Wednesday, April 07, 2021

16 Practical Suggestions to Tackle Thimphu’s Water Problem for the Immediate to Long-term

 Let me begin by making it clear that no individual or organisation should feel offended by this post, as it is only intended to start practical conversation and actions to solve this perennial water problem in our capital city.

Fig. 1. Picture of water distribution pipe at the distribution tank above Zilukha.

The people in my neighbourhood and my family went to bed without water last night, and woke up without electricity. No electricity even as I finished writing this post at 7.30 am (i.e. on 6th April 2021). Two most necessities of modern life. Anyway, this post is dedicated to the water issue only.

I woke up this morning (on 6th April 2021) thinking about the water issue and wondered how long we can endure this. As some people commented on my Facebook post yesterday, we will look pathetic to ourselves and also to the outsiders. But this problem, like all other problems, is not without solutions. So, I really would like to invite my fellow citizens to brainstorm and come up with ideas to say good-bye to this persistent problem. As a start, here are 16 practical suggestions that we can work on immediately, starting today.

In my neighbourhood, we are used to and we are happy with water supply of 2-3 hours a day since we have invested in water tanks and store them to last throughout the day. But these days, we did not even get that. What to say about 24-hour water supply!

A. Suggestions for immediate term (doable within this week)

1. Find out the cause of the current problem

Why has the current problem started? Find out the facts. Let us not keep on making assumptions. Is it because water source has become smaller? Why so suddenly? Is it because people have diverted drinking water sources for irrigation? Let us find the solution based on the facts.

2. Give priority to drinking water over irrigation for flower and vegetable gardens

If the source has become smaller, let us find out by going to the actual site whether this is true and why? Is it a natural phenomenon for water source to dry up in this month while the water was sufficient till March? Or is it because water is being diverted for irrigation? In any case, water for drinking should be given the first priority.

3. Tappings from the main supply pipe

The water we get in Zilukha comes from the main tank in Motithang via a main distribution pipe to three syntax tanks above my neighbourhood which serve as the distribution tanks. We have connections to these three distribution tanks. But over the years, a lot of tappings have taken place from the main pipe before reaching the distribution tanks. Some have no choice but to get water that way because they are located much farther away from the distribution tanks. But a proper study needs to be done to find out how many tapings are there and if they are all verified and necessary. Because of these tappings on the way, not much water reaches the distribution tanks in the end.

4. Get rid of illegal connections

Are there illegal connections taken to water fields and gardens? If so, they need to be removed so that others can have enough to at least drink.

5. Stop leakages and overflows

On the one hand we have no water to drink, but on the other hand, a lot of water goes to waste through leakages and overflows. It happens even in our area sometimes. Why? This is a water management issue. We have to stop that.

6. Do a quick study of the water distribution network in problem-hit areas and submit a report to the Government with action plan

My neighbourhood is not the only one that suffers from water problem from time to time. A study has to be done to find out the facts and come up with solutions. How long can we go on like this? This is 2021, not 1981.

7. Make someone accountable for the water issues in Thimphu and make it clear to that person

One of the management lessons I have learnt is that things get done well and in time when we fix accountability on someone clearly. In the case of water issues, it seems this is lacking.

If not, this should not go on and on like this. Now is the time to make it clear as to who is accountable. We know that one rhetoric answer to questions like this is “We are all accountable. We should all do our bit”. Yes, that is also right. But one person has to be there who will ultimately take charge of solving this perennial issue.

B. Suggestions for the short term (doable within few months to 1 year)

8 Water distribution network information system

As suggested by one of my friends, we need water distribution network information system so that the decision makers can quickly understand where the problem lies. Such systems are in use in many countries.

9 Make a plan for proper water distribution management and implement the pan

It is understood that we have enough water for Thimphu. The problem is management of distribution. And yet, we do nothing about it. Now is the time to make a distribution management plan, and again not sit over it, but get moving to implement that plan as soon as possible.

10 Upgrade distribution networks and tanks

There is a need in some places to upgrade/repair distribution pipes and distribution tanks in the locality. The distribution tanks can be improved in my locality my instance, and the distribution system can be made fairer and more leak and overflow-proof to save precious water.

11 Work on formation of an independent corporation to manage Thimphu’s water supply – name it Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited

One of the best ways to solve the accountability and going-round-and-round issue with this perennial water issue may be to set up a dedicated corporation to manage the water supply for Thimphu immediately. They may then be given the mandate to even take care of water supply in other cities. People are not so comfortable with SOEs, but SOEs may be a better at delivering such services. We have talked enough about the water issues. Let the corporation self-sustain on fees with Government regulation and subsidy extended to certain families as they need may be. Generally, we may have to pay more than what we pay now, but I am sure people will be okay with that as long as they get water when they need it.

Let the name of that Corporation be Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited so that the company would feel ashamed to not live up to their name, and work harder. This would also work as a positive brand for the company.

12 Work on building bigger storage tanks near water sources to store water during good water seasons

As I have mentioned earlier, a lot of water is wasted through overflows during the good seasons. We can store them for future use by building bigger tanks near the sources. If we are scared of flooding from such tank bursts, we can build many smaller tanks. That won’t cost a lot of money.

13 Make a holistic MASTER PLAN for Thimphu’s water supply for the next 10-20 years and start implementing it

The current problem is a result of no planning. When I started working in Thimphu in 2000 after graduating from a university in Australia, I was shocked to face water issues in water-rich country. And at that time, I raised the issue informally and formally in some gatherings. And 20 years down the line, we talk of the same issue. What a shame! More than 20 years ago, I spent four years in Australia from 1996 to 1999 and I don’t remember a day when the light went off or tap went dry.

Now is the time to make a Master Plan for 24-hour water supply and implement it. Budget can be mobilized if we have a proper plan. So, budget is not an excuse. For instance, DITT worked on the National Broadband Masterplan Implementation Project and connected almost all the Gewogs to the national fibreoptic network through that project. Why can’t we do the same with water supply?

C. Suggestions for the Long-term (beyond 1 year)

14 Complete building bigger storage tanks to store water during good water seasons

We need to do this and complete them so that we can store water for use during lean seasons.

15 Complete forming the Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited and hand over the water supply work to this corporation.

Let the CEO of Twenty-Four Hour Water Supply Limited take full accountability for 24-hour water supply in the long run. Right now, it seems water supply is nobody’s priority.

16 Implement the Master Plan Phase-wsie starting as soon as possible
Start implementing the Master Plan suggested above as a short term initiative.


This article is an edited version of the Facebook post made by the author in the morning of 6th April 2021. This is being published here for the future reference by the individuals and agencies concerned to see if any of these suggestions could be helpful in solving this persistent issue of our capital city. 



Monday, January 25, 2021

Lama Pema Wangchen– Bartsham’s Most Illustrious Son and Its Greatest Benefactor

 Lama Pema Wangchen– Bartsham’s Most Illustrious Son and Its Greatest Benefactor

By Tshering Cigay Dorji

Written on 25th January 2021

 Growing up in this fertile and beautiful village of Bartsham in upper Trashigang, not very far from Bhutan’s easternmost border with Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh, India, I, as a child, heard people talking about our revered Lama Pema Wangchen in very respectful tones. Yet, it is only now that I have realized how much he has done for our village community. I think much of what Bartsham is today is because of Lama Pema Wangchen.

Lama Pema Wangchen in 1983 in Thimphu (Picture courtesy of Khenpo Phuntshok Tashi, "Nyima Shargi Choglay", 2013)

Since the 1960s and 70s, Bartsham had become an important spiritual centre in Eastern Bhutan with its famous Bartsham Chhador Lhakhang serving as its base. It not only hosted various religious events such as Tshechus, Drubchhen and Tshog offerings on auspicious dates, but it was also one of the few villages in the area that hosted a full three-day annual Tshechu in those days with various masked dances like in the Dzongs.

All these were introduced under the personal initiative and guidance of Lama Pema Wangchen, including the re-construction of the Chhador Lhakhang in 1977 which became one of the most beautiful Lhakhangs in eastern Bhutan during those times. Before that, there was an old dilapidated Lhakhang in its place which was said to have been constructed in the 1930s by Trongsa Dronyer Drepa Sangay Thinley of Bainangkhar Nagtsang in Bartsham. The main nang-ten (inner relic) of Chador Lhakhang has been the much-acclaimed self-arisen statue of Vajrapani (Chagna Dorje) since those times, hence the name Chador Lhakhang.   

The author in front of the old Chador Lhakhang built by Lama Pema Wangchen in 1977. Picture taken in 2019.

The self-arisen statue of Vajrapani (Chagna Dorje)which was brought to Bartsham from Dungsam by a groom who married a daughter of Yangkhar Khochhe of Bartsham. This is the most important nang-ten (inner relic) of Chador Lhakhang. It is believed to be a treasure revealed by Terton Pema Lingpa, and has the power to bestow great blessings and protection to devotees. (Piture courtesy: Jubiliant Travel Facebook Page)

Yet, this great man started his journey of life in the most humble of circumstances. He was born in 1923 and was raised by a single mother and his sister on a small farm. At the age of 12, he entered Trashigang Rabdey as a monk and studied there for about six years. In 1939, His Holiness Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche visited Trashigang and consecrated the newly rebuilt Trashigang Dzong along with Lama Sonam Zangpo at the invitation of Trashigang Dzongpon Thinley Tobgay alias Sey Dopola. After the consecration, Lama Pema Wangchen, then as a young boy of 17, was one of the monks chosen to accompany and reach Lama Sonam Zangpo to his retreat place in Tsari Kiphug in Tibet.

After Lama Pema Wangchen reached Lama Sonam Zangpo to Tsari Kiphug and came back to Trashigang Dzong, his heart longed very strongly to go to Tibet to study and practise the Dharma under the great masters there. In those days, Tibet was the place where the Dharma was flourishing with many great masters, while Bhutan was seen as a peripheral place. Therefore, he approached his teachers and Lama Neten in Trashigang who granted him the permission to leave. He then went to see his mother and sister in Bartsham and then left for Tibet with nothing but great determination.

In Tibet, life was very difficult as he hardly had any personal resources to support himself. It was only his steely determination and perseverance that kept him going. He trained under masters such as Lama Thupten Nyendrag of Kongyul, Lama Kunzang Namtrul, Lama Menlam Rabzang, Lama Thupten, Jadrel Sangay Dorji and Kyabje Dudjom Rinpocehe among others.

In particular, he had great devotion for Kyabje Dudjom Rinpoche having received teachings and initiations from him since he was 17 years old at Trashigang Dzong, and he excelled in the teachings and practices of Dudjom Tersar lineage. 

When he returned to Bartsham in 1951 from Tibet, he had accomplished much spiritually because of his unfaltering devotion to his teachers, determination and perseverance. Yet, he was very humble and kept a very low profile and lived like an ordinary Dharma practitioner.

In those days, the community of Bartsham used to conduct an annual Tshechu at Cheten Lhakhang. Since Bartsham did not have any accomplished Lama, the people of Bartsham used to invite a lama called Galing Lopen from Galing to lead the ceremony. Lama Pema Wangchen, a young man then, attended the ceremony as one of the lay monks on one occasion. Galing Lopen struck up a conversation with Lama Pema Wangchen during the break, and the former was awestruck by how learned the young Lama Pema Wangchen was. So, Galing Lopen called all the monks and people together and said to them, “You have a great master among yourselves here, and yet you take all the pains to call me all the way from Galing. Lopen Nakulung (former name of Lama Pema Wangchen) is well qualified to lead all religious ceremonies and look after your welfare. He will benefit you all greatly in the future. I am also now quite old and I don’t think I can make it to your village from next year.”

It was only from then that Lama Pema Wangchen assumed a more important role and took in a number of followers and students. A number of existing Dharma practitioners in Bartsham became his disciples in addition to new ones joining. Among his most accomplished disciples are Lama Kunzang Wangdi alias LamaNyingkhu (1942 - 2018), a highly accomplished and multi-talented master, and the equally accomplished incumbent Bartsham Lama Ugyen Namdrol alias Lama Daupo who also studied and practised under Dudjom Rinpoche.

Bartsham's annual three-day festival of Chhoekhor in the 7th month of the Bhutanese calendar. (Picture courtesy: Bartsham community Facebook Page)

My uncle Ajang Wangchuk Dorji who studied as a kid under Lama Pema Wangchen recalls, “One of the greatest qualities of Lama Pema Wangchen was his humility and respect for other Lamas. He invited so many great masters and Lamas to Bartsham and let his own students and disciples learn from them. It was not just well known Rinpoches like Dungsey Rinpoche and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, but others.”

He recalls the following Lamas being invited to Bartsham to conduct religious ceremonies when he was a kid: Hao Hao Lama (real name could not be recalled), Bazaguru Lama,  Trulku Karma Ugyen and Geshe Sangay from Tongmi Yangtse. In addition, elders recall that Lama Pema Wangchen gave practical advice and guidance to the people on all aspects of life. 

In particular, Ajang recalls that Lama Pema Wangchen invited Dungsey Rinpoche in 1969 to give Dudjom Lineage teachings, and Rinpoche stayed for about six months in Bartsham Dupchu Gonpa conferring all the important teachings.

Lama Pema Wangchen started the three-day annual Tshechu from 13th to 15th day of 10th month of the Bhutanese calendar with masked dances in 1966. This is the most important annual festival of Bartsham village to which people from most neighbouring villages used to come too. This replaced the one-day event called Dawa Tshechu that used to be held on the 10th day of the 3rd month of the Bhutanese calendar in the past.

I mentioned earlier that Chador Lakhang was constructed in 1977. However, completing all the intricate internal works, including the statues, carvings and paintings normally take a long time to complete. So, it was only in 1985 that all internal and external works of the Lhakhang were complete in every sense. To mark the occasion, Lama Pema Wangchen invited Dzongsar JamyangKhyentse Rinpoche, then only 24 years old, to preside over the first Vajrakilaya Drubchen held in Bartsham Chador Lhakhang. Since then, it has become an annual event.

It was then that Lama Pema Wangchen and the community leaders of Bartsham unanimously decided, with deep devotion and prayers for future well-being of the community, to hand over Chador Lhakhang to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche for his care and patronage. Given the genuine love and devotion with which the offer was made, Rinpoche accepted it although it might have been an additional responsibility and burden for him. Since then, the strong ties of samaya between the people of Bartsham and Rinpoche remains unbroken to this day, and I think this is thanks mainly to the untainted prayers of our Lama Pema Wangchen.

Today, there is a thriving monastic school in Chador Lhakhang with many young monks supported by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s foundation. On top of that, Khyentse Rinpoche chooses Bartsham as the venue for some of his most important Dharma teachings in Bhutan as we have seen in recent years. This brings immense benefit to the people, not only spiritually, but also economically since many of Rinpoche’s followers from around the world flock to Bartsham for these teachings. 

It is thanks to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche’s support and guidance that Bartsham Lama Kunzang Wangdi alias Lama Nyingkhu was able to build the new and bigger Lhakhang in front of the old Lhakhang. The new Lhakhang construction was funded mainly by the foreign devotees of Lama Kunzang Wangdi and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and was completed in 2018 just before Lama Kunzang Wangdi passed away untimely due to kidney failure.

The author in front of the new Lhakhang constructed in 2018 by Lama Kunzang Wangdi alias Lama Nyingkhu. Picture Taken in 2019.

The Chador Lhakhang compound with the view of both the old and new Lhakhang.(Picture courtesy: Bhutan Travellhari)

The Chador Lhakhang compound with the view of both the old and new Lhakhang. 

The present Lama of Bartsham, Lama Ugyen Namdrol alias Lama Daupo is an equally accomplished Lama like Lama Kunzang Wangdi. Devoid of any interest in worldly material pursuits, he invests whatever he receives in the form of offering from his devotees to Dharma activities. These are ultimately, the living legacies of Lama Pema Wangchen.

As the scent of a beautiful flower spreads far and wide and attracts bees from afar, so did the fame of our Lama Pema Wangchen’s spiritual accomplishments spread far and wide and attracted many followers from places beyond Bartsham. In 1974, His Majesty the Fourth King had just been formally crowned. Lyonpo Tamzhing Jagar, the powerful Home Minister who had served since the reign of the Third King, felt that the nation would need to conduct some powerful tantric rituals to cleanse any simmering obstacles for the well being of the nation. And his search for a master to conduct this ritual narrowed down to Lama Pema Wangchen. 

So, the Government sent messengers with the invitation to Lama Pema Wangchen to come to Thimphu. And in Thimphu, his Tantric accomplishments became even more well known. Needless to say that this brought Bartsham to the notice of higher authorities and might have helped in bringing developmental benefits to the village too. 

For one ritual, it is said that a drop of blood from an owl was needed and the Government sent soldiers into the jungle to catch one. But they failed to get one. When this was reported to the Lama, he said it was not a problem. Then an owl mysteriously appeared at the window of the altar room. So, it was caught and a small drop of blood drawn with a syringe and let free. Attracting the owl from nowhere was attributed to the Tantric power of the Lama.

Lama Pema Wangchen spent his time mostly in Thimphu conducting important rituals for the nation from the late 1970s until his death in 1990. While in Thimphu, he lived in his simple residence in Zilukha and this is where he passed away too.

A very elaborate funeral befitting the Lama of his stature and accomplishments was conducted at a peaceful hillock with a great view of the surrounding areas called Ridi Sirsa in Bartsham. Today, a Chorten dedicated to his memory stands there, where devotees still come to pray and offer their respects to this great man who uplifted and transformed his community within his lifetime.



1. Khenpo Phuntshok Tashi, Nyima Shargi Choglay, Sharwai Karma Namsum, Tshokye Dorje Foundation, Thimphu, 2013.

2. Oral Interviews of older generation Bartshampas

Sunday, January 24, 2021

What does a Bodhisattva look like and how does he/she act?

 What does a Bodhisattva look like and how does he/she act?

The opening paragraphs of the chapter ‘The Bodhisattva Perspective’ in the book ‘The Tantric Distinction’ by Jeffrey Hopkins gives a very good answer to this question. I couldn't help reproducing the following excerpt for more people to see. 

“The Dalai Lama mentioned in a lecture in  India during 1972 that all beings are always kind. Shortly after hearing this teaching, I visited the elder of the Dalai Lama's two tutors, a man who seemed to me the very incarnation of love.

I asked him how it could be said that sentient beings are always only kind.  He answered that all beings are kind because they are our field of merit, those in relation to whom we can practice helpful attitudes that empower our minds.

To my sight, he was a person who truly viewed beings this way. My impression that he possessed profound recognition of all sentient beings as extraordinarily valuable was so strong that it was almost painful to be in his presence. His magnanimity offended the part of my mind that wanted him to value me specially. I wanted him to think,  "This is an intelligent person," or,  "lt is so nice to see this person." He did in fact appear to  take strong pleasure in seeing me;  his attitude was neither neutral nor passive. Yet, I knew from his presence that his sense of joy would be equally great on seeing any other sentient being. He would recognize any particular positive or negative qualities, but he would not  value people differently because of them. His valuation was based on something deeper than those qualities, and it was a marvellous teaching just to enter his presence because it required me to  forsake a few baser qualities while I was there.”

16 Practical Suggestions to Tackle Thimphu’s Water Problem for the Immediate to Long-term

  Let me begin by making it clear that no individual or organisation should feel offended by this post, as it is only intended to start prac...