||In 1996 Blyth (my esteemed spouse) and I went trekking in Kingdom of Bhutan (a tiny country tucked in the Himalayas between Tibet and India). We fell in love with the place and decided to look for the opportunity to do public service there.
We have now been to Bhutan eight times. Our public service has included starting the first computer-based publishing company, setting up the first Internet café, serving as the Internet publishers for the Centre of Bhutan Studies, and organizing a project to preserve the countrys weaving traditions. We have led two group tours of Bhutan and have explored the back country from stem to stern. We have written a book, entitled The Blessings of Bhutan, which will be published by the University of Hawaii Press in the fall.
AA7QU and Better Half in the Back Country of Bhutan
Several years ago, we approached Sangey Tenzing, Managing Director of Bhutan Telecom, and asked if he might be interested in working with us on a public service radio project. Sangey suggested a village communications initiative. The villages of Bhutan are incredibly remotemany of them are three days trek from the nearest road. When the village people have an emergency, they send runners for help. It is perilous, slow, and ineffective. Sangey asked us to help him develop an HF transceiver (which we called the "Village Radio"), powered by solar-charged batteries, that could link the villages and district offices together.
I began with the worlds best tutorialscratch building a 75 meter SSB transceiver designed by my friend Wes Hayward, W7ZOI. Although I knew that Wes design was aimed at a different mission than the Village Radio, I could think of no better way to learn the issues and solutions than a project conceived by the master himself.
With that learning experience in hand, I approached Dave Benson, K1SWL, and explained the initiative. I felt that Dave, with his extensive experience in kitting low power transceivers, could be the ideal partner for the next phase of the Village radio project.
As step one, I built two of Daves White Mountain 75 meter transceivers and sent them to Bhutan for testing. They worked fine, except that the Bhutanese wanted more power. We agreed on 10 to 15 watts PEP as a reasonable target. We also agreed on frequencies for three fixed channels. To avoid the complexities of band switching, we selected three frequencies that were within 200 kHz of each other.
In step two, Dave updated the design of the White Mountain PCB, using many of the techniques he has employed in his more recent rigs. In addition, he removed the VFO and substituted three fixed channels, controlled by a DDS chip. All in all, Dave produced a radio superbly suited for its purposes.
The Village Radio
Dave then sent me parts for six Village Radios. I stuffed them in my backpack and in early April departed for Bhutan. Sangey assigned me a staff of four constructorsTenden Dorji, Chencho Dorji, Tashi Chewang, and Kezang Lotey. For the next three weeks, we built radios. I felt like a proud father when all six were functioning.
Blyth and I then took off for two weeks, leading a group of five couples on hiking expeditions to monasteries in the remote parts of the country. Neither they, nor the monks, lamas, and village people we met along the way, will ever forget the experience. We went back to the capital city for four more days, to visit friends and work on loose ends in the Village Radio project. Then, it was time for that monstrously long trip home.
We are now collecting parts for 94 more Village Radios. They will be flown to Calcutta, and then trucked into the mountains. I hope a year or two from now I can report that Village Radios have changed the lives of people living in 100 isolated places throughout Bhutan.
My friends at Bhutan Telecom were kind enough to issue an honorary amateur licenseA52RC. I have never used it, because it seems that were always too darn busy to play with radios. But, one of these days.
Russ Carpenter, AA7QU, is co-founder of the Adventure Radio Society and lives on the McKenzie River, Oregon.