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Posted on 20 August 2007

Suddenly my time in Thimphu runs away like water through my hands.

Suddenly my time in Thimphu runs away like water through my hands. There is so much to do. Karma – WWF Administration Officer – and Pema – WWF Driver – take me for shopping to equip me for my future apartment. They take me down to the market and armed with an enormous shopping list and an impressing bundle of money Karma takes the lead. I soon realize that I better fully leave the battlefield to Karma, as she knows my needs much better than I do, for example I didn’t know that I need a rice cooker and what exactly is a heating coil? Karma takes up a strategically clever position between the water-boilers and the kitchen-knives and sits on a turned-over washing-basket like a queen on her throne, waving the shopping list in one hand and pointing nimbly on various objects with the other hand. Meanwhile I am hiding between the blankets and the carpets, trying not to get in everybody’s way, and the shopkeeper and his relatives are running around, trying to catch up with the pointing finger and piling up the required goods next to Pema, who is guarding the growing mountain while perfecting its shape to make it stable. From time to time Karma consults me for some issues of interior decoration, for example whether I prefer the pink bedcover with the red roses or the red one with the pink lilies. Now this is a very difficult question, but luckily I am relieved from the duty of answering as one bedcover turns out to be quite dirty and therefore disqualifies itself from the honor of being part of the growing mountain. All in all it can be said that our commercial expedition was very successful and thanks to Karma we managed to by a comfortable equipment spending only an incredibly small amount of money and time.

Between shopping excursions during day time and dinner invitations during night time, Chadho, WWF Conservation Program Director, who has taken over the responsibility of keeping me busy and moreover tries to keep me happy, takes me for a meeting to Dr. Sangey, head of the Natural Conservation Division. The NCD – here I must explain quickly that the Bhutanese are extremely fond of short forms, there are innumerable, and we poor filingpas (foreigners) have a tough time in the beginning not to mix them all up and make complete fools out of ourselves – well, the NCD is part of the Royal Bhutanese Government and is in charge of all the National Parks in Bhutan. WWF Bhutan has managed to establish a very good relationship with the NCD and is supporting it with know-how and money. One of the first things I’ve learnt in Bhutan is that without building up good relationships, your work in Bhutan will be as efficient as if you try to dig down to a subterranean water source with a teaspoon.

Dr. Sangey serves us tea and cookies in his office and as he did his studies in Zurich, which is my hometown, we share some pleasant minutes refreshing our memories. After that I learn about, what I am going to be doing in the next 3 months: I am going to be placed in Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary in the far East of the country. Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary has been established only recently and the construction of infrastructure is still ongoing. It is home to the Brokpas, a semi-nomadic tribe with unique culture, language and clothing. In summer they graze their yaks and cattle in the high altitudes of the Himalayan ranges, in winter they move down to warmer areas and barter butter and cheese for rice and maize in the lower valleys, which are home to the Sharchopa, the people of the eastern Bhutan. Now this I have learnt already from the information paper about my internship program, which I had received earlier from Jeff – WWF International Consultant. What I haven’t known up to know is that the whole area is strictly prohibited for tourists from visiting since 1993 and unless you have some cordial relationships with the Royal Government, it is extremely tricky to get a permit. These restrictions seem to have been established out of the concern that the tourist industry might badly influence the endangered culture of the Brokpas. Nevertheless there seems to be a great interest – not to say pressure – coming from various sides and even though there is little clearness about “when, what and how”, it seems likely that the Royal Government might change its attitude towards this region in a not too far away future. ( I say “Royal Government” because who exactly makes the decision, remains to me in the same fogginess like the “when, what and how”.) Therefore it might be good for the WWF Bhutan and the NCD to be prepared for this occasion and have a report at hand, which to produce is going to be my admission for the next three months. I am very much filled with enthusiasm, when I learn this, especially when Dr. Sangey continues to explain the details to me. He wishes me to define possible tourist attractions in the Sakteng Wildlife Sanctuary, to inquire into the local people’s attitude towards tourism, to create awareness about chances and threats of tourism and to define a ecotourism strategy, which protects or even enhances the conservation of the nature and will bring as much benefit as possible to the local people. I am extremely pleased with this admission, as this will give me wonderful insight and material for my reports. Furthermore, having traveled extensively and having seen many good and bad examples of ecotourism I feel that this meets my abilities and strengths much more than putting me in the field pondering over some flowers, as I am no biologist but a psychologist; So I prefer pondering over people and leaving the flowers in peace except of giving them my innocent admiration.

The next day I begin my work by meeting Sonam Wangmo. Being a tour operator and furthermore a Brokpa she can give me some valuable insight in both, the tour operators interests and needs and the Brokpa culture. We are chatting while sitting in her comfortable living room and I can easily make out that her lifestyle is far away from the smoky and rough Brokpa huts. But nevertheless she is the daughter of a respected lama in Sakteng and she has a heart for her people. From her I learn more about the Brokpas than from anybody else.

And soon my last day in Thimphu is over and my last evening is over and my luggage is readily packed and is waiting for its journey to the East to begin.