Trip 1982 – Bhutan.


In 1982, I was the Assistant Librarian for Processing Services at the Library of Congress (LC). One of my employees, Gene Smith (see: ≥ Trip 1982 ≥ New Delhi), was head of my office in New Delhi. He was a devout Buddhist and had been instrumental in helping Bhutan in preserving their many manuscripts. The former first lady, Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Sangay Choden Wangchuck (known now as the Queen Grandmother), wanted to show her appreciation to the Library of Congress.

My wife Pat and I were, at that time, on an around-the-world trip visiting most of the LC overseas offices, my expenses being paid for by PL-480 funds (see: ≥ Trip 1982 ≥ Introduction). Her Majesty, through Gene, invited us to be her guest for a 5-day trip to Bhutan.

Leaving Delhi by plane, we arrived in Badogra, India around 12 noon. Bagdogra is a settlement in the Naxalbari CD block in the Siliguri subdivision of the Darjeeling district in the Indian state of West Bengal. .

We were met by a porter who said “Bhutan” and then “Chang G’dshering.” Chang took our passports while we waited in a Toyota Corona – with flag on left fender which was covered. The driver took us for bathrooms and lunch at the Hotel Sinclairs SiliguriI, before leaving for Phuntsoling, Bhutan, 3 ½ hours away. We ate paratha & dal.


We left at 1:20 and the traffic was heavy. We maneuvered around the parts of the road that had been washed away, and we had a punctured tire. We noted that in changing the tire, that the spare was bald. We crossed several wide rivers as we passed many tea plantation and small towns. Lots of wild life, including monkeys, herons, etc. .

Crossing the border into Phuntsholing, we stopped at a small building to fill out the mandatory forms and take the cover off the flag that showed the car of the Queen Mother. Immediately we started into the hills of Bhutan. Winding roads with very little traffic until stopping at a small aggregate stone hotel for the night. Chang said “once in Bhutan you don’t pay for anything. You are guest.”

We had a nice room with two beds with mosquito netting. We had tea in our room, showered and went to the bar where we drank local rum with canned orange juice.

We ate our dinner in the large dining room. We were the only people. Everything was very formal. The waiter wore an American sweat shirt with Bhutanese dress wrapped around his waist – and bare feet, served us corn soup, chicken, potatoes, pork, rice, cabbage and pineapple salad, beans and cheese, peas, tea, and canned fruit.

Breakfast at 7:30 – all alone – consisted of spam with onion and tomato slices, French fries, toast, and apple juice. We passed on the eggs. Wonderful coffee for Pat. .

The trip to Thimpu was notable for its narrow winding roads, mostly on one side, having precipices that would frighten even the most stoic. There were many waterfalls in the distance. Also, there were several places where the road was being built – by Nepalese women creating the gravel by pounding larger rocks into gravel. We passed several farm houses with red chilis being dried on the roof.

Nothing, however, prepared for the magnificent view of the Thimphu Dzong which is the seat of government and presently houses the throne room and offices of the king, the secretariat and the ministries of home affairs and finance. [1]

We were taken to the Motihang Hotel.




We were assigned to the suite that had been used by Nehru when he came to Bhutan for the King’s coronation. In it was a full bar with fruit and flowers from the Queen Mother’s garden.


Tango Monastery

Soon, we were visited by the National Librarian, Lopen Pemala (who was a Buddhist Monk), Major Rigzin Dorji, and two of his staff. It was a fun and lively meeting. Lopon Pemala, who spoke no English, suddenly announced that tomorrow all of the formal things he had designed for us, would be cancelled. Instead, we would take a trip to Tango Monastery [2], near Cheri mountain, where he had once meditated for 3 years in a cave nearby. The caves are where the holy saints meditated from the 12th century onwards. The Monastery is located about 9 miles north of Thimphu. He and Major Rigzin Dorji, the Queen Mother’s Equerry, would pick us up early the next day. He would become an important person during our Bhutan trip..

The next morning, Lopen Pemala and Major Rigzin Dorji arrived with a jeep. They explained that we would drive up as far as we could and then transfer to ponies for last part of the trip. .

Today it is run as an upper-education level monastic school. I remember very little about the interior of the Monastery except it is where we were served yak butter tea. It was awful! It is an acquired taste as it has many flavors and textures most people are not used to. The butter in this tea was rancid. Oil floated on top. Once we took a sip, the monks would refill our glasses until both Pat & I put our hands over our glasses..

No females of any sort were allowed there. Roosters only. There were many in the courtyard. Major Rigzin Dorji told us that the monks would go down the mountain to the Saturday market and buy all of the roosters and bring them to the monastery so that they would not be killed. Neither Pat nor I went into the inner sanctum.

We sat on the ground outside to eat our lunch before returning down the mountain – walking to the jeep for it would to hard for the ponies with our weight on the front.





Visit to the National Library

The next morning, we did the obligatory tour of the National Library, which consisted almost completely of rare manuscripts, which can be seen in the background. These four men had dressed Pat in her newly acquired Kira with its belt. The tall man was Yoshiro Imaeda, a Japanese Tibetologist who had worked as a researcher in Paris and was on the library staff as an adviser.




Lopen Pema was a wonderful, kind, gentle, important man. The following from:

In mid-1973 Pema Tshewang, a scholar-monk popularly known as Lopen Pemala, was appointed as the library’s new director. Born in Zungai village, Chumey in 1926, he began his monastic education in Trongsa at the age of eight, studying there for a year. His parents subsequently admitted him to the newly established Nyimalung shedra (monastic school) in Chumey, where he studied under Nyimalung’s first abbot, Doring Trulku (the reincarnation of Do Khentse Yeshey Dorji, the mind embodiment of Jigme Lingpa) who returned to his native Tibet in 1940. Lopen Pemala had been deeply influenced by the training he received from his spiritual master in those few years, and later travelled to Tibet to study further with him. After returning to Bhutan he was for some years engaged primarily in tutoring, lecturing, writing and research. In 1961 Lopen Pemala was appointed as a teacher at the newly established Rigshung Institute at Semtokha in Thimphu. In 1967 he was assigned to the textbook division of the Education Department, where he played a major role in the development of the national language, Dzongkha, which hitherto had lacked a written form, to enable its adoption as a written language. Released from the Education Department in 1971, he was called back into government service in 1973, to take charge of the National Library and build up its collection. …. He further received instructions from His Majesty’s Representative, HRH Ashi Sonam Choden Wangchuck to write a well-researched history of Bhutan. In response, he brought out “Druk Selwe Doenme” (History of Bhutan: The Luminous Mirror to the Land of the Dragon), which to this day is a classic in its own right. (An English translation of the work by Dr. Jagar Dorji was released by KMT Press in 2013.)

When Lopen Pemala joined the library in 1973, there was no set of the Buddhist Canon in the collection. In 1975, the library acquired its first set of the Buddhist Canon, the Narthang edition of the Kanjur, an old block-printed set which had been purchased locally, and over the years Lopen Pemala acquired various other sets, both old editions and new reprints, from various sources by purchase, gift or exchange…. In January, 1981 Yoshiro Imaeda, a Tibetologist working as a researcher in Paris, was invited to join the library as its adviser. During his nearly ten years in Bhutan the library adviser set up systems to document and organise the library collections, and also translated a significant amount of work by Lopen Pemala.

The National Library’s brief also included collection of carved printing blocks for the reproduction of religious texts. At the time of the move into permanent accommodation in 1984, there were 4,000 wood-blocks in the collection, mostly comprising works transferred from different monasteries for better preservation. A microfilming project started in 1987 ….

No account of the development of the library under Lopen Pemala would be complete without acknowledging the major role played by Gene Smith, first as a consultant at the Library of Congress New Delhi field office and then (1980–1985) as its director. Through his interest and efforts, the New Delhi field office acquisitions program was extended to include the reprinting of texts from all five lineages of Tibetan Buddhism which refugees had brought with them to the Indian subcontinent. The National Library bought a small proportion of the Indian reprints, and Gene Smith himself donated to the collection over 800 volumes of current Indian reprints of Buddhist literature in Choekey. Bhutan was also included in the Library of Congress South Asia acquisitions program and the assured sales made economical the reprinting (in Delhi) of old and important works. The National Library’s own collection benefited greatly under this program.

During Lopen Pemala’s tenure, a large collection of literary treasures was amassed, and the principal works in the collection were microfilmed. Lopen Pemala had been able to identify and then secure many privately held old and rare manuscript editions of religious works for the collection and to obtain microfilmed copies of other works held outside, primarily through his standing as a highly respected scholar monk. Lopen Pemala retired from his distinguished career in May, 1993 and was subsequently appointed as Lam (Abbot) of Nyimalung, where he had begun his religious life so long ago. In recognition of his services, he was awarded the “Druk Thugsey” (Heart-son of Bhutan) medal in 1999, on the occasion of the Silver Jubilee celebration of the Fourth King’s reign. Lam Pemala continued teaching students and monks at Nyimalung until he passed away in March, 2009..

Dinner with the Chief Justice (Dasho Paljor Jigme Dorji) [3]

My wife, Pat, had just finished Georgetown University Law School, and had passed the DC Bar. On our return from this trip, she was to start work as the Clerk for Judge Peter Wolf, Washington DC Superior Court. Because of this connection, the Queen Mother had arranged for the Chief Justice (from 1974-1987) to host a dinner for her. I was to be the accompanying spouse for once. It was another wonderful experience that was held in a hotel banquet room – name unknown .

The King was his nephew, I believe, with whom he often played basketball. He said that he had the guts to dribble and shoot while all of the other players would dribble and pass the ball to the King.

While there was a lot of discussion on legal topics, nothing could top the conversation when he asked Pat if she knew what the most heinous crime was in Bhutan. Her having pleaded ignorance, he said “witchcraft”! This started a new legal discussion, culminating in Pat’s question “what evidence does one need to prove witchcraft?” “Well,” he said, “you need to find a piece of paper with the person’s name on it hidden in a secret place.” When Pat asked what was the punishment for his heinous crime, he replied “death; however, we are a Buddhist country and don’t belief in killing so we commute their sentence to life imprisonment.”

The rest of the evening was less exciting except that in the dinner we were served chicken. The sauce was good but the chicken leg was worse than free range. I could not make a dent in it, either by knife and fork nor by teeth. Then, a miracle happened. All of the lights in the hotel went out. I held my drumstick under the table and one of the wondering dogs grabbed it. I wonder if anyone noticed that I didn’t have a bone left on my plate.


Thimphu Tsechu Festival


Mask dances, popularly known as Cham dances, are performed in the courtyards of the Tashichhoe Dzong in Thimphu during the four-day Tsechu festival, held every year during Autumn (September/October). It is a religious folk-dance form of Drukpa Buddhism, which was established in 1670. Tsechus are a series of dances performed by monks and also trained dance troupes to honor the deeds of Padmasambahva alias Guru Rinpoche. Tshechus are big events in Bhutan, particularly for the large rural population that live rather isolated lives in the remote mountain valleys. They look forward to Thimphu Tshechu each year, and when it arrives, they don their finest attire, fill their bamboo picnic baskets with enough food for at least a day, make their way to the fairgrounds, and enjoy the socializing and the colorful celebrations.

Major Rigzin Dorji arranged from us to spend the day with him and his family watching from a privileged spot looking down on the dances below. Behind us was this elaborate altar. .


It was a loooooong day.


Lunch with the Queen Mother


On the last day of our trip, we travel to Paro by car to have lunch with the Queen Mother in her palace. (pictured) [4] Shortly before our arrival, we saw at a distance, the Tiger’s Nest Monastery (pictured). It began our day with a bang. However, trekking up the mountain to see it would have taken the better part of the day – and more energy than we could have probably mustered.


We had a gift for her of a table-top book from the Library of Congress, and also a gift from Pat and me. Our gift was a large comb (not a hair comb but a comb to adorn her beautiful black hair. It contained 3 large turquoise stones from the Kingman mine in Arizona.  We had bought it from the Department of Interior Gift Shop. This is among the most valuable turquoise on the market..

As we arrived in the reception room, we stepped over the threshold (about 2 inches high). Later, we were told that the threshold was high so that ghosts would trip and would not enter.

We placed our gifts on the floor and presented khata. We presented our scarves and at the same time the Queen Mother presented hers to us. The khata symbolizes purity and compassion and is worn or presented with incense at many ceremonial occasions, including births, weddings, funerals, graduations and the arrival or departure of guests. When given as a farewell gesture it symbolizes a safe journey. When given to arriving guests it symbolizes welcome. They were usually made of silk but now much more commonly cotton or polyester. Tibetan khatas are usually white, symbolizing the pure heart of the giver..

Other guests included a daughter, her daughter’s husband (Secretary of Agriculture), the Ambassador for Japan, and a grandson.

The conversations were lively and absolutely fascinating and we learned many new things, some of which are listed below.

 The Queen Mother showed us a picture of the Chogal of Sikkim (her relative) & Hope Cooke, an American who married the Chogal.
 To see the picture, Pat stepped forward and stepped on a tiger-skin rug. Stepping back, the Queen Mother, said “that’s OK, it’s only a tiger skin”
 The son-in-law, who had studied in India, said to Pat that he had seen on TV a woman singing and it had shattered a glass and wondered whether or not it was black magic. He explained that the King loved basketball and as foreign aid, the Japanese provided him with videotapes of American basketball games. On a tape he had seen the Memorex add showing Ella Fitzgerald shattering the glass. I’m not sure how she weaseled her way out – explaining vibrations vs. black magic.
 Again, the son-in-law said that he had a friend in Australia who said that the seasons were different there. He asked if that were true?
 In teasing the Japanese Ambassador, The Queen Mother told of his falling off of his yak on a trip in the mountains.
 She told a story about her grandson when she had taken him to Yankee Stadium in New York. She asked, in Bhutanese, “would you like a hot dog?” He answered “Grand-ma-ma, we are not accustomed to eating dog.”

Being prompted, the grandson said “Luncheon is served.”

The wonderful conversations continued and I remember almost nothing of what we ate. I seemed to remember something served in puff pastry.

Upon leaving the palace, the Queen Mother suggested that we go to the Kyechu Temple where the Rimpoche and monks were having a 24-hour vigil.


Kyechu Temple (Kyichu Lhakhang)


Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (c1910-28 Sept. 1991). (The meaning of Rimpoche is a way of showing respect when addressing those recognized as reincarnated.) He was a great scholar and the main spiritual teacher of the Royal Family of Bhutan. His house was offered to him by Her Royal Majesty as a residence in 1970 and was used by him as a retreat. His close disciples also received teachings from him here. This house is located just next to the ancient Kyichu Lhakhang where Rinpoche used to participate in the annual spiritual practices of meditation and purification of the mind (drupchens). This memorial displays his personal belongings including ceremonial dress, books, letters, photographs, video documentaries, his life size statue etc. This house has been kept as it was when used by Rinpoche in the believe to preserve the spiritual atmosphere that has filled here because of the chanting of prayers, meditation and spiritual activity over the times. [5] [6]


We arrived at the Temple mid-afternoon. It was dimly lit. There was a large Buddha, at the foot of which we presented khata with white scarves. Pat, in order to do so, put down her purse and forgot to carry it away. We were seated next to the Rimpoche who was a very large man. He noticed Pat’s nervousness as she saw her purse at the foot of the Buddha and motioned Major Rigzin Dorji to retrieve it. Pat thanked the Rimpoche – forgetting that we were not to speak. We were fortunate to hear monks chanting to the accompaniment of horns, trumpets, wind instrument sounding like oboes, and drums. It was hypnotizing. Were the monks in a special hypnotic state? I don’t know; however, it made for a very special experience.

That evening, our last night, we stayed in a guest house (pictured below).    .

Evidently, she was pleased with our gift, because that evening, Major Rigzin Dorji, her aide-de-camp, knocked on our door with gifts from the Queen Mother – probably about 8 beautiful weavings.

I have little memory as to how we returned to New Delhi and then on to Karachi.

This very special trip will live in our hearts forever.








  5. Video of the Rimpoche: