Dig­i­tal­iz­ing His­tory

Bhutan’s an­cient scrip­tures may be­come a thing of the past if the coun­try does not used mod­ern means to pre­serve its cul­tural her­itage.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Aye­sha Ahmed

Bhutan’s an­cient scrip­tures may be­come a thing of the past if the coun­try does not use mod­ern means to pre­serve its cul­tural her­itage.

Un­der­stand­ing cul­tural di­ver­sity and the sus­te­nance of dif­fer­ent cul­tures has be­come a chal­leng­ing task as the world em­braces mod­ern­iza­tion and glob­al­iza­tion. One coun­try with a strong sense of iden­tity is the King­dom of Bhutan. A small coun­try, Bhutan has sur­vived for cen­turies with­out be­ing no­ticed by the world. As a re­sult, it has a rich cul­tural her­itage go­ing back to cen­turies that has re­mained hid­den from the world’s eye. But it might be a thing of the past soon if Bhutan does not try to pre­serve its cul­tural her­itage, es­pe­cially the an­cient scrip­tures. Re­al­iz­ing the dan­gers that face Bhutanese scrip­tures, Dr. Karma Phuntsho, a scholar and so­cial worker, has been dig­i­tal­iz­ing and ar­chiv­ing Bhutanese texts and manuscripts since 2003.

Recre­at­ing the past is fun­da­men­tal for re­searchers who want to ex­plore the an­cient world. This can’t be done in the ab­sence of ar­chives de­tail­ing the man­ner in which people lived in the past. Con­ser­va­tion of of­fi­cial documents and his­tor­i­cal records has taken place for cen­turies. Ar­chives of scores of clay ta­bles dat­ing back to the third and sec­ond mil­len­nia BC have been un­earthed by arche­ol­o­gists in dif­fer­ent parts of the world.

Lush green forests, col­or­ful ex­otic birds, awe-in­spir­ing leop­ards and dan­ger­ous rep­tiles – a coun­try has to be ex­cep­tion­ally lucky to have so many va­ri­eties of wildlife in as many num­bers. Sri Lanka is one such coun­try.

In ad­di­tion to the wildlife, the coun­try is also blessed with count­less va­ri­eties of flflow­ers, lovely beaches, but­ter­flies, time-worn cas­tles, mon­u­ments aand tem­ples. To top it all, the Sri Lankans are a people who un­der­stand the im­por­tance of these nat­u­ral gifts.

Shaped like a gi­ant pear, the is­land coun­try has been likened to a pearl in the In­dian Ocean. Con­nected with the sub­con­ti­nent by the Adam’s Bridge, a loose group of tiny, al­most in­vis­i­ble moun­tains sub­merged in the sea, the Sri Lankans are not par­tic­u­larly fond of be­long­ing to the sub­con­ti­nent. The rea­son for their seclu­sion per­haps lies in their sep­a­rate his­tory as well as ge­o­graph­i­cal isolation.

How­ever, they have a deep as­so­ci­a­tion with their his­tory. Even the coun­try’s name is blended with mythol­ogy – it has changed from Seren­deep to Cey­lon to Sri Lanka.

In old times, serendip­ity was re­garded as some­thing rather in­sur­mount­able – a blend of dif­fi­cult things, a place far, far away, a hos­tile and un­gainly land. Or all three. To­day, it is hard to as­so­ciate Sri Lanka with such no­tions.

What is spe­cial about to­day’s Sri Lanka is its vast forests and wildlife. The people of Sri Lanka know the im­por­tance of con­ser­va­tion of nat­u­ral and other re­sources. From an early age, they are taught to re­spect and re­vere Mother Na­ture. There are pro­grams de­signed for school chil­dren that teach them the ba­sics of pre­serv­ing wildlife.

The pol­icy to pro­mote eco-tourism was adopted in the 1970s. A decade of 'ac­clima­ti­za­tion' and train­ing of a large num­ber of pro­fes­sion­als fol­lowed.

This has led to a suf­fi­cient num­ber of work­ers, whose ded­i­ca­tion to their work is ev­i­dent from their be­hav­ior. Any vis­i­tor to Sri Lanka can vouch for the rad­i­cal change that has come about af­ter the change in the govern­ment's at­ti­tude to­wards tourism. For in­stance, one will never see a tour guide or any other per­son re­lated with the eco­tourism in­dus­try as much as throw a

match­stick, a piece of paper, a wrap­per or left­overs of a fruit any­where ex­cept in the garbage bin.

All places of tourist in­ter­est wear a new look af­ter the stress on eco-tourism by the people and the au­thor­i­ties. Whether it is the main city Colombo, the nearby city of Livinia, the small place called the Adam's Peak, An­nu­radh­pora in the north or Galle in the south by the In­dian Ocean – they all wear a fes­tive look – clean and be­decked – the stamp of eco-tourism writ large on their profiles.

Be­gin­ning from the Adam's Peak, green moun­tains abound in the coun­try, cov­er­ing a large area that has many streams, rivulets and small lakes. These places are as clean as one can imag­ine and may fool one into think­ing that not many people have vis­ited them. The fact is, each place is vis­ited by hordes of tourists.

There are about 25 na­tional parks in the coun­try and it would take an end­less stock of brochures to de­scribe their beauty. The na­tional parks of­fer tran­quil­ity and peace. Most of them have great va­ri­eties of flora and fauna.

The best time to visit the parks is early in the morn­ing, be­cause if one is lucky, one may spot a ma­jes­tic leop­ard sprawled on the dewy green grass. Ele­phants can also be seen bathing in the many rivers that pass through the coun­try like brown veins, full of aquatic life.

There are bird sanc­tu­ar­ies where one can feast on watch­ing hun­dreds of species of ex­otic birds. These places have the ten­dency to turn one into a bird lover. In the na­tional parks, herds of deer can be seen graz­ing in the lush green forests. The only sounds that are heard there are those of birds, rh­e­sus mon­keys, small buf­faloes, ele­phants or an oc­ca­sional grunt of a leop­ard.

For many tourists, the big­gest at­trac­tion is watch­ing whales and dol­phins. The ex­treme south of Sri Lanka is re­garded as the per­fect place for this be­cause blue whales, fin whales, sei whale, sperm whales, or­cas, dol­phins, fly­ing fish, tur­tles, manta rays, striped dol­phins and many other col­or­ful, big and small fishes abound here.

Whether deep in­side the coun­try or along the turquoise wa­ters of the In­dian Ocean, each time a tourist goes to Sri Lanka, he wants more of it.

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