I received Mita Kapur’s invitation to Bhutan’s literature festival, Mountain Echoes with a lot of mixed feelings. Tiger and I had always wanted to visit Bhutan but never did. Now Tiger was not here and eight months on I was still struggling with his absence. Yet moved by all the things I had heard about Bhutan I felt irresistibly drawn towards this land of Gross National Happiness.
It was an early morning flight and I had dozed off. The announcement from the Druk Air cockpit alerting us about our descent woke me up. I opened my eyes to a different world. We were surrounded by a vast, undulating, lush green landscape of pine forests silently swaying against the soft blue of the sky watched over by serene and benevolent mountains. It was a magnificent sight and even my plateaued senses couldn’t help but respond to its sheer beauty. The comforting pine scented air of Thimphu was just the tonic I needed. I felt at peace.
The four-day retreat at the literature festival remains a happy memory even three years later. I met so many old friends and made many new ones. The days were mostly spent on some very absorbing and interactive sessions. The ecological consequence of mountain tourism, in depth soul searching by Bollywood insiders, weaving, women’s issues and traditions of Bhutan, a passionate reading by Vikram Seth of his latest work and Laila Tyabji’s insightful discourse of textiles and costumes – all of these were a wonderful mix of learning and entertainment. The melodious music recitals by the Bhutanese musicians in between panels calmed and energized at the same time.
My own session was extremely well attended and it made me happy to see Bhutanese people were so well informed about an actor from India who had not been a part of mainstream cinema for a long while. Also there was enough time for meaningful sightseeing and discovering Bhutan’s ancient monasteries and artefacts. Although I still didn’t feel ready to attend any of the evening celebrations I found I could participate in the ones that took place at the Taj Tashi from my room that overlooked the hospitality area. I heard the music and saw the delegates come and go, hug each other and enjoy themselves. This made me feel a part of the festivities even when I was alone in my room.
Right from the opening ceremony where Her Majesty, the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck brought the house down with a mention of a “sapnon ki rani”, the Royal Family welcomed me with a lot of warmth and affection. Pavan Varma who was our Ambassador then also made a special effort to make sure that my stay in Bhutan was a memorable experience.
I’m aware that change is the only constant and this beautiful hill kingdom cannot escape change and progress but I sincerely hope that it does so while preserving the values that so appealed to me during my stay. The attention to aesthetics, the natural beauty all around, the lack of clutter, the genteel way of life and the immense sensitivity and courtesy of its people must and should live on.
It gives me great pleasure to take this opportunity to wish His Majesty the fourth Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck a very happy birthday and say how much I appreciate his compassion and vision. May he live long and continue to enrich his people with his grace and wisdom.