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Asia Today ISSN 1861-4604 Sunday, October 21, 2018


A missed royal encounter


Share on Facebook July 11, 2012, Reporter : RASHEEDA BHAGAT, Reader : 692


Our coach stops to allow us, a group of Indian journalists visiting Bhutan, to alight and take pictures of the spectacular view of the Thimphu valley, nestling in the heart of the Eastern Himalayas. Winter is just turning into spring, the sun is out in all its splendour and the snow on the mountain tops is glistening. We take pictures of the distant mountain peaks, as good as our camera lenses and steady hands will allow. But the panaromic view of what the best lens that was ever manufactured – the human eye – takes in, will remain unmatched… etched on the mind's eye forever.

As the hands freeze, we get back into our coach… a few seconds after the last one has trooped in, Karma, our guide, exclaims in excitement: “Oh, there is our King (former King Jigme Singye Wangchuk) cycling down the road, surrounded by royal guards.” All we manage is the glimpse of a helmet. We let out a collective groan on having missed seeing him, better still photographing him. Says Karma, in shocked reverence, “Oh no, you can't photograph the King; you can't even look him in the eye. If anybody attempts to take a picture, the royal guards will break the camera or dunk it into the river.”

The royal persona – an extremely handsome man – we missed sighting was the Fourth King who abdicated in favour of his son in 2008. He is “very fond of cycling and other exercises, and we find that with each passing day he is getting younger and younger”, gushes Karma. Born in 1955, the former king is now 56.

Later, when we recount our missed encounter to Sangay Dorgji, Senior Programme Officer of the Gross National Happiness (GNH) Commission (the idea of a GNH index was floated by the same King in the 1970s), he smiles and says, “It's not like you can't talk to him at all. Once a Belgian tourist found him cycling down the road and asked him what he did for a living. The king said he had retired and the tourist said: ‘Lucky you', at which he smiled and moved on!”

Karma also talked about the two “super bicycles” King Wangchuk owns. Sometime ago, he bought two Royal Enfield bicycles, each costing Rs 2,20,000. “And they actually took money from him. The company should have given those bikes free… after all he is our king,”, sulks our guide.


Even though democracy has come to Bhutan which had its first election in 2008, during our four days we heard many comments on the royalty, but not a word about the prime minister or any other minister.

Interestingly, Bhutan has a colour code for royalty, ministers, bureaucrats, etc. In schools, government or private offices and even in stores, Bhutanese wear their traditional dresses. The men wear the goh, a long robe that is raised at the knee and folded in such a way to form a huge pocket in the front; it is held in place by a belt. The scarf that goes with it has a colour code; yellow is for royalty, and white for commoners. The women are elegantly dressed in vibrant coloured two piece kira – essentially a skirt which is covered by a blouse.

But more than the vibrant colours of their attire, it is their smiles, their soft and polite nature and genuine warmth that will remain with me for a long time..enlightened



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