Festive mood permeates the country as Wangchuk will tie the knot with Pema

Bhutan’s fifth monarch, 31-year-old King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, will marry 21-year-old Jetsun Pema, at a traditional ceremony on Thursday morning.

The monarch is an Oxford graduate, while Ms. Pema has studied in India and the United Kingdom. King Jigme was officially crowned in November 2008, and has presided over a historic time in his country's political evolution. A new constitution introduced parliamentary democracy. Elections were held and the new government took power and responsibilities with the king retreating to a constitutional role.

The wedding will take place at a majestic fortress called the Palace of Great Happiness in Punakha, which was the country's old capital and is a two-and-a-half hour drive from Thimphu. The function itself will be a personal affair and traditional rituals will be administered by the chief abbot of Bhutan, known as the Je Khenpo.

As the ceremony proceeds inside, citizens, who have already begun congregating in Punakha, would be accommodated in tents. There will be a traditional archery contest, songs and dances. Each of Bhutan's twenty districts has sent representatives and specially prepared traditional delicacies. After the wedding rituals, the monarch and his new bride are expected to mingle, and even dance with people.

The royal couple will return to Thimphu on Friday, where the celebrations will continue. The government has declared an official three-day holiday. Gopal Sharma, a local cab driver, said, "The country has been in the wedding mood for weeks now. We will all tell our grandchildren that we were around when Bhutan got a queen." Street corners are adorned with large images of the royal couple, and the capital's buildings are lit up in the evenings, lending a festive air.

Simple ceremony

The king had made it clear that he wanted a simple ceremony, and no head of state or head of government is expected to attend the function. A local observer, who did not wish to be named, said, "The king wants to be with his own people at this personal moment. The coronation in 2008 came across as a gathering oriented more for internationals. Perhaps that is why they have decided to keep this a more domestic affair." However, 25 non-resident ambassadors to Bhutan and their spouses will be present along with the Indian ambassador in Thimphu, Pavan K. Varma.

The royal family has also invited several personal guests, many of whom came in special flights over the past two days. Officials said that Rahul Gandhi will, in all likelihood, attend the wedding. The ruling dynasty has had close personal ties with the Nehru-Gandhi family for decades. President Pratibha Patil, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, and the then foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee had come for the king’s coronation.

One hundred and sixty-one journalists, representing 69 different media outlets, from 13 countries will cover the wedding, making it the 'largest ever foreign media contingent' to have come to Bhutan, which has remained cautious in opening up to the outside world.

More In: International | News