Home of Jewels: Some Rinpung Reflections…

Credit: littlebhutan.com

…How many untold stories does every little place have…

As a young lecturer, fresh at Sherubtse College, I was assigned to teach English to all the three streams of the first year pre-university cohort. Once we were some way into our engagement, I decided it was about time that I asked the students to write a little essay for me. The topic was Ten Years from Now…

What I received a week later was a heap of gold! I was amazed by the variety, creativity and maturity that my first batch had in store for me to begin my long Sherubtse romance with. Bindhya, for instance, wasn’t asking a question. She was marvelling at the unique personality of each little place and wondering about their many untold stories.

My first impressions of Paro were formed way back in 1976 when our Principal, the peerless educator Lopon G B Kurup, decided that our batch deserved a gift for an being exemplary class and arranged what was called a Study Tour for us to visit Paro, Punakha, Wangduephodrang, and Thimphu over a period of ten days, aboard the old iconic blue BGTS bus with a long legendary snout.

Our host was Gaupel Central School while we were in Paro. Among the many delightful exchangesthat I had with my fellow-students and teachers in the host-school, one thread of a story remains as strong and as precious as ever. It was the birthday of the School Captain, but instead of us or others giving him any gift, it was the birthday boy who gave each of one of us a precious silver coin that I treasure to this day.

My next visit to Paro was in 1977 as part of the remainder of our six-month National Service as we waited for confirmation of our seats in India to continue our studies. Operating out of an old traditional house in Tshongdue, each one of us was assigned to supervise the clearing work on the land granted as Kidu to the needy by His Majesty the King.

The area assigned to me was around the ruins of the old dzong above the National Museum from where I would survey the whole valley below every day. The energetic Hungrel Gup always ensured that I had a sumptuous meal in his house when I returned from work. Some days, I was asked by my friends to visit their sites to speak with the farmers because they believed that my little Dzongkha was slightly better than theirs!

We would often walk all the way from Tshongdue past the thin emergency landing air-strip that has now transformed into the most beautiful Paro International Airport, and climb up to Jew village above the Agriculture Machinery Centre on the way to Pangbisa, to meet my friend’s farmers who had received Kidu land, and walk back in the evening.

Over time, my Gaupel School Captain friend’s incredible mother, the most generous and pious matriarch of the biggest store in town, became a mother-figure to me and treated me as her own. My friend’s siblings were like my siblings.

During my college holidays, I would often visit my brother who was the Headmaster of Drukgyal Primary School and explore the amazing valley further. One visit involved supervision of trainee-teachers from the National Institute of Education, Samtse, during their teaching practice segment. I have walked across Pele La from Drukgyal Dzong to Haa and back and driven over the pass as well as received the generous hospitality of the Royal Bhutan Army in Gunitsawa during my visit to the primary school there.

When I was transferred from Sherubtse, in the beginning of March 2001, to start the Centre for Educational Research and Development (CERD), an old classroom in the historical Rinpung area, once the headquarters of the country’s Education Department, headed by late Loynpo Dawa Tsering, became my one-man centre till two colleagues joined me a couple of years later. Limited in human and material resources and numerous other challenges, we were yet able to carry out some significant works both in volume and value many of which have become points of reference for succeeding educators, researchers and policy-makers.

As my children started their school in Rinpung Primary School, and Gaupel Lower Secondary School in which my late youngest brother, and niece too had studied, I was able to explore the Dzongkhag more closely and participate in some of the important development discourses taking place then.

I was struck by the painful ruins of our Fortress of Victory that urged me to explore its history and present a paper titled Drukgyal Dzong: The Two Faces, under the auspices of the First Colloquium on Intangible Heritage organised by Ta Dzong, the National Museum of Bhutan.

My paper concluded with a prayer that our historically strategicand nationally pivotal victory monument return to its former glory in the near future. I feel most blessed and fulfilled that this symbol of our profound national pride is nearing the completion of its reconstruction in my present life – thanks to the enlightened command of His Majesty the Druk Gyalpo, coinciding with the auspicious royal birth of our most precious Gyalsey His Royal Highness Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck.

When it was time for the Mock Elections in the run-up to the historic First Parliamentary Elections in Bhutan, I made extensive visits to several gewogs in the Dzongkhag and covered 16 out of my 17 Polling Stations on Election Day as the National Observer.  It was deeply humbling for me to hear later that the Chief Election Commissioner of Bhutan noted my Observer’s Report as exemplary.

This bowl of plenty has been blessed by some of the supreme spiritual beings in the tradition including the Second Buddha, the patron saint of Bhutan, Guru Rinpoche, whose flight into Taktsang mounted on a tigress has been a most important milestone in the religious history of our country and the site an exclusive part of the UNESCO Cultural Heritage.

Kyichu Lhakhang, with its deep associations with Songtsen Gampo, is the second oldest monastery in the country, after Jampel Lhakhang in Bumthang, and is among the most visited pilgrimage sites in the valley. Dungtse Lhakhang, Chumphu Ney, Dra Karpo, Jawog Ney, Ta Chhog Lhakhang, Pangbisa Lhakhang, Tshongdue Lhakhang are among other sacred abodes spread across the length and breadth of this culturally rich valley.

Significant among the Chila Naampa Sum as Trashigang, Paro and Dagana were once known to boast, Paro is home to some of the most vital national institutions including the majestic Rinpung Dzong that serves as the headquarters of the district administration, the seat of the Dzongkhag Rabdey and the Royal Court of Justice. The world-famous Paro Tshechu is held on the lawns of the Dzong during which the rare Guru Thongdoel is revealed to the faithful amidst some of the most spectacular mask and popular dance performances. 

The Dzong used to be the country’s biggest granary and weapons-depository after Drukgyal Dzong was destroyed by fire in 1951. It served as the venue of the summer session of the National Assembly while Samtse was the winter venue. A timeless legacy of the country’s founder, Zhabdrung Nawang Namgyal, the resplendent glory of Rinpung Dzong reflects on the gentle waves of Paa Chhu under the iconic Nyemi Zampa as the lights are on and the moon shines along.

Paro Dzongkhag is well-endowed in terms of development services with most of the essential infrastructure having reached the remotest corners of the ten gewogs, covering an area of 1,293 km2 and inhabited by some 46,500 people. Vital installations like the country’s international airport, Paro College of Education, Sang Chokhor Buddhist College, Norbuling Rigter College, Agriculture Machinery Centre, Druk Seed Corporation, world class hotels, manufacturing and business enterprises, and a host of other service delivery facilities make the Dzongkhag among the most progressive and prosperous in the country.

A wide network of educational institutions from early childhood care and development centres to tertiary level education providers, both in the secular and religious spheres, including some fine private institutions, as well as modern and traditional health facilities serve the people of the Dzongkhag which has among the highest per capita provision of public services in the country. 

The Wangchuk Academy in Satsam Chorten is fondly remembered as the hallowed seat of learning for the early education of our Great Fourth. The recent establishment of the top-notch Royal Academy and the state-of-the-art Jigme Singye Wangchuck School of Law at Pangbisa adds special feathers to Paro’s enviable development cap.

And, indeed the exquisite Ugyen Pelri Palace remains an important symbol of national history and heritage. The late Prime Minister of India, Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru, made the historic address to the people of Bhutan on September 23, 1958 and laid the unshakable foundation of India-Bhutan relations on the lawns of this magnificent Palace.

The valley’s all-giver is indeed the wide expanse of rich farm-lands that stretch from end to end and constitute the most beautiful defining feature of this incredible Dzongkhag. The colours of the field transform into a magic web of prosperity as the seasons change even as the land is never left fallow and the backyard is most of the year fruit-laden.

Parops believe that if you take care of your land, the land will take care of you. And, given the largely level terrain of the farms, mechanisation has been adopted to great benefit in the valley. Little wonder, Paro’s excellent farm products have claimed their own space in the global market.

Proximity to the national capital, privilege of an open sky, deep religious roots, highly industrious people, historical and cultural abundance, political awareness, and a competitive entrepreneurial spirit give to this valley of many treasures its special place and significance in the national scheme of things.

I have had the privilege of making life-long friends, receiving the blessings of many wise elders, sending my children to school here, having the most gracious land-lady, seeing my brother retire, sitting through the night by mother’s side in Paro Hospital, going on pilgrimages with my family and friends, instituting examples of good practice in education, flying out and in, and indeed enjoying the incredible warmth and hospitality of generous Parops in large measure.

Above all, it was from this valley of myriad blessings that I was called upon to make the biggest decision of my life to serve the most vital national project that Bhutan’s King of Destiny, Drukgyal Zhipa Jigme Singye Wangchuck, launched in the country in 2008.

As I look across the valley from the vantage point of Khangkhu Resort, the golden lights of the mighty Dzong join the glittering stars above and the incredible valley merges with the cosmic and the mythical even as its eyes are cast into the expanding vistas of the future.

It is my sacred prayer and my fervent hope that the impulse to honour what Mother Nature has bestowed upon this bowl of plenty overrides the impulse to impose what Man desires in the often misguided notion of progress.

As Paro links Bhutan to the world, it also roots the country to its soul. The Rinpung stories are part of the grand narrative of our dear Druk Yul…

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A few quarantine reflections: Thakur S Powdyel, former Minister of Education

Author: My Green School: An Outline for Human and Societal Flourishing.