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Back in Bhutan after 22 years

The only idea I had about Bhutan was through my school geography lesson – Neighbours of India. After post-graduation, I had joined as a junior lecturer in a college.

Sometime in May of 1979, there was recruitment going on for teachers in Bhutan in SMV High School Trivandrum, India.  We, my wife and I, attended the interview and were selected. Mr George Ipe, the then Principal of Yangchenphu High School, was in the interview panel and we learned from him the challenges that we might face in Bhutan. But he was very positive. We wanted to give it a try. In June 1979 a letter arrived from Bhutan and I was told to report to the director of Department of Education in Thimphu.

My wife and I started our journey by train on June 24, 1979. The next day, we reached Madras Central. We boarded another train and reached Howrah station. From there we boarded another train and headed to New Jalpaiguri and then to Bhutan bus stand in Siliguri by rickshaw. We reached Phuentsholing on the evening of June 27. My friend was waiting for us. He took us to his house where we stayed for three days.

On July 1 we began our journey to Thimphu. It was a rough ride. We were told Thimphu was 179km from Phuentsholing and that it would be a long journey. When we stopped at Taktikoti D​a​ntak canteen, it was cold and raining. To make the matter worse, there was a roadblock ahead! That was when we decided to head back home. But we met a man from Kerala who had been working in Bhutan. He urged us against the idea. The problem, he told us, was not something that happened all the time.

We reached Thimphu at 9pm. We checked into Norbu Hotel just above the bus stand. Next morning, July 2, we went to the Department of Education and met the director Dasho Nado Rinchen, Joint Director Mr Parasuram Sharma and Controller of Examinations Mr O.P.Arora. We were posted to Jigme Sherubling High School in Khaling. They told us that they were sending us to the best school in the country.

On July 3 we returned to Phuentsholing. This time the journey was good. The next morning, we travelled to Samdrup Jongkhar and stayed in Madras hotel there. On July 5 we started to Khaling. We reached Khaling around 2.30pm. As soon as the bus stopped at Khaling, there were a group of students with Rev. Fr Mackey to receive us. Before we got down from the bus boys climbed on the roof of the bus and unloaded our luggage. The boys carried them to the place where we were supposed to stay. Fr Mackey took us to the GREF canteen and ordered some hot tea and samosa, which was very delicious. We were hungry. Then he took us to the place allotted to us and made sure that we were comfortable. Dinner was brought down from Fr.Mackey’s mess, breakfast from sister’s mess. We were allowed to take food from the school mess until we were ready to start cooking.

The next day, we went to school. Fr Mackey introduced us to the students and teachers in the assembly. The love, concern, affection given to us by the students and teachers made us stay in Khaling.  They were absolutely genuine human beings. It was that genuineness which kept us holding back in Bhutan for almost two decades. We could never think of leaving this real love and affection of the children. Even today they have the same regards for us.

In 1982, we moved to Ghumauney School in Samtse. Ghumauney was a wonderful place bordering the Indian market. The people were friendly and helpful. Students were loving and obedient. In 1983, we were transferred to Sarbhang High School and, in 1984, I was promoted as head master and sent to Tongsa Junior High School. In 1988, the Royal Government adopted national heads policy and I was transferred to Yangchenphu High School as vice principal where I stayed for six years until 1994. In 1989, my daughter was born. Rev. Fr Mackey named her Rinzy. In 1993, we enrolled her to Sunshine School in Thimphu. In 1994, I was transferred to Drukgyel High School.  Two years later, in 1996 we left Bhutan for the education of our daughter. Rinzy has now completed M.Tech and is working as Asst. Prof. in an engineering college in Kerala.

We are very happy and proud to see what have become of my students. Many of them are in top administrative positions in the government. Some have even become ministers. Those were the days when students loved and respected their teachers. This has greatly changed today. And it is sad.

When I returned to Bhutan 22 years later on May 2, 2018, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck walked into the pavilion where many teachers from India who taught in Bhutanese schools were there, and told me: “After you left Yangchenphu High School, I became a little naughty. We remember you with a cane in hand always.”

During this visit, our old students showered us with love, affection and gratitude. For an old teacher, there is no greater reward than this. We consider ourselves lucky to have been able to come to Bhutan and share our lives with thousands of kind Bhutanese students.

Contributed by

George Simon

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