Thursday, October 13, 2011

A day of 'gross national happiness' as commoner student, 21, marries Bhutan's 'Dragon King' in ancient Himalayan fortress

By WIL LONGBOTTOM

'Dragon King': Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck married Jetsun Pema in a colourful ceremony in Bhutan's ancient capital of Punakha

Bhutan's 'Dragon King' has married a student in a vibrant Buddhist ceremony held in a 17th-century Himalayan monastic fortress.

King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck wore a crown adorned with a raven's head and drank from a chalice of ambrosia during the sumptuous ceremony in the ancient capital of Punakha.

The Oxford-educated 31-year-old is revered as the insular country slowly embraces democracy and the marriage was televised live to the population of 700,000.


Ceremony: The elaborate ceremony featured baby elephants and thousands of monks chanting and hitting drums


'Gross National Happiness': The ceremony was televised to the 700,000 people living in the tiny Asian nation

Bhutan, whose government follows 'Gross National Happiness' for its people instead of economic growth, is set for three days of public holiday as citizens celebrate the wedding.

Karma Tshiteem, head of the Gross National Happiness Commission, told the Daily Telegraph: 'You can be sure that our happiness is increasing.'


Fairytale wedding: The ceremony took place in a 17th century Himalayan monastic fortress

Thousands of people dressed in traditional coloured robes stood outside the fortified monastery. Monks chanted and hit drums as white incense drifted in the air.

King Wangchuck's father abdicated in 2006 to introduce parliamentary elections.
The monarchy is seen as helping stabilise a fragile democracy wedged between India and China in a conflict-ridden region.


Married: The 31-year-old said he shared a love of art with his bride, 21


Procession: Monks bang drums as they approach the fort where the marriage took place

He said after the ceremony: 'I am happy. I have been waiting quite some time.
'She is a wonderful human being, intelligent. Her and I shared one big thing in common - love and passion for art.'

Jetsun Pema, 21, the daughter of an airline pilot, wore a crown embroidered with silk and arrived in a procession of singers, relatives and Buddhist monks across an ancient footbridge.


Ceremony: Jetsun Pema, a student, walks towards the Dzong fortress with family and monks behind her

Baby elephants guarded one of the fortress's entrances.

The king and his father entered a sacred chamber holding the embalmed body of the 17th-century founder of Bhutan, where they received holy Buddhist scarves and a chalice of blessed curd.


Popular: The royal couple are given scarves as they walk among locals after their marriage

Posters of the couple adorn almost every building, lamppost and roundabout in the capital, Thimphu, three hours drive away.

The country's airline has put on extra flights to deal with the demand of visitors from abroad.


Making new friends: The king holds a young child as he greets locals with Queen Jetsun in Punakha

Bhutan, known as the 'Land of the Thunder Dragon', has been happy to promote a Shangri-la image with its snow-capped peaks and largely untouched forests.

Tourism was only allowed in the 1970s, and when the first car arrived in the 1950s many people thought it was a fire-eating dragon.

A successful monarchy may be key to bringing stability to a kingdom in the centre of a region wracked by civil war and conflict.


Untouched country: Bhutan only started allowing tourists in the 1970s and has a population of just 700,000

Neighbouring Nepal's monarch was recently abolished, while India absorbed the Himalayan kingdom of Sikkim and China did the same with Tibet.

King Wangchuck said: 'I will follow in my father's footstep. My father set the bar very high.

'He was a wonderful leader. We will try to live up to expectations.'


The new king, a keen basketball player and archer, has dropped the family's reclusive and elitist image.

He lives in a cottage in Thimphu and often invites his subjects for tea.

He has spent months touring Bhutan's remote villages - often walking among villagers holding his bride-to-be by the hand.


Bhutan's royal wedding






source: dailymail