Bhutan Bugle 6

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This will be the last bugle as the much looked-forward-to homecoming is fast approaching.

Today I have been cheering on the FCB (Food Corporation of Bhutan) archery team in the national finals. Archery is the national sport and they are as serious about it as some countries are about soccer.

The archers use either traditional bamboo bows over 100 meters – fairly rarely nowadays – or modern carbon fiber hunting bows over an unbelievable 140 meters. This is more than twice the distance Olympic archers with their rifle sights and balance weights shoot. As well as the distance being huge, the target is less than half the size of an Olympic target.

With 11 in each team, players take it in turn to shoot. Scoring is not direct but on the deducted system; i.e. at the end of each round the total arrows in the target are counted. If team A gets 4 hits and Team B gets 3 hits then Team A scores 1 point for that round. First to 25 in best of 3 matches wins. No wonder it takes a day and a half for a game.

I have mentioned before they take it seriously and two incidents today illustrated that. The first involved the great taboo of a woman ever touching a bow. One of the FCB office girls was setting up the lunch in the shade and moved an archer’s bow off the table. The end of the world had arrived. She retreated in tears back to the office and the archer had to borrow a bow as his female-contaminated one obviously would not be accurate. They even have a rule to refrain from sex the night before a match, which obviously qualifies archery as an extreme sport.

The second incident almost turned into a full-scale riot. The FCB team was sitting around under the trees having a nicely catered lunch and a monk, who was related to one of the players, was in the group for a free feed. The opposition talked themselves into believing that the monk was giving the FCB team divine backing and possibly casting some sort of bad omen on them. Raised voices and some pushing and shoving ensued before wiser heads told the monk to make himself scarce.

The last field trip was taken to Gelephu, a border town about the centre of Bhutan. I was following the trucks right through from the main warehouse into the mountains and then watching the unloading at the drop-off point and the loading onto the horses and mules.

We were caught by a very late start to the snow season and had an interesting drive back through the hills with heavy snow falling.

While I was in Gelephu I visited the distillery where they blend scotch whiskey (imported in concentrated form) with the “pure Himalayan water” to produce a product equal to Chivas Regal or Johnny Walker Black. The distillery is owned by the Army Welfare organization and all profits go to pensions, retirement funds and army family medical treatment.

We climbed about 50km off the main road north along a brand new road to the very remote Bulli school. On the way back down the mountain a landslide created by workers finishing the construction had brought down, along with the rocks, a huge teak tree which lay across the road. Unfortunately the boys had got their only chainsaw jammed in the 4 foot thick log and we were not going anywhere.

The number of experts slowly increased as people arrived on foot or with their pack-horses and soon a crowd of 20 were all heaving at the 20 ton log with little result. It was just like Excalibur. Everyone who came along, no doubt few having ever seen a chainsaw before, walked up and heaved and struggled to pull it out. Alas, King Arthur was not in our midst!

I just sat on the edge of the jungle enjoying the view across the valley while they got themselves sorted out. Conditions were made slightly less pleasant by the Indian road workers (Bhutanese don’t work if they don’t have too).

40 meters away from the noisy log team, the rock removal team was operating. The jammed chainsaw was the total sum of machinery on site – everything else was crow bars, sledge hammers and wooden poles. To reduce the big boulders to a manageable size they were wrapping detonator cord around the rocks and lighting what I considered a fairly relaxed minimum length fuse.

Every ten minutes or so there was an earsplitting crack and everyone was showered in shrapnel!

Next to arrive on the scene was the Grand Master Monk from the mountain top monastery situated in the mists far above us. He had with him his Chief of Staff, a couple of senior officers and four or five monklets. GMM immediately took command of the operation.

Each family has traditionally given a son to become a monk – either the youngest son or the unemployable family idiot. This is a good deal for father has one less mouth to feed and the other sons have one less share to split the farm when the old man dies. As a result there is no great super reverence for the many rank and file (or for the Americans, enlisted) monks wandering around. Masters and Grand Masters are treated with a Popish reverence.

Chingis Khan (as the Mongolians call him) wrote that all officers have two of the following four qualities – Smart/Dumb and Energetic/Lazy.

Smart/Lazy makes the perfect field commander. He sees the crux of the problem, discards all superfluous operations and decides on maximum result with minimum work.

Smart/Energetic makes the perfect Staff Officer who covers every detail and makes sure the commander has what he wants when he wants it.

Dumb/Lazy are essential to fill those backwater jobs that would drive Smart or Energetic people insane.

Dumb/Energetic – Must be dismissed immediately!

Our GMM was Officer Type Class 4. He had spent so much time contemplating his navel that he would not know if his backside was on fire. I have not seen such a combination of arrogance and incompetence since Gough Whitlam was sacked as Prime Minister of Australia. Every single command he made was exactly not the one which was required. The boys, at first did as he wanted out of respect for his position but soon even the most pious of them realized the man was a fool and it was not long before a game started.

Each time he ordered Left the group pushed Right. Each time he said Pull they Pushed. It was all pretty childish but also pretty funny as the GMM became more and more frustrated. Eventually he spat the dummy and stormed off with his little entourage following (and no doubt snickering) in his wake.

After moving the log a couple of millimeters they managed to widen the cut enough to disassemble the chain saw to get the bar out but leave the chain jammed in the log. One of the pack horsemen unloaded one of his steeds and rode bareback a couple of kilometers to the construction camp to bring back a spare chain. This was fitted and after an hour of sawing, and two more comprehensive jams, we were free.

There was a good ad in today’s paper:

Government Disposal Auction.
The Tibetan Border Force of the Royal Bhutan Army is disposing of the following equipment: 14 used Yaks, Hoof Numbers C14, H22, H45………………
The equipment will be sold without guarantee with all faults, if any.

That’s about it from the Himalayas. Only my final report, no doubt upsetting the politically correct UN management, remains to be done before returning to Australia.