Gardening the Bhutanese Way

Saturday, December 31, 2016

A Letter to My Mother

Dear Ama,
My  mother(on my left side): mother in-law on the right.

I owe you immense sense of gratitude for enduring seamless pain in my upbringing. You were alone in your stance and on  your path to raise, cuddle and mold me. You held your self esteem high when it bogged you down with. You stood up and leaped forward when challenges made you to kneel down in utter despair.

Many a times, I sensed your tears dripping down, but you never meddled us in the pool of your tragedy. You traversed a journey to combat a lone battle.

The agony of raising a pair of fatherless children would have gnawed hard on your bones when you have had already walked in the same shoes yourself.

I had a narrow death escape when I wriggled about out into the fireplace and have had my left limb burnt. The scar tells it all.

Perhaps that is only the second escape. The first one terrifies me utterly as it did tune its terrific fingers once at you.  I was greeted with rigid stone slabs instead of cozy blankets when I first entered this world. Who would have endured the pain seeping down each orifice of your heart when your first child lands head over the stone slab;  your fingers to caress only at the motionless child?

Ama, you faced all these; all alone. With none to hold your hand; none to share the tiniest bit of agony consuming you at such critical time leaves me awe-struck. I  understand your stance very clearly. Yet you moved forward.

Ama, you invested remarkable amount of your energy in building our family house. This routes down to the fact that I was left on my own in a wooden trough. I dwelled secluded in the trough, used for bathing me, as long as you fought hard with sores  resulting from the hard labor at the construction site. That was also the time when I was left to explore on my own, within the trough.

You beautifully narrated me the cuteness with which I smeared my own shit on my thump; relishing each jubilant suck. Perhaps that was only the thing that I found. Perhaps, we didn't have enough to keep my digestive glands satiated. However, circumstances didn't favor you to dwell in the house that you have  contributed enormous physical labor for.

I was hit hard on a day when I came over for vacation from school. The roofing over  our hut, lying in the vicinity of our previous house was frayed. Rain splashes came spluttering over our head.

Ama, what would have crossed your mind when fate didn't scribble a line to bestow you with a piece of land to erect a dwelling of your own? I boldly declared, "Ama, don't worry. Let me complete my studies first. I will be in a position to take care you and my siblings. A roof over our head and enough to feed ourselves; I bet you this". I noticed you casting your skeptical eyes on me but I was sure of what I was saying.

We borrowed a piece of land (of our relative) and constructed a small one-storied house. She(relative) was generous enough to lend the land at a meager amount.

Ama, I still remember the glow in your eyes, reflective of the utmost joy a couple of years ago. I stripped myself of my six-months stipend and concealed it in the khadar my grandpa gave me when I departed for my further studies. With the amount, I bought all the requirements (wires; sockets; bulbs; plugs and other miscellaneous items) for the set up of electricity line at our new home. With light at our home came glow on your face. That was the least I could do for showering me with boundless love.

Ama, stream of memories greet me but one in particular is still intact. You reminisced that an astrologer foretold that you are going to lose me during infancy; that my upbringing will be difficult. But you succeeded in clinging onto the narrow ray of hope and raised me with all difficulties. I am going to let you dwell in the reality of being extremely useful child as has been predicted.

My Ama, I know of the times when you didn't own a penny. However, you assured me that you are going to give me the amount, if needed during my schooling years even if you have to go begging, borrowing or whatever. My ama, you were handing me a few thousand notes as a refund for the payment incurred for your pilgrim trip and the Indian Currency exchange. Today, I reciprocate that love of yours with the same dialogue. I am not going to take a single penny from you now. I am going to do this small favor to you even if I have to borrow from others.

This is the testimony of my unfaltering love  and gratitude to you, Ama. Words are not enough to thank you.

Today, you said that I kept my words. As I drove you to Dechenphug lhakhang before you left this morning for your pilgrim trip to Bodhgaya, you expressed how grateful you are to me. You disclosed, " Everything we have back at home is an outcome of your hard work; from the electrical appliances,  clothing, food, cash in hand,  electrical milk churner to every item visible at our house reminds me of you". I seriously think that is what every parent raises their children for. If this foremost step of gratifying ones parents is nullified, I don't think there is any better way to serve others.

This letter to my ama is also in response to the numerous birthday wishes and blessings that I received on my birthday. I rather took it as a day to pay homage to my mother; my creator for sculpting me into the person I am. I also took it as a day to spring my thoughts  back to where I came from; not to forget my background no matter how high I may soar in life. It was also a day for me to reflect on my deeds; what extra advantage I can be to the universe for my creation. The emotional outcry reflected herein isn't a note to dwell on the hurdles of the past but to learn from it and then stroll further.

With this note, I also wish everyone a Happy New Year. Sieve the current year's experiences; leave the debris; take the clear filtrate of good deeds and thoughts in continual swing to the new year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Enchanted Land of Tuva; A review on The Tale of Tuvian Prince

In the first place, I would like to applaud the writer, James M. Brady, in maintaining a consistent dose of simplicity in his writing from start to the end. The book, enriched with a true tale of romance and values of life is worth letting your eyes steal a consistent gaze.It won't fail to be a page turner.

I equally rejoice in the fact that the writer is able to swing back to a normal life after a fatal accident that robbed him of his stunning wife; leaving him emotionally plagued for the rest of his life. To fill up the hollow dent in his heart and the family, he embarks on a journey that will steer his life in yet unheard direction.

The tale exclusively features the writer's romantic accomplice, Alima. The writer, in his dire quest to breach the gap lands up adopting children from the Republic of Tuva, facilitated by a student exchange programme.

No sooner, the two finds themselves bound by the magnetic power of love. Theirs was a pure test of love;  unyielding to the vastness of age gap between the two. It was a manifestation of romance set crossing over the formidable barrier of religion and custom poles apart.

The name Alima keeps on recurring so often to me. As much as the writer finds it an utterly exigent task to erode the name from his memory lane, it has established quite a prominent place in my brain too. A few lines for the writer in conjunction to his tale shall I unveil herewith;

Dear Mr. James; the Tuvian Prince,

I really appreciate your kind gesture in every endeavor you undertake. Your charitable work has touched the hearts of many and I hope the same trend will follow in the times to come. Fate might have robbed you of the most important person in your life but it didn't tune its cruelty fingers at your heart to rob you of its richness.

Beyond a tinge of doubt, I would regard that to the fact that the heavenly abode might have regretted immensely for having exercised their power of fate in making you half-death for they will be crippled by the loss of a wonderful person.

I can't even imagine the fact that the fatal catastrophe had left your right leg broken at thirteen places. The reality that your face has implants of a metal plate and four screws above your right eye and again two metal plates & six screws below your right eye is something that I cannot ingest; but an unadulterated fact.

However, had you not been through the critical journey of your life, perhaps the idea of writing might not have dawned on you. The series of events ensuing the mishap might have created a dent on your life, and accordingly triggered your sensory stimuli in spontaneously pouring down your feelings in black and white. Perhaps, the book that you have gifted to this world is the silver lining to the dark tumultuous cloud of the misfortune. You have left your legacy to the world in the form of Book embedded with values.

The greatest asset I discovered going through this book was the writer's unwavering faith in leaping forward in life. He, despite hurdles of colossal impact, clings onto the ray of hope and proceeds on with his life. Life may not present us with the  leveled glossy path for all the times. At times, one might have to tread over the thorny; the rugged; the hazardous path and so forth. No matter how treacherous a path you have had walked, there is no time in lamenting over it at the end of the journey. You ought to let the wounds heal, revive yourself to normalcy and start leaping forward.

I have had my heart sunk in the pool of sadness at the end of the story. As tragic as the tale begins, it ends with not much of deviation from the tangent of melancholy. Nevertheless, I was reverted back to my comfort zone with the lesson it bequeathed on me. I take pride in sharing it with you all;

People may enter your life; create a massive impression; perhaps leaving irreparable dent on your heart, and may leave your for eternity without prior notice. But we cannot afford to desolate ourselves in the secluded realm of misery & grief. Life got to move on and we shall be the change agent in the move. Our chance to clutch on the physical realm may seem as imaginary/virtual as the transitory dew drops. We shall not fail, however, to clutch firmly and then cherish the very moments of life.

Life is as good as an iridescent rainbow. A fine moment where the mighty rays converge with the heavenly shower would it loom its flawless colour. Many a spectator would have their fingers pointed in its direction; casting their unflinching gaze in awe admiration. But the very next instant, it will be gone; dispelled by time and conditions. The true reality of our life runs in parallel to the nature of rainbow.The tale of Tuvian Prince is a perfect embodiment of this principle of life.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Tale of Agey Kezang; Are all loners fated to take the same en-route to Deathbed?

As I sat on my veranda, letting the radiance of winter warm my back, my eyes yielded inevitably to the secretion of my tear glands. The window of my vision loomed in a series of events stacked on my memory shelf. I was flooded with emotions.

The slightest sight of the speck of wooden miniature hut on the distant hillock stirred my emotions. It lay partially curtained by a cluster of pine trees standing tall. The steep gradient remain evenly carpeted with brownish winter grass. I was fervently cursing myself for the failure of my ears to hear a story of the lone dweller. How did my eyes fail to cast a glance upon that miniature hut?

As demanding as the situation seemed, we, seven ladies took an uphill stride. We tuned our pace to the galloping dusk. A few of them were gasping. Everyone lighted the flashlights of their cell phones. The hut lay eerily silent as its surroundings. I could only hear the water trickling from a pipe a few meters away from the hut.

The crack-laden wooden door was exactly of my height. Incessant calls and knocks on the door didn't even stir the dweller inside. We gazed blankly into each others' eyes. With due permission from Aum Tshogpa (village head), who was also present with us, we decided to forcefully open the door. Our only male companion descended back home to get a crowbar to implement the idea.

We later on discovered that the door wasn't latched from inside. Instead, a stout stick was laid perfectly against the door. But the room was empty. It only instilled in us only the feeling of abrupt absence of any household activities for the last couple of days. The mud-built, ash-filled oven lay overcast with gloomy soot. A few piles of dried twigs lay in close proximity but without any signs of it being burnt. The room looked completely deranged with clothes and household items lying haphazardly all around. The entire room was a cacophony of stillness and grief.

Everyone looked hesitant at our next attempt. Could he be lying in the only adjacent room? Could he be still inhaling? Could he have breathed his last? These were the queries that nagged our brains at the moment. We were led by Rai daju (brother). I followed him. I didn't care whether I will be plagued with stigmas and social obligation associated with dead bodies. The only thing that occurred to me was, I want to help the old man if he is in any way not devoid of life. As he flipped aside  the rugged clothing, it brought into our sight the scene.

The scene that greeted my vision for the next couple of seconds is going to haunt me for quite some time. I try not to but the scene keeps on recurring so often. Let this scene occupy a recess in my brain. Let this be a reminder of transiency of life. Let this be a source of contemplating change in life.

Neatly slid under the rosy red blanket was Agey Kezang. We were expecting some signs of him being alive. But his body lay still as his walking stick. One of his legs seemed to be folded slightly, as indicative of his protruded knee-cap. The only part visible was a part of his forehead.  To our despair, there wasn't any ray of him being alive. 

We somehow confirmed that death has taken its toll on the old man. The only form of activity seems to be after his death. It was an utterly disturbing scene to see the serene /body underneath being laid over by cat's excreta. What was even more distressing was the fact that the cat has vomited blood admixed with a slimy mass of flesh. We couldn't proceed further for closer inspection for the scene was so nerve-wracking.

The moment aftermath was so disturbing that I stood in my sitting room with the time ticking closer to midnight. The recurring scene squeezed my tear glands that I inadvertently yielded to its copious secretion. I stopped abruptly for a thought of our age old tradition did strike me. It is believed that we will obscure their path thereafter if we cry after a departed soul. Fighting hard between whether to cling onto the belief or not, I ran to my small altar room. I prepared and lighted a butter lamp, praying for the radiance to guide him through his path. My prayers that followed were in fervent wish for his soul to be elevated to the heavenly realm.

And more to it in the coming days. I am delving a little deeper into Agey Kezang's extraordinary tale, which I will be bringing forth in a few days...

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The National Organic Research Centre (RDC-OA), Yusipang.

RDC-OA Campus.

The new Letter Head of the Centre.

The Renewable Natural Resources-Research & Development Centre (RNR-RDC, Yusipang) is labeled with a new name, Research & Development Centre-Organic Agriculture, the only organic research centre in the country. The centre has been functioning as an organic centre for more than a decade ever since its declaration in 2004. It will no longer be functioning with the national mandate of forestry research as it was till date. Accordingly, the centre is now placed under the Department of Agriculture, which was previously under the Department of Forest & Park Services.

With the advent of all the recent changes in the organizational structure and it having secured a new place, I am anticipating for more focused, prioritized, need-based research activities that will cater to the challenges of the farming community.

With the centre having secured a new name and letter head lately, I take privilege in briefly reporting about my organic pest management trial. After having performed the trial last year with significant result, I was over ambitious to the attempt of repeating it twice this year. That didn't work out owing to my full-time engagement in the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition. I managed to layout the trial as soon as I was relieved of the responsibility.

My second attempt was counteracted by incessant downpour and a disease named club root. Club root is caused by a soil-borne pathogen which survives in soil for more than 10 years even in the absence of host. It is characterized by club-like swelling of the roots, which in turn disrupts the natural uptake of water and required nutrients through the xylem. The infected plants exhibits wilting during the daytime. Crop rotation with non-Brassica crops and liming (since pathogen multiplies rapidly in acidic soils) are recommended. Though I established my trial in a plot which was previously grown with potatoes, it did not spare my crop.

Except for the aforementioned hurdles, my treatments under study did extremely well in guarding my crop from pest infestation. Weekly spray of garlic brew, stinging nettle leaf extract, wood vinegar and Artemisia leaf extract kept pests at bay and I was able to harvest a clean, healthy lot of cabbage heads as was the case last year too. Unlike last year's result where stinging nettle was found to be the most effective botanical repellent with corresponding highest yield (details can be accessed from the blog link:, this year's data shows garlic brew treated plots with minimum number of plants with insect feeding damage followed closely by stinging nettle and the highest yield recorded in artemisia leaf extract treated plots.

The one and the only plant with major feeding damage in the entire plot.
A Slight mark of insect infestation; minimal damage to cabbage head.

 It is also my aim to access whether the impact could be due to certain abiotic conditions like weather parameters. Last year, I conducted the trial early in the season and harvested it by first week of June. Exactly the opposite, I established my trial in the 3rd week of June(peak monsoon) and harvested in the last week of August this year. In both the cases, I was able to reap my crop without any severe infestation of pest. There weren't any case of unmarketable produce.

                                          Healthy Cabbage Heads.

Glimpse of fresh, healthy harvested cabbage heads.

I also took the positive criticism I received on the frequency of the bio-repellent preparation into inclusion this year. I prepared the bio-repellents weekly last year to retain the active ingredient and the efficacy of the repellents. However, I resorted to a single time preparation of the bio-repellents in the beginning, which were then stored and sprayed during the entire duration of the crop. This seems to have an equal impact as that of the bio-repellents being prepared on weekly basis.

In my upcoming attempt, I wish to study in a greater detail the active ingredients present in each of these botanicals; the mechanism by which they exhibit pest repelling properties and most important of all, determine the most effective rate of their application. Keeping in mind the lessons I have learnt and to curb the excuses(though some were inevitable) I have made, I am determined to embark on my next attempt with a greater degree of alertness, cautiousness and seriousness.

If we are to gear towards our Organic Mission by 2020, or gradually thereafter; I think it is imperative that we find out other alternatives for synthetic agro-chemicals. This would be challenging but it would usher us with  numerous benefit in the long run like minimized environmental degradation, enhanced and sustained soil health, reduced health hazards and ultimately the harmonious co-existence of all the living beings.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Mermen:The Compassionate Warriors; A Bhutanese Tale as never before...

A fictitious story, authored by Sangay Wangchuk on the evolution of the Mermen and the Mermaids. It narrates on as to how the mer-people had to struggle to find a place for their existence after their blood brothers on land drove them away. But luck greeted their palm when they discovered the sea; their ultimate and destined home thereafter. But their brothers on the land casted their lustful eyes on the marine dwellers.  They were saturated with greed that they encroached further as the self-proclaimed rulers of sea.

Many a times, the mer-warriors lowered their heads and glimmered their compassionate gaze upon their land brothers. However, many mer-people fell victim to the wicked human spears-dipped in despicable venom. Their heavenly dwelling of sea was turning out to be lethal as the selfish humans dumped innumerable toxic wastes. Many of the exotic sea creatures have been wiped out as a result.

The whole account of the tale is crafted on the wickedness of Captain Turner; the name 'Turner' implying 'Turner of truth'; twisting tales to suit his own needs. His pointed war-missile like nose; bushy eyebrows and crooked lips articulated nothing but disdain and contempt. And he buries the truth under his false facial mask while accusing the innocent mer-people.

Human greed wore its hideous cloak at the sight of the beautiful pearls that adorned the mermaids. The Mer-Queen; whose eyes twinkled like rubies, so deep, so meaningful- manifested a star of hope in the darkest and meanest hour the king and the mer-kingdom was going through- the war against the humans.

No matter to what extent the mer-warriors exhibited their gentle nature immersed in compassion, their counter brothers casted their blind eyes . So they were left with no option than to challenge back and to restore peace and harmony in their aquatic life. The affectionate mermaids wove protective shields out of sturdy skins of exotic sea creatures for their husbands.

When the real day for the mighty war set in, even the clouds wailed; cuddled in the arms of the hills fearing the wrath of the ocean. Many lives were lost in the conflict and before long; before the fury of the sea could bury every human, Jimmy; a young officer under captain Turner and Alice; a journalist plays a miraculous role in reversing the entire course of fate for everyone; the mer-people as well as the humans.

A suspense crammed tale crafted on insatiable human greed; the shadows of which obscure the innate human goodness. It is a tale imbibed in value;  a call for balanced and holistic co-existence of humans; the most superior beings with all other beings and our mother nature.

As I flipped through each pages of the book, I felt as if I was watching a movie; with the scenic details and the characters reflected thereupon. The greatest benefit I inadvertently derived by reading this book is my realization that human desire can never be satiated, even at death bed and at the cost of brutally destroying others. It had a subsequent impact on my way of visualizing materialistic things and the very way of my thinking.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Tips to Gear towards PE & BCSE

My dear young friends appearing for PE and BCSE this year, I know you all are ferrying on a worrisome journey in your attempt to pave your way towards a brighter future as I had my share to get myself filtered through the same net. With the hope that a few lines I unfold here might ease you from the net of tension, I opted to inscribe a few lines herewith;

1)     A simple and petty point that you will need to etch in your memory shelf that might not have even occurred to you would make a difference; is to print out several copies of the OMR sample mark sheet available online on RCSC website(or click on the link Also grab copies of the past question papers. To get yourself fully acquainted with shading; sit in a quiet place with the question paper laid and the mark sheet clutched, set a time and race yourself against time in shading the circles swiftly but neatly within the set time frame.

2)     Bear in your mind to practice shading the circles fairly dark enough; ensuring your shading doesn't encroach the area outside the boundary. Neither leave it half filled for the OMR reader might not recognize your answer if you commit to any of the aforementioned flaws.

3)     Keep on practicing this time and again until you are confident enough. This will also ensure that you don't panic and lay taken aback and deprived of clue as to how to proceed in the exam hall. I have heard of incidences where some spent their time rubbing and rectifying the circles rather than moving onto the next question which is why they ran out of time.

4)     Read the book, “The Secret of Life” by Rhonda Byrne. It is available as eBook or in pdf version. Suck the nectar that is in store in each page of the book and relish yourself with the very essence of it. To quote a few lines inscribed in this book, “The secret is the law of attraction! Everything that is coming into your life you are attracting into your life. And it is attracted to you by virtue of the images you’re holding in your mind. Whatever is going on in your mind you are attracting to you”.

5)     After all, everything can be summed up and encapsulated in this single line, ‘Thoughts become things’. So with your efforts as back up, envision regularly that you have already achieved what you aspire to achieve.

6)     Another thrilling book that would propel you higher in your life is the ‘Master Key System by Charles Haennel’. Read these two books and align yourself with its contents, and take pleasure in reaping the benefits.

7)    If you are striving towards improving your vocabulary, I would recommend the book, ‘Word Power Made Easy’ by Norman Lewis. It will also boost up your level of comprehension of each term you lope across. Simply knowing the meaning of a word isn’t enough because it is equally subjected to deletion from the RAM of your brain. So the known word(s) shall be reinforced by integrating and reproducing in your own sentences.

8)   Record your voice on important issues. For instance, I recorded my own voice on the articles of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan and listened to it until I had it encrypted well down my memory lane. I did the same on so many topics like the MDGs, GHN Pillars, Domains and Indicators and the like. Doing so, you can also notice and reflect on the flaws in your pronunciation or speaking skills. It can also be a different approach in learning instead of running your eyes over scripts again and again and straining it.

9)  Watch in YouTube on the topics which are difficult to understand from text and grasp the content presented in the most palatable form in the videos. The Polymerase Chain Reaction, which stipulated quite a hard effort from text, provided a different dimension and an easy methodology in YouTube.

10) Meditate as frequently as possible- cleansing and refreshing your mind; instilling in your subconscious mind the firm desire or objective to be achieved. Reaffirm in your subconscious mind the goal so that it manifests in reality to the world outside.

11) Never deceive or be on the pretext to mislead your friends. Often people have the tendency of telling, “I haven’t started to study yet/ why to struggle so much? / I don’t know or don’t have any information regarding this”. You are not going to benefit from this in any way. On the contrary, it is going to kill your moral and inner happiness because the guilt associated with it will do more harm to your intellectual well being than good. Rather, always encourage others to delve deeper and work harder. And find time to discuss and share on important topics with your friends.

12) It is always better to make your own notes; framing notes in a way that will suit your learning ability and habit. It will also do wonder in saving your time in revising. Arrange notes in a chronological order so that you have it staked in correct order in your brain for easy and faster retrieval when required. So make this habit of note making cling to your learning process like a shadow.

13) Take tutorial classes only if you feel the need to. Otherwise, it is not necessary especially youth outside Thimphu and the financially constrained ones. Don’t worry if you can’t afford to because I took neither of the PE and main examination tutorial classes. However, I am not ruling out the importance of taking one. Taking it and shedding your own sweat would be an extra boost to your performance.

14)  Nothing to be worried even if you are really weak, need tutorial assistance but don’t have anyone at Thimphu to base your stay. I know many of the graduates struggle to find an accommodation in the capital and they are deprived of some of the educational facilities that city-dwellers enjoy.

15)  If you find it extremely difficult to manage yourself with your distant relatives or village people, leap a step forward to visit the Department of Youth and Sports who will cater to your study needs and provide free accommodation in their hostels. You will also enjoy library facilities at the Harmony Youth Center (HYC), offering you reference books and compilation of past question papers. I spent most of my time at the HYC Library for it provided so congenial a place for me to study. So be a regular guest there if you are deprived of right environment at home and are situated in its vicinity.

16) In case you are having problem locating the HYC Library, please give a ring to this number 328098 for further directions. I hope the number hasn't changed for this was what Amrith sir gave me. It is located just below the YDF campus and above the Swimming Pool.

17) The center also has Internet cafe, which offers youth and or students to use its internet facility at a comparatively cheaper rate. In addition, it offers photocopying facilities at a reasonable rate.

18) However, the Library doesn't lend you its guide books and past question papers as it has very limited copies. I took snap shots in my mobile and then practiced the questions according to my convenience. You can grab some guide books from book stores like DSB, Junction book store, etc. In this way, you will be able to perfectly orient yourself towards intensive studies and accordingly the desired result because you will reap what you have planted.

The statements stated herein aren't reflective of my association with the organisation (HYC) or any other. It is solely based on my past experiences, which I assumed would shed some light on others who are taking the same path. 

It is to be borne in the mind of every individual that success doesn’t come by default. It is a result of deliberate search and well-defined action. If you say success is luck, then I shall reiterate that luck is when preparation meets an opportunity. It is a blemish-free fruit borne by the tree well nurtured or nourished. It is not by chance but by choice. But during screening tests like the PE, it is important to use your analytical skills as well.

However, these techniques are not to be generalized for every individual will have their own technique or methodology of defining or targeting for success. I only intend to motivate others to define their own course of action for determining their success. Neither, these are comprehensive tips to help you score high. These are a reiteration of very generic tips that helped me to achieve the intended target. I shall be enlivened even if a single individual benefits from my course of action and the experiences I have had.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Unforeseen Expedition

Thuenzang was knocked out of his deep slumber when the old man in his adjacent seat mumbled, “Lha Gyelo!” (Let the God Win).  As he stretched his strained body and widened his eyelids, he realized that he reached Kyikyi La, meaning the Dog Pass.

The road thereafter winded and twisted amid the serene blue pine trees. The trees flung their placid swing to the tune of the gentle breeze and the hymn chirped by the birds fluttering about its lanky twigs.

As he shifted the gear of his neck from left to right and then back again in awe admiration, another beautiful scene loomed into his vision. The Chamkhar River meandered on its course towards the never ending voyage. It appeared reluctant a chap to start its journey, rather plagued by sadness to leave its beautiful valley.

To the right, the Kharchu Dratshang; the Celestial abode of the Namkhai Nyingpo bloomed and flourished with prayer flags knitted into a myriad of networks.

To the left, the magnificent Jakar Dzong; the epitome of all the administrative activities of the valley crested atop the hill overlooking the peaceful valley.

To the front, he gleaned a view of the Rudungla; a pass known for hiking and trekking. The pass lay posing with pride, showcasing the tinge of white snowy fleck at its summit and the exquisite conifers adorning it along its stretch.

At the bus terminus, he was lost in tracking down his memory lane the list of mesmerizing scenery encrypted therein. Never was he amazed by nature and natural scenery to such an extent.
When he realized, everyone has left. He shook his head slightly, regained his composure and entered the heart of Chamkhar town. He walked from hotel to hotel, only to get the same response every time, “Gom mathrel lopen”, meaning “Don’t mind sir”.

He lounged over a bench that lay in front of a shop. He stood there with his eyes fury as a flame, forehead constricted into a number of furrows and his body disheveled as a beggar.
Suddenly a man sat beside him after a careful and prolonged speculation of his stance. The man, whom he was introduced to as App Kencho, was considerate enough to take him to his home. It was a 15 minutes drive from the town.

Ap Kencho was residing in a single storied bungalow, neatly maintained and surrounded by a fresh organic garden.

As Ap Kencho summoned, a girl in her late teens, clad with thick woven kira, and a white scarf (usually worn by Bumthaps) bound loosely over her silky hair cascading its way over her shoulder, hurried towards the house. Her ankle-length kira stained with muddy clumps around its rim ushered him with a tacit understanding of her having been tooling around with her garden soil.

“Lemo (a pet name indicating deep affection), offer a cup of tea for our guest”. She waved a brisk node of consent and disappeared into the kitchen.

 The very first glance of her sent his blood racing at an accelerated rate. His heart beat reached the zenith of its pace.

She returned with two cups of tea before he could even visualize how the minutes ticked by after seeing her. In another bowl, she brought ‘Zow Magey’, roasted rice blended with butter and sugar. The suja, salted buttered tea and the zow magey was a perfect blend for him. However, he was totally oblivious of the fact as to whether to attribute the savory taste to the real flavor or to the exhilarated state that he was in.
More than the innocent look on her face, which was a manifestation of her impeccable youthful beauty, her behavior and respect with which she embraced her father’s words or instructions dragged him intellectually closer.

The moment she walked out of the house, he couldn’t stop wandering his glance through the window for her presence around.

He saw her saunter gently amid the linear rows of lush leafy vegetable beds and speculate which one to pluck. She returned with her face adorned with a placid smile, holding a stainless steel bowl crammed with fresh vegetables.

As she caroled into the kitchen, she hummed a soothing tune; a tone that rendered him calm and relaxed. The whooshing sound of the pressure cooker and the sharp relishing odor that greeted his nose was indicative of something special being cooked.

In the mid of his consistent internal struggle as to whether to peep into the kitchen and say hi to her or would it lead to any undesirable consequence, someone halted at the doorstep. A tall man probably in his late twenties, masked with dark complexion aggravated by a firm patch of moustache stood at the door. As he bent to remove his knee-length gum boot clad with mud, Ap kencho exclaimed, “Get in faster Nado. It’s freezing outside”.

Nado stared at the stranger with an unflinching gaze as if to say ‘Who the hell are you here?’ He could feel a chilly tremor creeping along the length of his spine as Nado’s gaze became intensively woven with curiosity and suspicion.

His conclusion that Nado is none other than Lemo’s husband or would-be-husband plunged his heart into the deepest of agony. He felt his muscles twitch out of sheer insecurity and despair. He was numb for a moment.

Lemo wailed from the kitchen door, “Apa, the dinner is ready”. All of them orbited themselves around the bukhari( Iron structure with a hollow space to accommodate burning firewood used as heater). Lemo uncovered the lids of the mouth-watering dishes and served them.

He, being the guest in their house was the first to get Lemo’s warm serving. A plate full of red rice with sizzled pork and beef blended with long strands of dried chilli alighted in his hand. In another cup, she scooped a few ladles of Ema Datshi( green chilli blended with cheese and garlic) and a cupful of Daw( skimmed milk or the remaining extract after cheese is extracted out).

She spread two loafs of sweet buckwheat bread (locally called Khuley) in her father’s bangchung,a round-bottomed bowl made of bamboo shreds. The father chuckled to say, “I prefer this to rice”.
When everyone was engaged in gliding down what laid before them through their gullet, he managed to steal a brisk glance at her over the bukhari on the other side. He noted another important point that besides all, she was terribly an excellent cook.

After dinner, nothing much was left than to move to their respective beds. He was ushered into a room. A bed was arranged with the blankets neatly laid and coiled back into folds. Nado entered and started laying his bed beside him. No longer able to hide his curiosity, he inquired,”Aren’t you Lemo’s husband?”
“Yalama Lopon(Oh my God!, sir), I am just a worker here”.

Was he to believe this or not but the response he got brightened his face with unprecedented happiness.
Just then, the door hinges creaked as Lemo stepped inside.

“Lopen, zimchang zhey”, said Lemo with a timid grin. It was a tradition that many of the local people cling to where ara or locally brewed wine is offered before bed as zimchang for inducing sound sleep.
Though drinking was completely out of the list of his habits, a kind offer made by the girl he was irresistibly drawn to was simply undeniable. He gulped it down and accepted yet another cup. He could feel the liquor seeping down, its effect radiating to every part of his body.

Nado was laughing incessantly at him. All he could perceive was Nado’s palm tapping on his shoulder and a blurred motion of his lips in intermittent giggling and mumbling.

“Please take me to Lemo’s room. I won’t be able to sleep if I miss the chance of talking to her. Please Nado!” groaned he in his companion’s lap.
“Shsssh! Be quiet or else her father will bash you out”, flew the response that knocked him down.
“Please Nado, I am clasping my two hands into one. Help me please!” wailed he in utter desperation.
‘Well, I am certain that you won’t get to see Lemo. She is too young to counter such venture with you for now. If you really want, I will take you somewhere not far from here”.
“Really? But where Nado?”

“Zip your mouth for a moment and follow me”, was all that Nado uttered.
Both of them slid off their blankets, pushed the door aside cautiously and slipped their way out into the freezing midnight breeze.
“It is extremely cold outside Nado”.
“Don’t worry Lopon, it won’t be the same inside”.
He pursued all the instructions showered upon him by his guide and so did he make a victorious journey. He succeeded in sprawling, clinging and leaping over a two storied traditional Bhutanese house.

Positioning himself near the window, he called out, “Yangki, open the window. Please let me in”.
After several attempts to lure her being turned topsy-turvy, he lost his control and baffled out loudly, “Open the window or I’m going to break it”. He tapped harder and harder until the window opened to his delight.

He was greeted with a jug of chilly water being splashed against his face. Another bucket of cold water over him drenched him to freezing. He lost his grip as a whip hit his hand fierce-fully with a simultaneous hoarse voice of a woman that pierced right through his ears,”Yaa Tae-nyen choe”. The phrase says, ‘you deserve this, you notorious creature’.

The next morning, Ap kencho’s summon dragged him out of his fantasy world. “Lopen, you ought to get ready. You have to be at the bus terminal by 6:30 am”.

He felt an excruciating pain as he tried to stretch his legs. When he got out of his bed, he found himself limping. He was astonished to hear the whole account of the story from Nado. All that he could recollect was Lemo standing aside his bed and pouring him the wine.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Nursery Raising in the Cold December Month-the Magical Spark of Poly-tunnels (Part 1)

Have you ever wondered how farmers of certain pockets do well in farming? Did you have had the slightest of idea as to when they actually start toiling hard on the hardy encrustation of earth to make their produce fetch premium price? Did a question sweep across your mind as to who were the persons actually tilling the land in bringing the fresh vegetables at your visual display at the Yusipang market shed beneath the roadside?
The query would have probably rung your curious mind if you were someone to frequent the Thimphu-Wangdue highway. I assume that many would have cursed the vendors for the produce being overpriced. It was also disheartening at the same that some simply left the place with a display of dejection on their face, unable to digest the fact that heir auditory canal perceived about the price.
Well, if you have been the one to wonder or else ambitious enough to start your own kitchen garden, let me unleash some points here. Don't be deterred by your opinion that winter is too cold for everything to surface out from soil. It isn't for Yusipang residents, elevated at 2700m above sea level, with severe frost almost every night, has already taken a step forward.
The residents, despite the shrill chillness; the icy water; the frost-glistened ground & dusty arid gust have been busy for the weeks of the cold December month. They first dug out a small portion of their garden designated for nursery raising. The area for cole crops nursery shall be an area that wasn't grown with any Brassica crops in the preceding season. 
Usually, the site planted with potato (Solanaceous crop) ranked first in its picking. This is to avoid the occurrence of any pests or diseases in the nursery seedlings from its previous crop (same host).
The dug earth should be brought to a fine tilth by breaking the clods. A nursery bed of 1m width & convenient length shall be raised to a height of about 30-45 cm. All the sticks, pebbles & the like shall be removed to render the soil porous & fine for the easy emergence of the seedlings. 
Prepared nursery; soil brought to a fine tilth
Then, the nursery bed is sterilized by means of igniting the raised bed stacked with piles of dried bamboo sticks, woods & or dried weeds. This is an act to sterilize the soil so as to render it free of any pathogenic spores (resting spores) or resting stages of pests (pupal stages).
The sterilization was just done a day or two before the actual day of sowing. The raised, sterilized bed is drenched with water. A fine flow out of the nozzles of rose can is recommended so as to avoid soil being eroded. This is probably done in the morning. In the late afternoon or before sunset, make even furrows of 2-3 cm depth at an interval of 10cm.
Furrows for seed sowing
The seeds are then evenly dibbled along the lines. The sparser the seed count, the better the growth & vice-versa. However, it should not be too sparse as it will consume space. The optimum stand would yield more vigorous seedlings. This will also be a check against the rapid spread of disease (damping off which is very common in nurseries). A 10g seed may be filled along 14 lines of each 1m length.Gently sweep across your fingers in filling the soil in the indented furrows over the seeds. If the seed size is too small, mix it with fine sand or soil and then dibble along.
Optimum density of seeds
Ensure to moisten the soil well before sowing, for liberal watering after seed sowing will wash away your light & tiny seeds. For the subsequent watering, add a layer of mulch material. It can be anything from a jute bag or a thin spread of any organic matter like saw dust, artemisia leaves, chopped paddy straw or husks. This layer will be of utmost advantage in ensuring the safe deposit of your seeds in soil. So you don't have to worry about the seeds being splashed away by water. It also improves the micro-climate of the soil- retain moisture, heat & help in weed control.  
Watering over the mulch of jute bag
However, don't forget to remove heavy covering like jute material after the emergence of seeds as it might hamper its growth & access to sunlight.
Now the task of tilling the soil & depositing your seeds in the soil has been done. Now what next to guard it from the ritual of white frosty encrustation almost every night? Well, there is nothing extraordinary to do than what we humans do to keep ourselves warm. And here comes the trick played by the polyethylene (plastic tunnels). 
Bamboo sticks shall be erected at one side of the bed at an interval of 20-30 cm. The other end shall be pegged into ground on the other side of the bed. This will form a dome-shaped supportive framework for the polyethylene sheet. Also place an additional bamboo piece on the top of the dome-structure & tie it firmly at regular interval.
Bamboo sticks
Pegging down of Bamboo Sticks
Place the polyethylene sheet over the supportive frame-work. Stretch it gently & cautiously to avoid any tear. If the sheet happens to be torn, better have it replaced, else the defect will duly reduce temperature (through the escape of long wave radiation) as well as act as a suture for the entry of frost or rain droplets if any. To avoid such undesirable circumstances, have all the sharp edges or spikes protruding from the supporting framework removed or subdued beneath rubber tubes.
Completed Supportive Framework of Bamboo
Bury the plastic sheet well into the soil on all its side leaving no loose ends. Our work is not yet done even with poly-tunnels set up to perfection. The seedlings would still succumb to chilling injury if we leave it to the mercy of the protection provided by the plastic sheets. Their shed needs to be augmented with layers of jute bags & blankets. Just as we humans lay buried under piles of blanket, so is their stance during such freezing period of the year.
This external covering of blanket needs frequent supervision-its removal every morning upon the descend of sunny rays & back to place when the rays bid good bye for the day. This routine continues until one is confident of not being greeted by frost, & subsequently, the seedlings are transplanted.
Poly-tunnel with extraneous cladding of blankets/ clothes.
When almost everyone remains hibernated under the warmth of their blankets and or sits ideally around electric or kerosene hearters & bukharis, the residents here are out, meddling hard with the arid ground. They are involved in a continuous cycle of activities with the soil. The cold weather-bitten skins; the frayed garments with discoloration & the crack-laden fingers are indicative of their daily association with the earth.
We would have never imagined how difficult it is to produce a kilogram of fresh onion or tomato or cauliflower & so forth. And I bet we won't unless we step our own feet into the soil. On account of these reasons, I feel the need to applaud the farming community for putting in strenuous efforts to earn their living as well as bringing at our doorsteps fresh & healthy vegetables.
This is an account of what the farming community at Yusipang area are up during the cold December month.This activity usually starts in December & continues till February. So if anyone elsewhere aspires to reap a bit early crop than the preceding years, why not try this? You have ample time till February after which you can resort to sowing under normal conditions. Anyways, I will keep you updated on the succeeding activities. I just wanted to stir the people in other parts of the country to attune themselves with nursery raising under poly-tunnels.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dried Vegetables- Save Money & be Healthy

Dried, packed Spoinach (Left) & Caigua/Ola-choto (Right)

Have you been the one to munch on imported vegetables during the lean season? Well, there is no doubt that the price stands at a comfortable rank compared to our local products. But are we aware of the fact that we are consuming pesticide residue laden products? Anything that fills up your vegetable rack during such season would be imported ones. Have you been one of the agent spiraling the vegetable import rate? Well, why not we opt to at least curtail the rate if not put a halt to it? But how? I will unfurl a very simple answer to it.

Vegetable drying is a very simple process. Nothing new or different from what our forefathers resorted to. Neither would it demand for any sophisticated equipments. If you are in possession of a simple dryer; like the one the National Post Harvest Centre provides on cost-sharing basis, is well & good. But even if you don't, the job can be done. Only the pace at which you achieve your end result would differ to a slight degree. You can always rely on the Mr. Sun to do you a favor as long as he acts gracious enough to emanate his radiance. A brief highlight on the sequential steps to be followed are as follows;

1. Washing
This is the foremost step required to rid your produce of any dirt or filth. Trim all the unwanted parts. A simple rinsing will do as many of your produce will undergo a process called blanching that will cleanse the produce anyways.

2. Chopping/shredding
Chop your bulky vegetable produce into thin shreds of the shape & length of your own choice. Thinner the shreds, faster the drying is. But don't make it too thin that it disappears when dried of strong wind blows it off.

Sliced Broccoli(left) & Tomato(right)

3. Blanching
This involves immersing your chopped vegetable produce in hot boiling water augmented with a pinch of salt or in hot steam for a brisk span of time. It means scalding of the produce with hot boiling water or steam. But the blanching time should be very specific or else your produce will get cooked instead of getting blanched. The blanching time & method may vary with each vegetable as illustrated in the table beneath:

Blanching time(Mins.)
Boiling water
a) Edible pods

b) Green (shelled)
Spinach & other greens
Summer squash

a) Diced/strips

b) Small, whole
Egg plant/brinjal
Stripped/sliced into slender pieces


Caigua/Slipper gourd(Ola-Choto)

Why is blanching recommended or advisable?
This is a prerequisite step for vegetables to be dried & or frozen on account of the following reasons;
It rids the produce of harmful microbes to around 99%.
*    It slows down or inhibits enzymatic activity which otherwise would result in loss of flavor, color & texture.
*      It helps in color retention of dried produce, especially of the greens.
*      It shrivels/wrinkles the vegetables to be dried for the ease of packing.

Blanching of Broccoli ( A pinch of salt added to boiling water)

4. Cooling & Staining
Cool immediately in cool water for the same time used in blanching. Stir the vegetables thoroughly during cooling. Stain or drain out the water properly.

5. a) Packing & Storing
The blanched produce then can be either frozen or dried.  The produce can be packed into containers or freezer bags after pressing out air & sealing tightly. However, this is not so common in our conditions as much as the produce are being dried. This also escalates cost on initial investments.

5. b) Drying  Packing
Spread out your blanched produce onto a tray or woven out bamboo mats. Cover it with a net (I prefer mosquito nets) or a clean transparent cloth to avoid dust & other foreign material from drifting into your produce. Stir occasionally to achieve uniform drying. The produce can be shade dried once it is seemingly free of excess moisture as long duration exposure to sunlight bleaches the produce & results in colour loss. Dry your produce until it is completely rid of moisture. You can also hang the partially dried produce in perforated containers if there is less space for you to spread it. This is a vital step as the shelf life of your dried produce will be determined by the degree of its dryness.

Drying of various vegetables; Products covered with a net (image on the left)

6. Packing
Once you get a signal of the produce being completely dried, pack it in airtight containers. However,dried products remain edible forever when & only when kept dried. So it is crucial to seal it in airtight containers; be it plastics or jars. If not, the hygroscopic nature of the produce will take a toll on your efforts & produce, & the next time you try to cook something out of it, you will be demoralized to find your produce engulfed by fungal hyphae. Make sure that your dried products  gain an entry card into plastic containers or jars & then seal it. If you possess a sealing machine, it is well & good. But you aren't rid of options at any point of time or instance. Lit a candle or a flame & sweep the folded edge of your product-filled plastic over it. This will equally do a magical job of sealing your produce airtight.

Dried cabbage
Dried Red chillies (Left) & Parboiled Shurkam (Right)
Dried shredded Beans (Left) & Onion leaves (Right)
Dried Garlic (Left) & Tomato (Right)

Dried, packed Cauliflower (Left) & Broccoli (Right)
Now, you have the liberty to stack your dried, packed produce on your shelves for use during the lean season or to gift it to your friends & or relatives. Believe me, it is easier & delightfully lighter to carry elsewhere. I am not exaggerating as whatever I have penned down has been a shedding  from my own experience.
There are many advantages associated with vegetable drying. This is not just confined to vegetable drying but any horticultural produce, which are highly perishable in nature.
Ø  Dried products has higher content of vitamin, minerals, protein & fiber content.
Ø  It incurs minimal expenses compared to other preservation techniques such as freezing & canning.
Ø  Reduced import, minimize outflow of Rupee. This might even lift the economy of the country in its own small way.
Ø  A step forward for keeping the  crippling & hazardous  agro-chemical laden imported vegetables at bay.
Ø  A brave step towards Self-sufficiency ( as I would rate myself so in this regard).
Ø  Above all, you can dwindle the outflow of money from your own pocket.

We can dry surplus vegetables when its production phase shoots up. There is no limit to the kind. You can dry anything. You might not have seen dried tomatoes, dried broccoli, cauliflower or cabbage, dried carrot & or garlic, dried onion leaves & the list stretches on an endless knot. Neither to the quantity. Once it has been rid of moisture(dried) & packed properly, these are going to remain on your shelf for years together. There is no fear of your product being succumbed to fungal attack or having to dump it in the waste bins. So try this out & minimize your expenses on the purchase of imported vegetables.