Radio gaga


Tourists visit Bhutan for many reasons. Most do so to catch a glimpse of the last Shangri la, that is, to experience our unique culture and enjoy our pristine environment.

But many tourists visit our country for specialized purposes, and because those purposes can be fulfilled here more so than in any other country in the world. For instance, tourists visit us to do the arduous Snowman Trek, ride the treacherous Drangmechhu, or complete the grueling Tour of the Dragon. Enthusiasts pay to look for rare butterflies, catch a glimpse of stunning birds, or soak in the beauty of the blue poppy. And experts visit us to enjoy our stunning textiles, wonder at our intricate thangkas, or photograph our breathtaking dzongs.

Some have come all the way here simply to meditate. And, given the opportunity, many visitors would willingly blow up their life savings to fish the legendary mahseer, scale our virgin peaks, or safari in Manas.

Yes, we’ve been endowed with more than our fair share of unique tourism products. And most of us think we know all of them. We don’t.

Yesterday, for example, I met Iain Haywood and learnt about another special reason why tourists are willing to pay big money to visit our country. Mr Haywood, from England, is a ham radio operator and is on a DX-pedition to Bhutan. That means that he’s here primarily to operate his amateur radio. And for that he’s arrived with, and already set up, his aerial and other equipment to receive and transmit radio signals.

So why does Mr Haywood find our country so interesting? Because there are very few amateur radio operators in Bhutan. And because, as such, ham radio operators all over the world would jump at the opportunity to hook up with a radio signal originating from Bhutan.

That’s why Mr Haywood, who’s been licensed by BICMA to use the call sign A52JF, has not left his hotel room in Olathang, Paro, since he checked in two days ago. But by the time I met him yesterday, he was already enjoying a “pile up”, a position of privilege in which ham radio operators rush to connect with him. And by that time, he had already logged about 400 “conversations”, or data exchanges, with operators from Europe, Asia and Africa. His goal: 2,000 conversations in five days followed by a two-day trip to Punakha! His dream: to return to Bhutan to do a “summits on the air”, that is to operate his ham radio from our high peaks.

Other ham radio enthusiasts have also visited Bhutan. And they, like Mr Haywood, used the services of Yeshey Dorji, Bhutan’s national operator, to organize their special tours.

I’m surprised at the amount of trouble amateur radio operators will go to advance their hobby. But I’m glad that that interest translates to tourism and, more importantly, goodwill for Bhutan.

Today, incidentally, is World Radio Day.