The New Queen Of Bhutan
Bhutan: a tiny land-locked Himalayan kingdom sandwiched by the elephant and the dragon – India and China. This week, the young King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, 31, took a commoner for a wife. Jetsun Pema, 21, the daughter of a pilot, is now Queen of Bhutan.
King Namgyel Wangchuck married Jetsun Pema on October 15, 2011 in a ceremony in the spectacular Punakha Dzong (monastery). He declared that she would be his only wife – Bhutan has a tradition of polygamy. His father had married four sisters all at once and crowned them all Queens! No heads of states or dignitaries were invited to the ceremony, but plenty of the common public turned out and camped around the Dzong to witness it.
The Kingdom of Bhutan
Bhutan is a tiny country. About 14,800 sq. miles in area (the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined) it has only about 700,000 people. Compare that with the combined population of those two US states: about 2,000,000 or so. Yes, Bhutan is sparsely populated. The capital city, Thimphu, does not even have a traffic light! And, until 1960s, there were no roads here nor was there a national currency.
Sitting in an airplane, flying in to Bhutan is a fantastic experience. Bhutan has only one airport: Paro. And the plane and its pilot had better be acrobats to get there. Surrounded by high mountains, the plane banks left and right, soars and dips, trying to reach the valley of Paro and the little airstrip. Very often mountaintops and the monasteries on it, are high above you!
The current King’s father, King Jigme Singye Wangchuk made a lot of significant changes to Bhutan and modernized it. He introduced the concept of “Gross National Happiness” as a measure of the country’s well-being, rather than Gross National Product that the rest of the world uses. For him, the happiness of the people – measured by good education, health, forests, and family time is a more important than only what a country produces by way of industry. This King also opened the country up to televisions and the Internet, where previously, it was completely cut-off from the world.
The current King has continued his father’s legacy. His father stepped down in favor of democracy, and elections were held for the first time in Bhutan in 2007-08. Now, Bhutan has a parliament and a judiciary, as well as the monarchy under the young King.
Bhutan is open to visitors and is a wonderful country to visit. Different from the Western world in unimaginable ways, it exemplifies an alternative way of living. Hospitable and warm, the people are a pleasure to interact with and getting around is easy – all by road. Oh, and not to forget, almost every bend in the winding roads will leave you breathless – look out for the waterfalls, the high passes, the snow mountains, and the yaks!