F5LMJ - Bhoutan

History of ham radio 
in Bhutan

DXCC : A5 (ex-AC5), Continent: Asie,
Situation: 27N 90E, WW Locator : NL47 & NL57,
Allocation ITU: A5A-A5Z,
Zone WAZ: 22, Zone ITU:41

Version française French version 

Secluded Kingdom of the Himalayas, Bhutan has remained for many years one of the most wanted countries in the amateur radio world. Amateur radio has had a legal frame since May 2000, however amateur activity started in 1955…

Early Activities:

"Able Charlie Five Papa November calling"... We are in November 1955, in Rida in the western province of Wangduephodrang, and this was the first amateur radio call from Bhutan on the occasion of King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck's travel to the East of the country. The callsign AC5PN was that of Chawna, an Indian national from the state of Mizoram in North East India. He was working for the kingdom of Bhutan and was the first amateur to be active from Bhutan, allowing the country to join the world of amateur radio communication.
He was using a WWII British B2 suitcase radio.  He was then episodically active in December 1960 and in March 1961.  

Shawna AC5PN, from 1955 to 1961 (the "B2" radio on right)
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1962, VU2US/AC5

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Sitting (L to R) : Gill  VU2PS, Umrao VU2US, Kab VU2BK, 
Standing : Ram  VU2TN

In April 1962 a first expedition was organised with the assistance of the “Amateur Radio Society of India". The operation took place between 16 to 22 april1962. The call sign was VU2US/AC5, the qth was yembola, 4000 feet absl, 20 miles south of Tashigangdzong. Members of this dx'ped were indian army officers in their times and were famous with ham operators all over the world : Lt.Gen.- Kunwar Umrao Singh, VU2US (now silent key), Brigadier - Rustom Zal Kabraji, VU2BK (retired later as major general & recently silent key on 21-02-2008), Col.- P.S. Gill, VU2PS (retired later as brigadier, now settled in pune and  sometimes active on the bands), Capt.- T.A. Ramakrishnan, VU2TN (retired later as major and  no longer active on the air). 
Equipment used was mainly homebrew 60watts on CW & AM, with cubical quad antenna & dipoles, 
Approx. 1100 qsos were made mainly on 20 meters & few on 15 meters, (with only 4 qsos made with french stations, F2WU, F8FE, F3HL, F2MA). The qsl manager was VU2BK, and the official log book for this dx'ped is now with VU2DK (son of  VU2BK). All qsos were given a alpha numerical code with their RST & this they had to mention on their qsl cards. this was to prevent bogus qsos or pirate type operation.
(thanks to Zal VU2DK, for those informations and for providing us the team picture)

Then from 1963 to 1965, it was with the turn of American Gus Browning to operate from Bhutan.  Through AC5PN, he proposed his services to the royal authorities in Bhutan for the training, and maintenance and repairs of army radio equipment and obtained the required authorizations. 

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Gus was initially active with the callsign AC5A in July and August 1963, then AC7A in September and December of the same year.

Two years later, he was again in Bhutan and, travelling through 8 of the 21 provinces of the country, he used the callsigns AC0H to AC9H from February to June 1965.

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AC0H, Chuba dzong
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AC1H à Shangar
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AC2H, Wangdu
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AC5H, Tashit
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AC6H, Dukey
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AC7H Phuent Choling
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AC8H, Chamaphu
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AC9H, Dechen Choling

This expedition was sponsored by Hammarlund, which explains the letter "H" at the end of the callsigns.  At the time of this Himalayan trip, two other callsigns were also used, AC3H from Sikkim and AC4H from Tibet.  To activate so many provinces so distant from each other, at a time when no roads yet existed is really astonishing.

A Few Sporadic Activities

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1970's Yonten Qth & Antennas

Bhutan then remained silent until 1972. In the Seventies and Eighties, only three local amateurs were active. Yonten was the first to put Bhutan back on the amateur radio map, using in 1972 the callsigns AC5TY then A51TY. From 1972 to 1980, Pradhan was A51PN.  The third local amateur during this period is AC5PQ. Also in 1972, an Indian amateur, Venkat VU2KV, was active for a short period of time with the callsign A51KV.

After 1981, Bhutan was again silent, as all amateur radio activity was prohibited, and became the second most wanted DXCC country. Tibet had ceased to exist in 1974 and Sikkim in 1975. Bhutan remained a valid Himalayan country, but a law was required to legalize radio amateur and it was not a priority for the government.

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Yonten AC5TY, 1972
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Yonten A51TY, 1972
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Venkat A51KV, 1972
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Pradhan A51PN, 1974
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Pradhan A51PN, 1979
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Pradhan A51PN, 1980 (QSO with f6aja)

Jim VK9NS has to be praised for his efforts to get amateur radio activity recognised by the royal authorities of Bhutan. He was invited to go to Bhutan in 1990 and once there, obtained the authorization to transmit from 22nd March to 10th April with the callsign A51JS. In 1994, he was again invited and used the callsign A51MOC from the ministry of telecommunications.

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Jim VK9NS / A51JS
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Let ‘s also acknowledge the efforts of Zorro JH1AJT, who made a demonstration in February 1995 also at the ministry of telecommunications in Thimphu with the callsign code A51MOC, as well as A51/JH1AJT together with three other Japanese radio hams.

The Revival of Amateur Radio :

The Bhutan Telecommunications Act was signed in 1999 and came into force in April 2000.  Amateur radio activity was again authorized in Bhutan. The first expedition of this new era was A52A. The team operated from the Pine Wood hotel in Thimphu where over 80,000 QSOs were made. The international team led by Glenn Johnson W0GJ included Jaari OH2BU, Harry RA3AUU, Andy UA3AB, Mark ON4WW, James 9V1YC, Yuu JA3IG, Mac JA3USA, Jin JF1IST, Al K3VN, Bob K4UEE, Don N1DG, Wes W3WL, Vince K5VT and Mark N0MJ.

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Mai 2000, 1rst expedition A52A led by Glenn W0GJ (web site of a52a)

In Bhutan at the end of March, Jim VK9NS started operating from Paro a few days after A52A with the callsign A51JS then A52JS. Jim made 15,000 QSOs. The road was open for other amateurs. In July 2000, Sam JA6NL/V63KU was A52NL from the Paro valley.

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Jim A51JS / A52JS Sam JA6NL / A52NL

A french ham team :

In September 2000, the second expedition was French.  After four years of effort and the invaluable assistance of Françoise Pommaret, the French ethnologist specialist of Bhutan and president of the association "Les Amis du Bhoutan” (Friends of Bhutan) A52 French Ham (A52FH) was active from Bhutan.

29-a52fh.jpg (49552 octets) 30-a52fh-2.jpg (40764 octets) It was a Clipperton DX Club team, led by Gérard F2VX, with Alain F6ANA, Denise F6HWU, Vincent G0LMX and Alain F5LMJ. They operated from the Pinewood Hotel in Thimphu, the same place as A52A in May.  Denise was the first YL to transmit from this country.They were joined at the end of their stay by Peter ON6TT.

Sept 2000, A52FH (site web)

During the first few days of their stay, they became friends with Yeshey Dorji who later obtained his official licence A51AA. The team helped to install the first "Ham Center" in Thimphu. The “Ham Center” was inaugurated on 12th September with the presence of Thinley Dorji, Director of the Bhutan Telecommunications Agency (BTA), the A52FH team and a Bhutanese television crew. The first QSOs with the callsign A51AA were made by Gérard F2VX and Vincent G0LMX.

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BTA's director at the Ham center Yeshey Dorji, a51aa

Peter stayed on with the callsign A52TT and other amateurs followed. At the end of the year, a Japanese team was in Paro from 27th October to 3rd November. The operators were A52XX (JA1PCY), A52DX (JF1PJK), A52B (JR7TEQ), A52JA (JK1AFI) and A52W (JH1NBN). They took part in the CQ WW SSB. 

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10/2000, A52DX/JF1PJK 
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12/2000, A52UD/K4VUD
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12/02000, YB0US/A52AP

In December, Charlie K4VUD was A52UD, and Jani YB0US was A52AP from the Thimphu Ham Center

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In January 2001, Glenn Johnson W0GJ was back in Bhutan, this time for a mission of more than a month as a surgeon at the Thimphu hospital. His wife and his children were with him, all active amateurs: Glenn was A52GJ, his wife Vivien KL7YL was A52VJ, his daughter Melissa N0MAJ was A52YL, Mark N0MJ his son who had already been with him for A52A was A52MJ, while his second son Paul W0PJ was A52PJ.

First Bhutanese Amateurs :

During his stay, Glenn used his expertise of many years as ARRL trainer to train seven operators and to conduct on 29th January  2001 the first amateur radio exam session in Bhutan.

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The first Bhutanese amateurs officially licensed were A51YL Ambika Gurung, A51UD Dorji Yeshey, A51KC Kesang Namgyel, A51PK Parop Kinley Dorji, A51PR Pema Rinzin, A51WD Wangpo Dorji and A51AA Yeshey Dorji.

Today :

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2001, Dimitri RA9CO/A52CO

Local YL or OMs are not very active, but Bhutan is regularly visited by active foreign amateurs mainly at the Thimphu Ham Center which started in September 2000 with the help of the A52FH team. In 2001:  A52CO (RA9CO) in March, A52ÙL (IK7WUL) in April and A52KR (S53R) at the end of August.

In 2001, the Bhutan Telecommunications Authority (BTA) decided to install several radio-clubs spread over the whole country.  In Thimphu, the Bhutan Amateur Radio Operator Club (BARC), callsign A50A, was inaugurated on 26th October

To mark this event, an American team again led by Glenn W0GJ was in Thimphu from 23rd October to 1st November. He was accompanied by Dave KW4DA (A52DA), Chuck N4BQW (A52CB), Pat NOADQ (A52PC), Stewart W0SHL (A52SL), Ken K0EN (A52ED) and Steve W0HT (A52ST).  They took part in the CQWW contest on 27th and 28th October from the Ham Center with the callsign A50A of the new Thimphu radio club.

For the contest they were joined by Bhutanese operators, Ambika Gurung A51YL, Wangpo Dorji A51WD, Yeshey Dorji A51AA, Kesang Namgyel A51KC, Parop Kinley A51PK, Pema Rinzen A51PR and Dorji Yeshey A51UD.

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2001, A52PC Pat
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2001, A52DA Dave
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A50A, CQWW 2001

On 30th January 30 2002, the second club station - the "Polytechnic Amateur Radio operator Club" (PARK) A50B - was inaugurated in Phuentsholing at the border with India. Two other radio-clubs were also created, one in Phuentsholing with the callsign A50C, the other at the Thimphu high school with the callsign A50D.

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01/02 A50B, PARC Radio Club

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01/02, 16 nouveaux opérateurs

In January 2002, Ray HS0/G3NOM and his XYL E21UHL were in Bhutan for a month. They were active from the radio-club A50A where Ray used the callsign A52OM.  During his stay, he trained 16 new Bhutanese operators.

In September 2002, John KP2A was A52DX.  In 2003, Glenn W0GJ went back to Bhutan in February and stayed for a month, again working as a surgeon at the Thimphu hospital.  His callsign was A51A and he took part in the CQ WW RTTY and ARRL CW contests.  In September, Hawk SM5AQD and Pelle SM7EHU were A52SM, and in December 2003, Dane S57DX was A52CQ.  In 2004, W4PRO is A52PRO at the end of March and early April, before continuing his trip to Nepal.

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A52CDX, 23-10-2004 / 12-11-2004 (site web)

From 23rd October to 12th November 2004, four years after A52FH, a team of the French Clipperton DX Club was again in Bhutan with the callsign A52CDX. For the first part of their trip until 1st November, Gérard F2VX, Jean-Louis F9DK, Vincent G0LMX and Alain F5LMJ stayed at the  "Ham Center" of Yeshey A51AA in Thimphu, where they received the visit of Wangpo A51WD and Ambika A51YL. In November, they operated portable from four other provinces and to the extreme East of the country... working QRP after having discovered the erratic local electric conditions.Upon their return to Thimphu, they offered a complete station to BTA for the installation of a new radio-club.

This was done at the beginning of 2005 when Wangpo A51WD installed two new club stations in the valley of Shemgang in Shingkhar (A50E) and Bardo (A50F). Two additional radio-clubs are expected to be installed soon in other provinces.

QSL cards of currently active Bhutanese stations
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Wangpo Dorji, a51wd
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Ambika Gurung, a51yl
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Yeshey Dorji, a51aa

Amateur Radio Callsigns in Bhutan :

Their format is "A5NXX", where A5 is the international prefix of Bhutan (for example, the registration numbers of the two Druk-Air planes which serve Paro are A5-RGE and A5-RGF).  "N" is a number that identifies the type of licence, 0 for the radio-clubs, 1 for the local operators, 2 for the foreign operators.

As a special privilege, whereas the prefix "A51" is normally assigned only to local operators, two foreigners have received on a purely honorary basis and in recognition for their contribution to the development of radio-amateurism in Bhutan the callsigns A51A and A51B.  They are respectively Zorro, Yasuo Miyazawa JH1AJT (A51A) and Glenn Johnson W0GJ (A51B).

A51MOC is the official callsign of the ministry of telecommunications.

Acknowledgments : Many thanks to Yeshey Dorji A51AA, Wolf OE1WHC (QSL Collection on the Web at www.qsl.at), and Gérard F2VX and Jean-Michel F6AJA (http://lesnouvellesdx.free.fr), for allowing us to reproduce QSL cards from their collections

Alain F5LMJ (ex-A52FH, ex-A52CDX )