Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Keep Talking. This is democracy

I happened to be in Delhi through out the Anna Hazare saga. The usual summer heat was not too bad but what was really heating up the city was the protest against graft and corruption led by this unassuming man - Anna Hazare.  Public protest is a part of democracy. It is how eventually a common guy makes himself heard.  What bothered me was the manner in which this particular protest was conducted. Although one must appreciate the fact this was a non-violent movement and remained so throughout and everywhere in India.

Bhutan is an emerging democracy.  Meaning western-styled democracy is just being introduced in full scale from 2008.  And we did that voluntarily with the sole intent that we would be able to benefit from its positive aspects - such as people’s active participation in governance, democratic principles and values. What we hope won’t happen is that someone has to fast to make himself heard. It may be necessary in a country of a billion people.  According to a journalist I know, “It is the beauty of the Indian democracy”. May be but I wouldn’t augur that in Bhutan. And in a country where half of the population is related to you and the other half to your wife, it may not be necessary either.  Which makes me conclude then that the only other way is through serious debates and consultations.

Public discourses, dialogues and even dissents are essential parts of democracy. They enable people to think more, work harder and distill the ideas better before a final decision is taken, or a good opinion formed. However, the sad reality is that the culture of debate and dissents are almost alien to us.  And this is ironic.  Because within the walls of our age-old monasteries debates were conducted and in many cases they constituted the final ticket towards graduation from the seats of higher learning.  Even among the illiterate world of farmers and rural communities, village meetings are common and decisions are taken as a group after thorough discussions.

It is therefore a paradox as to how within the so-called educated elite there is hardly any good debate or discussion on any issue? Save for the media, there is no public space where one can express views or share ideas.  And on the other hand if one does in a public or official setting, people draw simplistic conclusions and make petty minded comments.  People simply cannot differentiate between personality and post of a person.  Out in the cyberspace, the online discussion forums, fueled by the benefits of anonymity, are dumping grounds for triviality and character assassinations. 

People point fingers at the system for not encouraging the culture of debate. And yet even in the pre-2008 era the highest authority initiated, introduced and institutionalized consultations.  The National Assembly was both the highest legislative and consultative body.  Lower down were the Dzongkhag Yargye Tshogdus and Gewog Yargye Tshogchungs that were initiated by Fourth Druk Gyalpo.  In recent times, our monarchs have traveled length and breath of the country to discuss five-year plans and the draft Constitution.

As we nurture our nascent democracy into adulthood it is imperative that the culture of debate and dissents are promoted and well imbedded. We need to sit face-to-face and talk. At all levels, on all issues.  We need to listen too and where there is the need to compromise, we should – as long as it is in the broader interest.  As much as the size of our country is to our advantage if we want to make that happen, our small nation will not be able to absorb the Anna Hazare styles of protests or UK types of mass riots.  The challenge for this generation therefore would be to create a democracy without the imprints, or the needs, of such ugly practices.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

His Majesty's Address at the Graduates’ Orientation Program, 23 August, 2011

“This is Jetsun Pema. We will be married soon. When the third King was Paro Penlop, he married in Ugyen Pelri and Paro dzong on the 1st of October. My father married on the 31st of October 1988 in Punakha. So I decided to set my date on the 13th of October. I have known Jetsun for many years. We will, as you all know, serve you and the country throughout our lives. I am happy to introduce you to her today.

Now, as we gather together today, I want to use this opportunity most effectively.   I know you are all aware of most of the things I am going to say. Nonetheless, it is with the hope that it might be of benefit to you that I will state these things again. If you have questions, feel free to ask.

At this profound moment in your lives, standing poised to begin your careers, you carry the weight of your parents and your families’ pride and hopes in you. From me, you have my good wishes, my faith and trust and above all, my happiness in your success until today.

Today, I want you to reflect on the blessing of being born in Bhutan. I have travelled across the country and am truly amazed at the beauty and spirituality of our nation. It is a jewel born from Guru Rimpoche’s blessings.

Fundamental to the strength and beauty of our nation is our cultural heritage – our traditions and customs - the bond between children and their parents, teachers and elders. The trust and faith among friends, neighbours and the community. These are unwritten and unspoken values passed from generation to generation for centuries. These values are inherent in all of us. Yet, it takes proper reflection to truly understand and nurture them in this modern world.

With the coming of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, each era has brought a leader of destiny to safeguard our nation and our heritage. Some nations around the world have lost not only their independence but their cultures and traditions and way of life. In our hour of great uncertainties and challenges, came our third and fourth Druk Gyalpos. With their far-sighted leadership, the steadfast friendship of India and the hard work and dedication of our people, this modern nation has been born. And the greatest fruit of all these labours has been the birth of democracy. Now, the duty of carrying this special nation to a brighter future falls on us.

Do not be complacent. In this day there are so many graduates. I know that most of you will know the importance of working hard. So to the few of you, who might feel that being graduates, everything will happen for you, I must warn you. You will be left behind. If you do not have the desire to learn, to work hard and to show determination, I am afraid you will be left behind or at best outdated. One day you will suffer for this complacency. If there is anything your heart desires, anything you want to achieve, the time to start is now. Don’t be afraid of challenges and obstacles. There is no merit, for an individual or a nation, to avoid or hide from challenges. As we move forward into uncharted waters, we must find solutions to challenges with foresight, wisdom and tact. Therefore, these age-old values that we inherit from one generation and pass on to the next will be fundamental to our success.

In talking of our age-old values let me say a few words on one aspect of it - our Drilam chhoesum – our cultural traditions of etiquette. Many educated Bhutanese today might say that these are the little things we do such as lowering our heads, or our kabneys and standing in the presence of higher authorities. That is not true. It is neither subservience nor the currying of favour that some people have reduced it to be. As you go forward in life, you will, as individuals, need two things more than anything else – education and character. There is a Bhutanese saying that one can make a living from having good character.  How do you speak to and treat others? Are you easy for your colleagues to work with? Do your supervisors find it convenient to place responsibilities on you? Do your friends and family place their faith and trust in you? These are very important things to consider. If you place all your hopes for your future in the education you have, it is not enough. You must also know the difference between good and evil, between right and wrong, between compassion and self-interest. You must know how to live a live of moderation and balance. No matter how well educated or capable you think you are, you must also make it easy for others to appreciate you, to offer you work, or to place important responsibilities on your shoulders. In the west, they sometimes refer to it as emotional intelligence. Our drilam chhoesum simply applies our age-old values to our daily lives and ensures that as we pursue individual goals and ambitions, we do so in harmony with others - that our individual successes will build a strong, united and harmonious nation.

Lastly, because I am King and I take my duty seriously, I have no aspirations or ambitions for myself. It is your aspirations and your hopes that I adopt as my own and I will spend my life trying to achieve them. So you must have great ambitions and hopes for yourself and for our country.”

Monday, August 8, 2011

Off the tourist trail

This time I let my pictures tell much of the story.

Clouds envelope mountains over Dawakha (Paro) 

Magnolia blooms in Athang Rukha.

The dreadful Thrumshingla (actually Phrumshingla) divides the Eastern Bhutan
with Central Bhutan.

The much feared stretch of Namling (Bumthang-Monggar road) actually hosts a
beautiful waterfall

Trekking to Kengkhar (lower Monggar).  Even the locals fear doing that 
trek because there are no streams or springs for days.
Minjey (Lhuentse). People wait along the road to see the King.  Some are there
to get a glimpse.  Others to appeal for some help or to seek justice they feel they 
are denied.  

Olep woman, Lower Wangdue.  Oleps, together with their cousins,
the Mongpa are believed to be the original inhabitants of Bhutan. 

A simple and heart-felt offering to the People's King.  These traditional offerings 
are usually made to VVIPs when they visit rural areas of Bhutan.
Chorten Kora (Tashi Yangtsi) - a place where a demon was subdued

Gomdar (Samdrup Jongkhar)  where Nyera Ama river runs through

Gomokora (Tashi Yangtse), one of the holiest places in Bhutan

Tashigang Dzong
Kheng Gongdue (Monggar)

Head of Buddha

Monday, August 1, 2011

The floating statue of Chumphu nye

I had long heard of Chumphu Nye in Paro - about a magical statue floating in the air. And like a typical Bhutanese I waited for the perfect moment to make a pilgrimage there.  That moment never came.  And so last Sunday I decided I was going there and off I went – joined by three of my friends.

Way to Chumphu
At Dop Shari, we ask for direction with a local woman.  "Drive till the end of the road, there is a temple there.  Then leave your car and walk along the river till you come across two rivers.  Choose the smaller one and you see Chumphu Nye above you atop a hill on your left”.  She was an illiterate farmer but could have been a perfect guide to make people find their way in Thimphu where streets still don’t have names. 

The walk is gentle and except for muddy trail that makes the walk little grueling, the weather, the greenery and the sound of the gushing river are otherwise a nice getaway from my everyday life of phone calls, emails and facebook.  And of course there are nyedo all along the way giving us the excuse to stop and read the description. We also find the key and the gates to the Ter (hidden treasure) and so we are also on the right path to temporary enlightenment - giving us extra energy. After three hours we finally reach the confluence of the two rivers.  We chose the smaller one and after walking for few meters, Chumphu Nye suddenly appears behind a mountain on our left – some 3000 feet from where we stand.  An uphill trail welcomes us and we are almost with our last energy reserve.  We push ourselves up till we are at the doorstep of the temple gasping for breath.

Dorji Phamo (Vajararahi)
The resident lama, Namgay Rinchen was giving tea to some twenty-thirty school students who were there before us.  “Tea, tea!  You must be tired.  Have some tea and then I will lead you inside.”  Namgay’s eyes target me and my friends.  After two rounds of tea and some zaw, lama Namgay shepherds us in and starts with a detailed background of the place from the time when Guru Rimpoche first set his foot after Taktsang and meditated here for two months to Gyalwa Sacha Rinchen who built the first temple here.  He continues, “Chumphu Nye is the second tsari[1] – the first one was in Tibet, the famed Tsari Rongkor.  But the one there was prophesied long time back to see a steady decline. Chumphu Nye would then become the main tsari”  Lama Namgay pauses to move his face away towards the main altar. “And the main statue in the centre is Dorji Phamo”.  

We all turn towards a beautiful life-size statue.  “There are two things you need to know about this statue.”  Lama Namgay continues, “First, it is not resting on anything.  It is floating in the air.  That is because the statue is not man-made.  It is Dorji Phamo who appeared in person and turned herself to a statue.  Second, anything you wish for, here, will come true.”  As Lam Namgay continues talking to my friends I am drawn away from the group towards the statue. “Not man-made? Floating? Defying the gravity?” I repeat to myself staring at her face. Suddenly I feel something strange inside me – an unexplainable feeling of deep sadness, penitence and eternal bliss.  At that moment, Lam Namgay finishes talking. “Come!” He ushers the group towards me and the altar.  He opens the lower shutter enclosing the statue.  “Look here! Her foot is not touching the base.”  He slides a Nu. 10 note below the foot to show us that there was a small gap.”  Everyone is dumbfounded, including me.  "Now you can pray and make a wish," Lama Namgay smiles proudly and steps aside.

We prostrate three times to the seat of the Lama and three times towards the altar.  I say a few lines of prayers I know.  When we are done, Lam Namgay suggests us to visit the small lake (actually a pool carved into the rocks by a beautiful waterfall), which we do.  It is just ten-minute walk above the temple.  Another mind-blowing place!
The key to the sacred place

When we return to the temple, Lama Namgay offers us more tea and suggests we stay for the night.  I really wish I could.  But I have to get back to my work and to my life of phone calls, emails and facebook.  But as we were leaving I suddenly turn back to have a word with him.  “Look Lama Namgay!  I had a strange feeling when I was inside there - in front of Dorji Phamo.  She nearly made me break down and cry,” I ask him.  “It happens,” he replies solemnly.  “But only to few people.  You must be a special person,” Lama Namgay looks to me admiringly.  “Noooooooo!” I deny his offer. “I think somewhere deep inside me I was repentant of all my sins.  I think my subconscious was asking for forgiveness from Dorji Phamo”.  I joke. “May be!” Lama Namgay replies.  We both laugh.  “You must come again.  And next time you must spend more time here.  And if there is any prayer ceremony I could do here, just let me know.”  Lama Namgay makes me promise I would return.  We have instantly become friends.  This is Bhutan.

Chumphu Nye from the lake

It starts drizzling when we make our descent from Chumphu Nye.  The path is slippery and so our progress is rather slow. When we reach the confluence I look back at the temple above me and as rain gently waters my face, I fold my hand, close my eyes, imagine the face of Dorji Phamo in front of me and I say my prayers and this time I also express a wish.  I then take leave of Chumphu Nye.

As we hit the trail along the river again I begin to reflect on an amazing day i just lived.  I realize that it was not me who was special.  It is people like Lama Namgay and places like Chumphu nye that are special.  People like Lama Namgay who offers tea to pilgrims irrespective who they were and Chumphu Nye that emits divine power in this day and age.  These are the things that help to keep our country unique and strong.  After all, there are more beautiful rivers, higher mountains and greener forests elsewhere in the world.  Had it not been for the blessings of these places and the dedication of people who maintain them, this country would have been just another place on Earth.

The lake above the nye
NB - 
1.  Photography inside the temple is not allowed.  Hence the above is just a painting of Dorji Phamo - not the actual statue in Chumphu Nye.

2.  Chumphu nye can be a day-trip from Thimphu.  Wake up early, leave around 7am, get at the road head at 9am, keep four hours to hike there and two hours to hike back. Leave at least two hours to visit the area.    

[1] Tsari – means pure crystal mountain – abode of Dorji Phagmo (vajrarahi in sanskrit).