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Bhutan and India draw strength from the rich tapestry of shared cultural heritage: Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck

By FnF Correspondent | PUBLISHED: 24, Aug 2018, 18:22 pm IST | UPDATED: 24, Aug 2018, 18:23 pm IST

Thimphu: Bhutan's distinctive literary, arts and cultural festival, Mountain Echoes literary festival formally opened to audiences today. The ninth edition of the Festival, which is held each year in the picturesque Bhutanese capital of Thimphu is celebrating 50 years of formal diplomatic relations between India and Bhutan this year.

The Festival witnessed Her Majesty the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, the royal patron of the festival, address visitors from India, Bhutan and across the globe in her inaugural speech. She spoke about how the strong friendship between the two nations has flourished over the last five decades. She also highlighted how Mountain Echoes literary festival has widened the canvas of the relationship between the two nations by fostering goodwill and friendship between the two nations.

The three-day festival aims at bringing forth Untouched Beauty, Unexplored Ideas, and Unstoppable Voices from the heart of the Himalayas, through engaging, power-packed sessions on a series of globally relevant issues such as Environment and Wildlife, Spirituality and Philosophy, Theatre, and Poetry among others.

Her Majesty the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck said, “Mountain Echoes has been firmly established as one of the pillars of people-to-people interactions of the two countries. The unique and rich cultures of Bhutan and India provide opportunities to interact and learn from each other in terms of art, literature, traditions, etc.”

Her opening address is reproduced below.

Statement By Her Majesty Gyalyum Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck At The Ninth Edition Of Mountain Echoes

23rd August 2018

Distinguished Delegates,

Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is with a sense of deep loss and sadness, that Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, former Prime Minister of India passed away a few days ago at the age of 93 years. Shri Vajpayee was a gentleman, a leader, a statesman and a poet of highest repute. He was also a dear friend of Bhutan. He will be greatly missed. As a mark of our respect for late Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee, I request all of you to observe a minute of silence.

Thank you.

It is with immense pleasure that I extend a warm welcome to the distinguished guests to the ninth edition of the Mountain Echoes literary festival.  The literary festival is close to my heart. I take great personal interest and enthusiasm in attending it every year. It gives me opportunities to interact and make friends with people from all walks of life—writers, artists, photographers etc. In the last nine years, Mountain Echoes has grown and acquired a personality of its own which attracts literary enthusiasts from many parts of the world. The growth of Mountain Echoes is in no small measure due to the patronage and support we have received from friends and literary enthusiasts like you who are assembled here for the love of literature and perhaps festival too. Mountain Echoes has provided the platform in bringing together diverse groups of people to Bhutan every year. I have made great many friends over the years and I deeply value this platform as also the friendship. I would like to thank each and every one of you, past and present, for your support, love and friendship.

While on the subject of friendship, I am delighted to note that 2018 marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the formal diplomatic relations between the Kingdom of Bhutan and the Republic of India. Our two countries have been commemorating this special golden jubilee year with many celebratory events in Bhutan and India. As a tribute to the enduring friendship between our two countries, I am very happy to dedicate this Ninth edition of Mountain Echoes to the golden jubilee anniversary of diplomatic relations between Bhutan and India. It is my fervent prayer that friendship between our two countries and peoples continue to flourish.

I would like to take this opportunity of the Golden Jubilee year to reflect on the journey of friendship between our two countries, and trace the paths leaders and peoples of our two countries have undertaken together.  It is a matter of immense satisfaction and happiness for people of Bhutan and India that our two countries enjoy excellent and exemplary friendship— A friendship that is anchored on unwavering trust, goodwill, understanding, and mutually beneficial cooperation.

Long before diplomatic relations were the norm, the pristine waters from the lofty Himalayas of Bhutan nurtured the Great Plains in India while spiritual nourishment from India enriched the verdant valleys in Bhutan. In fact, the relationship between Bhutan and India draws its strength from the rich tapestry of our shared Buddhist and cultural heritage as well as historical linkages.

Located in the Southern part of Himalayas, Bhutan and India share not just national boundaries, but history and civilization as well. Some 2,600 years ago, Siddhartha, an Indian Prince changed the way people viewed the world through his teachings—Buddhism. Buddhism is perhaps, India’s greatest gift to humanity and to Bhutan.. Following the arrival of Buddhism, great Buddhist masters from India, most notably Guru Padmasambhava travelled to Bhutan. It is for these reasons that historically with great reverence, Bhutanese people referred to India as Jagar Phagpai Yuel which could be translated as “India – the land of the enlightened. The teachings of Lord Buddha and Guru Padmasambhava continue to influence the lives of every Bhutanese. It is my belief that Buddhism – our shared spiritual heritage – is the unchanging constant in our age-old relationship. Perhaps, it would be remiss on our part to celebrate Bhutan-India friendship within the time capsule of only 50 years.

In 810 AD, at the invitation of King Sindhu Raja of Bumthang, Guru Padmasambhava journeyed to Bhutan. Some 1200 years later, we witnessed repetition of history. At the invitation of His Majesty Jigme Dori Wangchuck, the Third King of Bhutan, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru undertook the historic visit to Bhutan. The only contrast between these two visits being their mode of transport. While Guru Padmasambhava apparently travelled on a flying tiger, Pandit Nehru too the more arduous option of riding mules and yaks.  However, both these visitors had transformational effect on Bhutan, which is still felt today.

His Majesty the Third King of Bhutan and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru were the chief architects who laid foundation of Indo-Bhutan relations. Following Pandit Nehru’s visit, Bhutan came out of its policy of self-isolation and embarked on the process of planned development with the launching of the First Five Year Plan in 1961. The first two five-year plans were financed entirely by India. It was during this period that the first motorable roads, schools and hospitals were built in Bhutan. In the annals of Bhutan’s modern history, 21st September 1971 deserves a special mention. It was on this day that Bhutan was admitted as a member of the United Nations. I must recall with gratitude that it was our dear friend India who sponsored Bhutan’s membership to the United Nations.

In the footsteps of these two great luminaries, His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth Druk Gyalpo worked tirelessly with successive leaders from India and most notably with Prime Ministers Indira Gandhi, Morarji Desai, Rajiv Gandhi, P.V. Narisimha Rao, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh.

This was a period when development cooperation between Bhutan and India intensified and expanded. His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo envisioned hydropower as the backbone of Bhutanese economy and commissioned a series of hydropower projects, the first being the Chhukha Hydropower Project. Perhaps, no single project altered the socio-economic landscape of Bhutan as Chhukha did. India continued to be our largest development partner and their aid almost doubled every five year plan. The deepening and evolving friendship between our two countries was further strengthened by the signing of the India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty on 8th February 2007 in New Delhi between His Majesty the Fifth Druk Gyalpo (as Trongsa Penlop) and Shri Pranab Mukherjee, then President if India. The signing of the Friendship Treaty marked a historic milestone in the relations between the two countries.  The period also saw challenges for Bhutan and India. The presence of Indian militants in Bhutanese territory along the Bhutan-Indo border posed threat to peace and security of both the countries. In a departure from all norms, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo led a small group of Bhutanese army from the front to flush out the militants from the Bhutanese soil as the last option. It is a reflection of the commitment of highest order to the friendship towards the people of India by His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo.

Back home in Bhutan, the winds of change heralded the change of guards when His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo voluntarily abdicated the Golden Throne after 34 years of glorious reign in favour of His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. It was also a time when Their Majesties the Fifth and Fourth Druk Gyalpo introduced democracy on their reluctant citizens. In the last one decade, under the reign of His Majesty the King, relationship between Bhutan and India attained greater heights.

Regular exchange of high level visits is a hall mark of Bhutan India relations. Such visits are important to not only nurture our bilateral relations and to set the environment for our cooperation but also sometimes to express the depth of our solidarity and friendship in times of distress such as the visit by His Majesty the King to Delhi a few days ago to attend the funeral service of former Prime Minister Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee ji.

Indeed, His Majesty the King has undertaken several visits to India. Among the most remarkable of these visits was the State Visit in November 2017 to India when His Majesty was accompanied by the Gyalsey - His Royal Highness Dasho Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck. The media reports of a one and half year old Crown Prince of Bhutan greeting leaders of India made for one of the most endearing readings of my life. This in essence defines and encapsulates Bhutan- India friendship. A resilient friendship built by our successive leaders and one which is endearing and timeless. This friendship has shown to the world that asymmetries in size and endowments and inter-state boundaries are not barriers, but opportunities for forging exceptionally close ties of friendship and cooperation for mutual benefit. Likewise Bhutan has been privileged to receive at regular interval, visits at the Head of State or Head of Government from India, with the last one being the visit by Shri  Narendra Modi ji in 2014. We in Bhutan look forward to the next visit of Prime Minister Modi ji sometime this winter.

Even as we celebrate the golden jubilee of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries, Bhutan is on the cusp of graduating to a middle-income country by 2023. Bhutan’s steady progression from a least developed country to a middle income country is a long cherished dream of every Bhutanese people and this would not have been possible without the unwavering support of the Government of India.

It is a matter of deep satisfaction for me that the series of Mountain Echoes Literary Festival have widened the canvass of the relationship by fostering goodwill and friendship between the peoples.   The ‘Mountain Echoes’ has been firmly established as one of the pillars of people-to-people interactions of the two countries. The unique and rich cultures of Bhutan and India provide opportunities to interact and learn from each other in terms of art, literature, traditions etc.

As we celebrate the golden jubilee, let us pray that this epitome of friendship will reach even greater heights in the years ahead. Let’s continue to strive for a common destiny by looking at the future together and not by looking at each other.

Once again, I would like to thank all of you for joining me today and I wish you all an enjoyable ninth edition of Mountain Echoes.

Thank you and Tashi Delek.

*End of speech*

The ninth chapter of the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival promises to combine the breathtaking locales of Bhutan with its cultural prowess. Bringing together the best of minds from Bhutan and the globe, the festival will discuss a host of topics making a strong connect with the literary enthusiasts. Its idyllic location and programming make it one of the most unique literary festivals in the world and a leading event in the international literary calendar. The festival is being held in Thimphu from August 23rd till August 25th.
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