Hidden paradise?

Tomorrow I’ll be in Samtse. But before I leave Sombaykha, I should share with you its etymology.

Sombaykha = sang as in sangwa or “secret” + bay as in bayuel or “paradise”

Sombaykha = A paradise hidden by Guru Rimpoche


Bjamdabchen is a small meadow surrounded by oak forests, where herders from Sombaykha graze their cattle every autumn. We’ve set up camp in that meadow. I’ve latched on to a caravan traveling to Sipsoo – they’re carrying smoke-dried cardamom and will return with rice, salt, tea, cooking oil and clothes. So, there are quite a few of us at the camp.

We have a roaring fire going. Dinner’s cooking. Ap Gep Tsheri is singing praises to his root guru. And, Rinchen is coaxing him to sing about beautiful Seldon. This is an unscheduled treat.

But, tomorrow will be a struggle. We start trekking at 4:00 AM! Otherwise, I’m told, we won’t make it to Sipsoo.

Hospitality business


Shebji is Sombaykha’s northernmost village. And, civil servants, especially Dzongkhag officials, traveling to Sombaykha normally spend a night in there. After walking continuously downhill from Tergola (at about 4000 meters) through alpine meadows, giant rhododendron forests, and subtropical jungle to Shebji (about 1500 meters), most travelers are happy to rest their tired knees in this little hamlet.

Now, in accordance with our age-old traditions also still practiced throughout rural Bhutan, travelers can choose to eat and drink, rest and sleep in any one of Shebji’s eight houses. Each one of them would feel honoured and very happy to offer their hospitality to any traveler, even if the traveler was not known to them.

Most civil servants choose to rest in Aum Kunzang’s home. Aum Kunzang and her husband, Ap Kinely, who served as a Mang-gi Ap at one time, happily welcome all of them to their two-storied farmhouse and offer them their best tea, food, ara, and bedding. They have a constant stream of visitors to entertain – two to three groups every week during the winter months, some traveling to Sombaykha, others returning to Haa. Yet they don’t charge a thing. There’s no price attached, or expected, for their generous services. And, it would be downright rude to enquire.

So how do they manage? Another tradition allows travelers to gift a little something – in kind or in cash – as a token of their appreciation to their hosts. Naturally, the hosts always refuse. But, if their guests exercise a little determination, they have no option but to accept.

Aum Kunzang’s guests always leave a gift for her. Those “gifts” more than cover her expenses. In fact, she’s embarrassed that she makes a tidy profit from her hospitality – hospitality that she charges nothing for.

GNH and business, not mutually exclusive.

Visiting Sombaykha


“It must be very difficult”, I’ve been told more than once, “having only two members in the opposition.” Yes, it is difficult. And frustrating. But it is enjoyable too.

What do I enjoy most about my work? Visiting my constituency. Trekking through Sombaykha, Gakiling and the parts of Samma that don’t have motor roads are a highlight of my work as an MP. And I never tire of meeting the people I that represent – simple folks living mainly off subsistence farming.

I am in Sombaykha. This time, my visit will take me through every village in Sombaykha, over the pass at Batashay, and down to Sipsoo in Samtse.

The banner features the mountains beyond my constituency. I took the photo this morning, from Tegola, which stands at about 4,000 meters.

Visiting tourists

Potential tourists

The bedrock of our successes in the tourism sector has been the “low volume, high value” policy.  This unique policy has served us exceedingly well ever since the first tourists started visiting our Kingdom in early 1970s. And today, Bhutan is both famous and envied the world over for its cautious tourism policies.

This policy has proven itself. We continue to enjoy the rewards of tourism (government revenue, jobs and international attention) without sacrificing our culture, our environment, and our way of life. Equally important, our tourists swear, time and time again, that their experience in Bhutan has been nothing short of pure magic.

All this may change. The Prime Minister’s executive order of 13 November 2009 directs the Tourism Council of Bhutan to constitute:

A cross sector implementation team consisting of the MoEA, MoF, TCB and ABTO to frame and present the blueprint for:

  1. Roll out of the integrated channel, price and supply policy that liberalizes the minimum package price and mandatory package via tour operator requirement; yet ensuring royalty revenue to the government;

The PM’s directives are a mouthful. But, the message is simple: draft a plan to lift the minimum tourist tariff.

If the tourist tariff is liberalized, it would be the government’s biggest policy decision so far: one that would affect our economy and our country significantly. So, we should debate this momentous policy change before it comes into effect – before the “cross sector implementation team” finalises their “blueprint”.

Give me your views, so that I can share them with the relevant authorities. And participate in the poll that asks whether you support removing the minimum tariff for tourists.

Who’s in charge?

On 13 November 2009, the Prime Minister issued an Executive Order directing that:

“The Ministry of Information & Communications (MoIC) is to develop airstrips in Trashigang, Gelephu and Bumthang and commence domestic aviation operations by Spring 2010, Dec 2010 and June 2011 respectively”.

Today, Kuensel reported that:

“The Gelephu domestic airport will start operations from June 2011, according to the Mckinsey’s milestone plan for civil aviation endorsed by the government and not December 2010, as stated in the government executive order.”

Who, may I ask, is running our government?



Our last poll asked: “What legislation to control smoking would work?”

Most of you (58%) said: Allow sales, but at higher prices. 31% said: Ban sales and ban smoking. And, only 11% said: Ban sales but allow smoking.

Parliament has, however, already decided that the sale of tobacco products inside our country will be illegal. Though the National Council had initially favoured allowing sales (but with hefty taxes), they reversed their decision after the National Assembly insisted on applying a complete ban on the sale of tobacco products.

So the debate on whether or not to ban the sale of tobacco products is over. Now for the impossible part – to implement the ban!


About eight months ago, after I’d moved this blog from the earlier site, and revamped its design, one man, a close family friend, complained about the new format.

For me it is troublesome that I have to change all the time to another page after reading only a few lines of your statement. And, to be frank, I am not much interested in what other people are thinking and telling to each and every thing. However, I know that I am “out” in things like that.

I know that no layout is perfect. But, I’ve accepted that my previous one was especially troublesome, particularly for readers who visit only once a while. To read my latest few entries, for example, one would have to navigate several times between the home page and the pages that carry the full article. Troublesome.

So, after eight months, I’m heeding my friend’s advice, and am going back to the old layout. Even I find it convenient!

But, this blog is not just about me. Please click on the “comments” button, at the end of each article, as often as possible. Please continue to share your ideas, and debate issues.

The bigger purpose of this blog, after all, is to know about “…what other people are thinking and telling each…” other.

Media wars

Mass media in Bhutan has enjoyed exceptional growth recently. During the last four years, five new newspapers – all privately owned – started operations in quick succession.  Bhutan Times, Bhutan Observer, Bhutan Today, Business Bhutan and The Journalist hit the newsstands on 30 April 2006, 2 June 2006, 30 October 2008, 26 September 2009 and 20 December 2009 respectively. Till then Kuensel, which started as a government bulletin in 1967, was our country’s only newspaper.

Our airwaves have also seen rapid growth. Beginning with Kuzoo FM, which started operations in September 2006, three other private radio stations (Radio Valley, Centennial Radio and Sherubtse FM) have joined BBS Radio, which enjoyed a monopoly since its inception in 1973.

Similarly, there’s been an unprecedented growth in other media forms. Books, magazines, websites, blogs, cinema, music, cable TV, and overall connectivity have all expanded tremendously offering consumers of information a wide array of choices.

So I’m happy to hear about the Government’s plans to hire professionals to audit the circulation figures and reach of the media. Such an exercise could produce valuable information of our news industry, and benefit every one – producers, advertisers, consumers and regulators of the media. And, that information could be used to strengthen our media.

However, I’m concerned that the “circulation audit” will be used to formulate an “advertisement policy” that would excessively favour government advertisements for media agencies having a bigger reach. Under normal circumstances that would be okay. In fact, under normal circumstances, that would have been required, as articulated by the Secretary of MOIC:

He said that the government had limited budget for advertising and could not afford to give the same advertisement in all the media. “Government organisations must plan advertisements and announcements through the year. We have six newspapers and the government can’t afford to give the same advertisement to all papers,” he said, adding that government organisations must behave like professional advertisers, to ensure that the message reaches the audience.

But, both Kuensel and BBS, the nation’s two biggest media firms, had a head start, and both of them benefited immensely from huge subsidies from the Government and donor agencies. In fact, BBS continues to be heavily subsidized by the Government. So, both Kuensel and BBS are way ahead of their respective competition.

The Government should indeed consider the circulation and reach of the media when formulating their “advertisement policy”. But, it should also consider the amount of subsidies that have already been given to Kuensel and BBS.

Otherwise we risk undoing all the good work of the last four years.

Allowing allowances

Last month, when, at the end of the Parliament’s Fourth Session, the National Assembly approved salary increases for MPs, I had complained that:

Parliament does not have the powers to consider or grant pay increases unilaterally. Instead, according to the Constitution, it’s the Pay Commission’s job to recommend increases in the salaries and allowances of public servants. And that includes us, politicians.

Now we hear that the Cabinet has approved allowances (equal to 45% of their basic salaries) for “ACC investigators and related professionals”. The Prime Minister had, in fact, announced that ACC employees would be given allowances, but the National Assembly neither discussed nor approved the allowances.

So we risk bypassing the Pay Commission again.

There’s no doubt that the ACC is critically important – in our fight against corruption, they operate in the front lines. And there’s no doubt that all of us must render any and all support to this crucial organization.

But let’s follow procedure. Let’s establish the Pay Commission. Let’s let them do their job. Let’s follow the law.

Article 30 of the Constitution states that:

  1. There shall be a Pay Commission, headed by a Chairperson, which shall be autonomous and shall be constituted, from time to time, on the recommendation of the Prime Minister.
  2. The Pay Commission shall recommend to the Government revisions in the structure of the salary, allowances, benefits, and other emoluments of the Royal Civil Service, the Judiciary, the members of Parliament and Local Governments, the holders and the members of constitutional offices and all other public servants with due regard to the economy of the Kingdom and other provisions of this Constitution.
  3. The recommendations of the Commission shall be implemented only on the approval of the Lhengye Zhungtshog and subject to such conditions and modifications as may be made by Parliament.