Thimphu High Street

Thank you for taking part in the last Big Picture. Your answers were varied – Changangkha, Phobjikha, Gangtey, Wangdue, Paro, Bumthang, Dagana, Lhuntse and Thimphu town – and rightfully so. The old photo, after all, could have been taken anywhere in Bhutan.

The picture, as you can now easily see, was taken outside the Tashichhodzong. It shows the beginnings of modern Thimphu complete with offices, shops and, in the background, the dzong undergoing major renovation and expansion.

Dorji, “Pothery” and “River” all identified the place correctly. But the first correct answer came from Ugen, who wrote, “Settlement outside Tashichhodzong in Thimphu in early 50′s.” This picture was actually taken in the early 1960’s, but it couldn’t have been that much different in the 50’s, so I’m awarding the prize to Ugen. (Ugen: please email me to claim your prize.)

The photo is from a book “Hearts and Life and the Kingdom of Bhutan” by Dr Aubrey Leatham, a leading pioneer in cardiology and the development of pacemakers. This book is mainly about developments in the field of cardiology since 1945. But the author has included a chapter about his experiences in Bhutan, and that’s what gives the books excitement for us, and a sense of magic and mystery for other readers. He has also included almost 100 photographs, most of which show what Thimphu, and Bhutan, looked like in the 1960’s. Lovely. As we would expect, Thimphu has grown and changed beyond recognition, but the rest of Bhutan, luckily, has not changed very much.

So what is the connection between cardiology, Dr Leatham and Bhutan? The doctor was invited to Bhutan in 1963 and again in 1964  on a very important mission: as a physician to His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo. He nursed the Father of Modern Bhutan, and claims to have extended our King’s life by more than a few years. The significance of his service is not lost on the author who writes:

My patient, the King, with premature coronary artery disease (before the days of coronary artery surgery, dilatations and stents), survived for eight years, giving time for his son to take over; he died whilst on safari in Africa. I was presented with the Order of Bhutan by the Queen for restoring hi to health until his son was ‘of age’.

His Majesty the King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck passed away on 21 July, 1972. His son, the Crown Prince, ascended the Golden Throne to become the Fourth Druk Gyalpo at the tender age of 16.


Big Picture 13

Where, in Bhutan, is this place? The best answer wins a packet of Nado’s zurpoe incense.


Leech buster

Thank you for participating in Big Picture -12. It was fun to follow your comments – most of you recognized the picture, but you still spent the time to craft interesting answers. Thank you.

My favorite answer comes from “Thinlay”, whose keen sense of observation, meticulous research and precise composition bags our prize: bragging rights! Here’s the scholar’s complete and  completely correct answer:

It is a white plastic bottle with narrow neck and closed with modified wooden cap, and tied around the waist to ensure that it does not fall off while walking. The content could be anything from alcohol to insects (including leech) killing potion concocted with ingredients ranging from herbal extract to lime, acid, salt to tobacco solution. It is carried by people who have to walk through, work or live around the tropical forests.

The complete picture shows Budhalal Rai of Yaba village in Sombaykha with his “pep-say”, a container carrying a strong solution of tobacco, lime and salt. Budhalal Rai, like his fellow villagers, carries the contraption throughout the rainy season and uses the potent mixture to easily and effectively remove leeches that climb up on him.

So far, however, Budhalal has found little reason to use his pep-say. It hasn’t been raining in his village, so the leeches are staying put. In fact, it hasn’t been raining in most parts of Bhutan. The rains this year are very late, and have caused drought-like conditions in much of Bhutan with disturbing reports coming in from  Trashigang, Trashiyantse, Lhuntse, Pemagatshel, Tsirang, the South and the western dzongkhags.

But our farmers don’t have a choice. Rain or no rain, they must do their work. Our farmers are doing their part. They are working their fields. And they are praying for rain.

We need to do our part too. If the rains don’t arrive, and don’t arrive soon, we will need to go on a war footing throughout our country to save our crops. If that fails, we will need to quickly come up with new ideas to grow alternate crops.  And if that fails, we will need to start preparing to fight a nation wide food shortage.

Whatever it is, we need to act now. We must act now, unless it rains, and the leeches come out, and Budhalal and farmers throughout the country dab them with pep-say.

Big picture -12

Can anyone tell me what this is?


Freeing horses

Free me ...

Several of you identified the image in the last “Big picture” as a horse. That is correct. Well done.

But Passang’s answer was the most accurate. He said that the image was a “Picture of the horse (lungta) on a faded prayer flag.”

The big picture is, quite literally, a painting of a horse on an old prayer flag. In fact, the prayer flag, with the lungta (or windhorse) printed in the middle, is clearly visible in the painting. To Karma Wangdi, the artist, that lungta, drawn within a square border, looked confined and trapped. So he set it free. That’s why he painted the white horse, emerging from the prayer flag, and galloping at full speed, to freedom.

Karma Wangdi, popularly known as Asha Karma, says that the aim of the lungta prayer flags is to release one’s good nature and positive energy so as to accumulate merit and fortune. But he feels that the lungta printed on the prayer flags are, themselves, confined within a square border. Worse still, Asha Karma laments that most of the prayer flags today are made from non-degradable polyester material that trap the lungta for decades, long after the prayer flags have done their work and have come down, littering the landscape.

So Asha Karma has been busy freeing the lungta from old, discarded prayer flags. He’s been doing that for the past 13 years, during which time he’s completed no less than 40 paintings depicting horses of in various shapes and sizes, all furiously galloping away to their freedom.

Free ... at last

And to help him on his mission, Asha Karma has trained dozens of young artists in his studio at VAST to also allegorically free horses from old prayer flags.

But he and his young volunteers have also literally freed countless lungtas – they’ve visited popular prayer flag sites (like Sangaygang and Dochula) to collect and properly dispose old, discarded prayer flags.

Passang should contact me to claim his prize, a copy of one of Asha Karma’s paintings. For the rest of you, I’ve uploaded some photos from Asha Karma’s “windhorse series” in the gallery.  Enjoy.

Big picture

It’s been a while since we last played the “Big picture”. The person who most accurately tells what the picture is receives an appropriate gift.

Big picture – 10

We haven’t done this for a while. The first person to get the big picture wins a copy of “Treasures of the Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan”.

Big picture – 9

Jigme Tshewang won the last Big Picture. But Jigme didn’t claim the prize. So it goes to the first one who correctly figures out this picture.

Flowering forests


Almost everyone answered “Big picture – 8” correctly. Yes, the picture was part of an emerging rhododendron flower. And as Linda Wangmo suggested, I took the picture on my recent visit to Sombaykha Dungkhag in Haa.

But Jigme Tshewang answered first. So Jigme wins the prize. Please contact me to claim the 2008 golden coronation badge.

The area between Tergo-la (at about 3,800 m) and Taashi Thang (at about 1,800 m) is almost one continuous rhododendron forest. The forest is old. And it is pristine. Aum Rebecca Pradhan, a leading naturalist, estimates the forest to have about 35 species of rhododendron.

Rhododendron trees mostly bloom towards the end of March through early May. So, when I walked through the forest, in February, only those trees at the lower altitudes were flowering. And most of them were the gigantic Rhododendron Grande. But a few others, like Rhododenron falconeri, Rhododendron barbatum and Rhododendron Arboreum were also flowering.

I took a few pictures – of rhododendron buds, flowers, trees and forests – during my last trip. And, for those of you interested in rhododendron, I’ve posted them in the Gallery. The photo in the “Big picture” featured a Rhododendron Arboreum, known nationally as the Etho Meto.

I plan to go back, during a weekend, when most of the rhododendron forest is in bloom. Would the upcoming field visit interest any of you? In lieu of an invitation, I’m featuring the rhododendron in our banner.

Big picture – 8

It’s been a while since we did a Big Picture. The first person to guess the big picture correctly wins a golden coronation badge of His Majesty the King.