“Where are you from?” He asked.
“The United States.” We answered.
“What part?” He asked.
“Seattle and Michigan.” We answered.
“Are you enjoying Bhutan?” He asked.
“Very much!” We answered.
“Good. Good.” He said.
“Tashi Delek.” We wished. (For blessings and good luck.)
“Thank you very much.” She replied.
“It’s an honor to meet you.” I said.
Then I cried.
This was the 30-second conversation I (and two other women I was traveling with, Beth and Sarah) had with His Majesty the Fifth King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, and his beautiful new bride, Her Majesty the Queen of Bhutan Ashi Jetsun Pema Wangchuck. It was the day after their wedding.
I had been travelling in Bhutan for nine days prior to this conversation, knowing that the wedding between the King of Bhutan and the new Queen was going to take place on October 13. In fact, prior to the wedding, the entire country of Bhutan was preparing for the occasion. Decorations of special multi-colored prayer flags were displayed everywhere, as were photos of the King and Queen, and extra country flags of Bhutan. There were an abundance of thoughtful signs wishing longevity, serenity, and love for the King and Queen. One sign declared, “We would like to wish you a long, blissful, and happy married life.” People were preparing dancing and singing performances for the days following the wedding. The event was the talk of the town; well, really the talk of the country.
another thoughtful sign
On the day of the wedding itself, I watched it live in my hotel room on BBS, the local Bhutanese TV channel, starting at 7:00 in the morning. And I’ll admit it – I took photos of the TV as I watched. For two hours I was glued, listening in Dzongkha, the national language of Bhutan, and watching intently. Part of me couldn’t believe that I was actually in the country where a Royal Wedding was taking place.
Suddenly at five minutes before 9:00, I got a knock on my hotel room door. “Oh no, don’t interrupt me now,” I thought. It turned out to be the woman who was to clean my room, so together we watched the last five minutes of the wedding. At the end I asked her, just to make sure, “Are they officially married now?” “Yes,” she replied. Silently we both cried with joy and happiness.
my photos of the Royal Wedding on TV
Then the day after the wedding…Beth, Sarah, a fourth woman, Shannon, and I were to begin a seven day trek to Laya, one of Bhutan’s highest villages at about 12,500 feet elevation. To start the trek we needed to drive (along with our driver, Jigme, and our guide, Tobgay) from a town called Wangdue, and head north through the town of Punakha to our starting point, Gasa. It just so happens that on this same day, the newly married couple were to be driving south on their way from Punakha, where they got married, passing through Wangdue, on their way to Thimphu, the capital city. During the King and Queen’s drive it was known that they would be stopping at towns and villages along the way in order to greet and talk to their people.
Punakha Dzong, location of the Royal Wedding, with prayer flags
Early that morning as we were driving we saw many, many local Bhutanese already lining up along the roadsides of Wangdue waiting for their King and Queen to arrive. “Should we stop?” we asked ourselves, as we kept driving. We were all tempted, but we also knew that we would need to hike later on that day, and had a long drive ahead of us.
However, a few moments later, we encountered a smaller village, with fewer people, Lobeysa, where the locals were outside waiting along the roadside as well. I think we all felt that now we could not miss the potential opportunity of seeing the King and Queen. It could be the chance of a lifetime! Se we decided to stop and wait with the locals.
We got out of the car and began to gather next to a chorten (a mound-like structure that contains Buddhist relics and offerings) which was adorned with a photo of the King and Queen, as well as with special offerings for the Royal Couple. Then we lined up in a single-file line right along with the locals. I became very excited, because soon I could actually be seeing a King and a Queen. After a few moments, however, it was getting warm out, and the King and Queen had not yet arrived, so everyone disbursed from the line to find some shade. Every so often something would happen though, like cars driving by, or perhaps a rumor, and everyone would think that the King and Queen were arriving. So we would stand back in line, only to realize a few minutes later, that it was not them. Not just yet anyway…
Shannon waiting in the shade with the locals
After two and a half hours, and about three or four times lining up and then disbursing, the event finally happened. The King and Queen (and their entourage of cars and other important people) stopped at Lobeysa village! Out of courtesy, the four of us chose to stand towards the end of the line of people so that the locals could be the first ones to see their King and Queen. (Although Shannon waited even a bit further down the line than us three.) The King and Queen got out of their car and started greeting their people! Since I had some time before they got to our end of the line, I just had to take a glance at them. I stood on my tiptoes, more than once, to look down the line to see them. They looked as handsome and as beautiful as I had seen in all their photos and on TV! And wow, I was actually seeing them live in person!
As they approached us I held onto a white scarf that we had purchased. We were told that we could present the scarf to the King and Queen as a congratulatory gift, as an offering. We had also been told that no photographs of them were allowed (darn), that we weren’t to make eye contact with them out of respect, and that we should bow as they passed by.
So I was completely surprised when the conversation started! I hadn’t expected it. I actually hesitated for a few seconds in answering the first question that His Majesty asked us. As the conversation progressed however, I figured that eye contact was appropriate, and by the end of the 30 seconds, I actually experienced wonderful eye contact with both of them; especially with the new Queen when she said, “Thank you very much.” She had such a warm and gentle smile.
The tears that I shed (after the King and Queen safely moved on to the next people in line) just happened. I guess I felt so honored and privileged to have met and talked to them, to the King and Queen of Bhutan. Something that I had not planned for; something no guide book talks about; something not in any itinerary. I even completely forgot about offering them the white scarf in the midst of the conversation. Thus I still have this as a remembrance souvenir.
I had a vast amount of rich and rewarding, unplanned experiences during my 25 days in Bhutan. Experiences neither in my guide book nor in my itinerary. I would say though, that the conversation between the King, the Queen, and I, was truly the most rich and rewarding.
Tashi Delek to the King and Queen of Bhutan!
Sweet (and unplanned) Travels!