Happy Nyilo!

Five friends – Tandin Bidha, Kinley Zangmo, Tandi Tshewang, Dawa Choden and Tandin Om – shower us with lolay blessings for peace, prosperity and happiness in the new year.

What’s in a title?

Our last quiz asked a straightforward question: What does HPM stand for?

Regardless of how you answered, it’s obvious that you knew the answer. But “dungsamkota” was the first person to register it. He answered: “HPM = Honorable Prime Minister.” And for good measure he added: “HOL = Honorable Opposition Leader”. Well done!

Your answers were interesting … and thought provoking. Thank you for taking part.

But one of you, “Dodo”, who answered “HPM: Hon’ble Prime Minister. Can this be used formally?” seems to have read my mind! Is HPM a formal title?

In Bhutan, we respect our elders and defer to authority. So it’s quite common to address our leaders with elaborate honorifics to indicate that we have a good understanding of their social and official rank. For instance, we regularly hear our ministers being called: Mijay Lyonpo Rimpoche.

But these respectful salutations are not formal titles. And most newspapers generally don’t use them. To be sure, journalists have sometimes referred to our head of government as the “hon’ble prime minister” but rarely so. And never in its abbreviated from – “HPM” – which would seem to make the title formal.

So I was surprised to see a press release from the cabinet refer to the PM as “Hon’ble Prime Minister” and “HPM”. If the cabinet uses these titles, they must be official, no? No!

Incidentally, that same press release also tells us who Bhutan’s first lady is.

Answering Sonam

Equity

Sonam’s question generated a good deal of discussions. And, most of you argued that we, elected officials – ministers and MPs alike – should not wear our kabneys and patangs after completing our terms in office.

Similarly, almost all of you who took the poll that asked, “Should elected MPs and ministers continue to wear their “kabneys” after their terms in office?” voted against the idea. A resounding 220 of you said “NO”; only 18 said “YES”.

I agree with the majority. But should we, in fact, take it still further? Should we do away with colour-coded kabneys and patangs completely for our elected officials, even while they are serving their terms in office?

I think so.

The kabney and patang denote rank – they represent power and authority. And they are incongruous in a democracy, a system of government that is based on the important idea that all people are equal. We cannot be true to the principles of democracy and ideals of our Constitution, if the very people that we elect continue to engage in visual displays of power and privilege.

Some of you will argue that we should continue using the kabney and patang as they are part and parcel of our rich cultural heritage. I agree. And, in keeping with our culture and traditions, only His Majesty the King should award such decorations; they shouldn’t be seen as automatic perks for elected MPs and ministers.

Sonam’s question

Will they run?

Will the colour run?

Last month, Sonam Ongmo, who blogs and tweets from New York, asked her readers:

have a Q 4 Bhutanese. What happens to orange scarf 4 elected ministers after they leave office?

This is a pertinent question. And we should discuss it. So send me your comments. And take the poll.

Druk Star gazing

Bhutanese idol

We are divided on the question of Bhutan’s accession to the WTO. 40% of you answered “No” in the poll that asked “Should Bhutan Join the WTO?”, 37% replied “Yes”, and the rest said, “I’m still unsure”.

I’ll give my views on this important matter soon.

For now, we need to consider another important matter: Druk Star! After four months of music and entertainment, we are down to the final five contestants. One of them will be crowned Druk Star this Sunday.

Our poll asks the burning question: who will be the next Druk Star?

Guru Thongdrel

Look for the Lam

The Paro Tsechu ended yesterday, with the unfurling of the Guru Thongdrel. His Majesty the King graced the final day of the popular festival, as thousands of people braved the cold and rain to receive the sacred thongdrel’s blessings.

Dasho Sangay Dorji, a leading dzongkha language expert, says that the gigantic tapestry was commissioned by the second Paro Penlop, Ngawang Choeda, and constructed by Lam Ngawang Rabgay more than 350 years ago.

Parops love to tell stories about their thongdrel. According to one, Lam Ngawang Rabgay sent a trader to Tibet to barter rice for brocade. But the trader was given strict instructions to deal only with the first businessman he would encounter there. The trader followed his Lama’s instructions faithfully and procured a Chinese merchant’s entire stock of brocade – that person was the first businessman that the trader had met in Lhasa. Back in Paro, the trader was amazed to discover that he had unknowingly purchased the exact types and amounts of brocade that was needed for the thongdrel.

In another story, the Parop Penlop himself traveled incognito to Tibet and gambled with Lhasa’s treasurer. The penlop won, and returned to Bhutan with the treasurer’s entire stock of brocade. That stock was exactly sufficient to construct his thongdrel.

The thongdrel, reputedly Bhutan’s first, features Guru Pema Jungey and his two consorts, surrounded by Guru Rimpoche’s eight manifestations, the Choe-Lung-Truel Sum, and Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. At the bottom of the thongdrel is one more figure: that of Lam Ngawang Rabgay, who made sure that future generations would gaze on him with eternal gratitude.

The banner, of Paro’s famous tsechu grounds, celebrates our rich heritage.

Traditional women

Today, at Jagathang, Paro, a beautiful sight – women playing khuru, complete with dhar.

Where are the cheerleaders?

Spring art exhibition

“Everything in life is watched and seen beyond the strength of the naked eye,” says Passang Tobgay describing his painting “Under the Watchful Eye”.

Passang, who graduated in traditional painting from the Institute for Zorig Chusum, is a member of VAST. He taught traditional painting before exploring modern art to communicate his ideas and emotions.

“Under the Watchful Eye” is currently on display at VAST’s Spring Art Exhibition. The exhibition, which is at the Tarayana Centre, runs through April.

Happy holiday

A welcome sight

A welcome sight

Today, finally, after two years, it snowed in Thimphu. So, we got to enjoy a unique tradition: we did not attend office.

Nobody seems to know when it started or how it started, but tradition dictates that Thimphu residents – especially public servants – avoid going to office on the day the city receives its first snowfall of the season. And like most officer-goers in Thimphu, I take this tradition very seriously.

Nomads

Taken for a ride

Taken for a ride

The Nomad’s festival that was recently organized by the Ministry of Agriculture was a good idea. The event, which was meant to show off our nomadic culture, heritage and traditions, also sought to help our nomads sell their produce while, at the same time, promoting “off season” tourism.

But, the choice of the location is questionable. Transporting 90 nomadic groups from eight dzongkhags to Bumthang was not a good idea. Tourists perceive Bumthang to be too cold at this time of the year. And, Bumthang does not have a large enough local population to interact with the nomads and buy their produce. Hence, the low tourist count, and complaints from the nomads themselves.

If the idea was to spread the benefits of tourism, the festival should have been organized in Trashigang. The winters there are milder and the entire Brokpa community descends to the valleys naturally at this time of the year. So, the festival would have created a rare tourist attraction in the East. In addition, the local population there is big enough to naturally sustain a market for seasonal nomadic produce.

Otherwise, the festival should have been organized in Punakha, where the entire nomadic community of Gasa spends their winters, and is easily accessible to the nomads of Haa, Paro, Thimphu and Wangduephodrang.

And Bumthang? It already receives a disproportionate share of attention. Five of the 15 festivals advertised in the TCB website take place in Bumthang, and the valley already hosts other government-sponsored tourism events like the Mastutake Festival.

So why Bumthang?

Photo credit: Kuensel