(Is it O.K. that I am sitting in a hotel in Quito, Ecuador while writing about part of our trip in Bhutan this last fall? The reality is, if I don’t do it now, it will never happen and our time there was just too special not to write about!)
Between the Class II/III cultural trip we had just finished and the Class III-IV+ that was about to start, we found ourselves with an unscheduled day and a half. We had planned to spend it in the town of Paro where the airport is located, and where we could do laundry and relax while waiting for the next group to arrive. Instead, we received a last minute surprise from Ugyen, our generous Bhutanese outfitter. The gift was in the form of a hotel room in Thimphu on the eve of the coronation of the fifth king of Bhutan, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. (Thimphu, the capital, is located east of Paro, just over an hour away.) We weren’t sure how much of the actual ceremony we were going to be able to see, but we couldn’t pass it up.
Since our arrival in country on October 4th we had watched people hard at work preparing the roadways, temples and dzongs for the upcoming event. Roads were decorated with arches, banners and prayer flags.
Flowers were planted on the main streets. Banners of the 5th King hung everywhere. In the textile museum, where live demonstrations of the intricate style of Bhutanese weaving are done, we saw a woman putting the finishing touches on an elegant kira (the womens traditional form of dress) to be worn by one of the queens of the forth king (he has four- all sisters). That night we walked the streets of Thimphu and the excitement was palpable. In the clock tower square there were dances for the public.
The whole “city” was sparkling with lights. We would awake November 6th to the ceremonies of the coronation!
We began watching the live coverage of the ceremony on T.V., thinking that there was no way we would be able to attend in person. We would find out later that we could have joined in the procession from the town center into the outer courtyard of the Trashi Chhoe Dzong ( a dzong is a fortress monastery)! Bhutan is rich in ceremony and dress, and religion and government are closely intertwined. I couldn’t begin to tell you what we were watching in terms of the ceremonial significance, but there was a parade of costumes and colors. Every region of the country was represented by costume.
Once in the courtyard it appeared that only very important dignitaries were allowed further. The actual coronation ceremony would be held in an inner chamber. There were some westerners amid the group and I had to sympathize as I watched them sitting uncomfortably in cross-legged position upon cushions on the floor.
While waiting for the ceremony to begin, T.V. coverage alternated between the ceremonial chamber, and the outer courtyard of the Dzong with the procession of people that had been halted there. Behind them, an enormous three storied Thondrol was unfurled. It appeared to be quite old. Thondrols are a multi-storied, fabric panel with embroidery and appliques depicting scenes of the Buddhas life. These are made by the monks and sometimes centuries old. They are unfurled once a year for such auspicious events as this, then carefully stored away.
We had watched enough live coverage on T.V. and wanted to go and mingle with the crowds. Mary put on her kira with toego and wonju blouse and jacket (traditonal for a Bhutanese woman) and we headed in the direction of the Dzong. It wasn’t hard to know which way to go. One only had to follow the people dressed in their absolute best; men in their gho’s and women in their kiras. Both men and women were beautiful to see! As we approached the Dzong, a large crowd was waiting to go in. At the edge of the crowd we ran into Pat W., a member of or upcoming trip. He had come a few days early to do some site-seeing. Earlier, Pat and his guide had joined the procession in person as it made its way to the Dzong. He not only saw the King walk by, but tucked into the group just ten rows back and they walked with the procession into the inner courtyard! Now that is sonom (good fortune)!
We waited at the dzong entrance with the crowd for an hour before we were able to surge through the outer gates of the Dzong. Once inside we wandered the grounds. Many people were quietly waiting, enjoying the day.
Approaching the gates to the inner courtyard we came to another large crowd. A police officer was informing the group that no more people would be allowed in. We could see the top portion of the Thondrol where it hung from the large wall of the inner courtyard. We were that close! The ceremony was now over and the newly coronated King was personally greeting each and every person in the inner courtyard. There just wasn’t time enough in the day for him to see everyone that was waiting!
We made our way back along the streets to the center of town. Across from the national stadium there were colorful booths and vendors selling handicrafts and food. People everywhere were dressed in their finest. There were three days of activities lined up at the stadium. We were scheduled to be back in Thimphu with our next group in two days time and would be able to catch the last day of performances.
The date for the coronation of November 6th was set in August of 2008 (the official astrologer does that). We had scheduled the dates for our trip in the spring 2007- now that is sonom!
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