Grinding flour



Most people guessed that the last Big Picture was a water driven prayer wheel. It did sound like it. But, actually it was a traditional water driven flour mill.

Two people answered correctly: Jabab Phub Dorji and Linda Wangmo. Jabab Phub Dorji, who got the answer first, said, “it’s a sound of a water mill”. Later, however, the Jabab wondered if it was the “sound of a bird at the river side”. Still, I’m giving the prize to Jabab Phub Dorji for being the first to answer correctly.

The video was shot in Nagu, near Jabana, Paro. So, perhaps that’s why Jabab Phub Dorji could instinctively recognize the sound.

The flour mill is owned and operated by Ap Tashi. He told me that many consecutive generations of his family have run the water driven flour mill. He also told me that farmers preferred grinding their flour this way to using modern grinding machines. I think he’s correct for two reasons: one, I’ve tasted the difference; and two, you won’t find a grinding machine in Nagu or its neighbouring villages.

Jabab Phub Dorji wins a packet of bjobchi, ground bitter buckwheat. Please email me your address.

Ap Tashi continues to grind wheat, barley and buckwheat on this iconic but fast disappearing contraption of traditional Bhutan.

To lyonpo or not

Almost six months ago, in March, Ngawang left an unrelated comment on “PDP general convention” asking me if the opposition leader should be called a lyonpo. More recently, another reader – I can’t seem to locate the comment – also asked me the same question.

Here’s my answer: it depends.

If the title lyonpo refers to the rank of the orange kabney awarded by His Majesty the King, it’s all right to call the opposition leader lyonpo.

But if the title lyonpo refers to the position of a cabinet minister, the head of a ministry, then it’s not correct to call the opposition leader a lyonpo.

Rank or position. Which is it?

Frankly, I don’t know. We don’t seem to have any official rules defining the many titles of honor we use regularly.

And frankly, to me, it’s not important. I am, after all, just Tshering Tobgay. Plain and simple.

Semtokha Dzong

Semtokha dzong

The last “Big picture” was of the Semtokha Dzong. Yeshey Dorji, who constributed the picture, has asked me to announce that Kintoen was the first to answer correctly. Kintoen: please contact me by email to collect your prize, lunch at the Musk. The photograph and prize are sponsored by Yeshey Dorji.

My favourite feature of the Semtokha Dzong is the roof. The main structure has a gradually sloping roof that is unique in its simplicity. But in 2003, the old roof was replaced in favour of a jamtho and serto, the elaborate golden pinnacle that adorns all the other dzongs and many lhakhangs. Thankfully, the government quickly realized and corrected the mistake. And by 2008, the roof had been reconstructed to its original simplicity.

Kintoen: congratulations! Yeshey: I thank you very much.

Ridiculous fun!

Our Yangphel Archery season came to a sudden end this afternoon. Team ZIMDRA played TANDIN’S POP n ALL and GADEN PHUNSUM in the last of eight quarterfinal matches. All three teams had decided that they must win to proceed to the semifinals – it would be too difficult to outdo NAMSEYCHOILNG R’s 43 kareys for the only wild card spot.

With each of the three teams winning a set each by the 12th round, the three-way contest had become interesting. And, most of the spectators predicted that the winner would be decided by a penalty shootout at the end of the 15 rounds.

Round 13: ZIMDRA have 4 points; GADEN have 1; TANDIN’s have 0

Round 14: ZIMDRA hits the first two kareys (which would give them their second set). But GADEN rises to the occasion – they cut both kareys AND hit three more to unexpectedly secure their second set.

Round 15: TANDIN’s and ZIMDRA try desperately to finish a set in the last round. Both hit kareys and end up cancelling each other.

Karey count: By the end of the game, GADEN PHUNSUM have hit 29 kareys; TANDIN’S POP n All have hit 31; and ZIMDRA have hit 35.

Result: Team GADEN, with the lowest karey count, wins!

Ridiculous? Yes. But I love the Yangphel format. I love the ups and downs, and the highs and lows. Today was a solid low.

Tomorrow is the “seeded shootout”, a contest of accuracy and nerves among Bhutan’s best. I’ll be there. Not to participate. But to join the festivities.

The semifinals begin on Sunday. Expect a lot more excitement before Yangphel hands over the keys of a brand new car to Bhutan’s best archer.

Language, culture and identity

Mind our language

Mind our language

On 24 June 2009, H.E Pavan K. Verma, India’s ambassador to Bhutan, talked about Culture, Identity and Globalization. The talk, which was organized by the Centre for Bhutan Studies, was attended by wide cross section of people, from scholars, teachers and civil servants to consultants, businesswomen and politicians.

Ambassador Verma, an accomplished scholar and writer, warned his audience that, due to the unprecedented reach of globalization, change in Bhutan is inevitable. And that unless we have an intimate knowledge of our own culture – a knowledge that can only come from deep introspection – we will not be able to exercise discriminating choice about change and tradition; we will not be able to stay anchored to our culture, our identity and to GNH.

But he also noted that Bhutan is blessed with vision and resolve. The vision – that of a society that changes, yet is fully conscious of its culture and identity – is a gift from His Majesty the King. And the resolve, to achieve this vision, is articulated in the Constitution.

Ambassador Verma also touched on an issue that I thought was particularly important for us: language. Culture, apparently, is hard-wired to one’s brain before the person turns 18. And, native language – or mother tongue – plays a significant role in that process.

Our country has barely 600,000 people. Dzongkha is our national language. And, we have about 20 other languages and dialects. These range from Tsangla and Khengkha which are widely spoken, to Moenpai-kha, Lhopi-kha, Gongdugpi-kha and Chalipi-kha which are already classified as “endangered dialects”.

The medium of instruction in our schools is English. So every school-going child learns this foreign albeit global language. And English is the preferred language among much of the educated elite. This is inevitable. And may even be good.

But I am concerned. Hence, the last poll on our national language.

60% of you can speak, read and write Dzongkha. 21% can speak and read, but cannot write Dzongkha. 11% can speak, but not read or write Dzongkha. And only 8% cannot even speak the national language. In other words, 81% can speak and read Dzongkha. That’s not bad. And, 92% can speak Dzongkha. Not bad at all.

Our polls are not accurate. But still, the results are reassuring.

Now what about me? My spoken Dzongkha is barely passable (you’ve seen me struggle in the National Assembly); I read, but very slowly; and I cannot write. I must learn to write. I must learn sumtag and ngadroen.

Our next poll is about women in our society.

Targeting the rain

archery targetsYangphel Archery’s second knockout round began today. The 14 winning teams and 10 “joker” teams from this round will make it to the quarter finals. And the 8 winners plus one joker from the quarterfinals will play the semifinals.

The tournament began on 4th July. And during the last seven weeks 182 matches were played. But, guess what, not a single match was postponed. The weather has held up remarkably well. For the archers, that is; not our farmers who, at this time of the year, need rain.

So today, when I congratulated Tshewang Rinchen, the tournament’s secretary general, for the excellent arrangements, I added that the tournament’s success may mean too little rain for our farmers.

But Tshewang thinks otherwise. He reminded me that, though the annual Yangphel Tournament is held during the monsoons, hardly any of their matches are postponed. This, according to him, is because, around these parts, it mostly rains at night. And this, he claims, should make it possible to attract many more tourists during the so called “off season” monsoon months. Tshewang would know – he is a fulltime tourist guide at Yangphel.

Incidentally, have you ever wondered how many targets Yangphel makes for its tournament? 478 targets! I visited their workshop, located above the Memorail Chorten, and saw one craftsman patiently applying fresh canvas to rows upon rows of targets. The photo banner this week shows one such row.

The Musk

Musk Nepali ThaliAbout a hundred years ago, a Haap left Bhutan for Kalimpong. He didn’t return home, choosing, instead, to settle down, with other Bhutanese, in Dolopchen, a small hamlet near Pedong.

Several generations later, his great granddaughter, Deki Lhamu, is back in Bhutan. And, together with her husband, Jigme Norbu, she owns and runs Musk, a restaurant in the clock tower square. Musk (formed by reversing the last four letters of CHOKSUM, their daughter’s name) specializes in Kalimpong food – a delightful blend of Bhutanese, Sikkimese, Tibetan and Nepali cuisines.

I enjoy their menu. So, I go there often. If you like Nepali food, go there on any Thursday. That’s when they serve their Nepali Thali, a sumptuous set lunch consisting of rice, mutton or pork curry, aloo sabji, gundrook (fermented saag soup), alu bhaji (shredded potatoes fried to a crisp), papad and a spicy sauce made from dale, tomatoes and garlic. Simply delicious. I know, because that’s what I had for lunch today.

But, if you prefer Bhutanese food, go there on Fridays for their Bhutanese Bangchu.

And they serve up many other delicacies too, from roast chicken to momos and thukpa. My favourite is “dhopdhop”, a spice-less curry made from beef, tomatoes, onions, ginger and chilies. Deki says that the “dhopdhop” was created by her grandmother, and that it is not available anywhere else.

Except for Mondays, Musk is open everyday for lunch and dinner.

Yangphel’s record

Old archers

Old archers

Yesterday, Tob Dhen Dhey accomplished what many archers considered the impossible: they shattered the 60-karey barrier by hitting 61 kareys in 15 rounds. That’s an average of 12.2 kareys per person. That’s an average of 4.07 team kareys per round. That’s impossible to beat.

Yangphel has already entered Tob Dhen Dhey’s 61 kareys in their record books. Obviously all the Tob Dhen Dhey archers performed well. In fact, no one hit less than 10 kareys! And Ata Sonam hit 17 kareys in 15 rounds. That’s one short of the record held by Forest Namgay, Gem Tshering and Karma Tenzin.

The photo in the banner shows five old friends, four of them in their eighties, enjoying our national sport. They spent the whole day today, together, in Paro’s main archery range watching an exciting game between a team from Paro and one from Thimphu. I played for Team Thimphu. And had the pleasure of shooting in Paro’s old and historic bacho for my very first time.

Yangphel’s gift

13th yangphel archery

A record 154 teams are participating in the 13th Yangphel Archery Tournament that began last Saturday. During the “league phase” of the tournament, each team will play three matches. And three teams compete against each other in match. So the stadium in Changlimithang will see a total of 154 league matches over six weeks.

This year, for the first time since Yangphel started its tournament 13 years ago, the teams that qualify for the “knockout phase” will need to win two matches in order to get to the quarterfinal stage. Till last year, one win in the knockout phase would take a team to the quarterfinals. The tournament format had to be modified to accommodate the increasing number of teams showing up at Yangphel’s.

The tournament is obviously getting bigger. And that’s partly because of the attractive prizes. This year, again, the best archer will drive away in a brand new car, sponsored by Zimdra Automobiles. And, the archers reaching the finals can expect to win expensive household appliances that have become a trademark of the Yangphel tournaments.

But, it’s not just the prizes that make Yangphel-style archery popular. It’s the format too. The shorter, quicker-paced version of our traditional sport, combined with the unpredictability of sum-zing has made Yangphel style archery popular throughout our country. And, that’s why several dzonghags already host their own Yangphel Tournaments.

Yangphel archery, by the way, was adapted from sum-zing by Yangphel’s proprietor Dasho Ugyen Rinzin. In sum-zing, a short game played while practicing archery, three archers compete against each other. In Yangphel’s version, three teams, each having five archers, shoot fifteen rounds to determine the winner. Tshewang Rinchen, a tour guide with Yangphel who is the secretary general of Yangphel Archery, tells me that Dasho Ugyen introduced the tournament to promote our national sport. And, to gift it to the people of Bhutan.

Now, with Chanlimithang seeing non-stop excitement and drama till the finals are played on 12th September, there’s a lot of gift to enjoy.

Archery stars

A big hit


This week’s featured photo is again about archery. The finals of the Silver Jubilee Coronation Tournament, which was, till 1998, called the Coronation Cup, concluded yesterday. As predicated, Team Phojas won the coveted trophy.

But Team MPAB put up a good fight. They won the second game. And matched the Team Phojas karey for karey in the third game, which was far more interesting and competitive that what the final score showed (25-8). In a dramatic finish, Lop Kinley Tshering, MPAB’s anchor, hit the target with his second arrow and cut Team Phojas’ choenda, which had been planted by Lt Sonam Lhagyal. But “Forest” Namgay, Team Phojas’ anchor, had one arrow to shoot, the last arrow of tha round. And that arrow found its mark on the target. So with the final arrow of round 11, “Forest” Namgay won the tournament for Team Phojas.

This week’s photo shows MPAB archers, most of them actors and singers, putting on quite a show. They’re dressed in uniform. And are probably the first team to play with dralhams. Three of them (“Keta” Karma, Kinely Sithub and Thinley) left Thimphu immediately after the match. They drove through the night, and are now in Mongar, in time to play their 2:00 PM Yangphel-style match!