Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Sleeping past the New Year Eve

I slept on the New Year eve. For two reasons:

First, I felt sleepy and regretted a bar-hopping invitation from a friend (it’s more than a year since I totally quit drinking anyway).
Dremetse, October 2009 - Sleeping in a earthquake-damaged
 classroom during the Royal Tour

Second, and more important, for me no day is more important than another day. Any new day that I am alive and kicking is a new day and a new year for me. I welcome each day with a smile and a little prayer. I go to bed every night with the same little prayer and a wish – to see another day. Last semester on my return to Sherubtse from a foreign trip I resumed my lecture with, "Nice to be back with you. I had a helluva great time in Vietnam." I paused and change my tone. "Actually, I have a great time wherever I am." The class laughed. But I really meant what I was saying.

Still, every New Year is a time to reflect on the year that went by and a time to look forward to what life has in store for us - and for those for whom we matter.

But whatever has happened and whatever will happen, one thing is for sure – life will go on.

So I have one wish for myself (you may wish the same if you want) – and that I would be able to go to bed every night, say my little prayer and sleep well – without any worry, without any remorse and with a smile on the face looking forward to another great day.

Welcome to 2014, on that note.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Story of a community and a temple

There is a village lost in the wilderness of the Black Mountains under Wangdue. It is called Athang Rukha. It had only 118 people then, called the Oleps, with a distinct culture, language and way of life. I came across this village in 2007 when I was a freelance journalist and a filmmaker. An NGO (Tarayana) sent me there to document this people before changes ultimately swept this group. However, my visit there was life-changing for me. The poverty, misery and hunger was shocking. The community was divided. Each family I guess was struggling. I even wrote one of the most powerful articles for a newspaper titled, What does GNH mean to her? 
UNDP's Toshi Tanaka helped secure the SGP funds for me.

But I not only complained. I also worked for them. I went back to the village carrying food, cloths, medicines and above all, myself. I then volunteered for Tarayana Foundation that had started to build permanent houses. Until then they were in temporary make-shift bamboo shacks. Tarayana had secured a UNDP project of USD 49,000 to pay timber royalties, carpenter hire charges and roofing materials. The project entailed the entire village to come together and build one house at a time. Passang Tobgye, Tarayana's field officer was stationed there while Sonam Pem, the project officer, and I would visit the place almost every month. I sourced another small amount from the SGP funding to irrigate the land, introduce fishery and light up their homes with solar lamps. I also filled the gap between Tarayana and the people there. For example, while the men were at the construction site, they were missing out on feeding their families. They worked as day labourers in neighbouring villages and got paid in food grains with which they fed their families. So I took the responsibility for the food supplies for over a year. Gradually, within two years we made a turn around. The village began to prosper. They grew their own food, sent their children to school and began to imagine a better life. Over the same period I became very close to them. In fact I know each and every family in Rukha by their names. My acquaintance also extended to half of Athang gewog as Tarayana extended the project areas to Lawa, Lamga, Mitana, Samthang, Harachu and Kashajeko. 

Now I am them.

Towards the end of 2008, when they were almost on their feet, they asked me if I could rebuild a temple on the same site where there used to be one. I refused it flatly telling them that I was there to help them and not to help the Almighty because He was capable of taking care of Himself. He didn’t need my help. Instead, we needed His – wherever He was.

But the community insisted and came back to me again and again. One thing that I noticed was that people who were earlier not talking to each other or getting along, for whatever reason, had also joined the campaign to convince me. I agreed. At that time I was actually not only bankrupt but also deeply on overdrafts with the bank. But I realized that a temple goes way beyond the spiritual needs.

Fast forward to five years, we have a community temple. As I expected the temple is a place that binds the community. It is a place where people meet informally and also where community meetings are held. And when people meet they talk, which is the first step towards peaceful coexistence. Because it is a sacred place, people respect each other and do not indulge in social vices. In fact people with problems come and seek divine interventions. I am not sure if they are heard, but they sure go away feeling that they have been. And more often than not, with the confidence they got from the temple, they overcome their difficulties. It is a place where children play and old people pray. When I go there, I normally sit and read a book or pull out my laptop. It is a beautiful place to work too.

On 25th December 2013 I could finally organise the long-awaited consecration of the temple after several delays caused mainly by lack of funds. Except for the valuable seed grant from Tarayana Foundation, we (the community and I) were left very much on our own. But we pulled on. May be it was the blessings of the guardian deity Pelden Lhamo who is believed to be residing there. May be I managed to make the people believe in themselves and in a better future for their children. Whatever be the reason, a community that was close to extinction just few years back went on to build their own houses, be self-sufficient in food, send their children to school and build a temple to look beyond this mortal existence.

I am happy to have been part of their transformation.

Monday, November 25, 2013

One year later, movin' on

One year has passed since the terrible incident that nearly killed my wife.  One year since I had to drive back from Kalikhola in the middle of the night towards Thimphu - not knowing if my wife was still alive or how my two little daughters were coping up with the shocking incident. We don’t have maids or anyone besides us at home.

As the vehicle negotiated the endless curves up the foothills of Southern Bhutan passing by the Kharbandi Gompa I made a deal with the Almighty – and with myself. If my wife comes out of this alive, I would dedicate myself to work towards mitigating the menace from this emerging youth issues so that no one goes through what I was going through.

My wife survived albeit with a permanent damage to her inner ears that still bothers her. Nevertheless, considering what could have happened, and also after learning of some people I knew who had been through similar cases, my wife and I are more than happy to be given back our normal lives. We have no grudges against the assailants. We claimed no damages. We would like to believe it was an accident. They were drunk after all.

On the rescueChithuen Phenday volunteers
carry out 2-3 such rescues every night. Some
follow a 6-month rehabilitation period.
As for my deal with the Almighty and above all, with myself, I started working for the troubled youth through Chithuen Phenday Association (CPA) – an NGO involved with recovering addicts and alcoholics. The group is self-contained in terms of expertise, commitment and in getting things done and runs a rehab centre in Paro and a drop-in centre in Thimphu. Their only shortcoming is, very often, not being able to penetrate the bureaucratic wall and an increasingly indifferent society. While we boast of ourselves as a compassionate nation, there seems to be a deep and life-long stereotyping of people who have erred in life. It is unfortunate and ironic that it should take someone with a “status” to back them up and stand for them every now and then. I am happy to do that but I wish people just opened their hearts and doors to them.

My Teacher: My World? - Teaching isn't 
easy and yet the profession is so neglected. 
No Bhutanese has stayed long enough to 
become a professor nor has anyone moved
from other professions to become one. 
My association with CPA has made me realise that the problem of youth is not so much with the youth themselves. We have families who don’t take back their kids even after they are clean. Some treat the alcoholics and drug addicts like pests. So the problem is actually with the "normal" adults and with the rest of the educated urban elite that is becoming selfish, apathetic and complacent and even hostile to the less fortunate. Such a trend could kill the very essence of our nation – our Bhutanese-ness. That would in turn put our country into a very uncertain future. We have lost some of ancient neighbours to greed and disharmony that resulted in treachery. If we want to avoid their fate, we need to maintain our values of harmony, compassion and patriotism and pass those qualities to our next generation.

However, while with the CPA we were doing the cure - and thus short-term, I needed to get to the preventive aspects of the problem - the long-term solution. In other words, work with our normal kids so that they grow up as responsible and responsive citizens. And that’s one of the reasons that brought me to Kanglung. Figures show that this college produces half of the country’s university graduates plus many leaders.

A Place in the Sun - With my first semester 
students out in the Sun. Classrooms are 
cold besides being worn-out.
My choice of the college and my decision were not bad. I have come across two classes of 77 students on whom I pour my words of “wisdom” to shape them, first and foremost, into good human beings. Then as required by the university, I deliver the curriculum that would make them media persons. I also don’t waste any opportunity to deliver guest lectures to other faculties and clubs. I speak, sometimes ad nauseum, on age-old values, respect for elders, reverence for the King and love and compassion for fellow-countrymen. I am sure if they have these qualities, skills and knowledge and success would just follow and our country’s future would be bright. They will be leaders and not losers. They will be more empathetic to their fellow citizens.

I have often said that not much is actually wrong with our education system but everything isn't right with the way we are nurturing our next generation. As a matter of fact, we are not even nurturing them. Most of us are busy pursuing our own dreams, desires and drayangsMany are just struggling to keep up with the growing demands of the society be it in economic terms or with social obligations. The net result is that we are leaving the next generation to Korean movies, ketamine tablets and cough syrups.  This is what we really need to understand.

Life's looking up - The third semester group is quite lively 
and some are turning out to be good photojournalists.
By the grace of the kencho-sum and thanks to our beloved monarchs who have tirelessly worked for us, I am, like many of my generation, doing fine. But the unprovoked assault on my wife made me realise that it is not enough to raise your family in an exemplary manner. Someone somewhere is not fortunate or wise enough to do the same. We then end up with unsafe streets in our own Capital city where actually everyone is supposed to know everybody. Those of us, who can, therefore, need to work extra hard towards fostering the children of our own fellow citizens. In other words, our future generation.

How long will I do this and where would I get? Honestly, I don’t know. I know I am just giving a far shot and I may even be wrong in the analysis of the whole issue. But then it is deal I made with myself and opportunities also came along. And for now, I am having a fulfilling time with energetic and motivated students in Sherubtse who are happy to have me and who are very optimistic about their future. And a group of helpless, directionless and broken kids in Thimphu and Paro who have lost everything life has to offer – including hope.

And as Stevie Wonder sings in A place in the Sun, I will keep movin' on.

  Like an old dusty road,
  I am weary from the load,
  Movin’ on, movin’ on.

  There's place in the Sun,

  Where there's hope for everyone. 

On the first anniversary of that life-changing incident I  offered 108 
butter lamps at Kanglung Zangthogpelri. I have prayed that everyone 
finds the light out of any darkness - just as I have done.
I am currently an adjunct professor for media studies in Sherubtse College (Kanglung in Eastern Bhutan) and a member of the Board of Chithuen Phenday Association.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Sherubtse Gamiga

Two weeks have passed since I landed on the Peak of Learning (Sherubtse College). Yes. Literally, Kanglung, the town where Sherubtse College is located, is on a peak overlooking much of the Tashigang district. The panorama extends for hundreds of kilometers - from Arunachal Pradesh to the North to Monggar district in the South.

I am here on a two-month assignment as an adjunct professor for media studies. And I will stay on if things go well. I am glad to be here - for several reasons.  First, to be a teacher was always in my bucket list. The other things were flying a plane, being a monk and to meet Nelson Mandela. Second, I had a fulfilling career spanning over 20 years. It would be selfish of me not to share the experiences from the field and all the stories I have gathered along the way. And where else but at the place that churns out the maximum number of future leaders - Sherubtse. And lastly, to take a break from my career that has been moving at break-neck speed. I just need to slow down for a while.

The first day in front of the class was memorable. Sanggay Tshechu, head of the media department, to whom I have to report, accompanied me and introduced me to the first year students with what was perhaps the shortest introduction I have ever had in my life. “This is Dorji Wangchuk. And you all know who he is.” And she left with a smile turning over the class to me.

I thanked her, scanned the class, took a deep breath and I began, “Since you all know me, I am not sure if you know each other. So when I count three, you will have to introduce yourself to the person next to you. You will shake hand and say who you are and where you come from. Okay? One, two, three, go!”

There were lots of handshaking and giggling and, of course, smiles and laughter. When they were done, I resumed my lecture. “It is quite possible that although you guys have been together for a month now, you didn't formally introduce to each other. It happens. We always forget the basics in life.” There was some nodding in affirmation. I continued. “And since we are entering the world of mass communication, perfecting the art of communicating is what you will be doing from here on. So let’s get some fundamentals straight. What you have just done is the first thing you should as a journalist.”

The students seem to have got the message. They all stared at me as if waiting for the prophet to speak. I went on to define what journalism was all about, the types of journalism and the prospects after they leave the university. No sooner that I had started to talk the lesson time was over. Lecture periods last just 45 minutes in Sherubtse.

Since that day besides teaching two classes, I have spent much of my time planning the lessons, preparing the slides, rearranging the curriculum (media program is new here), putting together Bhutanese content and case studies and making reference notes for future lecturers who may like to take a look if they wish. I also spent time discussing about strengthening the media program with my colleagues and calling up my friends and networks in the industry in Thimphu for support and guest lectures. Many have responded. I am glad I will be setting a trend.

I did, of course, over the weekend visit my relatives in Pam - driving down the winding roads of Rongthong where I was even encouraged by a DANTAK road sign, Go man go. But go slow. I do drive fast. I also spent the first Thrue (Blessed Rainy Day) in my native Tongling after, ahem, 40 years! So it was rather an emotional home coming. Words spread in the village that I had finally come. So they all poured in from all directions with simple gifts comprising of eggs, rice, cucumber, zaw, etc. It was a moving experience. Obviously while I maintained contacts with my cousins, I was seeing the others for the first time. They told me that they have always been proud of me and had high regards. They kept track of my career and saw me often on TV and sometimes with the Royal Entourage.  I felt guilty of not having visited them earlier. Still, it was better late than never. We decided that I would fund and raise funds for something they always wanted - a good festival ground with a pavilion for guests in front of the community temple.                 

Back to Sherubtse, while many students complain about how dead Kanglung is, I actually quite like this place. May be it has got to do with the quieter atmosphere I have been yearning for. Maybe it has got to be my age. I feel the urge to give something back to the society. Or maybe it is simply the inexhaustible energy of these young souls that drives this place.

Yes, the students here besides studying also produce more decibels than perhaps the whole of Tashigang put together. There is noise coming out from every part of the campus as soon as the day breaks.  And if it were not for the rule that dictates them to maintain the silence after certain hours in the night, they would happily shout - day in and day out. Even a regular soccer match between two hostels begins with a procession of players with fans (read as hostel mates) beating drums and cymbals. They appoint chief guests and match commissioners among themselves. Maybe it is this joie de vivre that keeps Sherubtse alive.

I had heard many stories of how difficult students were. I was mentally prepared for that. However, until now, few have missed my lessons and when they did, they called. The students here like diversity. So they take field trips, research, assignments and practical very seriously. They also attend extra classes I organise to fill in some gaps in their learning.

Perhaps it is because I bring personal stories and practical experiences to the class or maybe it is because of who I am - both as a person and the positions I have held thus far. Whatever the reason I am treated well - both by the students and the people working here in Sherubtse.

Life is where the heart is. For now, I have found a new life, new friends, young and dynamic colleagues and, of course, two groups of youth who have dreams, optimism and aspirations to make our country a better place. My hope, duty and responsibility will be to guide them towards their goals, ambitions and successes.

[1] Also a title of film by my friend and former BBS colleague Tshering Wangyel, “Sherubtse Gamiga” roughly translates as “As happy as I can get in Sherubtse”

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Don’t cry for me, my beloved country

The nurse has just left the cabin after dropping some tablets. My wife is complaining of a severe headache. It is close to midnight and there is silence at the JDWNR Hospital. She is groaning from the deep pain. My elder daughter is lying on the sofa trying to get some sleep. She is still terrified to stay home alone – even during the day. And she has her board exams going on.

As my wife slowly goes to sleep I walk off from the bed towards the window to get some fresh air. The night is clear and the stars are shining down on my gloomy world. “Why her?” I ask myself with a heavy heart. I must have asked that question a thousand times. “Someone whose life just revolved around the family and the house and my siblings.”  What is happening? Where are we heading as a society?

More than a week has passed since my wife was found lying unconscious in a pool of blood. The CT scan revealed a fractured skull and head injury with internal bleeding. She went into coma regaining consciousness only after a long and agonising night - assisted by a team of dedicated doctors in the intensive care unit (ICU). When the incident happened, I was in Lhamoi Zingkha, in the south. It was night and already dark. But I drove off against the will of just everybody who didn’t know whether to be concerned for my safety or feel sorry for my wife. As far as I was concerned I was suddenly going through hell, and as they say, might as well keep going. It didn’t matter to me that I had to pass through a thick and dangerous jungle of Buxa Duar in India before re-entering Bhutan in Phuntsholing. Save for few hours of stop there, where I let my drivers rest, I drove whole night reaching Thimphu the next morning to be near my wife - and my daughters who were terrorised by the incident.

They say that one often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it. While as a journalist and filmmaker I have highlighted the youth issues before, I have always thought, like any average middle-class Bhutanese, that the problem of youth was a problem that won’t affect me. I thought if I led my life, raised my children well and stayed away from certain places, I would be okay. How awfully I was mistaken. As a man and a father, I am angry and outraged by this incident. As a concerned citizen, I am sad and worried. When I grew up, getting assaulted or robbed was the last of our worries. My wife and I lived in Italy for over 8 years and as students we backpacked in the most 'dangerous' places on Earth and we came out without a scratch. How ironic that we get assaulted here – in my own country and at our age.

Mind you, we have been young too and we have committed our own share of mischievous deeds. But our biggest crime would be to raid some orange trees or slip out from the boarding school to watch some Hindi films. Taking drugs, indulging in gang fights, hurting someone or even smoking was totally unthinkable. Not that they were not possible but we knew what was right and what was wrong. Nowadays for these kids, the definition of crime seems to have changed.

Who is to be blamed? I have always said that the solution to youth issues lie not with the youth but with the adults. For, it may sound a clich̩, our children mirror us Рthe adults. What has happened, and continues to happen, is that in our bid to pursue our (adults') own goals, ambitions, hobbies and vices of life we have neglected our children and our youth. We have neither taught them to dream, aspire and work hard nor have we taught them the values that have defined us as Bhutanese. On their part, they have even failed to get some fundamentals of life straight. They seem to be moving in an ignorant plane of human existence with no memory of the past, no respect for the present and no aspirations for the future.

It is six in the morning. There is a knock on the door. The nurse has come again to check my wife and take her temperature and blood pressure. I let her in. I then unplug my cell phone from the charger and switch it on. Many text messages pour in adding to hundreds I received since the incident happened. Some wishing my wife a speedy recovery, many outraged by the incident and many more simply shocked that such a thing has happened. Many parents visiting me have expressed how they have been living in fear for their children getting attacked or involved in gang fights. Now they say that they have to also worry about themselves. If it can happen to my wife, it could happen to anyone.

After the nurse leaves, I pour some coffee and walk towards the window to watch the sunrise and the ray fall on distant mountain peaks. I go through the text messages again. This single incident, no doubt, has instilled fear among a section of the population that was otherwise cut off from this reality. This is of course sad, unfair and dangerous. But on the “brighter” side I hope that there is a serious reflection and a lasting solution to this growing menace. I hope that the trauma that my family and I are going through will at least bring about something positive in the society at large. My wife and I will be the happiest if that happens. I don’t want any vengeance or hatred or claim damages. 

Whatever happened has happened. Although hell seems to be little behind now, I still have to keep going for a while. But I guess the worst is over. And those were moments when I felt my world falling apart. I felt like I was at the bottom of a well - scared, lonely and confused. From there, every piece of hope that showed that my wife would survive and every word of comfort, concern and support I received, starting from the highest authority, gave me the reason to believe and the strength to move on. I felt that the whole nation had come to my rescue. In these gestures - big and small, I see a glimmer of hope. That one day our sons and daughters will walk the streets of Thimphu, like we did, without fear and without causing endless worries to parents at home; that our youth will discover themselves, find the wisdom and know the difference between right and wrong and strive to be good human beings, and that our children will be able to dream and work for themselves, and for the generation that will come after them, a brighter future.

(Views expressed are personal and does not necessarily reflect that of the institution I work for)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The unsung hero of BBS - a tribute to a colleague

It was in June 1986. Radio NYAB had just become BBS Radio a few days earlier. I was a junior engineer on duty when the announcer for the Sharchop service reported to work in a not-so-perfect condition. “Where is the news file?” he asked around.

I passed him the file. He grabbed it and slowly walked into the Announcers’ Booth where he struggled to find his balance on the wooden stool he sat. “Can he even do it?” I wondered but I didn’t dare ask, as he was a senior broadcaster. When he was more or less settled, he signaled me to run the news sig-tune tape, which I promptly did. As the music faded out, he kicked off brilliantly and got the job done. Dorji Wangdi not only read the news that was written in English, he also did simultaneous translation and gave out the entire bulletin in flawless Sharchopkha. I was totally wowed by his extraordinary ability that for the next twenty years that I was in BBS, he was my walking dictionary – and someone I respected.

A decade later, on one occasion, we made an official tour to the east. By then I had moved up into senior management position while his career had remained stagnant because of his low “qualification”. He had by then also kicked his bad habits. When we reached Mongar we were surprised by a large group of people bearing gifts coming to see us. But they were there only for him. I knew that our RJs and announcers were popular in the rural areas but I never thought they were so popular. He was given a hero welcome wherever we went and I happily played his second fiddle. Being humble he felt little embarrassed and apologised to me for taking away all the attention. “Don’t worry about that. You are their man!” I assured him. In fact he was their superstar – almost a legend. His programmes and shows were instant hits. People loved his voice. His kunza lami zhelung was a classic. He had his weaknesses, no doubt, but he never failed in his tasks – simply because he loved what he did. And never once did he complain about his salary or his position.

So it was with a great shock and disbelief that I learnt of his sudden demise. I am sure his death will also sadden many in the east. For, he was the voice on the radio that gave them company as they toiled their lives in the farms. In a career extending to over 35 years, he brought them news, he gave them music and he raised awareness on everything from farming to public health to democracy. His legend had even extended beyond the frontiers. In fact in 2002 when I was filming in Omba Nye in Tashi Yangtse, I came across a group of people from Arunachal Pradesh (India) that borders with Bhutan to the East. When I told them that I was from BBS, they asked me if I knew Dorji Wangdi. When I said yes, they were so thrilled to even meet someone who knew Dorji Wangdi.

But for all the popularity, Dorji Wangdi died a poor man – with no possessions or properties. In the last few years he was deeply into religion. When we ran into each other lately he often talked to me about his dream to retire to his village with a small community radio station. Just a few days before he passed away he had apparently invited a large group of young colleagues and paid their drinks. To put it in a broadcaster lingo, he signed off in style. But thousands of farmers will miss him dearly. And among his colleagues he will be remembered as one of the best radio producers the country has ever had.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Transcript of the Royal Address of His Majesty the King in Wangdiphodrang

On 26th July 2012, His Majesty the King granted a kasho (royal decree) regularising a long-standing excess land issue in the district. Present at the Audience were 350 persons comprising Dzongkhag officials, Local Government representatives, retired public officials, retired military personnel and village elders. This is the transcript of the royal address.

“As I travelled to Wangdiphodrang today, I felt deeply saddened as I saw the ruins of Wangdi dzong. We lost a great treasure. I have prayed often, since the fire, in the Kundun of the Machhen, that we may be able to restore the dzong to its old glory and build a monument to the achievements of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel and our forefathers, and a shrine for the peace and happiness of all sentient beings.

I want to thank you all for gathering here today. Having received the results of the Cadastral Re-survey for Wangdipdodrang dzongkhag, I wanted to travel to each gewog and village and meet our people. However, I know that at this time, there is much work to be done in the farms and my visit would be very inconvenient to our people. That is why I have asked only for you, the Gups, elders and retired public servants to come here to meet me. I ask you to convey everything I say, clearly and in detail to our people when you return to your villages.

On 9th of December 2006 my father - my King - commanded me to assume the duties of King. As Crown Prince, I had submitted to His Majesty, that there was so much to do for the nation, and that it was my prayer that His Majesty continued to oversee the work of serving the people. However, in the end, I had to obey my King. Shortly after, I attended my first session of parliament. At the time I hesitated to sit on the Throne as I had not received Dhar Nge-Nga from Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, nor had a formal Coronation. In spite of His Majesty, my father’s reassurances, I sought the Blessings and Guidance of the Guardian Deities in assuming my duties as King in the service of our people and country.

Since then, I have travelled the country and met our people. Of all that I saw, the overriding lesson is that land is the most important asset of our people. Yet, as a spiritual nation where environmental conservation is a fundamental part of our philosophy of GNH, we have set aside vast areas for forests (about 81% forest cover), biological corridors and national parks. Of the rest of the land, much is rugged, devoid of water, geologically unstable or inhospitable. Experts say only about 7% of Bhutan is arable. Land is scarce. That is why I have always felt that the most important duty I have is to ensure that all Bhutanese possess adequate land and shelter, under these difficult circumstances.

In order to address the problems of land, we started the cadastral re-survey in 2008 (having made preparations since 2007). We started from Lhuentse, as an auspicious beginning to an historic effort. Lhuentse is after all the home of (desi) Jigme Namgyel. I travelled to each gewog where the survey was conducted and granted land Kidu to the people, in the hope that our people and future generations would benefit. Even today, people come and meet me and speak of how their lives have improved since then. It is matter of immense happiness and satisfaction for me.
During the tour of Lhuentse and Mongar and parts of Trashigang and Trashi Yangtse, in a total of 38 gewogs, there were 29,125 cases of excess land amounting to 40,053 acres. Kidu was granted for all these landowners amounting to about Nu. 659 million.

Here in Wangdiphodrang there are a total of 8,211 cases amounting to about 1,989 acres, of which there are:
·      5,077 cases of individuals with excess land amounting to 782.5 acres
·      905 cases of Khimsa amounting to 166.75 acres
·      1,845 cases of encroachment on State Land and excess land surrendered during new sathram compilation in 2000, amounting to 761.9 acres
·      58 cases of Dratshang land amounting to 75.9 acres
·      194 cases of community and private lhakhangs amounting to 200.7 acres
·      6 cases of community land amounting to about 2 acres

I am pleased to grant all the excess land as Kidu. In addition to granting the land, the excess land cost shall also be waived. Those who have already paid the cost shall be reimbursed. The Kidu in Wangdiphodrang in excess land is 2,752 acres of land and a total cost of Nu. 28.4 million. Including chhuzhing excess of 4,857 acres the total excess land Kidu is 7,610 acres.

In granting this Kidu, I want to remind you all that our country is not rich. Yet, I am also aware of the difficulties of life in rural Bhutan. Homes have to be built, families must be looked after and children must be put to school. The simple task of buying CGI sheets for the roof of a small house is an immense undertaking in remote villages. Farming is not easy in most parts of Bhutan. And while early education is free, the costs are still high for rural Bhutanese and it becomes far more difficult if they do not qualify for government high schools and colleges. I know how difficult your lives are. Therefore, I am providing this land as Kidu so that your lives are made easier and in the hope that you will utilize this land to bring great benefit to the lives of your children and grandchildren.

Recognizing the importance of our people in nation building, the importance of land in building stronger futures for our people especially in rural Bhutan, and the importance of strong citizens with a stake in the nation’s future in nurturing participation and democracy - the King is granting scarce land resources and funds as Kidu. The people must now join hands with the King and uphold their duties in building a stronger nation.

Leaders and elders must advice our people in the villages to invest wisely in the land and remind them that it can be used to build their economic foundations for generations. We must all remember, that the very success of democracy will depend on whether a Bhutanese citizen has a tangible stake in the nation’s future. There is nothing more secure and tangible than land.

To the senior citizens present here today, I want to reiterate the importance of local government, symbolized in the Dhar for Gups being granted from the Throne. Local government is not the smallest or lowest form of government, it is the most intimate and closest form of government for the people. It is very important. You must work to strengthen the office of the Gup and independence of local government. In the few years of democracy, we have seen immense success in the way we have built the framework for democratic governance. All the institutions and pillars of democracy are in place and there is vitality in the way different institutions work with each other. However, we need to give special focus to local government from now on.

Lastly, since 2006 my reign has been defined by the responsibility entrusted in me by my father, in introducing and building a strong foundation for democracy. I have constantly worked to build, nurture and support institutions of democratic governance; to inspire the faith of the people in democracy and their active participation and; the growth of healthy and vibrant debate, consultation and awareness. The early years of democracy have been a success.

A King’s sacred duty is in looking after the wellbeing and Kidu of our people. Thus, I have spent these years meeting my people in their homes and villages as I fulfill this duty. I pray that my people will utilize to the fullest the Kidu I strive to bring to them, and ensure that its benefits accrue, not only to them but to the future generations. I do so wholeheartedly in the knowledge that this land Kidu is going to none other than our humble, hardworking and committed farmers. I am most happy if it is of benefit to them, the back bone of our nation.”

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Royal Decree of His Majesty the King on Wangdue Dzong

On the 24th of June, the historic Wangdue Phodrang Dzong was destroyed by fire. 

However, through the efforts of the armed forces, dzongkhag officials, De-suups and concerned citizens, we were able to retrieve our sacred relics. I am deeply grateful.

It is through the strength and faith of our people and the spirituality of our nation that these sacred ancient treasures remain with us, in spite of the tragic fire.

In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, our people from all walks of life have strived, within each one’s means, to contribute towards fulfilling our fervent hope that the dzong may be urgently restored.

I am deeply touched and inspired by our people’s unity and nobility of purpose.

Therefore, I hereby grant Nu. 100 million from the Armed Forces to the Zhung Dratshang for the Dzong Reconstruction Fund.

In addition, I offer Nu. 100 million from the Kidu Foundation.

These funds I grant on behalf of our People of the 20 dzongkhags and together as one, my People and I, pray for the continued peace, prosperity and happiness of our beloved nation.

Granted on the 13th of July 2012
Punakha Dzong

(His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Wangdue – the day after

A thick smoke was still gushing out incessantly from Wangdue Phodrang dzong. An officer with a megaphone stood atop a fire engine directing his men to point the water jet toward what used to be the stationery store of the dzongkhag (district) administration. “Heaps of paper are still burning,” another officer told me. 
A day after the 17th century historical monument was razed to the ground by a devastating fire, I stood there helplessly and together with my friends - among charred beams, broken pillars and burnt cornices. The dzong was destroyed to the last inflammable item - making it the worst fire disaster in over sixty years. The last incident was the destruction of Drukgyal Dzong in Paro in 1951.

The area was cordoned off and accessible only for investigation and recovery teams. Every now and then, a team of volunteers or soldiers came out carrying half burnt statues, loosely-bound scriptures or anything they could extract from heaps of earth and fallen structures. We silently rejoiced at every item that was salvaged. After all, every object represented a piece of our history.

Shock, sadness and anxiety were visible on every face around us. Army personnel and fire fighters, on the other hand, were simply too tired. They had been working since the fire broke out the earlier afternoon. “We brought the fire under control around 3am in the morning,” one fire officer told me. “It was dangerous but we had to do that at night or else by morning strong winds would blow again and the fire could spread to the rest of the town.” Yes, the wind. Wangdue was known for that. The wind in fact kept slapping ashes and dusts on my face and into my eyes.

Wangdue Dzong was built in 1638 by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. He was a drukpa lama who unified Bhutan under one central administration. The story goes that when the Zhabdrung was looking for a site to build the dzong, he came across a boy named Wangdue playing by the riverside – making a sand fortress. The boy told him that he was building a phodrang (palace – fortress). The Zhabdrung then took that as the good omen to build Wangdue Phodrang dzong on the ridge above the river. And ever since, except for few repairs, the structure had remained intact.

Wangdue Dzong was built to protect the more important and grander Punakha Dzong (that is located just 13 kilometers upstream) from possible incursions from the south and to facilitate the spread of Buddhist dharma in Bhutan. However, thanks to its strategic location (Wangdue falls on the East-West highway), every Bhutanese has fonder memories of Wangdue for it greeted travellers coming from every direction. After a long head spinning drive down from Pelela in the east or snaking upstream from Tsirang in the south or hopping from Thimphu in the west, Wangdue Phodrang was there to greet you - sitting majestically atop a ridge on the confluence of two rivers. It is sad that for a long time to come, these journeys will not be the same again.

On a more personal note, I visited the place several times. The most beautiful memory is, of course, of the dzong playing location to my documentary film “Rocking the Himalayan Kingdom – Blof in Bhutan”. The Dutch rock band, Blof, and local traditional singer-song writer Jigme Drukpa were working on a musical fusion and were recording a song inside the dzong. The documentary did very well in the Netherlands and Belgium in 2006 kicking off my indie career. My Dutch friends were as shocked as I was, when they learnt of this tragedy.

It was close to midnight when I got back to Thimphu. Although dead tired from the long day, I found it difficult to sleep – still disturbed by what I saw. So I lazily switched on the TV, which was just in time to catch some statements by His Holiness the Je Khenpo on BBS TV. “Tragedies happen and that's fate. But we are fortunate that all important nangten (relics) were saved and no human casualties were reported.”

Hearing those words, I felt a lot better.

Maybe this is really fate. Or maybe this is Mother Nature’s or God’s way of bringing our people together, to build something better and ultimately make us come out stronger as individuals and as a nation.

(At the time of writing this article, over 16,000 people had signed up on facebook as a part of Citizens' Initiative to rebuild the dzong.)

Remains of the day - Wangdue Phodrang dzong

His Majesty the King rushed to Wangdue when the news of the fire reached Thimphu. (In the picture - His Majesty the King, His Holiness the Je Khenpo and senior government officials)

Assisted by soldiers and Desuup volunteers, His Majesty the King personally coordinated the rescue operations 

The fire started from the main entrance making it impossible for fire fighters to move into the dzong

Mani (prayer wheels) burnt and then crushed by falling beams and pillars

His Majesty and Her Majesty the Gyaltsuen inspecting the items retrieved from the dzong

What remains of a painting of Thousands Buddha

A computer CPU probably belonging to the district administration.

The first courtyard of the dzong

A collapsed kachen (pillar)

An officer keeps an eye on the statues and scriptures recovered from the dzong

A fireman looks out for more blazes

Fire fighters and volunteers worked through the night to contain the fire