Saturday, 12 December 2015

Bhutan's Royalty

 Traditional Festivities in Bhutan ©Solange Hando

Bhutan is changing for sure but traditions and culture remain as strong as ever, anchored in the Buddhist faith and respect for the royal family.

In 2015, celebrations were held throughout the kingdom in honour of the 4th King's 60th birthday. They culminated in Thimphu on November 11th when soon after dawn, crowds made their way to the stadium to enjoy a colourful mix of parades, traditional dances and games and a heartfelt tribute from the current king to his father.


His Majesty the 5th King Meeting his People ©Solange Hando

Democracy came to Bhutan in 2008 but the royal family is as popular as ever, symbolising the country's unity and culture, but what the people appreciate most is their approachability and simple lifestyle. 

Don't expect a sumptuous residence or even a castle, the Royal Palace is a comfortable but modest cottage tucked among the trees on the edge of the capital, with one guard on duty at a gate you might not even notice. Then there's a retreat in Punakha which would do nicely for a solitary monk.

 Just as important, the king is close to his people, mingling with the crowds at festival time, walking across the kingdom to meet them if the occasion demands or stopping his car at the roadside to chat to farmers and villagers, listening to their concerns as an attendant makes notes which will be followed up. Just like his father did. 


Portraits of the 4th King (right) and his Son at the Birthday Celebrations ©Solange Hando

During his 34 years on the throne, until he stepped down for his son in 2006, the 4th Dragon King of Bhutan moved his country forward in bold but measured steps, reinforcing unity under the 'one nation, one people' banner, modernising the kingdom and opening the gates to the outside world while maintaining traditional Bhutanese values.

But most of all, he gave democracy to his people because he felt the time was right. Both his retirement and the new system shook the nation at the time but today, he is seen as an enlightened leader who paved the way for the future.



Punakha Dzong, Royal Wedding Location ©Solange Hando

Meanwhile in 2011, the 5th King married the young Jetsun Pema in Punakha dzong, 'the fortress of great happiness' where the first King of Bhutan was crowned. After the wedding, the King and his Queen walked more or less all the way back to Thimphu, 71km and 13 hours away, so they could meet the thousands of people who lined up along the road to pay their respects.

That's just one of the reasons why they call His Majesty 'the People's King', keen to greet them one by one and lend a hand as needed: when the magnificent dzong of Wangdi Phrodang was destroyed by fire in 2012, he left Thimphu and rushed to the site to help villagers salvage what they could.

Then at the royal celebrations in 2015, the 5th King delivered the long awaited news that a royal heir was on his way. The crowds loved it and a gentle wave of jubilation rippled across the stadium. The baby is due in the early spring and there couldn't have been a better birthday present for the 4th King.



The King and Queen of Bhutan


The 4th King had four wives but His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck has opted for one and a love marriage, even holding hands in public in a land where Gross National Happiness is enshrined in the Constitution.











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