Wednesday, 24 August 2016

Conservation Journey Part II: Unveiling Facts of Tigers to Myth of Yeti

The three and a half years at JSWNP never let down my vigour to set out in wilderness. One week after my joining the JSWNP family, I had my first experience in wilderness, and there was no looking back. Soon followed the voyage in subtropical forests of JSWNP with tiger biologists and researchers from Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environment and the sequel simply followed it.

Well begun is half done.
Often people think that being a forester is lucrative and therefore a greener pasture. Seldom do they ask us about the hardships that we endure while interacting with the wild. While there are traumatic and harrowing records where foresters are being killed by inhumane beings, wildlife themselves pose greater threat to the lives of their saviours. The remote terrains render the treks daring and unforeseeable weather conditions poses greater risks. However for the heart filled with endurance for the cause of conservation, foresters rejoice in pride being conservationist. In adversity, they see the adventure and in monotonous routines, they find the leisure.
The Black Mountains (Jowo Durshing)
I had my own shares of adversities which were indeed prosperity in disguise during my last three and half years in the national park named after the Great Fourth. Within its pristine vegetation lies the sacred Jowo Durshing, the height of which towers to 5000 metres, acclaiming to be the highest peaks in central Bhutan. Such picturesque landscape are not dark as its name Black Mountains suggests but are safe haven for a diversity of wildlife including the charismatic tiger and of course abode of worship for the pre-Buddhist aboriginal settlers, the Monpas.  As such my adventure through the Black Mountains isn’t only mesmerizing but journeying further down to the south in pursuit of catching the Tigers and up north in the remote mountains attempting to reveal the Myths of Yeti makes my days’ worth cherishing.  

  1. Crisscrossing the Sacred Black Mountains:  JSWNP being a conservation jewel in Bhutan owing to its strategic location, each travel offers a wealth of experiences and satisfaction. Besides being only park with record of highest cat species, it also is home to aboriginal Monpas. The myths of Monpas reveal how they crisscrossed the Black Mountains and how their descendants are spread, in the way the Black Mountains linked the different ecozones and conservation landscapes thus enabling biological diversity. As I traversed through the ancient trails to connect hamlets and wandered through the woods and rocks to conserve wildlife, I discovered more of lyrical tunes and comical essence than gruesome squalls. In mountains I discovered the secrets of euphoria and relentlessly I let flowed the epistles of romance like the free dispersal of blooming fragrance. Such were the days in the sacred Black Mountains.
    En route Black Mountains
  2.  Revealing the Facts of Tiger: When the other three protectors, the Dragon, the Garuda and the Snow Lion faded leaving only myths, the tiger brings together myth and reality. Since the time when tigress served Guru Rinpoche in 8th century, tiger has never let the humanity fail despite being hunted, retaliated or domesticated. It is the most sought species by the conservationist and for the beginner like me, becoming a part of team that first counted the tigers of the nation was a wonderful privilege. There were times where camera lost its position, tigers were missed, but never a time our endeavour failed. More strenuous became the task when we attempted to catch tigers to collar the first tiger in the plains of tropical Manas. Unfortunately, tigers missed our traps but never our determinations. We now proudly say Tigers move all the way from tropical plains of Royal Manas NP to alpine mountains of Jigme Dorji NP.
    Like Abominable Snowman
  3. Pursuing the Myths of Yeti: The mystic Bhutan have many folds of mountains steeped in myth and spirituality. In it remain the stories of Yeti, locally known as Migoe.  As a notorious kid, often my mother use to scare me with the myths of Migoe, not knowing I would be a part of Yeti expeditions in remote northern mountains which are uncharted and unexplored landscapes. Indeed I was one among the expedition group from UWICE research fraternity to lead a team to document unique faunal diversity in the previously unexplored mountains in northern border (June 2005-September 2016. Team UWICE always inspired me.  Through the valleys from where the myths of Migoe resonates, we penetrated the darkest of forests and deepest of snows spanning over 20 days in true wilderness, even sustaining on single grains of rice and drops of oil of the ever diminishing ration.  “The Migoe of the mighty Himalayas continues to elude and mystify our mountains.”

Pristine Alpine Landscape

In all, I could only look back in awe, for having expedited the nature in true sense of wilderness. Memories are only to be cherished with utmost satisfaction.   

Sunday, 7 August 2016

Conservation Journey Part I: Life with the Pen in JSWNP.

I started Blogging towards the end of 2010 and it’s my 5th year into blog-sphere. 2011 recorded 106 blog posts marking the highest and in the subsequent years, it decreased drastically. With a university degree in hand, I began my journey into conservation in January 2013 and hardly have I posted anything on the blog. I traveled a lot but least was recorded in my blog. As now take a break from work, I would like to share some of the highlights from my three and half years of working at Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park.

My new journey into works began with the fall of crystalline flakes and as I moved further it only glittered more. However, at one point of time, I wasn’t sure whether I was in the right place. In three years, literarily I had to work with three Chiefs and constantly changing your boss is never a sign of healthy working. In my second year, my first boss went on EOL and I was left with a shaky position without any terms of responsibility. Under the Officiating Chief that last for over 8 months, my position was too versatile, conducting field works to attending important meetings and workshops. In my third year, we had our full-fledged Chief after whose joining my work mainly concentrated with WWF project management. My fourth year into service has opened a new door for my academic journey. As such, I thrived under versatility of Chiefs. At times, I faced the deadliest symptoms of career burnouts but I could also embrace some of the best opportunities be it travelling outside or field expeditions. The combination of the two only made my stand bolder and stronger with good accumulation of experiences.

Since blogging is about writing, I would like to share in this part, three writing achievements from my past three and half years of working in JSWNP.  Being the lone Forestry Officer under the chief, lots of paper work has befallen unto me, checking the competency and aptness in me. Yes, I wrote a lot while in JSWNP, from the guiding documents to project proposals, tour diaries to field reports, minutes of meetings to news reports and of course the contribution to mega publications for the department.

  1. Conservation Management Plan for JSWNP (January 2014-December 2018): Park function under the guidance of Conservation Management Plans. It contains all the details about the park including the biological diversity, socio-economic aspects of the park residents, conservation threats, and of course the framework of activities to be conducted in the next five years. Framing of management plan therefore requires all the facts and coherent planning in line with country’s five year plan.  As such the management plans serves as guiding document for the park. The last conservation management plan for JSWNP has expired in 2007. The park management, however realizing the need to update the much awaited document, has secured fund to from WWF to conduct all the necessary field surveys. When I joined JSWNP, a draft copy in its initial stage was laying idle. My Chief handed over the draft to me and entrusted me to complete it. I felt that it was a herculean task especially considering my infancy in professional work. However, I worked on it with my best ability and sought all critical comments from senior professionals and donors alike and referred all relevant documents to produce the third Conservation Management Plan for JSWNP. In 2015, I worked on framing the Park Zoning for JSWNP, which supplements the management plan.
    Monpas performing folklore
  2. Monpas and Their Livelihood in JSWNP: In the last three and half years, I have been a part of many conservation expeditions and coordinated many field works. Field works are really tiresome and hectic but the end results keep us moving. Lots of works were done by our predecessors in the park but least was documented. I felt the need to document and publish what we do so that it would serve as baseline or works won’t be repeated in the future. I have been part of publishing 8 field reports but a report on “Monpas and their Livelihoods in JSWNP” was something which I accomplished with a will. The idea of studying “Monpas and their Livelihoods in JSWNP” struck me in 2013 when I learnt that the 14th Congress of the International Society Ethnobiology (ISE) was to be held in UWICE, Bumthang in June 2014. I had then applied for a presentation on the topic and submitted an abstract to the Board of the Congress, which they selected. In preparing for it, I could document the history, myths and current scenario of the Monpas in JSWNP, which I proudly presented during the conference.
    The DoFPS Publication
  3. Protected Areas of Bhutan: The Department of Forests & Park Services despite being one of the oldest departments didn’t have a publication about it on its own. Under the dynamic leadership of the former Director General, DoFPS have however published two books, i) “Glimpses of Bhutan’s Forest Biodiversity” in 2013 and ii) “Protected Areas of Bhutan” in 2015. The former attempts to capture the rich biodiversity of Bhutan’s forest resources through the lenses of the Bhutanese foresters while the later provides an overview of the protected areas in Bhutan. The later contain a chapter each on all the Protected Areas and the Biological Corridors in Bhutan’s and I had the privilege to write the Chapter for Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park. As the book was dedicated to Fourth Druk Gyalpo King Jigme Singye Wangchuck on His Majesty’s 60th Birth Anniversary, I feel very privileged to be the part of publication team.

Therefore as I look back, though not much have been posted on my blog, it appears like I wrote quite something. Now that I have started putting up things on my blog, I would be writing on three best field expeditions, three travels outside, three best workshops and so on in my subsequent posts. I feel that being a student, we can write better. 

Saturday, 6 August 2016

The Academic Journeys: Reminiscing the Road to Bachelor’s Degree.

When I boarded the Bhutan Post bus from Phuentsholing to Calcutta on the afternoon of 27th August 2008, I was beginning a new journey. As my sister after expressing her final words of advices bid adieu, I was to set my feet off the mother land for the first time in my life. As we travelled down in the Indian plains, I not only had the emotional feelings of loneliness but also the jubilation of pride and satisfaction. The bus was indeed filled with youths aspiring to pursue various technical degrees having won the prestigious scholarships after their class 12 exams the last December. The DAHE had then booked the bus for us from Phuentsholing to Calcutta from where we were to obtain the train tickets from a travel agent for boarding in different directions.
Birsa Agricultural University

Being brought up in remote hamlet of Darlo, my maiden journey abroad was a challenging one. Hindi was a language which I understood least and we weren’t going to a college where there are ample Bhutanese seniors but just the two of us. My friend by virtue of being educated in Thimphu was a saviour for me as he could communicate better in Hindi, which was necessary while on board in the train. In an exotic place, we were to catch a cab early in the morning and search for Birsa Agricultural University in Ranchi.
Reminiscing the old harrowing moments then, it gives me a sense of delight now, having overcome one of the hardest challenges a fresher would face in the college. Forestry was a course of my choice and to live the destiny of my choice often made me lament on why I had that choice.
There wasn’t clear information from the University on when we should be reporting and on our arrival, there wasn’t anybody welcoming us despite ourselves reaching the university campus and calling the concerned authority many times. At a point of time, I wondered whether I really received a Scholarship. Alas, we could find our way to the office of Registrar where we introduced ourselves only to be diverted to the Faculty of Forestry. The Dean of Forestry finally called on us and got ourselves registered as International Students in College of Forestry, Birsa Agricultural University. Indeed we were lone International Students in that University. By the time, we were allotted rooms, it was almost 2:00 PM. A long travel by train from Howrah to Ranchi the night before and tireless walking in the mighty university campus with our belonging, my first day in the University taught me a lesson; Life is never a bed of roses. Rather it is adversity en route to prosperity.
Graduating from BAU: August 2008-September 2012.

However, the situation only seemed to deteriorate with delay in commencement of academics by a month and with lots of irregularities in conducting the semester exams and its results. Worst, the two of us became the lone classmates. While we didn’t have any Bhutanese friends nearby, our semesters breaks for going home were dearer with much uncertainties.  Four lengthy years we spent in Birsa Agricultural University and at the end, the troubles that we faced were worth enduring. The bitter sweet days in India has indeed paved our way in the civil service cadre of the Royal Government of Bhutan. The moments became more cherishing when I exited BAU with a University Gold Medal for Academic Excellence.

As a take a new journey today, it only made me contemplative of my past journeys.