. 

Another resting place for the King and his family 

I am mesmerized by the palace compound, and more by the striking similarity Bhutan shares with Korea 

We, the Tourist

The stone steps now closed for public. may be the stones are getting worn out

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Living in Gangnam City



Without much hitch, I have completed my first week here in Korea. Each day has been an exciting one. I am privileged to have the company of my three trainee friends from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Philippines. While the Lankan girl and Philipino guy are friendly, its the humor of our Bangladeshi friend that keeps us all going. 

According to Mr. Naser, the Asst. Director of Bangladeshi Customs, He feels that laughter is something which a metro city like Seoul is seriously lacking. He feels that without laughter, attending a training on access and excel wouldn't be an easy thing. Perhaps, he is now getting the exchange rate of Korean won to the USD right too, because he doesn't talk much about travels and gifts any more! His disgust for Korean food, seems have reached to the highest limit. Kimchi, he said is a miserable food. True to his words, in one of the recent Korean science journal, it rightly said that the amount of salt being used in Korean food is of a big concern for the Koreans themselves. He calls afternoon nap as "marathon sleep".

Well, let me not gossip more about my friend. Rather I would like to take this post to share my own Korean experience. To begin with, Korea is one country that I know, rose from the cruelty of colonial oppression and brutal shocks of the wars. Spurred by the greed of super powers, the cold war effect in peninsula finally ended with the division of the motherland into South and North. While, North (so called the fatherland by its founder Kim Il-Sung) chose to remain secluded and cut off from the world, South has progressed to this level. Few of them tell me that love for the motherland and hard work are the key component that brought them thus far.   

Korea, not doubt is a trendy place now. Especially in Seoul city, fashion, I think is the life blood, that is keeping the city alive. I am guessing, whether this fashionestia is responsible for making the Gangnam area more expensive then the rest. So here are few observations I made in Gangnam city.


People: Outwardly, many Bhutanese people have the notion that Koreans are among the most good looking people in Asia. I think we are right. Both male and female, they are known for their sharp features, fair skin and unique hair dress ups.They are actually phone-liking people.

Many Bhutanese youth, who are oblivious about the recent proliferation of so many plastic surgeries actually wanted to look like Koreans, sing like Koreans, dace like Koreans, eat like Koreans and live like Koreans. Apart from the external looks, Koreans, I think are steadfast people. They are people who mind their own business. Free in their own world, other matters seem to bother them least. To understand Korean, one simply need to open up the conversation. Its the gate way to their beautiful heart.



Food: Kimchi is the first thing that come to my mind. However, there are thousand other Korean dishes that are still prevalent. Although there has been an unprecedented invasion of KFC and MacDonald and other foreign (fast) foods, indigenous Korean foods, it seems have withstood the foray. Almost all kinds of foods are served hot and spicy, but at a equally hot and spicy price tag too. Some served in stone pots and some in bamboo canes.

Unlike the Japanese (who uses bamboo chopsticks) and Chinese (who uses wooden chopsticks), Koreans use Chopsticks made of steel. This according to one Korean official is to poke their enemies.. ha ha. He was kidding. And here is one thing that might prove useful for foreigners traveling to Korea. Koreans' one serving can satisfy 2-3 average hungry person. Besides main dish, rice and kimchi being the popular side dish wre served with numerous other dishes. Even the soup will have a side dish of rice. Now Bhutanese people, how do you like it? Therefore, to minimize cost and reduce wastage, avoid ordering every individual a different meal.

Shopping: Seoul is an international shopping hub. Any doubt about that? However for an average shopper, Gangnam is one area I would not recommend. In fact I would not recommend any of my Bhutanese friends to shop here. They have all the killer price tags. That is why our Bangladeshi friend have humorously chosen a name for Seoul; The "dead city".

I am told that Gangnam area is a shopping place for trendy people, like pop stars, film actors and for politicians. But for an average Bhutanese civil servant like me, I find every place in Seoul, so so dear. And the saddest fact is that, to our own misfortune, our training is being conducted in the heart of these chic city. Everyday, we are paying twice as much for food, water and for beer and soju. With each passing day, our wallets are becoming thinner and thinner.

Cars: One thing that is all glittering about this city is the variety of cars they have. Starting from their home made KIA and Hyundai they have all the cars between the sky and the earth. BMW, Mercedes, Lamborghini, Ferrari, Audi, Ford and volvo are few I can name. But surprisingly, in my one week, I just saw one Toyota car. This to me, shows the intensity of rivalry between the car makers of Korea and Japan has reached.
 
Girls:  Without writing a line on Korean girls, my Korean experience wouldn't be complete. Yes, they look exotic, sexy, slender and cute. They are girls in the world, who defined the real meaning of "shorts" and style. Shorts at the moment seem to be the most popular outfit among the Korean young girls. Or is it because its summer now? Our Bangladeshi friend call them the "Long legs".

But there is one dark side to this beauty aspect;  -the plastic surgery. I don't know how many people view it. For me, I am just wondering why, especially the beautiful girls require modification when they are richly blessed by mother nature. I feel its just a plain greed to simply look artificially beautiful. (for few years?) it is an act of defying and deceiving nature. If Joan Keats were alive, he would have died murmuring "beauty is impermanence"

By the way, there are some ugly girls here too. I don't know from where they have come. They are huge like elephants! Some have arms bigger than my Thais.  They look like man! I think they could  have easily qualified for a place in WWE!

Language: Not many people speak English here. But when they do, they are far better than us. Otherwise most people talk to foreigners in their own Koreanized English.


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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Suiting and Booting Abroad; My Way


With this trip abroad, much to the envy of some of my friends, I have been to several countries already. Each travel has been an exciting enterprise. There are some enriching experience which I cannot be put in words. They can be only be felt. Although I have never benefited monetarily from the travels, there are few intrinsic things which even million dollar wouldn't buy. The bond of friendship I tied with friends abroad and the wisdom and acumen I achieved through these travels are few things that make me feel way richer than the likes of Mr. Bill Gates

During those travels, I have had the opportunity of representing our country in few of the seminars and workshops. I feel blessed to have been trained by some of the most resourceful people around the world. I had the good fortune of living and dining in some of the finest Hotels on this earth....... and the list will go on. These things wouldn't have happened, had it not been for one big and beautiful reason. -The Bhutanese me, the citizen of this glorious country and the loyal subject of His majesty the King. 

So each time I am offered an occasion to travel abroad and each time I am offered a seat with the national flag in the front, it made me want to do one thing; to pay homage and gratitude to to all the positive circumstances. And this is not at all difficult. It's neither expensive!. All it takes is just being me, my self. Just portray myself as Bhutanese (both inwardly and outwardly) to the best. If some can preach (GNH) then this I call is my way of living it.

Its economical as well. Like many average Bhutanese civil servants, making trips abroad do not panic me about the acquisition of suits, boots and belts. I do not want to create an identity crisis. I Just go with my old ghos and become star attraction somewhere. -Once in Tokyo and now here in Seoul- Sometime I just give away with my autograph.. ha ha ha.... I call it as my way of booting and suiting abroad.

By the way this time we are four participants. Just four! One person each from Bhutan, Bangladesh, Philippines and Sri Lanka. Four of us are here to learn the techniques and methods of analyzing information into reliable intelligence. You see. I am soon going to become an analyst. We are generously paid a DSA of USD 40 30 per day. Its a lot of money!

Our Bangladeshi friend, who is on his maiden ex-country training, at first had difficulty breathing when we were handed over Korean won worth 420,000 each. Till yesterday evening, he was under culture shock. Just like I struggled with the light switch in Japan(on my first trip), during our welcome dinner, he struggled with his chopsticks. Today he is down with flu. He still speaks Bangali to me and our Sri Lankan friend thinks I am good at it.

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Monday, June 30, 2014

My Second Trip to South Korea



Thanks to my department and RILO AP office, I am here in South Korea for the second time. Its always a pleasure and happiness travelling to such a beautiful country. I flew in Drukair till Bangkok on 28th June 2014. His Excellency the Prime Minister of Bhutan was also on the same flight. While the plane stopped in Bhagdora, I had the opportunity of being asked by the PM about my travel. I told him that I am travelling to South Korea for a training and he said I, myself look like a Korean man. (or did I hear him wrong) From Bangkok I had to catch Korean air at 10 PM. It was a long wait. But I had a company of three Bhutanese, who made that long-wait bearable.


There was one lama and one monk who were travelling to Hong Kong and a young girl who wason her way to Australia for her studies. Four of us stayed together till the time I had to part to catch my flight. While many passengers feasted in Macdonald and KFC, four of us dined Bhutanese paa-rice (which lama and monk brought from Bhutan)

And few moments before, the security guards in the gate detected a bottle of apple juice in lama's bag and actually wanted to dispose it off. I intervened and told the guards that we are going to drink it right before him.  We did. Amazingly we took only few minutes to gulp one liter apple juice. Not knowing that he was out smarted, the guard shook his head in disbelief. He giggled at us. Another bottle of juice in lam's bag passed the check undetected. I think I drank most. Shortly I had this sensation of bulging tummy. Probably I ate  more paa-rice too.  In the loo while peeing, my fart just made the sound of a Thai announcer.

Five hour midnight flight was a long long journey. I felt so so sleepy. Here is the lesson I learnt. Taking transit flight is a torturous affair. If you are civil servant you are not even entitled to USD130 enforced halt (if the wait is less then 8 hours) This is bit ridiculous, because 6 hours wait is going to make you as hungry and as tired as 8 hours. Finally in the early morning hours of 29th June, I landed in Inchon International airport. I came across three gentleman from South Sudan. While waiting for immigration clearance, I talked to them about my first trip and they talked to me about the ongoing trouble in Sudan. But after clearance, we parted like pie and the Tiger. -We couldn't say good bye to each other.

Someone called Mr. Steven, a chubby looking Korean driver has come to pick me and the official from Bangladesh. I am surprised to know that Mr. Nasier of Bangladesh is the Asst. Director of Customs and it just took him three years to get the title. And its even more interesting because Mr. Nasier speaks to me in Bangali which I do not understand much.

Even without lunch and dinner, my second trip to South Korea so far has been anything but a fairy tale.  
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Monday, June 23, 2014

No Namgay Zam, No World Cup News?


The most coveted and awaited world cup is in full swing and its awful thing to see Bhutanese media so dead on this hot news. Not even BBS !! Few years ago I remember our very own beautiful Namgay Zam reporting the events (Live?) from South Africa. Every news paper had a world cup supplement and every individual had their team to support. I think we all enjoyed. But this year, things seem little subdued, especially in media houses. 

But in the town, the real excitement of the game can be felt. People are picking teams and betting. Although games are telecast live starting 930 pm, there are people who are ready to forgo their sleep. Just for the world cup, people importing TV from Bangkok have increased by ten folds! (oye, this is not an official figure by the way) Nevertheless, what a timing for the shops in Bangkok, to clear their old stocks!

Elsewhere people are cheering for the team of their own liking. I am bad in betting and hence I did not bet. If I did, disaster was sure to struck me. Early exit of Spain and England was a cause of disappointment while Japans's draw with Greece was heart sinking. South Korea's lost to Algeria was tear inducing and Iran's last moment lost to Argentina was unimaginable. 

However, here are some of the spicy performances of underdogs: Italy's defeat to Costa Rica was just as heart buttering as USA drawing prolific Portugueses'. Mexico holding big Brazil to a scoreline of  0-0 draw was as mesmerizing as Ghana holding Giant Germans to a 2-2 scoreline. And the excitement doesn't end here. There are good teams like Uruguay, Chile, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Croatia and Ecuador etc who are  performing their best. 

At this moment, its hard to tell  16 team who will advance to the next level. The competition is picking up and  it is becoming stiffer each passing day. People in the process are wining and losing the bets. Its a frenzy affair getting to a crazy height. Looking at the number of people who are mending TVs untimely is an interesting case. I hope they are not banging it. 

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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Prime Minister Modi in Bhutan


Today is 15th June 2014 and is a big day for Bhutan. The Prime Minister of India is finally here. Although we (the airport staffs) were told in advance to wear nicely cleaned, pressed and polished uniforms, on the day when PM's flight finally landed, we were all chased out by the securities; -Like the dogs.

As per media speculations, he is rumored to have come with billions of rupees to pull Bhutan's economy from doldrums. But let us all not suppose it is the only purpose that brought him here. He is due to address our national assembly. He is also due to meet our Fourth Druk Gyelpo and our His Majesty the King. So let us all hope that he has other pleasing news that are beyond rupees, aids and grants.

When PM's flight landed, it was lot of sunshine and wind outside. Somewhere in hot attic, me and my friends were sweating and were keenly observing the events. We were all enjoying the episode in birds-eye-view. Bouquet presentation by the little children seem so endearing. I am sure it allured India's PM. Listening to children's welcoming lexis, I saw him smiling. But then the cruel wind, ohh! the wicket wind, how cunningly it blew off the scarf from the welcoming hands of our Prime Minister!

Now its lots of rain here. Good for the wilting paddy plants. Thank you Modi ji for bringing in lots of rain. We welcome you to our beautiful country.  We all hope you will have a memorable time in Bhutan. 
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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

One Night in Katmandu that Passed Like a Dream

out of hundred shots, I think I nearly got one right.


Few days ago, (on 7th June 2014) I had the privilege of boarding the Bhutan airline’s inaugural flight to Katmandu. There were over 70 people who were carefully selected and invited by the management of the airline. It included two Ministers, few senior bureaucrats, few media people and lot of travel agents. Although I was not in the list, I was able to squeeze-in in the company to grace the inaugural ceremony. Thanks to my Director for letting me take his seat. And more thanks to the airline management for accepting me in my boss’s place.

Katmandu, for many people is known for all the awful reasons. Ensuing political instability, the royal massacre in 1990s, the environmental squalor and cheap tourist are some of the topics that invariably get coined with it. In recent times it has even become known for the airport terminal that makes people sweat like pigs and the guards that seeks bribe at the entrance! But for a Buddhists people, especially the Tibetan Buddhists, despite all the predicaments, it is always a special place to be. As it is home for some of the most ancient Buddhist temples, it is one place that is most sought after by pilgrims. It is known fact that people from all direction flock there either to meditate on impermanence or to seek out religious solace or to look for for spiritual refuge.
In Katmandu Airport. 7/6/2014
Coincidentally, this June is by far the holiest month in Buddhist calendar. Therefore, my first ever trip (free trip) to the home of Baudhanath stupa and Swayambhunath sytupa couldn’t have come at a better timing than this. Our team landed in Katmandu airport to an overwhelming welcome ceremony by the Bhutan airlines office in Nepal. It was drizzling a bit but nevertheless it was a special feeling to be accorded a red carpet welcome. Amid all the sounds of trumpets and drums, we were showered with the rose petals. Little girls offered us orange scarfs. I though I was starting to look like lama! Then we were led into the terminal building. Once inside, immigration clearance took lion’s share of our time in Katmandu. With each passing minute, I felt the gradual impatience seep in me. But I was not alone. Nearby, I could easily over hear my other impatient friends grumbling. 

It was an overnight trip. So the keenness to have a quicker clearance for us, in our own sense looks justified. We all wanted to go out fast. After an hour of painful wait, we were all finally out. Several vans have come to pick us up. Seven of us took a van driven by a jolly man named Bassu. And to my amazement, there were quite a number of people who are actually making their first trip to Katmandu like me. As Mr. Bassu took us through the meandering roads of Katmandu city, many of my friends were quick in making comparison between our very own Thimphu and the city we have just entered. While most agreed on the similarities sighted, someone from the back said, even the banana in Thimphu looks similar to the one we were seeing. We all laughed. Few more turns, few more comparisons and few more laughing sessions, we soon reached our hotel. There was another round of khaddar session. It was white scarf that time. Orange and white khaddar already around our neck, three more khaddar, red, blue and green, and all us would have looked like a newly appointed Ministers of Bhutan! 

By then it was not the world class food in the Soaltee grand plaza that came to my mind. Neither were the five star hotel rooms that enamored me. But it was those ancient monumental stupas, the likes of Baudhanath stupa and Swayambhunath stupa that filled my heart. Those stupas have a history of their own. But for now let us leave it for another post. I was so eager to hear the murmuring Buddhists chants and smell the smoke of burning incense. More than anything else was my urge to see those wish fulfilling shrines in their original glory. 

After allocation of the hotel rooms, most of us were out again, swift and fast! Some went out for shopping while others slept in their rooms. But I chose to join the group that was out for pilgrimage to Swayambhunath stupa. Located on the hill top, the stupa has a classic aura  and awe of its own. But on the other hand, crowded, littered and dusty, the holy place apparently confirmed how it is actually succumbing to the forces of change, modernization and over population. There were monkeys and lamp sellers and film makers. Nearby people were attending a funeral rite and not so far away the wedding ceremony was in full swing. 

At around 7 pm, the delegations from both the countries were there to grace the inaugural session. Surprisingly, there were not many mingling taking place between the delegates. Keeping silent in one corner, I felt my throat choking. So I approached a senior Nepali official. I introduced myself to him. But before I could even complete, he said I look 200% Nepali. In return he introduced himself as the father of Mr. Ravi. So I presume Mr. Ravi to be an important person. I asked him about the pilgrim sites. But he had other things on his mind. He told me to put up questions, if any to Mr. Ravi. Seeing all the Bhutanese delegates in our national dress, he conveyed his appreciation to Bhutan for keeping our tradition and culture intact. “Nepal has no culture of our own”, he said. “Modernization and foreign influence are to be blamed” He lamented further. With this brief conversation, he disappeared into the crowd. 

Mr. Ravi’s father’s reluctance to communicate with me gave me an opportunity to observe the event in its entirety. Of all the people present, one person called Dasho Wangchuk, son of legendary Bhutanese business man caught my attention. He is the co-owner of Tashi group of companies, a millionare  and a leader of his own kind. The way he tended to the guests, big and small and the way he supervised his employees that night are simply exemplary. He exhibited that he is a leader who do not eat first. He showed how the giant or Monopoly slayers are made. Today Bhutan’s sleeping public corporations should be grateful for having a person like Dasho Wangchuk. In terms of waking up the slumbering public corporations, I think he is one person who knows to ring the alarm just and right. The night was wonderful except for the small stomach disorder I had to endure for the wrong combination of juice I took. (Do not drink apple, mango and orange juice together. It can really upset your tummy)
Pose worth million with a millionaire 
Next morning was a grad moment for me. I was due to join my group on pilgrimage to the penultimate pilgrimage site, the Baudhanath temple, which is known for its wish fulfilling power. So greedy enough, I made a mental calculation of my wishes on my way. And here are few of them:

1. Many many success to Tashi Air Pvt ltd
 for accommodating me and enabling me to wishes (as listed below)

2. Happiness and prosperity to my family

3. Not to fall ill 

4. To have no worries in life

5. To achieve all the targets that I set for my life

6. To see my three girls do well in life

7. And someday to become a father of a son as well

8. Happiness and prosperity to my mom and dad

9. Happiness and prosperity to my country

10. Long life to our king 

11. To retire as a happy civil servant


Finally we reached to the stupa site. Seeing the majestic stupa, I went wordless. Spellbound and nervous, I couldn’t take off my eyes off the Stupa. I forgot all the wishes I premeditated. It was like going blank for a while. However in more than two hours, I was able to spend the little amount of money I had on donations, incense, butter lamp and on colored prayer flags. By the time I finished writing the names of all my family members on the prayer flag, I lost my friends in the crowd. But to my pleasant surprise, two ladies from our group joined me. 

It was privilege for me to have come across a well known enterprising proprietor of Gangtey Palace resort, Mrs Choki and the chief editor cum designer of the Yeewong magazine and the Kuzuzangpo la magazine, Mrs Pema. Three of us talked extensively on varied topics. Two of them shopped and occasionally I joined them too. Later to my gladness, I discovered that Pema and I actually come from a same community. In course of our communication, I agreed to contribute a quarterly article for her magazine.

The Editor and Designer of
Kuzuzangpola Magazine and Yeewong Magazine
Mrs Pema Choden Tenzin

Finally, after sweating inside Katmandu terminal building for more than 2 hours, our group boarded the Bhutan airlines for our onward journey back to Paro. Fifty five minutes in the air and we were back to where we belong. I felt the trip was like a dream. 

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Friday, June 6, 2014

Big News for Bhutan

 Prime Minister, Narendra Modi
As per media sources in India, the new Indian Prime Minister, His Excellency Narendra Modi  has picked Bhutan for his first foreign visit. He is scheduled to visit Thimphu any time in the month June. I am excited and happy. In preparation to his visit we are going to see so many training flights in Paro. I am also expecting meet some Indian officials from Gujarat too. It is going to be a busy day in Paro airport. In days time, our airport will be decorated, security system will be enhanced, ceremonial lounge will be furnished and many more would be done to Welcome the Prime Minister of world's biggest democracy.


His visit is going to keep strategic and political analysts everywhere a lot busier. As such we are already getting a freaked-out comments from the Chinese think tanks. In days time, we are going to see all sorts of analysis. Whatever may be the analysis, one thing is obvious. It shows how deep and profound our bilateral ties are. Our friendship is exemplary in the region and PM Modi's visit is expected to strengthen it further. As stated by some sources, Bhutan is India’s friendliest neighbor and  the level of  inter-dependency we enjoy is for the rest of the world to see. For now, all we can say is that we the people of Bhutan would like to Welcome his excellency with all our heart and soul. More than the aids and grants that India give us, I think its the friendship and trust that counts. 

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Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Legend of Wang Sisi Chumo


Over the last many years, I must have traveled Thimphu-Paro highway over thousand times. On all the occasion I have seen the sight that has captivated me millions. Its the palace of Wang Sisi Chumo.

Today I wanted to write a brief account of the same. It is all based on the oral stories. Its totally non academic, and hence I could be wrong. Anthropologists and historians are thereby requested, not to take this as the historical account. 

Located somewhere between the Chuzom and Kharsadrupchu is the ancient house that is once believed to have housed the richest lady of the Wang valley. She was popularly known among the locals as Wang Sisi Chumo or the rich lady of the great Wang valley. Wang is the other name for present day Thimphu.

How Sisi Chumo became rich is for any one to guess. But here is one account. Legendry Sisi Chumo is believed to have a mysterious source from where she received wealth in all kinds, -starting from gains to salt and from cattle to cat. For the reasons known only for the Sisi Chumo, the transportation of wealth took place only in the cover of darkness. This meant she received her possessions only in the dark that too before the first crow of the rooster. 



Sadly, on one fateful morning, when the first cock crowed, the caravan carrying the wealth for Sisi Chimo is believed to have made only till the opposite hill side. The entire caravan froze over. Today the cliff opposite to the palace of Sisi Chumo is considered to be the remains of the very caravan through which Sisi Chumo received her bounty.

This is just one story. But  I am planning to collect many more stories in times to come. So keep visiting my blog.

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Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Woochu Naktsang

Every morning I open my window curtains, I see the majestic Woochu Naktsang. I helplessly see the same structure while closing same in the evening.  Although inhabited by none, there is certainly an air of awe about the building. Its awesome !  The sheer size of the structure tells us that it was once a dwelling place of an aristocrat of the region. As such Woochups are known for their legendary blacksmith skills. The unrivaled quality of knives, spades, sickles and daggers etc produced by the craftsmen of Woochu are still the most sought after products in the region. So, I am just imagining that it must have once housed a master craftsman of Woochu. 

Some years ago, the wind storm seems have done (an irreparable) damage to the roof. Since then,  the structures was seen loosing its luminosity. The harsh weather I believe is doing the rest. The beams and window frames are seen rooting and so is the mud wall. Season by season, it is getting eroded. Some sorts of wild leguminous plants have already started growing on the walls and it will not be long when the majestic walls will bear cracks. The structure is now on the brink of becoming an antique piece. 

                                       Woochu Naktsang in 2009                                                          Woochu Naktsang in 2014                                                 
But there is a history behind this place. It was once a hostel for students of the Woochu School. It belonged to Ministry of Education and it used to be looked after by Paro Dzongkhag. But when the care is need most, it remains neglected. Elsewhere, people are going homeless and to see majestic structure fall to ashes before our own eyes is something unbelievable. It makes an average observer like me helplessly wonder. 

Little bit of renovation from the Ministry of Education and this building could be of enormous use to people like Passu. I believe Mr. Passu has already collected enough rural artifacts. If I am not mistaken, he needs some space, a good one to now showcase them. Located in the heart of ancient woochu village, I think it will be a ideal place. If my wild imagination proves right, this building, I believe have the potential of becoming another museum in Paro. National Education Museum on Rural Bhutan. Ha ha ha Passu, Just think over. (its just 5 am hare in airport, and I am going wild with all sorts of imagination) 

Woochu Village and the Woochu Naktsang as on 02/06/2014
Longtime ago, sometime in 2006 I used to get dead scared walking around this place. Many people told me that its another haunted house. Its inhabitants are all believed to have gone extinct. But recent stories from the local says otherwise.

To be continued.......................
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Monday, June 2, 2014

Criminality and Sanctity of Economics


Pay hike for civil servants have just been announced. Its suppose to be a celebration time in the town. But the irony is that there is an avalanche of angry opinions gushing every where. While the topic has infuriated many, civil servants are musing and quite. Surely, there seem to be an issue. First People, it seems are angry with the Government for using a mathematical tricks. Second, People are angry with the way revisions are proposed for politicians, who have otherwise promised to sacrifice many things including their perks like car and pay during the electoral campaigns. And surely, Economists' who worked on this trick for the last many months, must be blushing, scratching and melting somewhere. Read the excerpt below: 
 " 'A mathematician, a Statistician and an Economist apply for the same job. The interviewer asks the Mathematician. "what's two plus two? The Mathematician replies, "Four". The he interviewer calls in the Statistician and asks the same question. The statistician says, "on an average, Four -give or take ten percent." The the interviewer calls in the economist, and asks, "what does two plus two equal?" The economists locks the door, leans close to the interviewer and whispers, "what do you want it to equal?" "
In our case, the Economists' have now equaled "two plus two" to something like 19%, 20%, 21% ....25% for the civil servants and suddenly to 50%, 60%, 70% .....and shockingly to 130% or even more to the Politicians. I am not sure. As I said earlier, I am indifferent and I am yet to do the analysis myself. But if what general public are crying for is true than it is a plain criminal Economics. It simply shows the kind of disregard concern people have shown to the sanctity of Economics and Maths. 

After having read my earlier post, I got a call from one of my reader. He told me about how he is coping with a pair of shoes like me.  And with recent pay hike, he told me that he could afford some thing extra. - a tin of  polish and a shoe brush. We both laughed and said good bye. 

Before I close this post, I want to write something very auspicious and important, Its 2nd June today and every Bhutanese knows the significance of this day. Since its not marked in the calender its understandable for some people to have slipped from their mind. On this day in 1974, our beloved King, His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyelpo was crowned. It is our national event. Its called 'Social forestry day'. Tress are planted with a prayers, -prayers that would bring long life to our king and prosperity to our nation. But I am still wondering why the holiday is being removed from our calender.

Long live the King. Pelden Drukpa, Gyelo!

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Pay Revision and My Indifference


In one of my earlier post, I remember writing that I am Customs officer by profession. I also wrote myself being a blogger and reader by passion. Didn't I ? I think I did so. But of late, with smuggling rate shooting up, I am getting bogged down with writing various reports, preparing exhibits, gathering evidence and handing over the people to the Police.

Thanks to such events, I have now discovered a new writing skill. Its called writing the "Chronology of Event". Mind you, it is totally different form of writing from what I normally do. My superiors, friend and colleagues,  big and small keep telling me that its a serious business. So I need to be cent percent conscious.

And here is another thing that is keeping me on my knees and toes. -writing meeting minutes. Sometime I get the feeling that I am becoming a professional minute keeper.

Yesterday, to the happiness of all the Bhutanese civil servants, the National Assembly of Bhutan has finally announced the much awaited (upward) pay revision. Its long over due, but the delay is understandable. Our exchequer, according to talk of the town has gone high and dry on resources. Seriously, when our current Government promised pay hike along with the housing allowance, I really did not believe. For once, I thought that our much talked about pay revision is any thing but a grim possibility even with the presence of Buddha and his blessing. With all sorts of austerity measures in place, our present government, who otherwise promised power and change to the people are rumored to have played the "pay revision politics".

Whatever may be, civil servants will earn more starting this July. So Big Thank you to our Government. Temporary and volatile it may be, it is a cause for celebration. Vehicle quota seems gone, but who cares, there is handy Nu. 160,000 coming. DSA has gone up Nu.1000 per day. Mileage is up too. Nu 6 for low ranks and Nu 16 for high ranks looks ridiculous though. But again, who cares. Let me not go further. But as a Revenue and Customs official I am bit nervous and worried. Because this calls for us to collect more from our tax payers. To make affairs such as these sustainable, it calls for Revenue and Customs people to sweat more, shed more tears, take in more criticisms, and face more allegations.  Interestingly, not many seem to know this.

There are few things that I am not able to understand about the recent pay revision. First. For civil servants, revision percentage is descending as we move up. Second. What  is the rationale behind revision for MPs by more than 50%. I am sorry but this reminds me of a Book called "Animal farm" by George Orwell (where it says only Pigs deserves to drink milk, but I am not saying our MPs are pigs)  Third. Why our PM is begging not to take the proposed hike. Fourth. There is no mention of my department and many other uniformed departments when it comes to uniform allowance. I can go on. But we all know, how pleasing everyone is perpetual impossibility in democratic society.

Now here is the reason why I am saying its a temporary and volatile affair. With pay hike, civil servants will even pay more too. As such house owners have already revised their rental charges. With this revision, it gives them the motivation to do it one more time. Shopkeepers and vegetable vendors are seen celebrating. Prices of meat have gone up and so would the prices of other commodities in coming days.

On many occasions, I bought goods on credit because my bank balance ran low.  I did not respond to those miss calls because my voucher ran low too. Some other time, my family just enough to see the month end and not more. Today am happily managing with just one pair of shoes. And happily I tell people that I am somehow managing to keep my pot boiling. I have sailed across a high and rough inflationary tides and I survived. I don't know whether the proposed hike of 21% would actually cover the inflation. But I have now come to agree that living is no easy business but can be made even without the hike in pay. So I think Pay revision is not the solution at this age but our frugality is. Therefore I am bit indifferent to this revision.
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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Celebrating Modi's Win


Sometime ago in 2012 I met a Modi fanatic in one of my flights to Ahmadabad. I was a student of Gujarat University then. We fell into a conversation. In a while we suddenly landed with a topic "Modi". I don't know what spurred him, but he asked me as to how popular Mr. Modi is in Bhutan. I lied to him. I told him that he is so so popular even in Bhutan. I lied more. I told him than Bhutanese people think that he might become the next PM of India. His eyes brimmed with satisfaction, he started sharing my words with rest of the passenger on board. Prophetically Modi is India's PM now. He is surely going to become famous in Bhutan. I am afraid many people think I am lying. 

Whatever may be, Mr. Modi is the 15th Prime Minister of India. His swearing in ceremony was attended by the leaders of the SAARC countries and  their won politicians who all fought a bitter campaign against each other. All the rivals of BJP, including Sonia Gandhi and Raul Gandhi showed up for the ceremony and I am amazed! This shows the maturity of India's Politics and Politicians. Seeing our very own Prime Minister on silver screen I couldn't hold myself on my seat. With my poor eye sight, I once mistook him for BJP's Uma Bharti in orange saffron.  Forgive me! 

Jokes aside, I hope our Prime Minister had a good time there. In a days time, as expected by the Bhutanese people, our Prime Minister should share his New Delhi experience. Personally, I would love to hear about the political lessons he learnt there.

With BJP's win, I have a great news for my mom too. Her favorite actress, Tulsi has now become Minister in India. Although people in the opposition are questing on her academic affidavit, it won't matter a bit for my mother, who cried  and laughed with Tulsi in "Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi Bahu Thi". Hey, I have another incident to share here. I first saw Mrs Smriti Irani in person in 2012. It was in Gujarat. I thought she is Modi's wife! 

By the way, after having lived among the lovely Gujarati people for 2 years, I have a deep love and reverence for the people there. At times, it makes me feel that I am a Gujarati too. So at the moment, like my Gujarati friends, I am also busy celebrating Modi's win. Join me friends!  

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

My Thoughts on Indian Election and Modi's Leadership

For now with the win for BJP led NDA, the election process in India have come to an end. BJP has won the fight by a landslide margin and it has left the political analysts everywhere stunned. Congress party led UPA has conceded the worst election defeat in the history of Independent India. And this must have equally left people speechless.

Indian elections are always an affair closely watched by the Bhutanese people. This is because the decisive leadership in New Delhi has a far reaching effect on us too. With this, it is time for our political leaders, who are so used to dealing with Congress to devise new ways to deal with new set of people in New Delhi. It’s time for our leaders to further convince the new leadership in India as to why they should give us the fund their previous government have committed and see half built bridges and half paved roads their completion.

With India, our leaders in Thimphu have more home works to do. They should now deal like the leaders of the sovereign independent nation and not like pawns. At the same time, there is a need from us to reaffirm our friendship that transcends mere politics and Economic gains. Although at an infant stage, we are democratic country just like India. Hence, it should be made clear that India as big brother do not influence our internal affairs. 

Elsewhere, lot of things are being said and predicted about the future of the Indian subcontinent. With Narendra Modi at the helm of power, many people in India believe that they will be able to come out of the economic doldrums they are presently in. In a very strange circumstance, USA said Modi will be accorded a Visa as an Indian Prime Minister! 

India voted for a change. With time Indians will come to know whether Modi and his associates had a real substance to transform snake charmers into an IT freaks. It is for Modi to prove that Muslims or Hindu; they are one and the same Indian citizen. In time he will also come to know that there are more than 18000 villages in his own state which are lacking basic economic provisions. This is a figure taken from a book titled "Churning the earth" by two Indian authors Aseem and Kothari.  You see, 'Modi'fied cabinets have a long way to go. Only time will tell what future have in store for India.

At the moment, many people in India are running out of word extolling Modi and BJP. Its hard to believe but many say Modi is the cleanest politician ever in India. Another person said Modi is a "one man soldier". and Indians need to be very careful because "one man soldiers" have invariably produced dictators like Mao Tse Tung, Hitler and Stalin and many more. For now Modi and his group have a solid term to prove to the world that they are otherwise. 

I wish all Indian best of everything 
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Saturday, May 10, 2014

Time Builds and Destroys; Nymezampa Chortens

Few days ago, the old picture of Paro Tsongdue Lhakhang stole my heart. Today I found another picture that made me wordless. It is from the book called "Myth & Memory" by Tshering Tashi.  I suppose the picture was taken somewhere in 1900s. 

Nymezampa Chortens Then in 1900s? 
Look at the total serenity and  tranquility around the Chortens of Nymezampa then. Long time ago, when people described Bhutan as the Last Shanrgila, they must have meant a place like the one shown in the picture. Grazing ponies, resting adults and playful children shows the beauty and innocence of Bhutanese. Look how some of them are taking shade below the chorten! Does it not look like a spiritual sanctuaries described in the Buddhist legands? Could we not call it as a heavenly sight?  I am just wondering!

Below is is picture of the same old chortens in 2007. In my nine years (in Paro) I have witnessed how those chortens withstood the forces of change and modernization. Enough willow trees has been planted in the surroundings. Although  their wilted yellow leaves creates a mess in autumn and winter, it gives a lush green look in the spring and summer.
Nymezampa Chortens in 2007
In 2007, I was told that some devoted business family in Paro, voluntarily took the initiative of building two Mani Dungkhor. I personally thought the idea was noble. With two additional giant Mani Dungkhor, the area would truly become like a religious sanctuary. But just before the completion, the work came to a sudden halt. I don't know what went wrong. Few days later I saw new structures being removed piece by piece. Finally two giant Mani Dungkhor disappeared without a trace.  

Now this is what it has become. Otherwise religious sanctuary and a shangrila like place has now become a giant parking area. Some call it development. Few call it as a sign of  progress we humans have made. Many call it a modernization.  But honestly, I don't know what to call it. 
Nymezampa Chortens now, 2014
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Monday, May 5, 2014

Paro Tsongdue Lhakhang Now and Then


Paro Tsongdue Lhakhang Now
(2014)
Paro Tsongdue Lhakhang Then
(Around 1918 ?) 

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