In October 2019, we spent a week or so in the last remaining kingdom of the Himalayas. Years ago, there had been three: Sikkim, Nepal, and Bhutan. Today only Bhutan remains
In 1975, Sikkim joined India as its 22nd state after anti-royalist riots took place in front of the palace.
The Nepal monarchy suffered a mass murder in 2001. Crown Prince Dipendra shot and killed ten people, including his father King Birendra, and was himself mortally wounded by what was allegedly a self-inflicted gunshot. Seven years later the monarchy was formally abolished on 28 May 2008.
The Bhutanese Royal family must have been worried and we were about to find out. Bhutan has a mere 750,000 people. It’s a bit of grit between the millstones of China to the north and India to the south. Even its flag, a struggling dragon crushed between two blocks of colour, seems to portray its predicament.
Our visit was costly because each tourist has to pay $250 per day to include transport, guides, hotels and basic meals. Of this $65 goes directly to the government. Bhutan has a strategy of low volume, high value tourism, and it seems to be working. The International Monetary Fund has estimated Bhutan’s economic growth for 2019 at 5.5 percent, higher than the global growth forecast of three percent, but below a few countries in the region, including Bangladesh, Nepal, India, Maldives and China. Will we find good value there, we wondered as we left the Royal Singli Hotel, Kathmandu at 6.00 am on the 8 October 2019?
I hope these notes will help you make up your mind. Continue reading “Bhutan Discovered”
Tuesday 15th October 2019
I awake at 6.50 after a decent night’s sleep. Sleeping has been difficult in Bhutan. It’s been a bit hit and miss: time zone changes, altitude and the beds having variable layers of blankets and duvets along with thick hard pillows, just the opposite of what I like. However, the daybreak is wonderful, the air is white diamond clear, no hint of pollution, and a cloudless periwinkle sky, an ideal day for a good walk.
We breakfast at about 7.15 and there’s nervous anticipation in the group. The Tiger’s Nest is probably the most iconic image Bhutan gives to the world. Indeed it is a metaphor for the country itself: isolated, scenic and religious. Like the country, it too has modernised in the last twenty years following a disastrous fire in 1998. As we drive towards the mountain departure point, Kunzang is being cautious advising us on clothing and the need to stay hydrated. He’s responsible in some measure for a group of people whose levels of fitness and ability he barely knows. We stop at a small shop to buy last minute supplies of nuts, biscuits and water. Continue reading “A Walk to the Tiger’s Nest”
…made even sweeter in knowledge of your support for Spurs!
Dear John Crace,
As yours is one of the first articles I read in the Guardian, I was surprised to learn of the impecunious state of your pension (Guardian 14/9/2019).
However, let me as a pensioner advise you that all is not lost. Pensions are perhaps the ultimate statement of hope that we will live tomorrow and so living for today is sacrificed for the future. Pensions are also the haven for smooth talking advisors who play on our expectations of linear advances of phantom money in a topsy-turvy world. Many pensioners survive on the state pension, including those WASPI women who have had to await an unforeseen extra year or so. With your talents as a parliamentary scribbler, you could easily turn you skills to fiction. In fact, do you not currently report on the fiction spouted by our parliamentarians?
Your column is a joy to read and made even sweeter in knowledge of your support for Spurs!
Continue reading “Dear John Crace”
She is on strike, refusing to go to school…
On 25 July, Europe from Spain northwards burned. Europeans sweltered, hiding behind closed air-conditioned doors or splashing in pools and rivers.
The heatwave broke records across the continent: France 42.6ºC, Netherlands 39.4ºC, and Germany 41.5ºC, even Britain registered it highest July temperature.
The day before in the British heatwave, the Queen turned on an air cooler, no air-conditioning in Buckingham Palace, so that Boris Johnson would not sweat too much as he greeted her with his request to form a new government!
In the Swiss Alps, a massive undertaking to cover the melting Rhone Glacier with white plastic sheets has been undertaken. Laughable really, like sticking plasters being applied to the sides of the sinking Titanic. Continue reading “Climate Change and Education”
…would lie on the warm earth around my growing vegetables
Our black and white cat Jess died today.
Death comes in many guises and for Jess it came neither brutally, in the way in which he caught mice and even small rabbits nor did it creep into the bones and sinews stealthily, but peacefully lying the warm sunshine minutes after his last feed. Mid-afternoon, he had entered through the open patio glass door and whined his usual miouw which said, ‘I want food.’ I fed him and resumed reading outside in the warm spring sun. The grandchildren came home from school to granny’s treat, a Malteasers cookie, and then they ran outside to play. Four-year-old Ivy loved to stroke Jess. His smooth black coat was irresistible to her. Normally, she would stalk the cat and, occasionally, it would yield to her gentle touch as she had learned from an early age to be gentle. ‘Nanny, Jess is not moving.’ Continue reading “Jess”
… disadvantaged politician who might just have wider appeal as Prime Minister than any narrow-based public schoolboy?
1 February 2016
‘Pembrokeshire, home to the wild cliffs of west Wales and castles from the time of Gruffydd ap Llywelyn…’ Deirdre Fairbrother snapped the radio button off. She’d heard too many wonderful Pembrokeshire stories, if it was so wonderful, why didn’t more people live there.
Outside, the morning light which could often be fickle was clear and luminous. It shone into her artist’s studio. She liked days like this for she was alone with her oils and canvas with nothing on her agenda except a visit to her aged mother later in the afternoon. Loading her horsehair brush with a mixture of chrome yellow and magenta previously stirred on her palette, she touched the canvas again, and again more strongly, before standing back to observe the subtle change in her summer landscape. The season was well past now, but as usual she worked with care at her rediscovered joy. Bit by bit, she was starting to rekindle her original love of painting which she had foolishly set aside when she and Peter had started their family thirty-six years ago.
The shrill sound of the telephone disturbed her painting. She put the brush on the easel, walked out of the studio down a cold corridor to the hall and picked it up. Half past nine on a Monday was an odd time for a call. The words ‘West Albion Care Home’ were enough. She knew what they were going to say and her knees weakened. As she listened to the caller say, ‘I’m sorry, your mother has died,’ she put her hand behind her onto a chair and lowered herself, still holding the receiver. Mute with shock, she was unable to reply. Her ninety-two-year-old mother had been hanging on for weeks, but nothing could ever prepare one for the actual moment when someone announces that one’s mother is dead. Continue reading “Old School”
The declaration: Lost by 344 votes to 286, a Majority of 58, the Nos have it.
15 January 2109, Lost by 432 to 202, a Majority of 230; 12 March, Lost by 391 to 242, a Majority of 149; 29 March 2109, Lost by 344 votes to 286, a Majority of 58. What now?
Parliament has today voted down our Government’s proposal to leave the European Union for a third (and probably final time). Watching from the sidelines, it is not pretty. Continue reading “The Meaningful Brexit Vote.”