The Autobiography of Terton Pema Lingpa by Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho will be launched at 1.30pm on February 21 at Tarayana Conference Hall in Thimphu
Review: History is a curious thing. What’s more important, however, is the inquisitive nature of the people with whom the stories are indelibly linked. Otherwise, narratives have a wonderful tendency to turn to shapes amorphous and meanings incomprehensible.
Terton (treasure revealer) Pema Lingpa, the greatest of all five terton kings, according to some accounts, is the face of modern Bhutan. Indeed. But what and how much of Pema Lingpa’s life and work do we really know?
Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho’s new book, The Autobiography of Terton Pema Lingpa, is a rare historical gem to come out at a time when technological innovations and rumbling modern-day genius are slaughtering the Bhutanese curiosity to look up for stories of their own past.
What little we have received about the most famous Bhutanese luminary from our elders and available texts are largely based on oral transmission over long decades and centuries. Much has been lost along the way, and much added, for the life of the saint to contain any relevance or speck of probity.
Researchers have had to refer to texts that differ in records and events of Pema Lingpa, to say nothing about widely varying linguistic and documentation methods.
“Even the most isolated and conservative kingdom of Bhutan has sadly succumbed to such linguistic and literary erosion,” says the author, a leading researcher and historian in the country today. “It has become a matter of great urgency to re/produce more works in traditional Himalayan languages to retain what is left of the fast diminishing number of people, who are fluent in reading and writing in local Himalayan languages.”
There are six different versions of Pema Lingpa’s autobiography in the country today – Gangteng, Ogyencholing, Dungkar, Yagang, Dudjom and Kunzangdra. Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho has used the version at Kunzangdra as the main exemplar, and says that to do a full text critical edition with dense footnotes would have made the book very difficult for a traditional reader, who would approach this as a hagiographic source of inspiration. And leaving out all the philological variations would have disappointed a textual scholar.
The Kunzangdra version of Pema Lingpa’s autobiography is also the most popular in the country. The manuscripts in Gangteng, Dungkar and Yagang are in Umed script, and the rest are in Uchen, also known as Tshugyig in Bhutan.
“I’ve tried to tread a middle way between the two and the outcome, I’m afraid, is a book which isn’t strictly a text-critical edition, but one with a heavy touch of textual criticism. I hope general readers would not find the footnote references too cumbersome.”
The old and disintegrating woodblocks from which the autobiography of one of the greatest Bhutanese saints was printed from (the Kunzangdra version), is currently with department of culture’s conservation division and are being treated and repaired.
Says Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho: “One of my aims for the sampling of textual comparison is also to demonstrate the importance of comparative studies and preservation of variant readings to the local Himalayan scholars, who too often fall for a clean revised edition and have the tendency to erase all variations. I hope to instil in them a better appreciation of the value of variant readings and a keener sense of chronology in their historical analysis.”
Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho’s book will be useful for anyone interested in consulting all the six versions of the autobiography. The Shejun Agency that Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho heads has also photographed and made digital copies of all the six texts that are available at the National Library and Archives of Bhutan, the Shejun Agency, the British Library and the monastic archives in the country.
If the main aim of this new edition of Pema Lingpa’s autobiography is to make it accessible and available to as many readers as possible, Lopen (Dr) Karma Phuntsho has done an excellent job.
The Autobiography of Terton Pema Lingpa will be launched at 1.30pm on February 21 at Tarayana Conference Hall in Thimphu, together with Shejun’s two other titles to celebrate the Peling tradition and His Majesty’s 35th birth anniversary.
By Jigme Wangchuk
Prime Minister to personally expedite new town plan
Disaster: In less than an hour, 81 shops in Sarpang town were razed to the ground by a fire on February 15.
The remaining 51 shops escaped the inferno because a parking space separated them from the row of shops that caught fire.
Most of the shopkeepers at Sarpang Taar, located about a five-minute drive away, had closed their shops and left for home when the fire broke out.
Of the 81 shops, 49 belonged to Indian merchants.
One of the shopkeepers, Bishal Gupta, 32, said that the fire started from his shop. Bishal Gupta, who owned a general shop, said that around 8pm he closed his shop to have dinner in a restaurant located adjacent to his shop. A short while later he saw flames over the roof of his shop.
“I have no idea how the fire started, but in a fraction of second the fire became bigger and uncontrollable,” he said. “My shop was recently built, made of planks. It was windy and that made the matter worse.” Within no time the fire spread to adjacent shops.
All the shops were temporary makeshift huts partitioned with plywood and woven bamboo mats.
The fire occurred between 8pm and 9pm.
The cause of the fire is yet to be determined. However, many said that the fire could have been caused by power fluctuations.
A forty-year-old shopkeeper said that there were frequent power fluctuations in Sarpang since the afternoon. “When the fire started, it was quick and made me nervous. I didn’t know what to do,” the shopkeeper said. “Everything is razed, we’re back to zero now.”
Saprang dzongda Dawala said that about twenty shopkeepers took shelter at their relative’s and friend’s places on the night of the incident. The dzongkhag administration arranged temporary shelter at the dzongkhag’s multipurpose hall and provided basic necessities.
“The police are still investigating the cause of fire,” he said.
Bhutan Power Corporation in-charge, Tashi Wangdi, in Sarpang said the power was shut down by 5:20 pm to change to the new commissioned line. Tashi Wangdi explained that BPC upgraded the power capacity in Sarpang from 11Kv to 33kv recently.
On the night of the incident BPC tried to charge the transformer, which converted 33kv power to 11kv for electricity supply to the town.
“We could not charge because the circuit breaker could not be closed,” he said. “When the fire broke out, power was still shut.”
On hearing about the incident, Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay headed to Sarpang the same night. He visited the site in the morning and met with the shopkeepers, the majority of whom lost all belongings in the fire.
Lyonchhoen talked with the victims about how to move forward and on how to prevent such disasters from happening again.
He also visited the new town location at Seychathang. He told officials that he would personally take initiatives to expedite works at the proposed new town site.
“Master plan of the new town is ready, we’re working on water and electricity supply,” dzongda Dawala said.
Meanwhile, Royal Insurance Corporation Limited (RICBL) officials said both RICBL and Bhutan Insurance limited (BIL) had approached the shopkeepers several times, encouraging them to get their shops insured.
“None of them came forward,” a RICB official in Sarpang said.
Army, police, desuups and students were involved in fighting the fire.
By Nirmala Pokhrel
But the writing was on the wall, as the remote institute had barely enough students
Education: Unlike students in other parts of the country, the school going children of Banjar village in Mongar had no school to go to when the academic session began yesterday across the country.
After it was found short of one student to meet the extended classroom criterion of 10 students, Banjar community school in Tsamang gewog had closed since February 12.
Worried about their children’s schooling, a group of 12 villagers travelled to Mongar dzongkhag, about 77km from their village, to appeal to the dzongkhag administration to reopen their community school.
They reached the dzongkhag headquarters late last evening and couldn’t meet the officials. But the parents will have to wait for another day since Mongar gewog where the dzongkhag administration is located, will remain closed today for the gewog’s bye-election.
The gewog will elect its new gup today.
Meanwhile, one of the parents, Sithar Dorji, 50, said they were shocked to find the school closed and handed over to the gewog administration. He said that no parents were consulted or informed about this decision. “We don’t know what to do now,” he said.
Another parent, Deki Phuntsho, 63, said his seven-year old son is studying in class one. “How can I leave behind my son in a boarding school in Tsamang,” he said. “My son needs a lot of care.”
Tsamang primary school is a day’s walk from Banjar village.
Had the school authority informed them earlier, the parents would have discussed the issue with the district education officer (DEO) and the local government, Kezang Choki, 49, said.
Sithar Dorji also said that the village had 10 students, the required number to start the academic session. “But the school principal issued a transfer certificate to a student who completed class II,” he said, adding that his mother might not even be aware of her child’s transfer.
DEO Dorji Passang said the 26th dzongkhag education conference, held at the end of September last year, had resolved that five schools – Resa PS, Broksar PS, Bakla PS, Banjar PS and Takhambi PS – were unsustainable, and that it would be converted to extended classrooms (ECR) from the 2015 academic year.
But, he said, Banjar PS had no new PP enrollment and has only nine students, four in class I and five in class II.
A note sheet the DEO had submitted to the dzongda for approval states that besides the other students, the school had only one student in class III. “It isn’t viable to have just one student in class III and we’re admitting him in Tsamang PS as boarder,” the DEO had written. “With that, the school will have only nine students which does not meet the ministry’s set criteria to remain the status of even an ECR. The existing students of Banjar PS will be admitted as boarders in Tsamang PS as boarder.”
After the school was closed, its principal, also the school’s only teacher, was transferred to Bajeing PS in Dremetse.
Principal Tsheltrim Dorji said he had informed parents, who had come for to school for the results last year that the school was likely to close because of lack of students.
He also said that he didn’t force the parent of the class two student to go on transfer, and that the decision to issue the child with a school leaving certificate was taken after consultation with the DEO and the parents.
However, DEO Dorji Passang said that, even if the lone class III student had remained in the village school, he would need a teacher to teach him mathematics, English, Dzongkha and EVS. “The quality and knowledge he’d receive here wouldn’t be up to the mark,” he said. “He’d get better education if he joins a primary school.”
By Tashi Phuntsho
PHPA I: The two candidates, shortlisted for the post of chief environment officer of Punatsangchhu I hydroelectric power authority (PHPA I) some four months ago, were confused when they saw the post re-advertised once again this month.
The two candidates, both senior forestry officials, were shortlisted by the economic affairs ministry’s human resource division some time in September last year.
Of the four, two were shortlisted and told that they would be contacted soon after. When they called in later, they were told some formalities were not yet complete.
“Now the project has again advertised the post with the same criteria and requirements, which we don’t understand,” one of the candidates said.
Candidates applying for the post required a minimum qualification of a master’s or bachelor’s in forestry environment or management, with at least 15 years of experience at P1 level.
The earlier vacancy announcement came from the economic affairs ministry’s human resource division in September first week.
MoEA’s human resource officer said that their task ended with the shortlisting. “The selection process will be done by the PHPA management as per PHPA requirement and selection criteria,” the official said. “We shortlist civil servants at the chief level for secondment.”
The project authority re-advertised the post earlier this month.
While the economic affairs ministry’s vacancy was for in-service civil servants only, the project authority’s recent posting extended to private employees for contract employment.
This time civil servants were to submit their applications directly to the project’s personnel section and not to the ministry.
Kuensel learnt that the economic affairs minister, Norbu Wangchuk, who is also the project authority’s chairman, instructed the management to seek more applicants to make the post competitive.
“With two short listed candidates, it would be difficult to do the selection, and the minimum requirement is also three candidates, which we’ve been maintaining,” a project official said.
But the candidates disputed the rule, saying that the former chief environment officer in the project was selected from two shortlisted candidates.
“As far as we know, the recruitment rule says that the post would be re-advertised if there’s only one candidate,” one of them said.
However, the applications of the two shortlisted candidates remain valid for selection.
The chief environment officer’s pay scale is Nu 29,840-745-48,465 for three years, with 30 percent housing allowance, if not provided project housing, 25 percent project allowance, 30 percent deputation allowance, and 20 percent Punatsangchhu allowances at basic pay.
By Tshering Palden
Tour operators recommend improving existing trails rather than investing in new ones
Tourism: The Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) is not yet sure where the 11 new trekking routes, announced by the Prime Minister recently, will be located as part of the Visit Bhutan year.
TCB officials said they have not received any instructions from lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay, who is also the chairman of the council’s board and that new trekking routes are not in the plan either. Even the 11th Plan document on tourism only mentions the development of two new routes to the existing 31.
Lyonchhoen at the closing of the Pacific Asia Travel Association (PATA) conference in Thimphu on February 6 announced that the new trekking routes would be opened this year besides hiring of helicopters for tourists and organic farming as part of the Visit Bhutan year.
The government could not be reached for comment.
The announcement comes at a time when the existing popular trekking routes in the country are in dire need of maintenance plagued by a host of issues. Opening of new routes, tour operators said was good news but the existing routes required further improvement with facilities along the trails.
Facilities include toilets, proper campsites, and mapping of the routes that are missing at present.
Development of a new trekking route is estimated to cost about Nu 1M while maintenance costs are estimated to be between Nu 30,000 to Nu 150,000. After TCB receives a proposal for maintenance of a particular route, the cost estimate is done after which budget is sanctioned to the gewog, dzongkhag or park services under which the route falls.
Although known for its pristine nature, Bhutan is rather seen as a cultural destination with comparatively less number of trekking tourists every year. In 2013, records with TCB show that trekking tourists constituted about seven percent of the total international arrivals. About 52,798 international tourists visited Bhutan that year.
Tour operators said most tourists complain that trekking in Bhutan was not worth what they paid owing to the garbage filled trails and lack of infrastructure or development along the trails.
The Bhutan tourism monitor 2013 also cited lack of public toilet facilities and restrooms along highways, trekking trails and campsites as frequent complaints from tourists.
Trekking in Bhutan is a part of nature based tourism activity with treks varying from one to 40 nights. Rather than investing in new trekking routes, tour operators said the existing ones should be improved to attract more trekking tourists.
Despite the same minimum daily tariff of USD 250 and 200 during the peak and lean season for both cultural and trekking tourists, tour operators said it was easier to sell cultural tour packages owing to such issues.
Most tour operators have not been able to tap trekking as a tourism product despite the huge potential. Save for some old travel agencies that are able to provide all trekking facilities, majority are not able to provide the required services for a hassle free trekking experience.
Rather than trekking, tour operators said walking trips or hiking was picking up.
“During the peak season, we’ve to rush to reach a campsite before other trekkers get there as the camp sites are packed owing to limited areas for camping,” a tour operator said.
Despite the annual increase in international visitors, records with TCB show a gradual increase in trekking tourists in 2010 and 2011 after which it started to decline. In 2010, the country recorded 2,753 trekking tourists that increased to 3,402 in 2011. However, it dropped to 3,165 in 2012 while in 2013 about 2,943 of the total international arrivals were for trekking.
By Kinga Dema
Tech: In what should enhance technical and trouble shooting support for technological devices in Bhutan, Hewlett-Packard (HP) has partnered with a local company Yangkhor IT Solutions, to provide after sales services in Thimphu.
As the company is also involved in the education sector, it has also chosen to sponsor the training of 10 IT graduates annually, starting this year.
HP business manager for Bhutan, Kazi Shohidul Islam, said that 10 IT graduates will be trained locally by Yangkhor IT Solutions.
He said that they will be trained in technical IT skills focusing on products and solutions. The training will take between six months to one year.
Upon completion, the partnership company will employ those that meet their criteria. They will serve as HP representatives in Bhutan.
He added that HP will provide its local partner with the required certification and technical knowledge so that it can provide IT support for large organisations in the government and private sector.
He said that the company will provide services and support solutions for services like cloud computing, servers, and security, among others. He added that HP has also asked its local partner to establish a centre in Phuentsholing by this or next year. “HP is very focused for this market,” he said.
Yangkhor IT Solution’s Phub Gyeltshen said that the current trend is for foreign IT companies to come to Bhutan, market their products and supply it. He said that with IT skills lacking in the country, after sales support and a local point of contact is usually a problem.
Phub Gyeltshen said that with HP’s entrance, this problem should be addressed. The partnership is expected to not only benefit users of information communications technology, but to strengthen the IT sector in Bhutan, said Phub Gyeltshen.
By Gyalsten K Dorji
It was windy and the sky was overcast in Sarpang on Sunday. Some were expecting rain as thunder roared in the distance. The rain didn’t come. Nearby Gelephu was welcoming light showers, and the last thing residents expected was news of a major fire accident in their neighbouring town.
But it did happen. Sarpang bazaar was nearly wiped out when a fire broke out at around 8:30pm on Sunday. The fire destroyed 81 shops along with the goods inside. There are 132 such shops, all semi-permanent structures.
It was an unfortunate incident. There is no good timing for a disaster to hit. But we can surmise that, like many of us, the victims would have been planning and preparing for Losar. Fortunately, no injuries were reported, as it was late in the evening and there was reportedly no electricity. Most of them would have called it a day before the accident occurred.
Officials are yet to find out the cause of the fire. Unless arson, which is not even suspected, is established, nothing will change even if they find out the cause. The cause is not in Sarpang; it is in the files and the cabinets of the government and decision makers.
Sarpang bazaar was right there on the busy highway for so long. The only view that one catches on entering Sarpang is the bazaar. It is in fact an eyesore on the highway, a scar left by past tragedies.
Not to act wise after the event, the array of mostly hutments, prone to fire, was a disaster in waiting. Everybody knew it. Apart from a risk from fire, the huts didn’t provide security. The few, who lived in the town, are always on toes when it rains for a day. It had experienced two major floods in the past.
Yet the plan to relocate the town and build a respectable one couldn’t be implemented. There is a plan, but it is moving at snail’s pace. A lot has changed since the last flood. Security is still an issue, but it is an occasional episode. The population has increased and so have the prospects. A decent town was expected to bring back the reputation of being the commercial hub it was once.
Residents are ready to build safer homes and better businesses. It is planners and decision makers who have delayed. Lyonchhoen had rushed to the scene to console the victims and give them support. A visit to the new town site was also made and lyonchhoen tweeted that he would personally initiate and expedite the new town planning.
This will come as good news after the tragedy, even though we had to wait for a disaster to speed up the planning process. Residents are also assured of a town that is “better and built properly”
A lesson has been learnt from the incident. Hopefully we will not have to wait for another fire or a disaster to expedite our development plans.
22 households in Phumzur and Jangbi are beneficiaries of this phase of the foundation’s housing project
Tarayana: The remote Monpa village of Phumzur in Trongsa is seeing a lot of constructions lately.
A father of two, Ngenthi, is digging the foundation to construct a new house for his family. He is planning to add a double storied stonemason house to the existing wooden shingle hut where the family currently resides in.
The nearest road to Phumzur is over four hours walk and the village still relies on erratic solar panels for electricity. For shopping, the villagers walk for a day to Tongtophay across the Mangdechhu.
The construction of stonemason homes for the 14 households is a Tarayana Foundation project, initiated to enable the community to build better and safer homes. The remaining eight households, who migrated to Jangbi, are also building houses under the project’s assistance.
Ngenthi’s family lived in a two-storied traditional house, but its condition dilapidated over the years and the family had to move out to a small temporary hut. “I couldn’t afford to rebuild the house because of lack of money,” Ngenthi said.
He said that, save for a handful, most of the houses in Monpa villages came down after the villagers were unable to repair the wooden shingle roof.
Being the only male member in the family, it was also difficult to construct a house for those like Ngenthi.
“There’ll be no one to work in the farm if I go to work in construction sites to earn and construct a house,” Ngenthi said.
But now the community has help, and those like Ngenthi are digging up the base of the ancestral house from its rubbles to construct new homes.
Langthel gup, Lham Dorji, said the project has benefitted the disadvantaged Monpa community.
Tarayana is paying for a stonemason and a carpenter for every household, besides providing free corrugated galvanised sheets, and fuel for the power chain to saw timber.
Just below Ngenthi’s site, a single storied house has already been completed. Nearby, Narting is busy with woodwork for another house, whose foundation is waiting for walls to take off.
According to Tarayana Foundation’s field officer, Namgay, all 22 households are availing the project’s assistance to build a shelter in Phumzur.
Under the same project, Tarayana also constructed 46 houses for the disadvantaged communities of Wamling and Jangbi. “Almost all these houses in Jangbi and Wamling are completed now,” Namgay said.
The field officer said the project was initiated to improve the livelihood of the indigenous communities of the Black Mountain range.
“Since, safe, clean and strong shelter is required to improve livelihoods, the construction of new houses will also secure hygiene and sanitation for the community,” Namgay said.
About three houses have been completed in Phumzur to date. “Even Kupdra, which is at least further six hours walk from Phumzur, also completed constructing a house,” Chimi Rinzin from Jangbi said.
Staying in huts has its risks. Recently, a hut in Phumzur was razed to the ground. No one got hurt. “Nothing could be salvaged,” Chimi Rinzin said.
Although all 14 households are planning to complete the houses by May, labour shortage is hindering work progress. “Getting labour is difficult, because everyone’s engaged in the construction,” Ngenthi said.
By Tempa Wangdi, Langthel
The ninth career fair saw some 36 Indian universities/colleges offer more than 200 courses
Education: About 1,700 students attended the ninth career fair in the capital over the weekend, where some 36 Indian universities and colleges offered more than 200 courses to those wishing to pursue their studies in India.
The standing of universities, fee structure, number of courses and safety and security were some of the factors that students and parents looked at in choosing a college for their undergrad studies.
A parent said such fairs in the country helped them understand the procedures of admission, fee structure and various courses that colleges offered. “We don’t have to travel all the way to India to get information about universities; the education fair provides a platform to get all the required information for getting my child into college,” the father said.
Most parents, Kuensel spoke to, wanted to send their children to colleges that have good reputations and a safe environment.
Another parent, Tshewang, said he planned to send his son to a reputed college for his bachelor’s. For him, the location and fee structure didn’t matter. “If I have to I’ll get a loan, but I want my son to study in a good college,” Tshewang said.
But for some parents, the fee structure is the first factor they consider, while choosing colleges for their children.
An education consultancy firm owner, Rajib Chowdhury, said many parents send their children to study in colleges in North India because of low fees. Depending on the courses, the fees in Indian colleges range from Nu 30,000 to 250,000 a year.
Lhakpa Dem, 19, said that attending the fair helped her understand more about the course she was interested in. Another student, Sonam Jamtsho, 18, said he planned to continue his studies in India, but since he wasn’t sure about the course, he walked into the fair.
The Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) has approved all colleges that participated in the fair. There are about 31 education consultancies in the country.
DAHE’s director general, Tshewang Tandin, attended the education fair’s opening on February 14. The event was organised by Nukareer Education Consultancy.
Organiser Meena Khatri said, for the last nine years, the fair has presented opportunities for students in the country to directly meet reputed colleges from all over India, and enabled them to make their career decisions.
By Dechen Tshomo
The only one in the village who knows how to ride the machine is willing and able to help
Agriculture: With the maize cultivation season on, villagers of Goenpang Shali in Shumar, Pemagatshel are not looking for workers this time. They wait for their tshogpa Cheki Gyeltshen.
Cheki Gyeltshen is the only one in the village, who knows how to ride the power tiller they received from the government recently. Since then, the tshogpa has been making rounds, using his skills to help farmers till their fields. He has completed tilling for six households and has seven more to go.
Based on the cultivation season in various chiwogs, and following a discussion among five chiwogs, the tshogpas and gewog officials, along with the agriculture extension officer, prepared a work plan to hire out the power tiller.
Goenpang Shali chiwog, with 158 households was the first to use the power tiller. “We’ll use the power tiller only in farms where it can run,” the tshogpa said, adding that they have to complete the work soon, because sowing season has begun in other chiwogs.
As per the guidelines, each household can use the power tiller for eight hours a day, at a hiring charge of Nu 1,400.
“The power tiller has come as a great help, else we’d be looking for labourers to plough our fields,” he said. “But eight hours isn’t enough for some households that have more than an acre.”
The power tiller was handed over to the 11 gewogs in Pemagatshel to help optimise land utilisation. With most of the young men working outside, villagers said it would help the old, who have been left behind to work on the farms
For 46-year old Sangay, this season was the first time he was able to plough his 62 decimals of land in a day. It took him four days in the past.
“If we had to hire a private power tiller, we’d have to pay Nu 2,000 and there is no hour system too,” he said. “It would have been better if a permanent operator was hired, since many of us are inexperienced in using a power tiller.”
However, many said that, although the power tiller would help them cultivate, they continue to worry about losing half of their harvest to the wildlife.
Meanwhile, Shumar gup, Lepo, said they have requested Bhutan Oil distributor to supply diesel for the power tiller on credit since they have no separate budget.
“After collecting the fees, we’ll pay the credit,” he said. “The gewog agriculture extension office will maintain the details.”
Meanwhile, assistant dzongkhag agriculture officer, Tshering Dorji, said of the Nu 1,400, the operator would thatbe paid Nu 500, while Nu 900 would be used to fuel the tiller. He said the power tiller uses about four litres in a day and they charge Nu 200 for every extra hour.
By Yangchen C Rinzin, Pemagatshel