Monday, October 17, 2011

Bumthang, Tsechu and The Royal Wedding... oh my! (part 3)

The Royal Wedding
The Royal Wedding of His Majesty the Fifth King and Her Majesty Ashi Jetsun Pema has been talked about and anticipated for months. In fact, it has been a major topic of discussion since we got here and it did not disappoint. The festivities began on Thursday morning at about 4am with special rituals peformed by the monastic body. I woke up around 8:30 in order to watch the wedding ceremony itself with about 15 Bhutanese girls in the common room of our dorm. It was being shown live through BBS (Bhutan Broadcasting Service).

The ceremony itself was long but beautiful. All of the outfits were gorgeous, although I felt that we were just missing the silly hats of the British Royal wedding. When the couple finally were officially wed, His Majesty the King put on the traditional Raven Crown and then put a beautiful crown/tiara combo kind of thing on the head of the new Queen. He looked terrified that he might not get it on well enough and it would fall off and when he seemed happy with it he touched the Queen's face to the “awwws” of everyone in the room. I can only assume that was also the case in Punakha Dzong where the ceremony was taking place as well.

The next day I met Aaron, Miranda, and Marijose in town and we decided to join the masses on the streets of Thimphu. The other three arrived a couple hours before me and when I got there I was impressed by the sheer number of people. The school children had been waiting since 10am and here it was, 3:30ish and the royal couple had still not arrived. They would be walking through the streets to greet people as they transitioned from Punakha to Thimphu.
Every half hour or so, the excitement would rise, the children would all stand, and the police would straighten the line, only to realize that it was yet another false alarm and everyone would sit back down. Finally, at about 7pm when we were seriously considering leaving to get dinner, we were told that they were really coming this time. We looked down the street and there they were, looking as regal as you would expect of the newlywed royalities.

We had each bought a ceremonial white scarf which we would present to them if they were to come over to us. It is a sign of respect in Bhutan to do so. Also, I had strategically decided to wear my Wheaton College sweatshirt, banking on the hope that the King would be enticed by mention of his alma mater to come greet us. As it turns out, it was not the King who would notice us but the Queen.

Brief side note: early in our time here in Bhutan, I had the great honor of playing basketball with Zimbi, a Bhutanese friend who goes to Wheaton. She invited me to play on the Royal Team against Royal Thimphu College (where I am studying). This meant that I got to play with all women from the royal family. One of those women was the future (and now current) Queen. It was a great experience and I had gotten to talk to her and the other members of the team throughout the game.

Back to the streets of Thimphu: So the Queen sees me, brings the King, who's hand she is holding, over to the four of us and says “Heather!” I was quite shocked that she not only remembered me but also my name. I shook her hand and congratulated her heartily on her wedding. His Majesty then took a few moments to shake each of our hands and ask us where we were from (we said Wheaton) and he said, “Oh, you must be studying at RTC.” He asked us how long we had been in Bhutan and then continued on his way. It was one of those epic moments that we will remember forever.

We all went to bed pretty early because we would be waking up before 4:30am the next day. The final day of the celebration in Thimphu would be centered around a huge celebration ceremony with performances from school children, teachers, monks, professional performers and more in the Olympic Stadium. I thought that there were a lot of people at Tsechu but this made the festival look like a small event. We got in the security line around 5:15am and were in the stadium in our seats before 6 for the event which would not begin until the couple arrived around 9:30 or 10am. Even so, about three quarters of the stadium was full when we got there so we were lucky to find decent seats on the far end of the stadium.

After waiting for hours upon hours the royal procession arrived and lifted one of the largest sacred tapestries depicting Guru Rinpoche (the man credited with founding Buddhism in Bhutan). It is only shown once a year and is quite the sight as it is several stories tall and makes all the people around it look tiny. Unfortunately, cameras were not permitted in the stadium for the event so I don't have a picture of it to share. The King then addressed the people in Dzongkha and presumably made several jokes as the crowd laughed with him at multiple points... one of which was apparently after he said something to the effect of “now I will kiss my wife” and did.

The rest of the day was spent watching the variety of performances from cute small children dancing and creating flower shaped formations, to the RTC girls dance that we had seen them practicing for the last 3 months, to the Tae Kwon Do children of Bhutan in an epic collective show culminating with the black-belts breaking boards in all sorts of creative ways and then fighting each other in pairs out on the field. I loved that the two women were paired with guys and both of the girls won. There were also a couple performances involving some excellent floats like the one with a rainbow over mountains with four women dressed as angels in colors to match the rainbow flags.

We left mid to late afternoon after another exciting moment when we were greeted by the King and Queen again. They walk around the stadium to greet the people and we enjoyed getting to see them again within 24 hours. The rest of the day was spent resting around Thimphu and then we returned to campus for some well needed sleep.

Like I said, the past two weeks were absolutely and inexplicably awesome. They are experiences that we will never forget. So with that, I say Tashi Delek to Their Majesties and best wishes for a happy marriage.

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