Why I do what I do?

OK. Let me get this off my chest. It is not anything important, but since there are no interesting selfies to upload and nothing exciting happening this week, apart from my routine online meetings, let me take the opportunity to share this.

It pertains to my social and spiritual works such as building temples and chortens in places like in Athang Rukha and Lamga – and in Kheng Kikhar There are many questions and comments that my friends, family and countrymen have posed. Some out of genuine concerns for me (They think I might go penniless one day), some out of curiosity (Is he trying to lay the ground works for a future in politics?) and some, I wouldn’t exclude, out of pure envy (Where does he get the money from?). We are all unenlightened souls. I understand. 

So why do I do what I do? How I do it? Meaning how I fund these things. And why don’t I invest in building assets, like doing a multi-storied castles, like everyone else?

It is age

First, as I have mentioned before, life rolls out like a video game – in stages. As you play the game of life, you pass on to the next level every couple of years, where you face new challenges, meet new opportunities and embrace new roles. I must say that I had my share of fame and fortune, for which I am forever indebted to my clan and my country. I had my share of dreams and disappointments too. And in many of the opportunities that were laid out for me, I excelled. In some, I failed, to be honest. 

All these are now behind me, though. As Bhutanese, having zoomed past the age of 50 (I also turned a grandfather recently), one normally engages in spiritual pursuits and takes a slower pace with life. That’s exactly what I am doing. There was time, in my younger days, when I worked like there was no tomorrow – or like I was going to live forever. I must be one of the few government employees who spent many nights in office, go home for breakfast and shower and come back to work. I am not making this up. Ask anyone I worked with back then. And when I look back, I am proud because I covered more ground than others. Having a Japanese wife helped, for sure. Now, of course, I need to sleep on time.

Work and balance

Second, I still work, by the way. But I do what I love and, to paraphrase Confucius, I don’t feel that I am “working” because I have chosen a third career that I love – teaching. Almost everything I do is online and can be done from anywhere – and I have been doing that even before COVID-19. Simply put, I still have an income.

Third, it is about practicing some degree of contentment – tsham tshay in Bhutanese – a balance in one’s life. How much does one really need? How long do you want to cling to power? How much do you want to accumulate? As I said, I had my time. I had my share. I even tasted power. Now, my life is minimalistic. No Prados. No buildings. No silk ghos or designer wears. I rarely buy new clothes anyway. And thanks to the coronavirus, no foreign travels either. So most of my earnings can go into my social and spiritual works. And here I must thank my wife for not only letting me do this, but also for doing her share of work and donating and contributing generously to spiritual and social causes, from time to time. 


My late mother used to say that every child is born with a soenam (fortune/destiny/merit). As they grow up they will have their dreams. Help them to fulfil theirs – and do not impose yours on them. Most important give them a well-rounded education – and not leave them with just properties. The Chinese actor, Jackie Chan, once said, with good education, your children will build their own fortune. With bad or no education they will sell away yours. 

And also, you should not use your children as an excuse to be greedy yourself, or to accumulate wealth (typical of Asian parents).

Being human

One of my teachers tells me that being human is the best chance to get closer to enlightenment – whatever that is. Of course, you can be reborn to continue, but there is no guarantee that you will be human again. What if your rebirth is as a mosquito? Or as hungry ghost? You don’t have to be a monk to be religious, either. In fact, the Bhutanese word for charity, or social work, is gyelwa, which means “enlightenment” or “realisation”. And so if you want to get out of this samsara – you can also do it by embracing some social works. Many characterise these things as “giving back” to the society. For me, it is just being a good human being.

Being Bhutanese

One compelling reason why you should be altruistic, and be more human, is because you are a Bhutanese. I am not saying it is a national requirement. What I mean is, as a Bhutanese you have the luxury to be selfless and to be generous. Not all nationalities can do that, you know? For example, if you are an American, you have to keep a good bank balance in case you get sick. Health care in many countries costs you an entire fortune. In Bhutan it is free. Elsewhere, you could also go homeless if you forget to insure your house and a fire or an earthquake brings it to the ground. In Bhutan, if you are landless or handicapped, or you lose your house to a misfortune, you can appeal to the King. My grandfather, Gyeltshen, did after we lost ours in 1978. Furthermore, in case you go broke or hungry you can always call up a family member. The social safety net here is huge – and perhaps THE best in the world. And I pray that it remains that way because being a Bhutanese allows you to be the best human being.

In conclusion

As you dwell in this human realm, one should not miss the chance to do some gyelwa. As a donkey you can still do it, but, I guess, it will be little more difficult. And as Bhutanese, under our King, remember, we have the luxury to be selfless, generous, and compassionate. You don’t need much, either. You can do a lot with very little. It is more about pouring your heart too and less about money.

Again, I don’t want to sound patronising or paternalistic. We all do what makes us happy. Life and happiness are subjective. One could also be fine driving around a Prado, while dreaming of owning another multi-storied building – or be still overwhelmed with power or patang. It is one’s personal choice – one’s way of life.. 

As for me, I have chosen to put them all behind me. And embrace this stage of my life – of being little more human – and being little more Bhutanese. And may be as productive a citizen as ever.

Updates from Lamga

The community kitchen is done and the sacred paintings of my temple are complete too. This is the latest update from Lamga village.

For those who were not following my work there, the village is a new settlement of mainly people from Zizi in Phobjikha. Lamga is the last village along Harachu valley and beyond it is wilderness of Black Mountains of central Bhutan.

The permanent houses were built by Tarayana in 2008-10. However, the inhabitants had no place to meet or conduct their monthly rituals. They were doing religious ceremony every month, sometimes twice, under tarpaulin sheets. In monsoon season, it was a disaster. This really shocked me and I promised them that I will look into it.

In 2015, I agreed to sponsor the construction of the community temple. And in my usual way, we worked when I had money, stopped when I was broke, and resumed again. After four years we completed the works. It took some time but it is done. The temple has Tshela Namsum – Tshepamay, Namgyelma and Drolma as the main statues and place is blessed by His Eminence Gangtey Trulku, who also committed to grant the debri (mural painting).

Last March, when I had self-quarantined there, we decided to do a community kitchen, wooden flooring and bring drinking water. I also deputed a painter from Bumthang to do the sacred paintings. One important remaining work is installation of serto (golden pinnacle). Anyone wants to be the sponsor?

Unplanned tendrel

The groundbreaking and the foundation works on the temple was conducted on the day HRH The Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel was born. It was done by the villagers without any prior planning. In local belief, unplanned tendrels are the most auspicious. The villagers are very proud of this sacred coincidence.

Getting there:

From Taksha Range Office along Wangdue -Tsirang Highway, veer left and follow the farm road to Rukha. At 17km, at Dolepchen, there is bifurcation. The right one goes to Rukha. Go straight till there is no road left 😂

Where to stay:

Chorten Tshering and his family have a tourist-standard home-stay house if you want to spend a night in the village. Toilet attached to the house with shower plus hot stone bath. The Harachu is believed to have medicinal effects – known since ancient time.

The village is perfect to detox from the social media and unplug from the world. And get some mantras done at the temple. It is the quietest place on Earth. The Lamgaps are simple and generous people.

Best time to visit:

From month of October till May.

Taking Tara to Rukha – the Journey

Taksha (lower Wangdue – Tsirang Highway), July 23, 2020

It rained. And it rained. The sky didn’t even take a breath for days.

I like rain – except when it brings down the mountains, or causes damages to life or properties – or when it physically blocks my path. The highway from Thimphu to Taksha was fine, but the farm road to Rukha – some 26 kilometers away, was blocked at several points. In two places I was told that it was impossible to even cross on foot. I was advised to wait in Taksha, while the entire chiwogs of some 42 households had mobilised to clear the boulders and landslides with bare hands – and assisted by just one bulldozer.

It is monsoon, and I know it is crazy of me to plan a trip into this area during this season. However, I had made a promise – and the next day was the best day to do that. Known locally as Drup Tshezhi (Literally meaning Fourth Day of the Sixth Month), the day when, some 2500 years back, Gautama Buddha gave his first teaching after attaining enlightenment. Thus, it is one of the holiest days in the Buddhist calendar.

And my promise was to donate and also install the statues of 21 Tara (Drolma Nisho Tsachi) in Rukha Pelden Lhamo Temple. Jetsun Drolma is the considered as the Peaceful Avatar of the otherwise wrathful Pelden Lhamo (Devi in Sanskrit). Having installed the statue of Pelden Lhamo there last April, it was time for her Peaceful Manifestation to also find a place in that sacred abode, so that the locals, and the nation at large, receive her blessings – especially during these trying times. I had promised to donate in honour of my daughter and my grandson.

Setting off

Encouraged by my friend, Ngawang, who works as a forest ranger in the area, we set out from Taksha on foot, like in the good old days – braving the battering rain, landslides, leeches, sand flies, snakes, falling boulders, and slippery trails. Nine able-bodied men had come from Rukha and Samthang to carry the statues, packed in four boxes and sealed in plastics.

After two hours of walking and climbing, we got to Harachu where the entire hill had come down and it did look impossible to cross over. There were peebles, muds and even boulders that were continuously falling down. So, I pulled out some chhandru (blessed grains of rice), which my father gave me and told me to carry on every trip I made. As instructed, I tossed few in the air and recited the Chabdro prayers, and then I told the members to cross – one at a time. The mud and the boulders miracolously stopped falling. The villagers were amazed by my power and by my lack of fear. 😎😎😎

I was the last to cross. It wasn’t easy. Walking over slippery piles of pebbles that were sitting atop wobbling rocks is no fun. If the earth gave away it was straight down to the gushing river – which was at least 3,000 feet below. When we were all safe on the other side, we took a group photo to celebrate our modest achievement. We resumed our hike, covered more road – and crossed more slides – and every now and then dodged the falling boulders that were shooting straight at us. Interestingly, there were only laughter and childish joy – and looking out for each other in this otherwise treacherous journey.

Happy hour

After four hours we reached Samthang, where my local host, Tashi, had arranged the lunch, which we had at 4 in the afternoon. His house has been our permanent motel in the past, when we could only reach there, on foot, on the first day from Taksha. He and his family have been the sweetest in hosting us every time. Now, I am expected to drop by – in every trip, no matter how in a hurry I am. Tashi had also rallied the whole village to show up with shovels and spades to help clear the farm road falling within their village zone. Thanks to his team and the team at Rukha, the second half of the farm road was all clear for us to ride into Rukha on Boleros, owned by the villagers. It was a joy, albeit some slippery and scary stretches.

There were two more tea-stops before we got to Rukha. One was at Migtana, arranged by an amazing young health worker, Yeshi Dorji. He is a health assistant posted here and is respected by the community for his tireless round-the-clock service. Yeshi is also known to be very strict with personal hygiene and has gone out of his way to ensure that every house in the valley had a toilet and a wash basin. Yeshi is also very religious and contributes to the spiritual activities in the valley.

Reaching Rukha

It was past 6 p.m. when we finally reached Rukha – our destination. The children and women of the village had lined up in front of the temple with khadar (white scarves) and with small baskets of rice and eggs to welcome our expedition in a traditional manner. The lama, Ugyen Tshering, was also there to receive us with a procession consisting of singing ladies accompanied by the sounds of religious instruments called Jaling. After making three rounds of temple, we entered and lowered our precious cargo. “Now it is your problem,” I told the lama, “You take on from here. I have done my part.” We both laughed. A huge air of relief filled the room – and reassured the atmosphere in the village. Everyone was worried for my safety. They all came to say hello to me and apologised profusely for the bad weather and the huge hardship I had to go through. “Well, it is because you guys have killed so many bears and musk deer that Jetsun Drolma wanted those sins to be cleared. So you had to carry her on your back through this rough weather.” They all laughed.

The next morning – on the Day of Drup Tshe Zhi, it was still misty as the Lama and his team started the Lhabsang Thruesel (Water Purification) ceremony. The national weather center had in fact predicted storm and more rain for the week.

I had spent the night at my usual place – belonging to Gup-drep Chokila, from where one can get the most terrific view of the village and the temple. I slowly got out of my bed, brushed my teeth, washed my face and headed for the temple. I could relax a bit because Ranger Ngawang had offered to play the sponsor for the day – sacrificing perhaps his two months salary to cover the day’s expenses.

The Installation Ceremony

After I sat down in the temple, the main ceremony – Drolma Yuldhog commenced. The monks chanted the mantras in deep basso profondo followed by blaring sounds of ritual cymbals and drums and horns. As streams of villagers came in and prostrated to the altar and made their wishes and offerings, it felt so surreal to watch these people – who were hunters-gatherers living in the forest until few years back, and are now just the first generation to practice the Buddha Dharma. And yet, from their faces and actions, their dedication and faith are no less than ours, who have been at it for several generations. I felt a deep sense of pride and satisfaction of having led them into a life of Dharma – and harmony with the natural world.

When the ceremony took a tea break, I went out of the temple to stretch a bit. Sitting in a lotus position is actually a torture for me. Outside, I found the day had suddenly brightened. The Sun had dug a large hole through the monsoon clouds – right over us, and just over us. Elsewhere it was still cloudy – or raining. Then, of course, there was the usual rainbow over Pekarphu – something we are used to.

Every time we do something good out here, the deities and the divinities seem to show up as a double rainbow over the sacred mountains of Pekarphu and Tsendaygang.

I put out my face towards the Sun (I think I was a sunflower in my previous life) and cherished the moment of brightness and the Sun after being for days in the battering rain. I closed my eyes and let the story of Tara (Jetsun Drolma) played on my mind like an old film.

Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, was once looking down on the human world when he saw countless Beings going through immense sufferings. On seeing what he saw, a tear fell from his eyes out of compassion, which formed a lake and in which a lotus sprung up.

When the lotus opened, the goddess Tara was revealed.

Remembering our heroes

The day ended without the usual songs and dances. I thought it wasn’t appropriate as the Nation mourned the deaths of four soldiers in Gelephu. Celebrations can wait for some other time.  

And so, as evening fell, I took off for another nearby village – Lamga. It is another place and another story – of community, friendship and partnership.

And the journey continues



















(N.B. #1

A more formal consecration ceremony with public blessings and outside invitees called Drub of all the works in Rukha and Lamga will be organised as and when the Covid pandemic recedes)

N.B. #2

Tara – Jetsun Drolma, is a favorite Buddhist deity, who is revered in all schools of Mahayana Buddhism. In the Himalayas, the deity is depicted as a female Boddhisattva.

The 21-Tara project is a very sacred spiritual undertaking, which few are blessed to achieve. The 21 Taras as per the Nyingma tradition are: 

  1. Drolma Nyurma Pelmo; Tārā Turavīrā – Tara who is swift and courageous for development of Bodhichitta 
  2. Drolma Yangchenma; Tārā Sarasvatī – Tara for music, knowledge and wisdom
  3. Drolma Sonam Chokter; Tārā Puṇyottama-dā – Tara who grants supreme merit for the force of merit
  4. Drolma Tsuktor Namgyalma; Tārā Uṣṇīṣa-vijayā – Tara who is completely victorious  for long life.
  5. Drolma Rikje Lhamo; Kurukullā : Tara for magnetising people and wealth
  6. Drolma Jikché Chenmo; Tārā Mahābairavā – Tara who causes terror  for destroying the power of harmful influences
  7. Drolma Shyenkyi Mitupma; Tārā Aparadhṛṣyā – Tara who is invincible  for protection from hailstorms and lightning
  8. Drolma Shyen Migyalwa; Tārā Aparajitā – Tara, triumphant over others  for repelling blame
  9. Drolma Sengdeng Nakkyi; Tārā Khadira-vaṇī – Tara of the Khadira Forest for protection from the Eight Great Fears. 
  10. Drolma Jikten Sumgyal; Tārā Trailokavijayā – Tara who conquers the three worlds  to have power over the world
  11. Drolma Nor Terma; Tārā Vasudā – Tara who bestows wealth  for dispelling poverty and granting good fortune
  12. Drolma Tashi Dönché; Tārā Maṅgalārthā – Tara who brings auspiciousness for the auspiciousness of children, fame, rain and so on
  13. Drolma Drapung Jomma; Tārā Ripu-cakra-vināśinī – Tara who destroys the power of enemies  for victory in war
  14. Drolma Tronyer Chendze; Tārā Bhṛkuṭī – Tara for protection from maligant spirits
  15. Drolma Rabtu Shyiwa; Tārā Praśāntī – Tara who guarantees perfect peace and for purifying harmful actions
  16. Drolma Barwé Öchen; Tārā Kiraṇojjvalā – Tara who is ablaze with light  for dispelling spells and negative effects
  17. Drolma Pakmé Nönam; Tārā Aprameyākramaṇī – Tara of limitless subjugation for protection from robbers, thieves, animals and hunters
  18. Drolma Mabja Chenmo; Tārā Mahāmāyūrī – Tara to protect from, and to neutralize, poison
  19. Drolma Mipam Gyalmo; Tārā Ajitarājñī – Tara who is unconquerable and victorious  for protection from quarrels and bad dreams
  20. Drolma Ritröma; Tārā Śabarī – Tara, Dweller in the Mountains, who protects from epidemics
  21. Drolma Özer Chenma; Tārā Mārīcī – Tara, ‘Rays of Light’, for restoring the spirits and energies of sick people.


Living through the Lockdown

Few weeks back I was invited to resource a video conference call with 300+ participants brought together by Abroad Inc – an executive retreat program that attracts some of the top entrepreneurs from the Silicon Valley, world’s top philanthropists, scientists, thought leaders and change makers. The theme was, how each one us were coping with this global pandemic that has taken the world by storm. In the five minutes I was allocated, I humbly presented what I was going through and how we were dealing with this fear that has engulfed us – and the world. Here is the rough transcript of my submission:

Greetings from the Contentment Valley

“Greetings to everyone from the jungles of Athang Rukha. This is where I am right now – having escaped as far as I could from the coronavirus (smile). I drove for two hours to find a stable Internet service. I am on a hilltop – surrounded by wilderness. And I am glad that I could join you.

Well! Even we, here in Bhutan, have not been spared from the fear and hysteria caused by this coronavirus pandemic, although only two American tourists have been tested positive so far. But whether it is our own people or a foreigner, once they are here, it is our problem and they have been treated with kindness and compassion – apart from free medical care.

Jumping directly into the question: how have I responded to this crisis, and what do we, as humanity, learn from this crisis? Now, I could have joined the bandwagon of getting into the panic mode – and go shopping and hoarding, and sharing fake news or screaming on social media. But, I thought I could do what is closest to my heart – practice selfless service, compassion and kindness. I chose the latter. And I headed back to Rukha valley.

For those of you who are not familiar with my works in this valley. I have been working with this small community of the last hunter-gatherers of Bhutan – since 2006. I began as a volunteer for a foundation and after the project closed, I stayed on to work on my own – to help the villagers build a community temple – or simply be there for them.

In 2012 I went through a personal tragedy, which almost killed me. When that was over and when I reflected on my life, I realized that if I deserved a place in heaven it was only my work for this community. Otherwise I would burn in hell. As far as I was concerned, no other things I did, or achieved, or accumulated mattered because you would be losing everything in an instant. The few years I had dedicated to this valley was the only thing that made me proud if I was gone that day. Ever since, this valley has become closer to my heart. It is a place for me to practice selfless service and unconditional loving kindness. It is a secret refuge, where I withdraw into during confusing times. And in this global lockdown saga, since I cannot return to Macau, I have decided to be here and complete two temples, which I started years back.

Are you “there”?

When I drove into the valley I found the people were terrified by the news – and by all the rumors that were being circulated – mainly through the social media. Without access to correct information, they relied on hearsays and gossip. They heard that the world was going to end and that we were all going to die. I calmed the situation and told them what I knew that it wasn’t the case. Everything is about how prepared we are and how we can prevent the crisis. I told them that our King is personally overseeing the preparation and prevention works.

I was supposed to return back to Thimphu after a few days, as I always did in the past. But this time I realized I just needed to stay put because the whole valley needed someone – a reassuring figure. They were all relieved that I was here. They have a belief here that when a soenamchen (person of great fortune and merits) is among them, no disease or tragedy would befall on them. I felt funny but didn’t challenge their belief systems.

So, the first lesson we can learn here is that although we are all going through the same fear and trauma, you can still be there for someone who needs you more. If you look around, you will always find another human, another sentient being – someone who is more terrified, less educated, and in a worse situation than you are. You don’t have to be president or a prime minister to lead. You can also provide leadership to those around you – your family, your community. They look up to you for words of comfort to say that everything will be OK. Some of you have thousands of people who even work for you.

Are. You. “There”. For. Them?

Working together

Collectivism, imagination and community have been the secrets of human survival – and of human dominance over other species. Our ability to work together has not only enabled us to hunt animals that are bigger and stronger than us, it has allowed us to reach the Moon – both metaphorically and literally. Otherwise some species of monkeys are stronger, faster, or more agile. Our collective strength – to put our hands, hearts, minds and brains together have let us tide over every challenge and every obstacle. So the question is: how can we work together so that we get over this crisis? What is your role? What can you do for others? What can you do for the community or for your country?

Find your “temple”

Lastly, in a bid to succeed, to get rich, to accumulate power – or to simply feed our family, we often forget our inner self and its core wants and needs. As a Mahayana Buddhist where compassion is a core value, I find my inner self drawn towards selfless service and loving kindness. As I said, I am here in this valley completing these two temples. In doing this, I have realized that I have also managed to divert my mind from paranoia to positivism – to something that brings pure joy. I see this being radiated in the whole valley. I suppose this is also providing leadership. What is the use of worrying about something that you cannot bring any solution to it. Of course, we can pray – and we are doing a sacred ceremony on Tuesday the 24th March. But no one is talking about dying here. There is laughter, there is joy and there is togetherness. Yes, we are facing this crisis in our own ways. The other day I was saying that if we should die, we should die doing something we are proud of.

In closing, I hope you all will find your “temple”, your inner self, the true you and who you really want to be. I guess, this period of lockdown is a great time to be that – even if it is for a short period. I hope you will find time and energy to help someone in need. I hope you will find your community and your togetherness.

I thank you all for being in this community.

Rukha temple people



Latest on Covid-19

Let me start with a disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. The closest I have been is covering health sector for BBS TV as a producer-journalist in my previous reincarnation  – many moons ago. As a health journo one learns to speak complex medical concepts in more human language – and synthesize medical reports and studies

Now, here are the latest on COVID-19

What is known about the novel coronavirus?

  • COVID-19 has no vaccine still, which is the only long-term answer to the coronavirus crisis. At the time of this writing, around 30 companies and universities are racing to bring out something in the market – and this could take anywhere between 1 to 2 years. So at best, nothing will be available before the end of the year – that is December 2020. At the lead of the race is a Oxford University team and a company called Gilead Science that are expected to bring out only the trial results by May 2020. Certification and mass production are far away. 
  • As for the cure or recovery of those who catch the virus, it all depends on one’s immunity and medical history. Interestingly, the recovery rate is high and so getting it does not mean a ïdeath sentence.
  • The most terrifying aspect of this coronavirus is its asymptomatic nature. In simple words, people who have the virus and do not show any symptoms are called asymptomatic cases. So one could be having the virus, but shows no sign and could pass on the virus to others. Hence, testing is the key.

What is the unknown?

There are many unanswered questions: Why is it spreading faster in some countries and slower in others? Then there are cases of people testing positive again after they have been declared as ‘recovered’. Is this a relapse or was the virus dormant? Are they capable of infecting others? Only time and more research will be able to answer these questions.

Why should we feel reassured and safe?

In any epidemic, one key factor is the government response. And in our case, besides the preparedness and a solid action-plan by our Health Ministry, our Prime Minister is a dedicated medical doctor and above all, we have our King who is overseeing every minute detail of the preparedness and response. Countries that have responded in a similar manner –  such as Singapore and New Zealand have done very well in controlling the outbreak and keeping their citizens safe. Testing is another key aspect and Bhutan has, today, one of the highest rates of testing in the world taken in ratio to the population.

There are also some interesting findings of countries that have mandatory BCG vaccination reporting lower Covid-19 mortality. BCG is administered in Bhutan as a part of immunization programme and this vaccine seems to produce, what they call, “off-target effects” that increases the ability of the immune system to fight off certain viruses besides its main purpose of preventing tubercolosis. This finding is yet to be vetted but some explain, for example, the low Covid mortality in countries like Portugal. If it is minimally confirmed, we are in good position to fight off the virus.

Why should we worry?

Bhutan is a small country. We all know each other. And so, even one positive case is one too many. And even a single death is just too plenty. And complicate the matter, we are complacent and relaxed by nature. We say everything is ready when it is not. And we also have too many people with underlying medical conditions such as tuberculosis, hypertension, diabetes, ALD etc. 

What is, and why, physical distancing? 

According to WHO, the virus can be transferred from one person to another through droplets when one coughs or sneezes. WHO recommends 1 meter while the US-based CDC says 2 meters. Latest study from the same CDC now even claims that the virus travels as far as 4 meters and can be carried around under the soles of the shoes. Hence physical and social distancing have to be practiced. And furthermore, there might be the need for more rigorous hygienic practices like leaving your shoes at the door.

Physical distancing means deliberately maintaining a minimum distance between you and the other person/s so that if a person sneezes or coughs, you are not infected.

On the other hand, avoid going into crowded areas, gatherings, parties, meetings, conferences, markets, malls and large religious events where there are greater chances of getting infected because of more number of people. Furthermore, stay away from going over to meet friends or family members unless it is absolutely necessary. Staying and/or working from home, as far as possible, is the best.

Physical distancing even without local transmission/infection?

Yes, because of the asymptomatic nature of the virus, there could be, or you could be, a false negative wandering around. The government has indicated that a lockdown will be necessary only if there is community transmission. However, we could also be proactive and practice social distancing and prevent the community transmission and a potential lockdown from happening.

Mind you, a lockdown would be bring untold sufferings to many. Already the virus has taken a heavy economic toll with loss of livelihood for many in the service sector such as tourism and hospitality.

Can the young, or the poor, care less?

From the emerging patterns of this epidemic, young people are less vulnerable to COVID-19. However, this does not mean that they can care less and go partying because they could carry the virus and pass it on to a vulnerable person in the family or in the community – such as elderly persons or someone with poor health. Young people should, therefore, be as responsible as anyone. He or she could be the silent killer.

And in no way this is a rich man’s disease. Everyone is vulnerable. Everyone is susceptible and everyone should be careful. In fact, as in every crisis, the poorer section of the society will suffer the most if the situation escalates.

The medical university uses teleconferencing for meetings, which is the future

Our obsession with chilli will get us all killed.

Physical distancing


Although people are resisting the physical distancing ordinance because there is no community transmission, how about we reverse the argument? And think different.

We practice safe distancing so that we prevent the community transmission – and a potential lockdown. Instead of waiting for the lockdown and then distance ourselves, let’s prevent the lockdown from happening by safe distancing now.

It is great to see people practicing it across the country. Worst comes, and god forbid, we are better prepared with our personal behaviours.

Social and behavioural changes take time – and time is not a luxury with this pandemic. Need to start now.

Distributing seeds in Lamga,  Rukha and Samthang in Athang gewog to help the country with the food security

Are we ready?

No, we are not.

Exactly a month has passed since the first positive case of coronavirus was detected in the country. As soon as the news broke, the town went scrambling. People rushed to pharmacies in droves to buy face masks and hand sanitisers. Motorists lined up for hours to fuel up their cars (Still, I have no idea where they actually wanted to go). Shoppers cleaned up the entire stock of rice, sugar and other items from the grocery stores.

The next day the streets were empty. The Sun had stopped shining. Not even the wind was blowing. Silence had gripped Thimphu. It looked surreal and scary.

A month after, many people seem to have forgotten that we are still going through the biggest public health crisis of our time. We now have three Bhutanese, who have returned from abroad, and who tested positive – and who the doctors and nurses are working hard to send them home after recovering.

The Ministry of Health advises social distancing – or physical distancing to be precise. And the ringtone of my mobile phone tells me to wash my hands. This message seem to have sunk in well, but physical distancing? We aren’t still there – not even close. At Shop 7, on Saturday, I was waiting at a safe distance in queue when a lady, who didn’t even seem illiterate, just cut in front of me and took that ‘social’ space. She had a child with her. Both had no masks on. On Sunday hundreds of shoppers squeezed against each other in queue to grab some kilos of chilis (chilli is our national obsession after road digging). So much for all the advocacy works. I took a walk along Norzin Lam Thimphu over the weekend and while it was quite empty, there were people in the bars and restaurants or walking around without masks – without any resemblance of self-protection or safe distancing. There is someone who has jumped a quarantine in Samtse. Tobacco smugglers have been held elsewhere. Some organisations still think people are overreacting – and are not allowing work from home. It seems for many these are normal times.

But this ain’t normal time. And we are far from coming back to normal. The virus has just started creating havoc in the greatest nation on Earth – the US, because of their complacency, cynicism and media idiocy and extremism. Italy, the country where I spent my youth, is shutdown as thousands die. They are now telling the world not to make the mistake they made. When the virus was ravaging through China and South Korea, they acted normal as if nothing was happening. The ignored every warning. “It is happening out there,” they said and continued doing what they were doing.

There are more recoveries than deaths. I understand that. South Korea and Singapore did well but Japan has just declared national emergency. The only long-term solution, so that we can return to normalcy, is a vaccine for the vulnerable group. This is the only way to get the world on its feet again. Latest news reports say that there are some 19 companies trying to developing a vaccine. Most are only going on clinical trials now, which means it could take at least one year from now before they are available in the market.

Bhutan, right now, is relatively safe thanks to our selfless King and the rapid response put up by the government. And I pray that it remains that way. We don’t need to panic or live in fear. But we can’t be careless or complacent either. Because a minor error here, a small blunder there could jeopardize all the effort that has gone in – and put us all in danger. A complete lockdown has been ruled out – per various government briefings, because it is still felt unnecessary.

But how about a mock lockdown? We can do it for few days to see the public responsiveness. We can fine-tune the movement of emergency vehicles and check our food supplies. We can locate the weakest links in our system and the society. It is just another wild idea.

The government is prepared. We are told. But are the people ready? I think it is safe to think we are not.

(Photo – scene at Vegetable Market. Where is physical distancing?)




Coincidence? May be

16 March 2020 – The temple of Athang Rukha that was rebuilt less than 10 years ago needed a new roof. That’s because when it was built we couldn’t afford to do it beyond the basics. The Oleps – as the inhabitants of Rukha are known, had just come out of extreme poverty with the help of Tarayana. And I, as the sole funder, was not in a great financial position. Still, given our limited resources and circumstances back then, we did a good job and built a temple that was eventually consecrated in 2013. And compared to the shackle and the ruins that we had before, this new place was a master piece.

With time, though, we got ambitious. The villagers got ambitious. The new lama wanted to do up the place. “It is a place of worship.” he argued. “It is a place where people come seek spiritual solace. It is not a chicken house”. I couldn’t agree with him more.

Above all, the site where the temple stands is believed to be the abode of the powerful Pelden Lhamo – one of the three supreme protector deities of Bhutan. According to oral sources, Pelden Lhamo (Sri Devi in Sanskri, and an emanation of Mahakali) came to suppress an aggressive demon, who had built a phodrang (castle) in Rukha and was terrorizing the area. The ruins of the castle is still visible today – on the hill with a giant cypress tree – at the lower end of the village. Having overcome the demon, Pelden Lhamo is said to have taken residence at the nearby site of the present temple – so that the demon does no harm again. It is, thus, a powerful place. And anecdotal evidences are abound of her presence here.

So the lama took the opportunity of my presence and called a village meeting and I joined them.

Chokila, a villager elder, reported to the gathering that the funding drive was unsuccessful. He and Lethro have been working at it for over six months and they received almost nothing. He then proposed the only option. They would collect Nu. 2000 from each household (Rukha has 20) and that would be sufficient to get a new roof – the tin CGI sheets from Tata company. The meeting agreed but the lama didn’t look impressed and he repeated that we should do a better than that. I understood what he meant and so I interjected: 

“I am glad that you all have reached a consensus to contribute to the purchase of a new roof. I must congratulate you all for getting here. Let’s not forget that just 10 years back, we couldn’t have thought of anything beyond how to feed our families – and live day by day. But you all worked hard over the years and today to see you all even discussing and dreaming of big things – and to be able to come up with such an amount, I feel extremely satisfied. I am sure all others who worked for you, the people from the Tarayana Foundation, would be very proud too. So here is a small offer from my side.

We will get a better quality roofing material that has just come out in the market – the DuraRoof. It is much better but it costs double as compared to Tata. From my rough calculation it comes to around Nu. 90,000. Since you have agreed to put forward 40,000, I will offer the rest of 50,000. If it is more than that I will take care still.”

There was an instant glow on the faces of all present – especially on the Lama. Chokila, stood up again and expressed their gratitude, “We didn’t want to ask you. I told the villagers that there was no way I could ask you – after all the things you have done for us. But anyway, as always, on behalf of the community, thank you, la.”

The other villagers acknowledged. I continued:

“It’s okay. I am sure Aum Pelden Lhamo will take care of that. Even when I was totally broke, she took care of me. However, I would also like you all to call up our young salaried men and women from your respective households to contribute. I know some of them have just started their career, and most are in low-paying jobs. It is OK even if they donate Nu. 50, but I would really encourage them to donate. Not because I can’t afford what I have just promised but because I also want them to be blessed and protected by deity Pelden Lhamo. I guarantee you that if they do that, their life and their career will be stable and they will all prosper. You will all prosper. Whatever we get will be fine with me and as I said, I will cover the balance amount.

Above all, and this more important, I want you all, and them, to look at this new temple with pride. I want you all to come into this place with your head held high for the rest of your life – with the feeling that you have done your bit – your duty.”

The next day we brought down the old roof and the timber trusses and I made the final estimation of how many new sheets were required. The lama and Chokila went to Thimphu to make the purchase. They were met by his nephew, Penchay, who, together with his daughter, Phub Dem, had coordinated the donation drive among the young men and women from the village and their friends – after my appeal. I was informed that they have raised a whopping figure of Nu. 51,600 from among 27 individuals. I was surprised, but not really surprised. After all, it is deity Pelden Lhamo whom we are serving. And miracles happen.

The final bill came from the hardware stores. I had not calculated the ridging and the roofing screws (my engineering skills are getting rusty) and so it was Nu. 105,500. I paid the full mount through my mBoB – while Chokila dropped the cash collected that amounted to Nu. 88,100 at my place – after paying off the fuel charges for two Boleros.

In the following two days the new roof was up on Rukha temple. And then after two more days of fine-tuning and preparation, the lama made an appeasement ritual, Lhamo Tshoja, in honour of Pelden Lhamo. Rainbows appeared in several places, which are considered auspicious and signs shown by the deities.  During the ceremony where I had to sit with the monks, as the main jindha (sponsor), in silence I took the opportunity to thank the deity for protecting us throughout the two-week period. Not a single carpenter or worker was injured. Not even a scratch. It was a miracle in itself. That was my bigger concern through out. I also prayed for an end to the on-going coronavirus crisis.

Then that evening I got a text message from a friend in the US. He wanted me to resource a short online conference for thought leaders from across the globe – where I was asked to talk about compassionate leadership, generosity and community – in these challenging times posed by the epidemic. For my presentation and a half hour participation in the global dialogue, he offered US$ 250 as donation to the temple. He knows the place well. He has been there.

Now, Nu. 105,500 – 88,100 =  Nu. 17,400. And US$ 250 = Nu. 17,500.

Coincidence? May be. The Lama thinks Aum Pelden Lhamo reimbursed me.



(NB. I have many other such “coincidences” both good and bad that happened to me and the village in the course of rebuilding that temple. This is actually the smallest miracle)

The ruin and the reconstruction

25 December – 2013 consecration

The meeting of the village

We brought down the roof


The new truss

The new Jamthog

The new roof with jamthog


Living through the virus scare

As the panic attack from the virus is almost over, let me share my own tips as to how to navigate through these scary times. Since the matter is now handled by the Government, I didn’t want to add to the confusion but I just came across some people who are still traumatised. One woman shared to me yesterday that after she saw the news, she felt as if she had the virus and the fever. Another said that her daughter is self-isolated in her room.

While these suggestions may help one to live one’s life as normal as possible, there is, however, no such thing as total prevention or reducing the risk to zero. The other thing is, as I had mentioned in my earlier posts, we may be less prone to the disease because of our good immune system, in general. Hence there is no need to play the drama queen.

Some anxiety, yes

Everyone gets anxious. We all do. It is normal. It is our instinct for survival generated by our limbic brain. What we need to watch out for is that our anxiety does not become fear. If it does, then you would overestimate the threat and underestimate your own capability. We would transfer that fear to those around us – to our children and to those who look up to us. We are more likely to make mistakes and irrational decisions, which sometimes can be costly. Certain level of widespread anxiety is good for, it drives preventions and good behaviours in the society.

If you are getting anxious, remind yourself of one thing: human body is strong, resilient and complex – otherwise our species wouldn’t have survived 50,000 years without a hospital. And besides, the new coronavirus is not a death sentence or Bubonic plague. It won’t pounce on us like a leopard.

Don’t be obsessed with updates

Educating yourself and others around you is a must. It was quite alarming that even educated people were joining the Howling Mob on the social media, when they could be researching and giving out good and comforting information. In this day and age where information is available on a click of a button, one can be better informed. For example, if you go through our Annual Health reports, you will find that no Bhutanese has died of common cold – unlike in other countries where thousands do. So we are better off than many other nationalities. Besides, it has been studied that this virus, like other viruses, does not survive outside a living organism for longer than few minutes to an hour.

Do not be obsessed with news and updates, though. One reason for this mass hysteria is the social media that is throwing the pictures, videos, updates, fake news right on our faces. If it wasn’t for the mobile phones and the Internet, this virus would not have gained so much notoriety. Ebola was more fatal. And when the HIV virus was announced, no one lined up at fuel depots or rushed to the pharmacies. It was because news took its own sweet time to reach us and we digested well.

While it is tempting to check the updates on the Facebook or WeChat, doing that every minute will keep you at heightened state of anxiety. A prolonged state of anxiety is harmful to health than the virus itself. It will fuel panic attacks and depressions – to say the least. 

Don’t feel silly to be safe

If you have to take precautions, take them. If you want to avoid large crowds and gathering, stay away. If you feel like washing your hands frequently, do it. If you want to do some religious rituals or invoke your Protector Deity or say your prayers, go ahead. You don’t have to feel silly to feel safe. But again, do not exaggerate and overestimate the threat. What happens when you do that is you won’t be thinking straight. Then you will be queuing up at the pharmacy and shops with hundreds of other people and run into some real risks of infections.   

Eat well, sleep well

To boost your immune system, get vitamin C from natural food, which includes orange, lemon, broccoli, garlic, turmeric, kiwi, papaya, ginger, yogurt, and chilis. Your immune system will either keep you away from the virus or fight them if you are infected. And with or without the virus your immune system needs to be in top form. My day starts with two glasses of lemon water and salt – and ends with hot milk and turmeric. Try them!

Bhutanese diet is not the best because the variety is simply not there. But what you eat not only determines your physical health it also affects your mental state. A study found that a diet rich in green vegetable, fruits, lean protein and whole grain helps reduce depressions and anxiety. And stay away from processed food because it suppresses your immune system. Amul cheese, Wai Wai, Koka, canned fish, etc are all processed food imported from as far as the US or Turkey. For those with poor digestive system because of gastritis, ulcer or acid reflux, drop these altogether. I am speaking from my own experience.

And then sleep like a baby. Sleep time is when your immune system is regenerated. It is fairly simple: If you sleep well, chances are that your system is good. If you are sleep deprived, you are down. A research experiment was done whereby live virus of common cold was splashed on a group of participants. Those who had rested well didn’t catch the virus even when they were exposed directly. Those who were not sleeping well, fell immediately ill.

Government response is everything

Countries and nations, and the world at large, will be challenged time and again. This is not the first time that we have faced this and it won’t be the last. And how the governments responds is the key to mitigating these challenges. We have the country’s most famous doctor at the helm of the government. I mean, won’t he know best? And, isn’t that even our own good fortune? Our collective moelam

And above all, we should not forget that we have our King who would do anything to keep us safe.

Keep living, sleep well and eat well, my dear countrymen.



Updates from Rukha

SLOWLY and steadily the two temples – one in Rukha and the other one in Lawa Lamga are getting done. It’s been ten years since I initiated the first and almost five since the second got off the ground. The reason for taking such a long time is that I am not a wealthy guy and we don’t have any big sponsors either. Besides, both the villages are not financially strong and do not have many salaried people. The whole village of Lawa Lamga, actually, doesn’t even have a single person earning a regular salary. Rukha has few young people who have started working in the government and in the private sector. And that’s it. Hence, the works there resume when I have some money to spare – and work stops when I am broke. But there is no rush, or expectations. Some day we will get them done. In Rukha, for example, the people there have initiated several minor works to take the project forward – on their own. This is great because they are not depending entirely on me. A lama has been conducting annual mani dungdrup ceremony since 2015. 

On the other hand, both the communities are already happy that, at least, now there is a place for them to gather, a place for them to seek spiritual solaces and a place they now feel complete with. Earlier, the people of Rukha had to resort to shamanistic rituals that involved animal sacrifice. Lamgaps had to conduct their religious ceremonies under tarpaulin sheets and sometimes in battering rain. At least, they have managed to put all those practices behind them. 

Community temples in rural area are not just spiritual monuments.

Community temples in rural area are not spiritual monuments. They serve as a vital social space to bring the community together. Otherwise, in trying to survive in an increasingly competitive world, people get drifted apart. That’s what happens in an urban setting where even close family members rarely meet. Coming together and being together are important social activities that will bond a society and keep the nation together. As Bhutan gets more urbanised (56% now live in three cities of Thimphu, Paro and Phuntsholing), one challenge that the country will face is individualism – and subsequently increasing jealousy, greed, conflicts, materialism and superficiality. Hence, those of us who can, and still care, should support collectivism, community, sharing and togetherness – in any manner we can. We, Bhutanese, want to serve our country. But you cannot serve your country by neglecting the community around you, the communities in front of you. Unless we build strong communities, we cannot build a strong nation.  

Do not postpone good deeds

Now, every Bhutanese wants to be useful and wants to do something for others. It is in our genes. But we also procrastinate a lot. Why should I? Will I get the credits for that? Is he not taking all the fame? Should I do it later? Well, no. You do with faith. You do selflessly. And you start now. Mind you, what you do, or don’t, are all accounted for in the Grand Registry of life called ley dang moelam (karma).

Besides, there is no point waiting. Life is uncertain. So when your time comes, there is something you can take with you – the good karma – your soenam, your gewa and your moelam. So try accumulating as much when you are healthy, alive and kicking. For those interested in getting involved (and receive a share of good Karma, because I don’t intend to hog them all), there are still some balance remaining works there.

You don’t have to be, or wait to become,  wealthy either. Because you will never become one. Being rich is a mindset. It is a matter of perspective. I know people who have everything and think they have nothing. I also know those who have little and feel they have enough and are ready to share. Our desires have no limits.

Also when I was younger, I used to wish that when I grow rich, I will help others. I never became one and, to my horror, in no time I realised that I had turned 40. Waiting. Half of life was gone. You have to start moving your fingers now. Yes, I know we are all struggling to make our ends meet. But if you think you are in a bad shape economically, just know that there are fellow humans, fellow citizens who have nothing.

Rukha Pelden Lhamo Lhakhang

Rukha Lhakhang was consecrated on 25 December 2015 by His Eminence Tsugla Lopen Rimpoche of Zhung Dratshang. It was opened not because it was complete but because the community desperately wanted to the place to be operational. The main tehns (statues) are Rigsum Goenpo (Chana Dorji, Jetsun Jamyang and Chenrizig) and Buddha Sakymuni. The remaining works are:

  • Completion of a separate altar room for Protecting Deity, Pelden Lhamo. (The site is believed to be her abode. It is a powerful place)
  • Re-roofing for Serto (golden pinnacle) installation
  • Serto – golden pinnacle – donated by someone in Phobjikha
  • Mural paintings (Coming. Granted by Gangtey Trulku)
  • Altar painting

Items required:

  • CGI sheets (16 pieces, 12 feet long)
  • Cements (10 bags maximum)
  • Painting works of the main altar (finance and despatch one painter for few days)
  • Thri and chodrom for lama
  • Offering bowls, butter lamps, drum and cymbal for the goenkang

Lamga Community Tshokhang

The community hall and temple of Lamga is little behind. It was started in 2016. And so there is lot to be done. The main statues are Tshela Namsum (Tshepamay, Namgyelmo and Jetsun Droelma) and Buddha Sakyamuni.

The following are the works remain to be executed. What I do is I provide the imported materials while the community does the manual labour. So, any in-kind donations to the project from individuals and institutions are welcome. No money will be accepted. Money corrupts. Money brings disputes and suspicions.

The minor works are:

  • Flooring of the temple (being done)
  • Traditional painting of the altar
  • Purchase of water-offering bowls, and cymbals and doong.
  • Thri-chidrom for lama
  • Gyeltshen, tehnkheb and other decorations

Some of the major works are:

  • Mural paintings
  • Purchase and installation of serto (golden pinnacle)
  • Construction materials for community kitchen and for Lama’s living quarters

However, as I mentioned earlier, as it is the community is already very happy because earlier they had nothing. Just make-shift tarpaulin tents and in monsoon the experience was far from pleasant. Besides, since the temple was up and running there has been a decrease in animal sacrifices all over the valley. This will be another story for another time.

Satisfied? Well, we are extremely proud of what we have achieved. And honestly, it didnt drain me financially that much. This just goes to show how much we can achieve if we put our hearts together.

May our Supreme Protector deity Pelden Lhamo keep us all under her wings

Rukha village – the home of the Oleps – the original inhabitants of Bhutan

Rukha temple built on the site of an earlier ruins.

Chamber allocated for the deity, Aum Pelden Lhamo. Needs to be done. 

Rukha temple. Main altar room. Done.

The mountain behind me is sacred to the Oleps

Lamgaps resettled here in 2005, from Phobjikha, and built their homes after clearing this hilltop called Cheenading. They were doing their monthly rituals under make-shift tents for years.

Altar of Lamga temple

We met to finalise the next course of actions and works

Heaven is a place in Lamga