Haa tragedy

I am shocked and deeply saddened to hear about the tragedy in Haa that cut short the lives of eleven of our young soldiers and injured ten others. Young Bhutanese men in uniform with their entire lives ahead of them, some with wives and children, laid down their lives while in the service of our nation.

I join all Bhutanese in offering my heartfelt sympathy to the families and loved ones of the victims of the Anakha tradegy. I hope that you can draw some measure of comfort knowing that you are not alone in your grief – that people across our country, and Bhutanese everywhere, pray and mourn with you.

For the families of the injured, please know that we will do whatever possible to restore the health of your loved one. We join you in your prayers for their full and speedy recovery. And, we will be there with you for as long as it takes.

At this time our hearts also go out to all members of our armed forces who risk so much in the service of our nation – who are always ready to risk their own lives so that the rest of us can live in safety and security.

And, at such times, it is always His Majesty the King who is first on the scene, the greatest source of comfort for those in pain, and the provider of welfare to the children and spouses of the victims. We are blessed to have His Majesty at Anakha, offering solace to bereaved families and ensuring that the injured receive the best medical attention. All of us in the government humbly stand by His Majesty the King, our Kidu-Gi-Pham, to serve and do whatsoever is required of us to provide support and comfort to the victims and their families of today’s tragedy.

At a personal level, it pains me deeply that I am not in Bhutan at this moment of tragedy. I will return home as soon as possible but until then my thoughts and my prayers will be with the families of our soldiers who have suffered a terrible fate.

Earthquake!

As we drove home earlier this evening, my wife noticed that Taba was in total darkness. And she observed that the residents were huddled, in the dark, outside their houses. It was an eerie sight.

We were driving, so we hadn’t felt the earth move. A powerful earthquake, measuring 6.9 units, had hit the Himalayas. Its epicenter was reportedly in Sikkim.

In Bhutan, thankfully, no major damages have been reported. But posts on Twitter indicate that the tremors were felt throughout our country. I’m concerned about our farm houses, old monasteries and dzongs – they, and their residents, are the most vulnerable. And I’m especially concerned about them in our two western most dzongkhags, Haa and Samtse – they border the Indian state of Sikkim.

If required, please help your neighbours. Please cooperate with the authorities. And please, please stay safe.

UPDATE: Hearing reports of cracks in houses, including some in the Tashichhodzong. Also, several landslides along Thimphu – Phuentsholing highway.

UPDATE: Several houses damaged in upper Haa. Three people referred to Thimphu hospital. A few others treated for minor injuries.

UPDATE: More information on PM’s Facebook page.

Open invitation by Haa

Your invitation

Have you been to Haa?

Chances are you haven’t. You haven’t been to Haa, because you probably didn’t have any work there – you didn’t have the reason to go. And you probably haven’t been there, because, like most people, you think that the journey from Thimphu to Haa is long and arduous.

But there’s good news. If you haven’t been to Haa, you now have good reason to go there. This weekend – that’s on the 9th and 10th of July – Haa Dzongkhag, along with the Tourism Council of Bhutan, are organizing the Haa Summer Festival to showcase Haa’s “rich alpine flower, folklore and culture.” You can download information on the festival from the ABTO website.

By the way, it takes under three hours to drive from Thimphu to Haa. The journey is beautiful – you’ll travel through several villages, and along pine forests, meadows and buckwheat fields as you make your way to Ap Chundu’s protectorate.

But if you wish, you could also bicycle to Haa. TCB has organized a bike race from Chunzom to Haa via Paro and Chelela on the 9th of July. That should be interesting, especially the ride from Bondey (which is at 2,200 meters) to Chelela (3,800 meters).

 

Forest fire

Lopa village

Saved ... phew!

The people of Lopa village in Haa, Samar Gewog, did not sleep last night. They stayed up to guard their village – a cluster of mostly old farmhouses at the edge of a pine forest – from wild fires that was spreading through the woodland above their village.

The fire had started yesterday afternoon. And the Haa Dzongdag had quickly mobilized forestry officials, civil servants and community volunteers to fight the blaze. But the fire, which was fanned by strong winds, would not be contained. And by nightfall, the dzongdag wisely called off the fire fighting efforts as boulders, set loose from the rocky outcrop above the village, came hurling down the hillside.

But by the crack of dawn today, dzongkhag officials and volunteers were already battling the fires. This time they were joined by almost a hundred RBA soldiers. And this time they were successful. They bought the fire under control.

Had it not been for the quick response of the dzongkhag and forestry officials, and the help of the army, the fire would have razed Lopa and spread through the neighbouring village of Nobgang to the dense pine forests above Puduna. And the fire would still be raging.

Featured in the banner are the remains of the recent snow that put out a big forest fire in Katsho, and helped contain another one today.

Haa mela

Yesterday, the thousands of spectators who had gathered in Haa to celebrate Imtrat’s 48th Raising Day were treated to a memorable programme of sensational parajumps, equestrian displays, motorcycle stunts, dog agility, gymnastics and martial music.

But what really enthralled the eager crowd – locals and Indians alike – was HRH Prince Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck unexpectedly riding “Tipu Sultan”, an army thoroughbred, at a full gallop, attempting to pick up tent pegs with his lance.

The banner features our dashing prince on the young charger.

Walking tall

Record setter

Dramekha, Ngatsena and Thangdokha are three villages perched precariously on the steep slopes of a mountain opposite Dorokha, Denchukha and Dumtoe.

Dramekha, Ngatsena and Thangdokha were, until recently, part of Mayona Gewog under Samtse. In 2007, these three villages and several equally remote villages of Dumtoe (Samtse) and Samar (Haa) were combined to form the kingdom’s newest gewog, Gakiling.

Dramekha, Ngatsena and Thangdokha hold the disagreeable distinction of being among the poorest villages in Bhutan.

They also hold the most unfortunate record of never having had a dzongdag visit them. That’s correct: no dzongdag has ever visited these villages, never when they were part of Samtse, and not since they became part of Haa. That is, not till today. Earlier today, Dasho Karma Weezir, the Haa Dzongdag, crossed a make-shift cane bridge over the Amochu, completed an arduous trek uphill, and, just as dusk was settling in, became the first dzongdag to ever visit the three forgotten villages.

The simple residents of Dramekha, Ngatsena and Thangdokha are overjoyed that their dzongdag has finally visited them. I joined them in welcoming the CEO of our dzongkhag. And in congratulating him.

Dasho Karma Weezir became Haa Dzongdag in May 2009.

Hidden beauty

haa mountains from chelelaYesterday, on my way back from Haa, I stopped at Chelela (altitude about 3,900 meters) to see the sun set over our western mountain ranges. These mountains above the Haa valley offer some of the best, yet least known, treks in our country. They include a trek to the legendary lake Nub Tshonapatra, which I hope to revisit and write about in 2010.

UPDATE: Lampenda Chuup’s comment reminds me of the beauty that can be seen in and from those mountains. So I’ve changed the title from “Hidden treks” to the more appropriate “Hidden beauty”.

Haa fire

Fire-Haa-18-11-09Another disaster has struck, this time in Haa. Earlier today, a fire raged through the upper market in Haa. Four houses were totally destroyed before the fire was bought under control. Residents suspect that the fire was caused by electrical problems.

By mid-afternoon, His Majesty the King was already in Haa.

Photo credit: BBS

Another bear cub is rescued

I’ve just learnt that another resident of Haa will be arriving in Taba soon. Pema Tshering, the Forest Ranger in Haa, has just informed me that they’ve rescued another bear cub. This cub was discovered in the Tshaphey Lower Secondary School premises with its back to the wall, defending itself from a pack of dogs. Officials of the Forestry Management Unit arrived literally on time to save the little bear who, I’m told, appears to be fine.

No one knows the whereabouts of the mother bear. So the cub will stay in the Wildlife Management and Rehabilitation Centre in Taba till she’s old enough to be reintroduced in the forest. Remember that the rehabilitation centre already has a resident bear cub, also from Haa. And that I visited that orphan last Sunday.

So I’m already looking forward to seeing the two cubs together. I’ll carry with me some milk and fruit.

Moenlam chenpo

circumambulating the prayer hall 2Yesterday I attended the moenlam chenpo in Haa and, with my extended family, offered lunch to the devotees. The prayers for universal peace and harmony have been conducted in Haa annually since its inception in 2001. And His Holiness the Je Khenpo has personally led the prayers there every year.

People from every village in Haa, some having walked for several days, are participating in the moenlam chenpo, which is being conducted in the compounds of the Lhakhang Karpo. Devotees from neighboring Paro and Thimphu are also attending the sacred event.

The photograph shows the faithful circumambulating the main prayer hall. You’ll find a few more pictures from the moenlam chenpo in the photo gallery.