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Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Rhododendrons of the Botanical Garden, Greifswald University

Spring season is a season of flower and especially on the temperate hills and forests of Bhutan, variety of colours of rhododendron makes them so surreal and beautiful. In Bhutan we have a staggering record of 46 Rhododendron species and many of them are found in full bloom on the high passes like Dochula, Pelela, Phrumsengla etc. All 46 species of Rhododendrons can be found at Lampelri Botanical Park, with 18 species being native at the park.

While in JSWNP, often as I take the trails to the mountains, the beauty of the rhododendrons would welcome us and that was always mesmerizing. Of the many journeys I had undertaken, I am glad to have one of the journeys reflected in my blog, entitled “The Rhododendron Trail, an Arduous Hike worth a Hike” recording 8 species of Rhododendrons that were found blooming on that trail.
Winter Frost and the Rhododendrons
When I had my first class in one of the lecture halls in the Botanical garden, I saw a couple of rhododendron shrubs. Since it was towards winter, the plants look so dull and it really didn’t attract my attention. However towards the peak winter when there was snow fall, I really felt the sensation of being in the higher mountains where snow would cover up the floor of the rhododendrons. It was that time that I was curious to see the rhododendrons in full bloom as, the rhododendrons being native to Asian regions I was not very sure if the plants would bloom.
What was really enthralling was when I first saw the bud of one of the larger rhododendron opening, to give beautiful red petals. Since then I waited to see the rest of the rhododendrons bloom and regularly moved around to see the diversity of rhododendrons that are reared in the Botanical garden. I am amazed to see around 15 species of Rhododendron in the garden, and almost all of them have bloomed by now.

The first rhododendron that bloomed this season. It is one of the tallest rhododendron shrubs found here and it is native to China found between elevation of 1600-2300 masl. Initially it was reddish but as the petals ages, it turns whitish. Its leaves are oblong and slightly curved.

This is also a larger shrub and the flower resembles to Rhododendron sutchuenense with narrow leaves.  It is also native to China, found in same habitat as above species.

This species which is native to Korea and Japan and as of now, it has not flowered. It have larger oblong leaves and it is a medium height shrub species.  

This species is also found in Bhutan and it have shiny, small and oblong/rounded green leaves but with fuzzy underneath. It bears pinkish white flowers.

This species is native to the United States and is now found widespread as ornamental plant. In the botanical garden, it has not yet bloomed. Its leaves are quite long and broad and it would bear pink-purple flowers.

This rhododendron is an evergreen shrub that grows just above the tree line in the Alps so its height is small. The plant has not yet bloomed but the leaves are narrow and shiny. It is described as moderately toxic.

This rhododendron species is native to China, where it grows at altitudes of 600–2,000 masl. It is a medium to large sized shrub and bears pinkish white flowers. Leaves are quite large and oblong.

This species is native to northeastern Inida and Southern Tibet growing at altitudes of 2400–3600 meters. Looking into its range it should be found in Bhutan but it is not recorded. It has pink flowers and leaves are medium sized and oblong.

It is a small shrub, up to 4 feet tall at maturity, native China, and grows between altitudes of 2400–4800 masl. It resembles Rhododendron setosum found in Bhutan with purple flower, and leaves small and long.

This is also a low altitude Rhododendron growing between 700-2000 masl native to China. It is a medoum sized shrub species. Here the plant has not yet flowered but it would have pink flowers. Leaves are medium sized with oblong or ovulate shapes.

This is a small shrub species bearing reddish purple flowers and leaves quite similar to Rhododendron hippophaeoides. It is also native to China. 

This plant has very bright red, pink flowers and leaves are smaller and glossy. This plant is mentioned as a poisonous plant.

This is a medium sized shrub native to Myanmar and China. It is with lanceolate or oblong-ovate leaves. It has pinkish white flowers.

This species is native to central and northwestern Yunnan in China, where it grows at altitudes of 3000–4300 masl. It is small sized shrub with elliptic or oblong leaves. Flowers are purple-blue.

15.   Unknown species
This medium sized species is not tagged and it is in full blossom with white flowers.

It is amazing to see quite a diversity of Rhododendron species, introduced and blooming in this Botanical Garden. It would definitely a wonderful treat to native people here to see the Rhododendrons blooming.

Monday, 17 April 2017

Destination Europe IV: Solo Holiday Travel

The formal classes for our winter semester finished towards the end of January and for those who do not have elective modules in block or the practical modules, they finished their exams by the first week of February and commenced their much needed holiday. Winter is extremely cold in Greifswald and I was amazed to see the Baltic Sea completely frozen. What appears to be large stretch of water body and pond in the summer becomes skiing ground. While my classes were finished, I had two block modules and a practical module to complete during the much awaited winter holidays and as such I remained cold and frozen in Greifswald. Just before our Summer Semester began on 1st April, I was glad that I could manage a weeklong holiday to travel some places and look around.

It was the Bhutan Day organized by Deutsche Bhutan Himalaya Gesellschaft at Frankfurt, which instilled excitement for me to travel far to the south of Germany and in continuum I planned to travel towards the far western Europe, Spain and Poland. The charm of the travel however was taking a solo trip. The blog post is much due, as I was busy the commencement of summer semester, and this time, I am heavily loaded with modules.

8. Frankfurt main Am: 
The financial hub of Germany is one of largest towns in Germany, a city greatly devastated during the World War II and rebuilt later. My purpose of being in Frankfurt as mentioned earlier was to attend the Bhutan Day and during the course of interaction with the German Friends of Bhutan, learnt that Frankfurt is culturally and ethnically diverse, with around half of the population, and a majority of young people, having a migration background. Frankfurt is beautifully meandered by a large river, Main, and here I share some of the picture snapped out there.

Eiserner Steg over river Main

Main Tower

View of River Main

Old Opera
A beautiful memory from Frankfurt trip was the evening stroll through the streets and chatting over a chilled beer with Aue Dorji Wangchuck, a fellow countryman I met there during the meeting.

9: Barcelona: Having spent one and half days in Frankfurt (25th – 26th March), I took the flight from Frankfurt-Hahn Airport to Barcelona, the most sought travel destinations in Europe. I reached the enchanting city of Barcelona in the evening but unlike Greifswald which is extremely cold, the city was milder. I checked in the Mediterranean Youth Hostel and wasted no time to explore the city. Barcelona is known for art and architecture, mostly designed by famous architect Antoni Gaudí. Most of the points of interests will take us to wonderfully designed architectural master pieces. 
La Sagrada Familia

Park Guell

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Casa Batllo

The Venetian tower


Parc de Montjuic

The first point I visited was La Sagrada Familia, the Church of the Holy Family.  A day is definitely not enough to explore the limitless options in Barcelona so I kept my visits to see the exterior beauties. I then took a stroll on the famous cobblestone lanes of the Gothic quarter and La Rambla Street to have a glimpse of street shows, and to have a chill beer and good dinner. The cost of food and drinks are more expensive on this street than other restaurants but being alone, it was a wonderful feel to immerse myself in the crowd.  Taking a ten journey ticket, the travel was very convenient provided we decide which point to visit. From the recreational parks to beaches, churches and streets, souvenir shops filed with shirts and badges of Messi, and numerous dots of Gaudis master pieces, my one day (26th – 27th March) trip was quite a hectic one.

Plaza de Orienta
10. Madrid: I took the night bus from Barcelona to Madrid, the capital city of Spain on 27th March. The point of taking night bus is that we need not have to waste a day travelling and also we save cash on booking hostels. Madrid being capital city, and also being inland city is not the top rated travel destination. There are many beautiful port cities along the Mediterranean coast but I planned via Madrid as I was determined to visit Portugal. The journey started at 10:00 PM and I reached early in the morning at 5:00 AM in Madrid. I took a metro from the Bus station to the central train station and there I waited for the day to break. The good thing is that we can lock our heavy baggage in the lockers in the station and we can roam the cities comfortably. Madrid has intricate boulevards, many spectacular palaces and of course parks. Like in Barcelona, I took a 10 journey ticket to explore the city. Having already spent two days with extensive walking, I was quite tired by noon and had to enjoy the sun in one of the square in Madrid centre.

Palace of Madrid

Plaza de Cibeles

Retiro Park

Gate to the City of Lisbon
11. Lisbon: For my journey from Madrid to Lisbon, I booked a train ticket to experience a different mode of travel.  That was also a night journey so being too tired of the day trip, I had a good sleep in the train. Unlike the trains in India where there are berths to sleep, I didn’t see trains with beds to sleep in Europe. We have to sleep on our partially leaned seat. The journey was little over 10 hours and I reached Lisbon at 7:00 in the morning. The exciting point was that I have an acquaintance in Lisbon, a Bhutanese friends studying there. So, from the train station I took the metro to reach my baggage at his place and from where I had a breakfast. However they were busy with some important classes so I had to explore the city of Lisbon on my own. Lisbon is a coastal city but there are beautiful hills that rise high enough to give beautiful view of the city. I took a day ticket and moved from one point of interest to another, sometimes catching free walking tours and other times, wondering lonely as clouds amid the crowd. By 4:00 PM the two friends have finished their classes and I had a much needed companionship to walk the streets with diverse conversation topics. Lisbon is comparatively cheaper than Barcelona or Madrid.

City View from one of the Hills

Praca do Imperio

Lisbon on hill

The advantage of taking solo trip is that I have the freedom of choice for myself. For many months, I have been surrounded by same group of people and socialized with them so travelling alone definitely gives a different taste. This compels us to talk to strangers asking them the routes, requesting them to take pictures and in times just picking normal conversations, which is nice. Indeed the camera, the power bank, and the internet package serve the best companion and there is no way that we get lost. Being alone also helps discover yourself better because I have to do everything by myself, thus we overcome fear and insecurities. And of course we find peace without having to check patience and worry. Of course there are a set of disadvantages as well.

Friday, 7 April 2017

"Bhutanese Youth in Pursuit of Happiness": Bhutan Day 2017 by German Bhutan Himalaya Society

25th March 2017, in Frankfurt am Main, the financial powerhouse of Germany, there was a small yet special gathering in the rooms of the Tibethaus, an environment resembling Bhutanese setup. Organized by the Deutsche Bhutan Himalaya Gesellschaft (German Bhutan Himalaya Society) it was an annual meeting of its members and invite the Bhutanese living in Germany to take part into it, to have discourses and discussions on the issues of interests from Bhutan and term it “Bhutan Day”.
Bhutanese participants with organizers of the event.

I came to learn about the event last year when I participated in the National Day Reception in Brussels, while interacting with Mr. Reinhard Wolf, the President of the society. I got the invitation to take part in the event but the venue was in Frankfurt, which is quite far from the place where I live and study so taking part in it would entail more days of travel. However the event happened to be during my semester break, which makes my travel plans so convenient. Being away from homeland, it is always a wonderful pleasure to talk and discuss about Bhutan, and the event being organized by Germans for their love and support towards Bhutan, it gives more reason to attend the day. Moreover I learnt that officials from the Royal Bhutanese Embassy in Brussels are also attending the meet so this added more verve to travel south and have some interactions with fellow countrymen.
Mr. Reinhard Wolf, President of DBHG welcomes the participants.

Mr. Reinhard Wolf, the President of the society has put in tremendous effort to make the day a very fruitful and rewarding one. The early hours of the day was set aside for the annual ordinary general meeting of the Society amongst its members and the Bhutan Day 2017 formally kicked off at 11:30 AM with the theme “Bhutanese Youth in Pursuit of Happiness”. The highlight of the event was that there are two presentations; Mr. Dorji Wangchuk from London spoke on "A Perspective on Bhutanese Youth in the Pursuit of Great National Happiness" and Prof. Dr. Alexander Klaußner on the topic "Handicrafts have golden soil - maybe and especially in and for Bhutan". It was through these two presentations that a discussion on the theme was met. The presence of officials from Royal Bhutanese Embassy, Brussels was a positive note.

Bhutan with a young population with over 27% between the age of 13-24, the most pressing issues and concerns revolve around the youths. Unemployment for youths is high at 13%, we also have serious concerns of rural households remaining empty due to rural urban migration as youths don’t prefer to stay in the villages. While over 56% of the Bhutanese population rely on agricultural practices for livelihood, they mostly comprises of elderly parents. Besides blue collar jobs are least preferred by our youths, not considering the fact that economic return from doing farming and blue collar jobs are much higher than their counterparts working in offices. The happiness of youth would have greater implications on the overall happiness of the nation. Coincidentally, the recently published World Happiness Report also saw Bhutan drop in her place by 13 notches from last year. At 97th place, this is not a comforting position particularly considering the claims and praises of Bhutan being one of the happiest countries in the world. While we have such concerns for the youths, it is heartening to see our friends in Germany have equal concern as we Bhutanese do.
Mr. Dorji Wangchuk talks on GNH and Youth.

However, it was awe inspiring to listen to the talk of Mr. Dorji Wangchuck, who articulated the message of how we perceive happiness as a country, with special focus on the four pillars and nine domains of happiness. He also shared with the audiences, the prospects for Bhutanese youths towards the road of happiness mainly because of many enabling conditions our Bhutanese youths are blessed with, and of course some of the constraints and challenges.  This was complimented by the lecture of Prof. Dr. Alexander, who enlightened the gathering the multi-fold advantages of taking craftsmanship, relating his experiences in context to an old German proverb, “A trade in hand finds gold in every land”. He explained how dual system of vocational training and education systems works in Germany and possible scope in Bhutan.

Participants of the Day.
In all, it was a wonderful experience with our German friends and I remain grateful to the President of the society for the opportunity. It is always a blessing that I am a Bhutanese and I am more humbled when we have many good friends around the world, who spare their precious time in an effort to make a difference for Bhutan. This however is all inspired by the benevolence of our Kings, who after denouncing their lively pleasures, put the country and people as foremost priority. Through the ages, our kings have established bonds with many countries, and today we are proud to have many friends of Bhutan, who continues to promote the friendship and deliver services to Bhutan and the Bhutanese people. Deutsche Bhutan Himalaya Gesellschaft is one such society, which is now over 25 years old, established solely for the promotion of international understanding between Bhutan and Germany. I as a Bhutanese remain thankful for all the efforts they put in.  

May The Friendship lasts Forever. 

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Spring Blossoms

དུས་རྒྱུན་ངིའི་ཡིད་ལ།། ཧང་ཧང་དྲན་འདི་འོང་མི།།
གསོ་ཁར་དུས་སུ་ཤར་བའི།། ལྡུམ་རའི་མེ་ཏོག་འདྲ

བལྟ་བའི་མིག་ཁར་མཛེས་པས།། སྦུབ་ཅུང་རྒྱས་ཏི་འོང་ཚེ།། 
སེར་སྦྱངམོ་རང་གི་སེམས་ཡང་།། དབང་མེད་ཁྱོད་ལུ་ཤོར་སོང་།།

པད་འབད་རླུང་གི་གཡབ་ཏི།། མངར་བའི་སྦྲང་ཙི་རྒྱས་ཚེ།། 
སེར་སྦྱངམོ་སྐོམ་པའི་སྡུག་བསྔལ།། གསལ་བ་བསྐལ་བ་བཟང་ཡོད།།

གཏན་རྐྱང་མཐོང་ས་མེད་རུང་།། གསོ་ཁའི་མེ་ཏོག་བཟུམ་འབད།། 
འཕྲལ་འཕྲལ་ངིའི་སེམས་ཁར།། ཧང་ཧང་འཁོར་འདི་འོང་གནང་།།
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Galanthus nivalis

Eranthis hyemalis

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

I Received a Post Card

I don’t remember vividly when I received the last postal letter, but it was sometime during my Schooling days in lower secondary school. I got a letter from a friend studying in a school in different district and it was a warm gesture of valuing friendship. It could have been my bad if I have not replied back to her. Sadly, I also don’t remember where I have kept the letter. It must have turned into dust long before, but I am happy that our friendship grew only stronger and values keep enriching. If not of fond memories of playing in the fields and studying together in schools, there are hardly any evidences of lasting friendship. Thank you for the friendship. Also my elder brother use to send me letters from Wangdue and I use to feel immense joy on receiving them from him. That was much earlier when I was studying in the primary schools. He also put in a note of Nu. 5 or Nu. 10 with the letters and that made me happier. I never asked my brother and sister at home to give me money while going to school from home as a day scholar and they hardly give any. So getting a Nu. 5 note, together with the letters was a big sum for me. Again, I am not sure whether I ever replied to him, sorry my dear brother Dawa. I am not really sure whether I wrote any letters to my friends. That’s strange part of me. Letters that I wrote from the mountains remained as mere gestures in my diaries.

However, sending wishing cards to friends was quite common until my high school days. I use to receive a few from my friends and I too sent to few of them. However this has a different taste because it is just an exchange of greeting among the friends, with whom we share daily doses of life. I now feel that sending letters in longer range is more special.

Coming to the postcards, my experience was only decorating the song books with them. Post cards for me were those depicting Bollywood actors and hardly had any knowledge with other contents. Again the sad part is I don’t know many of actors. Being a shepherd during winter vacations until I completed class 10 when our dear sheep were finally sold away, I hardly watched any Bollywood movie. I just knew few of them while in school and I use to collect a few to decorate song books, which I was fond of maintaining until my early University days. But little did I realize that post cards are meant to travel even further, crossing international borders, and particularly sent while on vacation to share the travelling experiences and love messages precisely but openly without the need of an envelope. However I didn’t receive any and nor did I sent one so I am devoid of a good experience of how we feel to receive one and to sent one.

Time has evolved and habits have changed. In the days of cell phones, email, and text messages, letter writing and sending postcards can seem hopelessly outdated. It is indeed a dying art in the wake of modern telecommunication and specially the advanced social networking through internet. Yet I am lucky to get one Post Card today. My letter box generally remains empty except for few documents from the university. I did a random check-up today and I am surprised to find a post card addressed to me. With the gleaming city of Bangkok, it reminded my short travel to that “City of Angels” two years ago. The postcard also had borne a postal stamp of the Late but the Great King of Thailand, His Majesty Bhumibol. Such strong messages it possesses. Coming into the message, I am glad to learn that my friend could finally break bucket lists of travelling the globe after the studies, with the first destination being Bangkok Thailand. I am happier that you had a good experience there and I wish you many more beautiful travels, exploring and adventuring throughout the world. More than anything, I am happy to receive the first post card in my life. Thank you for the beautiful postcard with beautiful message of hopes for me.

I am not sure, how many friends visit my blog and read my stuffs. My purpose of keeping it is to keep some records of my feelings, experiences and thoughts. Had any one of you read through it, please drop me your postal addresses in the comment. I would love to send some post cards from different cities in Europe. I have few trips planned in the last week of this month and you could receive a colourful post card from the cities I visit.

Thank you. 

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Ultimate Path

The heath that best suit the sunbath,
It's soaked and slid with summers rain.
The pond that best quenched my thirsts,
It's shrunken into ice by winters frosts.
When into the eclipse, the moon entangles,
The mundane world appears darker than usual.

The beauteous blossoms in spring garden,
The hail has it tattered the frail petals.
The melodies of cuckoos, it is fading
As they fly away to the distant autumns.
Like the setting of sun into crimson horizon,
Each embrace of happiness is now at losing end.

The sensational joy of togetherness, 
Like the emerald dew, its drying away,
The alluring moments of love and laughter,
Karmic fate has it made fleeting.
Amidst the steams of mist as I traverse,
In wheel of Dharma, I see the ultimate solace.

(Adapted from of Gelong Sumdhar Tashi)

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Conservation Journey: Video

Often as I go to the field, I keep recording the exciting moments in the form of pictures and videos, besides keeping some journals. Of all the field expeditions I have conducted, the expedition into the remote northern mountains of Bhutan to record the unique biodiversity was the most enduring and adventurous one. It also took the record time of 24 days in the wilderness, before we finish setting up the camera traps. While I have posted some of the excerpts of the journey, today I am sharing here the video records during that event.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Honeygiver Among the Dogs: A Bhutanese Movie in Berlinale

Titled “Munmo Tashi Khyidon- Honeygiver Among the Dogs” is the debut feature film by Dechen Roder staring Jamyang Jamtsho Wangchuk (Kinley) and Sonam Tashi Choden (Choden) with special appearance of Chencho Dorji, Rapay Khandu and Aum Gyelmo. 

Kinley, a police officer was assigned with the task of investigating the mystery behind the disappearance of the Abbess in a nunnery in Bumthang, and simultaneous disappearance of immigrant Choden, a young and stunning lady often described as flirtatious demoness by the village folks. Villagers suspect Choden as the assassin who killed the Abbess, there is no prove that Abbess is killed. The quest begins with constant command and reminder from Kinley’s Chief, whom he talks over telephone.  Girls have the power to bewitch gentlemen; that’s what worries the unseen Police Chief. Kinley tactfully masters the approach to investigate Choden, leaving aside his police uniform and wearing a civilian costume, but then he sees Choden coming to him seeking his companionship to flee the chase of the police, not in vehicles but walking the trails through the forests, taking longer duration to reach Thimphu. While Kinley tries to know what her problems were and her reasons for her travel to Thimphu, Choden diverts Kinleys questions whereby she narrates the legends of Dakinis fighting social oppression, obscuring Kinleys quest. Whether the stories that she narrate have parallel connection to Choden herself is something to probe into.
Kinley in Action
Reaching Thimphu, Kinley discover the possible reasons behind the disappearance of the Abbess and Chodens reasons being in Thimphu. Kinley on the other hand was considered a failed Cop by his Chief and takes the case by himself. Kinley however does not stop chasing Choden, with the promise to help resolve her troubles. Between illusionary nightmares and Chodens earlier narrations, Kinleys independent probe discovers more twist in the case. He found that the Land at which the Nunnery was located have rocks of timeless values, as discovered by a researcher with whom Choden is suspected to have an affair. Ultimately Kinley discovers the greed, disloyalty, corruption, and conspiracy that surrounds hims and discovers the real Dakini in front of him in Choden. Kinley returns to Bumthang where his search began, in search of the Abbess, only to find she passed away peacefully and transformed every remains of hers into mystical rainbows. 
Stills of Choden
This is the synopsis of the film, which I had the opportunity to watch during Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival (9th to 19th February 2017) on February 11th in Berlin, thanks to Mr. Reinhard Wolf, President of German Bhutan Himalaya Society. The film was shot mostly into wilderness showcasing the beautiful natural scenery of Bhutan as lead artists walk through the beautiful forest trails. In the second half, it also showcase the capital city of Thimphu, the gullies, the culturally intricate prayer wheels, the way we go to office and do the daily chores, with a unique dress code called Gho and Kira. And as mentioned in the synopsis, the film also features the prevalent follies in the way our bureaucracy functions with some degree of disloyalty and corrupt practices, and of course revealing the presence of hardworking and sincere Cop like Kinley. While everybody is behind the materialistic pursuit, there are ladies like Choden who embodies the spirit of Dakini but only regarded as Demonss by the society, a true complexity of the way we live. These were some of the points that seemed to have caught the eye of the audience at Berlinale based on the questions audiences raised, leaving aside how they felt the taste of the film as a subject.

“How successful do you think the movie will run in Bhutan?” one of the viewers asked Actor Jamyang Jamtsho who represented the film on behalf of Director Dechen Roder. Well, the movie, though presents slights of love and romance, it lacks sex and sleaze but a noir of crime and detection, it also have some sense of humour in the way the Chief commands Kinley, which caused some laughter among the crowd. However unlike our regular movies where the subject is mostly romance, comedy or the biographies with numerous scenes of love making and dance sequels, Honeygiver among the Dogs takes a thrilling journey through the woods with occasional musical preludes but without a single song, except during the credit crawl when the movie ends. This is the change brought in by the Debut director in a film with debut lead female actor, a new height set by feminine workers. Actor Jamyang has record of playing the Young Dalai Lama in the movie, Seven Years in Tibet, and later worked on his directorial debut and screen play Gyalsey-the legacy of Prince, which is also premiered internationally. While the movie is rich with artistic values and moral messages, people would have different taste because of the genre. Viewers with whom we have talked expressed their satisfaction in the movie and specially the scenic Bhutan. The movie saw a big crowd in CineStar 3, and its second screening is scheduled on 16th February.

For me it was a wonderful holiday treat, even a better outing meeting with Actor himself and the German friends of Bhutan. It was also a moment of pride being Bhutanese when the viewers have better expression and curiosity to know more about the country. While film industry in Bhutan is evolving rapidly, our creative ideas with adequate support from government, Bhutanese movies have an opportunity to grab international attention in such mega international film festivals.

 image courtesy: facebook page, Honeygiver among the Dogs.