The painful realities of life in Thimphu

Panoramic view of Thimphu City. Image source:

As the Capital City of Bhutan, Thimphu has been undergoing a major transformation over the years with numerous developmental activities coming up in all corners. With various modern facilities and infrastructures in place, the city has been considered a safe haven for thousands of Bhutanese people who come here for education, employment and business. However, with the rising cases of senseless murder, burglary and robbery over the recent years, I think Thimphu is now losing the glory of its past. There are many people who no longer feel safe here today.

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The drama of city life in Thimphu as seen through the eyes of taxi drivers

Photo of a group of taxis in Thimphu. Image courtesy: Google

With rapid development of modern infrastructures and public facilities, Thimphu is now growing into a city that hardly sleeps as it gets crowded with people from all corners of the country. It is estimated that there are over 50,000 people currently living in Thimphu city who have come for various reasons: employment, education, business, etc. As a result, we get to see different people with varying lifestyles and strange behaviors in the city every day. But more than anybody else, the taxi drivers get the opportunity to watch the real drama of the city life as they ferry passengers from one place to another every day. I have personally talked to a couple of taxi drivers in Thimphu and they have shared the following stories:

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My youngest son leaves the comfort of his home behind to start a new journey of his life

Photo of my youngest son Rigden Subba in his school campus on his first school day

There is a wave of excitement in my family as my youngest son Rigden Subba began his much-awaited academic journey since yesterday. Till now he has been his mother’s best companion at home, living with full of childish innocence and smiles. So the first day was certainly a strange experience for him. Although he had promised that he would not cry in school as his elder brother had done on his first day in school four years ago, it seems he did silently shed some tears on the way back home yesterday. I am sure he must have felt very strange in that new environment. For now, my wife is giving him company in the school, waiting for him all day and helping him have lunch or go to toilet during the intervals. He has been told that after a while, he has to be alone and that his mother will only come to get him home after the school hours. He has accepted this upcoming ordeal that he has to face. I am sure he will soon learn to be independent especially after he gets familiar with the environment and his friends. The problem with him right now is that he is normally a silent boy and that he doesn’t easily mingle with others. So, most of the time, it seems he is seen alone in the classroom. But with the passage of time, I hope he would gain some confidence to open up and interact with others.

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The cost of forest fires for a small nation

Photo of helicopter fighting fire in Thimphu. Image courtesy: BBS website.

Whenever there is a forest fire, it always pains my heart to think of all those precious natural resources perishing in the flames. It is really painful to watch those trees that would have existed for thousands of years burn to ashes within no time taking along with them the lives of numerous animals and insects. I am just wondering how many people really realize how much each forest fire costs the nation as a whole. I feel that each tree that is burned down, each animal that is killed and each insect that perishes in the fire is a loss to the nation as it can affect the balance of its biodiversity. The fires that raged through the pine forests in different locations around Thimphu yesterday and today definitely call for stricter and harsher penalties for those involved in starting the fire, be it deliberately or accidentally. I know many countries have tougher laws on the protection of natural environment but in Bhutan, it seems our laws are not harsh enough to discourage people from making unnecessary fires in the forests, or throwing the cigarette butts into the bushes without putting off the fire.

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Will Thimphu become the first city in Bhutan to help persons with disabilities get out of their closets?

If what we discussed and proposed during the consultative meeting with the World Bank team today is going to be implemented by Thimphu City Corporation, Thimphu will perhaps become Bhutan’s first ever accessible and inclusive city where persons with disabilities can enjoy greater independence. Today, almost all the public facilities such as sidewalks, public transport services, banks, hospitals, movie theaters and shopping complexes are not disabled-friendly and because of these barriers, we have not been able to fully participate in the public life. More importantly, the general attitude of the people towards persons with disabilities is still not as positive as it should be. As a result, many persons with disabilities are facing discriminations behind closed doors. For instance, Mr. Pema Tshering who is a physically handicapped person currently working in Simply Bhutan says he has been denied ride by taxi drivers on many occasions just because he cannot walk. But with the change in time, I think things are now beginning to fall in place. The consultative meeting held in the office of Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB) today was initiated by the World Bank as part of its new project to make the public transport services within Thimphu city more accessible and friendly for persons with disabilities and I was fortunate to be part of the discussion.

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The first leg of my official trip to India

Six years after my first official trip to Bangkok in 2009, I am thankful to my boss for letting me join her team to visit a youth center in Chennai in India. When I was told that I have been nominated for the study visit a couple of weeks ago, I accepted the offer with gratitude for two main reasons. Firstly, the activity is part of the project I look after and somehow I had a feeling that I deserve this opportunity after being involved in planning and implementing numerous activities under the project over the past two years. Secondly, it has been a very long time since I had got my first official trip outside the country. So, I thought it would be an opportunity for me to refresh mentally for a while. It has been really a long gap. My wife was 6-month pregnant with my youngest son when I first got to officially fly to Bangkok in September 2009 for a week-long training and now he is six-years-old when I have got this second opportunity. However, my first official trip was a true blessing for me because although I could not officially fly out of the country thereafter, I got the opportunity to travel abroad once every year privately either upon the invitation of external agencies or through scholarships. I think that those blessings are over now and here comes the second official trip. I once again hope that this official trip would also bring me another bunch of blessings for the next couple of years. LoL!

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How Dragon Boys brought home a new hope and dream

Photo of Hari Gurung, Bhutan's best goalee at Changlemithang stadium during Bhutan's match with China in June 2015. Image courtesy: BNFT's FB page

Although Bhutan has lost 3-4 to Maldives during the 2nd-round pre-qualifying world cup match yesterday, the extraordinary performance of our Dragon Boys during the last few minutes has re-kindled a new hope in the hearts of their fans in the country and abroad. I know our boys have been playing under intense pressure both from their direct opponents as well as their fans especially in this round of the pre-qualifying matches. As amateur players representing a country where football is just beginning to gain momentum, I can clearly understand the degree of both psychological and physical pressure our boys must be going through to save our country’s name in the midst of highly professional and experienced opponents. Although we have consecutively lost so far during this round, the constant efforts and commitment of our boys to contribute to the team will never be forgotten. Although I don’t have much hope that we would win against any country in this round, I feel what our boys have been doing so far is enough at this juncture considering the economic constraints of the country to groom professional players and to expand the scope of the game. I know that they have been facing criticism from many people for their lack of proper team coordination and game tactics particularly after losing 0-15 to Qatar last month but despite all those public outcries and challenges, it’s amazing to watch them prove last night that they have still not lost their spirit.

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From Thimphu to Bumthang: a journey between life and death!

Road blockage between Wangdue and Trongsa on 23rd September 2015

Coinciding with the Tshechu holidays in Thimphu, the Disabled Persons’ Association of Bhutan (DPAB) had organized a workshop in Bumthang to develop its five-year strategic plan. As I have been an active member of the Association, I was invited to be part of the workshop held from 24-26 September 2015. We had hired a Bolero truck for our entire journey to and from Bumthang. As we started our journey on 23rd September, I was worried about the road conditions on the way, because just a few days back, a taxi had slipped off the road between Wangdue Phodrang and Trongsa killing five passengers. The road between Thimphu and Wangdue Phodrang was fine although there were some minor obstacles on the way due to the ongoing road-widening activities. But the conditions began to get worse after crossing Wangdue Phodrang.

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Fighting an unwinnable war against ferocious monsters

As far as I know, we have been fighting this war for decades now. We have arrested so many of them and caged them for life at various locations where many of them died of hunger and diseases. We have also sterilized them with the hope of wiping out their generations and we have even poisoned many of them to death. Yet this war is never coming to an end. What makes the matter even worse is that now the government seems to be giving up and retreating from the battlefields.

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Vehicular madness on Bhutanese roads

Traffic jam in Phuntsholing town. Image source: Kuensel.

At the Swimming Pool junction in Thimphu, a car turns right at the roundabout without switching on the right-indicator light and almost at the same time, another car closes in from the other direction and slams into it breaking its number-plate. As the two drivers struggle to find a suitable space to park their cars and discuss the matter, other cars let out deafening horn-sirens. Within no time, the situation becomes chaotic with many impatient drivers trying to cut their way through and pedestrians anxiously waiting along the edge of the road to cross over to the other side. Scenes like this are common on Bhutanese roads especially during rush hours in the morning and evening. Due to such carelessness on the part of drivers and their seemingly uncivilized behavior, the vehicular madness and road rage are becoming part of our daily city life today. It’s obvious that bad drivers are everywhere in Bhutan. One driver says, “You don’t even have to make mistakes to crash into another car. There’s every possibility that you will be hit although you are on the right track.”
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On the other end of life’s journey

Photo of Thimphu crematorium. Image source: BBS.

Three days back, on 30th September 2014, I had gone to Thimphu cremation ground with my colleagues to attend the funeral rites of one of our senior colleague’s mother-in-law. As I entered the ground, I could sense the weight of gloom and sadness hanging in the atmosphere with families, relatives and friends mourning the departure of their loved ones. There were four bodies lined up to be cremated on that particular day. I offered prayers for all four departed souls. Among the four bodies, the 4th one in the row touched me the most. We were told that she was a 9-year-old girl who was sick only for three days. What a tragic moment for her family! I wondered how such a cheerful soul could vanish at such a tender age. I am sure she must have had a lot of beautiful dreams and aspirations before her. It was a huge loss for her family, community and the nation as a whole.
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