Thursday, April 19, 2018

Coffee and talking heart to heart

We are having coffee in a cozy restaurant. Me and my two friends. On the mountaintops around Thimphu, there’s fresh snow falling gently. The air is prickly itchy cold and it’s quite strange to feel cold at this time of the year. But the hot coffee helps to keep me warm. And I keep sipping it more.

“It’s still cold, isn’t it?” I say, as I sip my coffee.

“It’s because we didn't have snowfall this winter,” Sonam explains.

We have already stepped into the spring season and summer is just about a month away…. yet the cold is never leaving us. Outside, it’s dark and gloomy with stinking clouds enveloping the sky. Yesterday, a kind of bizarre, heavy rain and hailstone showered on us. In fact, the Almighty above unleashed almost everything in its might, disposition – except snow. Sometimes, God is unfair!

“Think about your parents, your children, your relatives…” Sonam consoles, looking at Tashi.

“And friends too,” I chimed in happily.

“I’m glad that I’ve friends like you two,” Tashi talks, finally.

“Yeah, we’re always there for you!” Sonam and I affirm him together and Sonam goes on, “Remember that we’re always concern about you! Remember that we care for you!”

Life is a long journey - the journey that will take us to different uneventful passage - highs and lows, triumphs and troughs, love and hatred, and storms and sunny. More tellingly, the path that we walk is often fragile, tender, and vulnerable.

Sometimes we are hit by the unfortunate storms of life. And we stumble, we fall down, alas, we get bruised and broken. Some can pick themselves up, but not all. Thus, we need friends around you, no matter what.

And even spending quiet time with your friends like this over a cup of coffee and talking it out heart to heart makes you feel a little happier, less hard.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Photographs of Dorokha

Just over a month ago, I visited Dorokha town in Samtse. It’s a very peaceful tiny commercial centre with about 25 shops and bars. As it was winter, the weather was dry and cold. At the moment, the people of Dorokha are the happiest and luckiest, as His Majesty the King visited them twice this winter.  

The most popular spot of the town is Lepcha Restaurant, which sells delicious momo. In the plan, this existing town, which is more than more than six decades, will be replaced with a new town planning. And with construction of Haa-Samtse highway, I hope this place would prosper in the future. Here are some pictures of Dorokha. Have a lovely weekend!
Dorokha Dungkhag Administrative Office

Friday, February 2, 2018

Thank you, Bhutan Telecom Ltd.!

On January 27 this year, I wrote a post on Facebook regarding poor B-Mobile service in my village, Chuzagang, Gelephu. This winter alone, I’ve already visited my village more than three times and during these visits, I discovered that Bhutan Telecom’s (BT) cellular service was bad in the community. 

The connection for phone call was inconsistent, and I couldn't use social media on my phone. And like me, there were many other locals who still want to stick to the B-Mobile and were frustrated with its service.

The number of people owning smart phones in the gewog is increasing and they need good mobile reception for accessing information and news, maintaining social relationships, civic engagement, seeking employment, and doing business. I’m not assuming this. I saw it, my fellow-villagers told me. And I read their posts on social networking sites expressing how difficult it’s to live without proper mobile service in this day and age.
Chuzagang gewog office
Like any parts of the country, the phone and Internet have become an integral part of many Chuzagangpas’ lives and it has become difficult to function without it. Even the Prime Minister Office has initiated G2C, by which they introduced many mobile apps that are extremely useful for the people. All the government and non-government agencies also use social media platform to disseminate their information.

Today Internet has become an important tool in our society not only for enabling good governance and economic functions but also for empowering people, especially those underprivileged ones. In this context, I felt that my village was denied proper access to ICTs and also excluded from the digital facilities, which can be (arguably) demanded as our basic rights from the government in this modern world.

Back to my Facebook’s post, the BT has responded to my post very immediately stating that they “will surely take up and address this issue la. Kindly bear with us.”

I was surprised.

In the morning of January 30, 2018, I received a message from the Marketing Communications Manager of the BT asking for my phone number. She informed me that their technical and marketing officials have already reached Chuzagang for network test.

I was more surprised.

Actually, I didn't expect that the Bhutan Telecom would take my issue very seriously, and moreover, I didn't believe that they would act so fast. Because our system is such that many issues or concerns are just ignored or buried. But the reality of this case is that the BT was in my village and has conducted network test. They informed me that they would update me regarding restoration of the network.

It so happened because of the person like the Marketing Communications Manager of the Bhutan Telecom, I assume, who is extremely efficient at what she does. I informed some of my fellow-villagers and they are very happy about it. The BT Marketing Communications Manager has earned my respect, my villagers’. Thus, the BT has earned too.

I appreciate the efforts from the BT management. Thank you so much la!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A special hotel for Bhutanese in Assam

In September 2008, I asked Mr. C Brahma, the owner of Hotel Himalaya at Chapaiguri in Assam how much his hotel would earn a day from the Bhutanese travellers. Then, I was working as a news reporter with the Bhutan Observer.

Hotel Himalaya in Assam
He responded to me gracefully, “It ranges from season to season. In the peak season - winter and spring - my hotel earns over one lakh rupees and in the off season it’s about seventy thousand rupees.”

For your information, that was the income of his hotel in just one day.

He stated that over 700 to 1,000 Bhutanese travelers stop at his hotel to have food every day. The hotel was then a temporary makeshift house made of bamboo walls, plastic roof, and mud floor with some basic furniture.

A couple of weeks ago, after 10 years, when I was travelling from Samdrupjongkhar to Gelephu, I stopped at the hotel for lunch. Oh goodness, I couldn't believe my eyes! Now, the hotel has been transformed into an eight-storey tall modern building with glassy windows, enormous restaurant with beautiful furniture, and many more staff. I observed that thousands of commuters from Phuentsholing, Gelephu, Panbang, Nanglam, Samdrup jongkhar, and Daipham stop at the hotel, which he has been running for the last 22 years.

This time I didn't ask Mr. C Brahma how much he earns a day or how much he has earned so far. The travellers eating at his place speak. The growth of his hotel speaks. The improvement in his service speaks.  
Hotel packed with Bhutanese travellers
However, the secret to his success that I’ve discovered is not food provided at the hotel but it’s something else. Driving along the National Highway 31C of Assam is always risky, life-threatening. Often the Bhutanese travellers are harassed, cheated, and beaten by the natives on the highway for different reasons. Some had even lost their vehicles and other belongings.

But once the commuters arrive at the hotel, they feel comfortable, protected. Fluent in Dzongkha, Sharchopkha and Lhotsham, I found the hotel staff are hospitable and helpful. When any troubled Bhutanese travellers come to Mr. Brahma for help, he always renders his service to them. He sorts out their problem and also guides them.

In fact, that’s how Mr. Brahma has become so special amongst the Bhutanese commuters. And that’s how he has won the hearts of the Bhutanese travellers. He is the savior, protector!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Except Samtse

You ask a friend of yours. And the question is, “How many dzongkhags have you visited?”

He or she says, “All the dzongkhags, except Lhuentse, Gasa and …”

And Samtse.
Bird's-eye view of Samtse
Not many Bhutanese have travelled to this low-lying land, hot and humid in the summer and pleasant and dry in the winter. It’s because of its geographical location. An area of approximately 1309.1 square kilometers and located at the extreme southwestern foothill of Bhutan, people hardly have to travel to this isolated dzongkhag. Only those who belong to the place or they do for business or official purpose travel here.

In the last two years, I’ve visited Samtse several times. And I must tell you that I’m in love with this humble place. I’ve found this sparsely populated place simply humble, kind, and enchanting. It’s considered as a poor, remote, and backward dzongkhag. Yet, to me, Samtse is absolutely vibrant, rich, and affectionate. It’s the land of different cultures, different ethnic groups such as Lhotshampas, Doyap, Adibashi, and Drukpas, and different languages.
What fascinates me the most is its history of Dewan and Kazi (Landlords) and Mandals, and how they used to rule the place. In actuality, it's the land of diversity.

Now Samtse is growing - bigger, larger, and richer. The Samtse town, otherwise a shanty and deserted throm, is now getting a new facelift. Today many new concrete buildings are being constructed, as more and more businessmen see some possible prospects. There’s already a new shopping complex and some good hotels and restaurants.

The Samtse College of Education and other schools in the dzongkhag have undergone a major uplift in terms of their infrastructure and education development. The dzongkhag has got its own economic real estate at Dam Dum and a hydropower substation. And I’ve seen all this growth within the last two years.

Finally, Samtse could dispel itself from its curse of being “poor, remote, and backward.” Education and income level of its people is improving annually, as mobility of its people is more and the people are working harder and growing cash crops.

I have visited many pockets of this dzongkhag and I am going to show you why I fell in love with it.

Diana Bridge: It is undoubtedly the longest motorable bridge in the country spanning over the Diana River between the Samtse town and Chengmari. Such a pleasant site to visit and interesting thing about this 325m long bridge is that you can also walk across it.
Diana Bridge
Sunsets: Samtse offers you with splendid sunset in the evening. It’s always awe-inspiring to sit and watch the sun turning into a marmalade glow, pink and ember, and then slowing disappearing behind the infinite landscape. In fact, it's my favourite thing to do in Samtse.
Budhuney bridge
Chengmari cakes: Mr. Binod, a young man, runs a good bakery at Chengmari in Samtse. He told me that he got training in baking from Thimphu and after that he opened the shop at his own hometown. I liked his cakes and cookies so much. They are delicious. It’s a must visit place for me when I travel to Samtse.   
Chengmari bakery
Shivalya Mandir: This Mandir was rebuilt upon the command of His Majesty the King as a gift to the people of Samtse to commemorate the Royal Wedding and the 60th Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. It is such a beautiful religious site, as the mandir houses one of the finest and expensive statues of Lord Shiva imported from Rajasthan.
Shivalaya Mandir
Lhop: Samtse is also home to about 2,500 Lhops (Doya). They are a little-studied ethnic group that resides at Lotokochu in Dorokha, about 50 km away from Samtse town. We believe them to be the aboriginals and they are known for their unique culture and tradition practices such as marrying cross cousins, burial customs, and animistic religious rites.
A Doyap with his radio
Volleyball: One sport that the people of Samtse love is volleyball. Whenever I visit the place, I always come across men of all ages playing the game and I noticed they are really good at it. So when I have time I always join them. It’s so much of fun. 

Swimming: There are a couple of rivers - Budhuney and Diana - I’ve discovered that we can go throw ourselves to beat the monsoon heat. With an average temperature of 26.6 °C, the people definitely have to find a place for swimming. 
Swimming place at Budhuney River

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

A paradise: the valley of Punakha

We often called Bhutan a paradise. In fact, the outsiders find it absolutely fascinating, serene, and beautiful. I mustn’t talk much here, as no words can paint its beauty, splendor. So here are some pictures of Punakha valley, which I had taken during my visit to the place a few weeks ago. Have a lovely day, dear reader!

Friday, July 21, 2017

In India, tea making is an art

It was an early May morning. Along with my two colleagues, I was at Bengali Market in New Delhi. There was a rustle on the street, as this small town was just beginning to resume its regular activities. Cleaners were brooming the streets, vendors were packaging goods and loading on their bicycles, and shopkeepers were just pulling up their shutters. 
That fine morning, we were looking for chai wala, tea maker, to have a cup of tea and some good snacks. Being a Bhutanese, quite wondrously, it’s not alcohol but tea that has been very close to my heart since my childhood. Actually I got this habit from my mother. Every day, my day starts with a nice cup of tea, then I probably have a few cups during the daytime, and it ends with a cup of evening tea. And especially when I am in India, I am after chai. Indian tea is very different, special and indeed the best for me.

After making one round of the street, right behind the main lane, we spotted a tea stall. Before us, a few Indian men were sitting around drinking tea with some cookies. The tea maker is a man in his early 30s. He wore a serious expression - maybe it was early morning and he couldn't really shake off his sleep. 
It was a very small stall made of concrete bricks but he had everything required for his business. A gas cylinder and stove, several containers of tea ingredients, pots to keep local raw milk, saucepan and paper cups. He also had some cookies.

We asked for three cups of tea. “Double cup.” It means double the size of the smallest teacup he had. Then he measured water into a saucepan, added one teaspoon of black tea leave into the water, and he waited for the water to a boil. 

This was the time when we could talk to the tea maker. He told us that he was from Kolkata and he had migrated to Delhi for many years and life in the capital city has been better. Then I knew this guy would brew a good tea for us. Kolkata is the undisputed tea capital of India. I had visited it a few times in the past and you get the finest tea there on the streets.

Consignments of Assam and Darjeeling are shipped to the international market from Kolkata. I have found from some of the officials in Delhi that tea has come a long journey in India. Tea plantations started in the country in 1830’s by the British; however, in the beginning tea was used as a medicine. Only in the early 1900’s, tea-drinking culture spread in in India and now it has an integral part of their life. As we see, tea is now grown widely in India and there are over 2000 producers of high quality tea in the country. 
After the Bengali tea maker could bring the water to a boil, he added in a few teaspoons of sugar. He also poured in some milk from ever-greater heights and then he crushed some cinnamon and cardamom and added in the pan. He did with sharp vividness and scale. I observed him very close. He continued it to boil for sometime, stirring so it doesn't boil over. He strained it and served us in paper cups. 

Good heavens, this tea was very special, sweet and milky spiced with cardamom and cinnamon. I had yearned chai for a quite long time then. As I drank it, I savored every sip.

Tea making is definitely a skill; skill one acquires through many years of practice. But observing closely - the entire process of brewing tea - is more than a skill. In fact, it is an art as it entails expression of creative skill and a little bit of magic. That's why chai is absolutely special and delicious. That's why only the Indians can make it.