Bhutan Catches Royal Wedding Fever
The royal dress weavers were hard at work as excitement built in Bhutan before the October 2011 royal wedding that saw the young king of the Himalayan nation wed in a fairy-tale ceremony.
The Oxford-educated, mountain-biking fanatic Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, 31, who was crowned in 2008 at the start of democracy in the Buddhist-majority country, married student Jetsun Pema, a commoner, on October 13.
Organizers planned a low-key affair for a royal family famed for its common touch. Regardless, the Bhutanese geared up to mark the momentous occasion in the life of the reclusive kingdom between China and India.
In their apartment in the capital Thimphu during the lead-up to the wedding, weavers Kelzang Choden and her mother hurriedly worked on an outfit for the future queen, an intricately patterned dress of geometric shapes dominated by gold thread and yellow.
“She will wear according to her element. There are five elements in our culture. For example, red is fire, and earth is yellow,” Choden explained to Agence France-Presse (AFP). “Her element is earth, so it will probably be mostly yellow.”
Pema, 21 at the time of the ceremony, ordered numerous “kiras,” the elegant national dress for women made from raw silk. Each kiras takes months to finish and can cost up to U.S. $3,000. Several famed weavers competed for the honor of clothing her on the big day.
“It would be the biggest privilege,” said Choden, whose mother, Kuenzang Wangmo, has designed outfits for the previous king and his four wives, as well as the younger sister of the present king.
“SIMPLE AND TRADITIONAL”
Bhutan, famed for its invention of “Gross National Happiness” to measure progress and its citizens’ well-being, is one of the most remote and insular places on Earth. It had no roads or currency until the 1960s, allowed television only in 1999 and continues to resist the temptation of mass tourism. Instead, the kingdom prefers to allow access only to small, organized groups of well-heeled visitors.
The main wedding ceremony took place in a stunning fortress and monastery in the town of Punakha, set in a steep valley at the confluence of two fast-running mountain rivers. The giant building, accessible by footbridge and intricately decorated with wall paintings and carvings, was spruced up for the occasion.
“His Majesty has been consistent all along that the events should be simple and traditional. It’s how he operates in his own life,” royal spokesman Dorji Wangchuck told AFP. The monarch lives in a cottage in Thimphu rather than a palace and is famed for inviting his subjects to tea.
King Wangchuck, a keen basketball player and Elvis fan, and four of his forebears have ruled Bhutan since 1907, when the royal family took over and brought stability to the previously war-ravaged nation.
The bride is the daughter of an airline pilot whose family has long known the royals, according to The Washington Post.
The wedding kicked off three days of celebration, wrapping up with the final festivities at the city’s sports stadium, where the public had the opportunity to glimpse the newlyweds. It proved to be a spectacle of traditional dance and music, but the Bhutanese themselves were also part of the show, as they wore their finest traditional clothing. “It’s a moment when the entire nation is coming together,” the king’s spokesman told The Associated Press.