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.  

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. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

My Trip to Katmandu, Nepal

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. 

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. 

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.

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.......................

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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