Lost and (not) found

Urbane horses

Urbane animals

“Whoa…sho, sho, sho… Jamu-ya, sho, sho, sho! Whoa…sho, sho, sho…Tsheri-ya, sho, sho, sho,” Tshitem Dorji calls out shaking a feedbag of maize kernels. Jamu, an obedient mare, and Tsheri, a black mule, quickly respond to my cousin’s gentle entreaties. They emerge from the thick rhododendron forests to enjoy their morning meal before being saddled for the day.

It’s a clear, crisp spring morning in the mountains. And Tshochuyala, where we have camped, is beautiful. The rhododendron – several varieties of them – are in full bloom. And much of the meadows are literally carpeted with purple primulas. Giant magnolias punctuate the pristine forests with stately white flowers. And, in the distance, I can see parts of Sombaykha. I’m visiting my constituency.

“There’s enough grass here” Tshitem Dorji tells me, “so the horses stayed close to camp.” I’m happy for the horses and for my cousin.

But most camping sites are difficult. The horses don’t find enough grass, so during the night, they can cover great distances, foraging for food. And, in the morning, my cousin won’t be able to just call for them. Instead, he’d have to personally track them down, sometimes for many hours. I’ve seen this happen often. And yet, Tshitem Dorji, will not tether his horses at night. “They work the whole day,” he explains. “So they need to be free to graze at night.” Of course, he’s right.

So reading about the animals impounded in Motithang got me worried. The horses must belong to farmers like Tshitem Dorji. Farmers, probably from Lingzhi, who trekked to Thimphu to buy essential provisions – rice, cooking oil, salt – for their families. Farmers who refused to tether their horses at night. Farmers who don’t know about the Motithang pound. Or can’t afford the money to retrieve their animals.

We need to take better care of our farmers, those from distant Lingzhi and those in Thimphu. They, and their animals, roamed freely in all of Thimphu for many, many generations before we took their lands away from them.

Yes, we can no longer allow stray horses and cattle in the capital. Still, locking them up for months on end is not the solution. Instead, let’s look for the owners. And return the animals to them. If our farmers can’t afford the fine, waive it off – it costs much more to keep the animals locked up! And if that’s not possible, any one of our readers would be willing to help.

In the meantime, relocate the animals to a farm outside the city. That would be cheaper. And better for the animals. That would also prevent the TCC from breaking their own regulations: no one is permitted to keep cattle and horses inside the municipal boundaries. And that includes the city corporation itself.  They cannot impound animals in Motithang!

Blooming nuisance

Watch the hole

Watch the hole

In my last entry, Blooming dogwood, Romeo, a regular commentator, pointed out an “…uncovered drain right next to the lower police gate that is very risky for pedestrians and vehicle drivers during the day as well as night.” Romeo is right. The open drain is dangerous.

I don’t know how long the drain has been left like that, but I first spotted it about ten days ago. The City Corporation is obviously repairing something inside the drain. But they should either secure the area properly, or cover the drain when no one is working on it. Since they haven’t, I have to agree with Romeo that, “… we are waiting for a disaster and then the relevant authorities will come to the sight and try to take some irresponsible to task when all is too late.”

Risky business

I was horrified to learn that an oil tanker burst into flames in the BOD’s petrol pump in Samdrup Jongkhar. (Read Bhutan Observer article) The fire was quickly contained, but only after two men had been seriously injured. We’re lucky that the fire didn’t spread to and cause unimaginable damage to the residents of Samdrup Jongkhar.

The BOD station in Thimphu is a disaster waiting to happen any day. The street literally runs through the middle of the petrol pump. So traffic is heavy. But not just to fuel-up. Every driver uses the BOD station as a thoroughfare.

The danger is obvious. If something like the Samdrup Jongkhar incident were to take place in Thimphu, it would be difficult to control the fire. It would be catastrophic. One, the station stores much more fuel. And two, the resulting traffic jam would prevent fire trucks from reaching anywhere near the inferno.

The solution is also obvious. Redesign our streets. Or, if that’s not possible, relocate the BOD.

Addressing addresses

I’m going to the wedding too, remarked my friend, can you tell me where it is?

I told him that the happy event was taking place opposite the RSPN’s old office, below the new Norling building in lower Changangkha.

My friend’s blank look promoted me to continue: at the Chubachu roundabout take the road to Motithang; drive by the DHL office towards the RICB colony, but don’t go all the way to the colony; take the road that goes to the new road leading to the YDF complex; before you reach the new road, you’ll see a lot of vehicles; the wedding is somewhere around there…

Giving directions in Thimphu can be interesting. Landmarks, such as the clock tower, taxi parking, milk booth, pani tanki, swimming pool, main traffic and Memorial Chorten are used together with the locations of businesses, institutions and well known residences to guide people to specific places.

It’s surprising that we still don’t have proper addresses in Thimphu. A street name and a house number are all that a person really needs to find any place in this small city of ours. But for some odd reason, we haven’t been able to name our roads and number our houses. Actually our roads have names, but most of us don’t know them – without house numbers there’s no need to use them.

So it’s not easy finding your way around Thimphu, especially if you’re visiting. And, if you are a resident, you can’t receive mail unless you have a post office box or you use your office address. But DHL won’t deliver to your post office box, and international application forms won’t accept your papers without a proper address.

The Centre for Bhutan Studies, by the way, has an interesting address – it’s P.O Box 1111, Thimphu. But to visit CBS: go to Langjophakha; drive towards Dechhenchholing; take the road towards the Indian Embassy; take a left about 200m before the bridge and oppostite the double-storied traditional Bhutanese house.

Street names and house numbers … can it be that difficult?

Road to nowhere

The double-lane road below Norzin Lam has recently attracted a lot of attention. Dorji Wangchuk, in his blog, complained that he was clueless about the purpose of the “middle road”. And Kuensel questioned government officials why the road was built in the first place.

The double-lane road was built to take away Norzin Lam’s vehicular traffic, so that it could be converted to a completely pedestrian path. That, according to the Thimphu Structural Plan developed by Professor Christopher Beninger, was the idea. But that is not happening.

Norzin Lam continues to be used by vehicles traveling towards Chubachu. Vehicles returning from Chubachu use the lower lane of the double-lane road, leaving the “middle road” empty.

Our officials claim that Norzin Lam cannot be converted to a pedestrian lane because they do not have “budget and resources”. That is nonsense. If Norzin Lam is closed to vehicular traffic, it will automatically become a completely pedestrian lane. And without investing much money, a lot of what was envisioned for a pedestrian Norzin Lam can be realized.

It’s not about budget and resources.

So what is it about? I see two possibilities. One, that the government does not have the political will to close Norzin Lam to vehicles. And two, that the whole idea of converting Norzin Lam to a pedestrian lane was wrong.

Transforming our towns

Last week, Bhutan Times reported that a model town will be built in Denchi, Pema Gatshel (A new town like no other; Bhutan Times; 11 February – I couldn’t find the article on BT’s unfriendly website, so please bear with the numerous quotations).

The article quoted our prime minister as announcing that Denchi “… will be a dream town structurally planned and aesthetically beautiful with all aspects of urbanity…” And that it “… will have facilities not incorporated in other towns like a town hall, a park, a promenade, a unique modern dzong and banking and postal services.”

Very good.

But our prime minister also announced that Professor Chistopher Beninger will “… develop the concept and come up with a conceptual plan”. He clarified that “…the contract has not been awarded to him yet, but an arrangement will be worked out if the government likes what the professor offers.”

Not good.

The government should also invite Bhutanese architects to develop and propose concepts for the new township. In fact, the government should encourage and support national architects to develop the conceptual plans. And, at the very least, our architects should be given the opportunity to compete for the lucrative government contract.

As it turns out, the government may be giving special privileges to Professor Beninger instead – Bhutan Observer features him already discussing the plan with the prime minister.

Our own architects have been sidelined. Some of them are truly capable. And all of them can articulate the history, culture and spirit of this country far more eloquently than most foreigners. But only if they are given the chance.

In the past, we ignored our traditional architects and carpenters. And look at where that has landed us. Our towns show complete disregard for Bhutanese traditions and culture. Instead, we live in concrete blocks pretending to be traditional Bhutanese houses simply because we coat them with fake Bhutanese paint.

Let’s learn from our mistakes. Let’s use our own architects. Let’s use traditional carpenters. Otherwise we risk spreading the shame that is Thimphu to our beautiful countryside. And that’s no way to build a “model town”.

(Photo from Bhutan Observer)

Attic antics

I went on a fieldtrip today. I went to Thimphu town. Almost every building has an attic. And almost every attic violates Thimphu’s building regulations.

Because they were illegal, earlier attics are discrete. Their builders went to great lengths to hide their attics, to make them look uninhabited.

But because the first attics were not questioned, latter attics have become increasingly bold. Some are quite beautiful. All are displayed fearlessly. And some attics sport attics – doubled storied attics.

Thimphu’s building regulations continue to forbid building attics for habitation. And Thimphu’s builders continue to build more attics for habitation. According to TCC, 160 buildings have “habited attics”. I think this is an understatement. Go at night and you’ll see almost every attic alight – a sure sign of human habitation.

The problem is obvious: Thimphu’s attics are dangerous. They have poor lighting, ventilation and inadequate space. And they may not be structurally safe.

The solution is clear: legalize attics. In fact, require them. They can be quite beautiful – our traditional attics are. And well constructed attics would go a long way to address Thimphu’s growing housing shortage.

We’re building our nation. Let’s build it right. And build it well.

Hidden attic

Fortified attic

Discrete attic

Attic getting bolder

VAST attic

Attic on attic?

Attic on attic!

Beautiful attics

Double storied attic

Brand new attic

New beautiful attic

Attic on attic on attic?

Spot the house without an attic!