Ugyen has traveled from his farm in Paro by bus to attend the coronation in Thimphu. He knows that things are changing in Bhutan, including the way that he tends to his land. Still, Ugyen seems optimistic about the future. He believes in his new King.
As the Entertainment Director for Centenary Celebrations, Dorji Wangchuck supervised most of the festivals and activities that preceded and follow the coronation. A childhood friend to His Majesty, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, Dorji has an entrepreneurial view about Bhutan’s future and the important role that his King must play to ensure balance between the old and the new.
The BBS broadcast the coronation to more than sixty thousand households that have a television set. Television was not introduced to Bhutan until 1999 and is still a government-controlled novelty. Our cameras followed Bhutanese Broadcasting Service crews and two producers throughout the Coronation ceremonies, to eavesdrop on their interviews and coverage.
Astrology plays a major role in all Bhutanese affairs. Days are deemed to be ‘auspicious’ or ‘inauspicious’ and the Bhutanese Observer prints detailed guidance, based upon the reader’s astrological sign and the portents of the day. The date and time of the King’s Coronation was divinely determined. Lopon Yanka is an Astrologer and head Professor at The Royal Astrology Institute. Through his eyes and insights, we begin to understand the great importance of astrology in the every day life of all Bhutanese citizens.
Our cameras followed Chef Kelzang, Caterer, into the Royal Palace to partake in the makings of a coronation luncheon that will feed over 500 guests. Traditional Bhutanese fare of hot chili peppers and rice is combined with exotic treats from Thailand and India. The palace is bustling with preparation activities. Kelzang is responsible for every detail… and the decorations are even more elaborate than the food.
In 1997, when National Geographic Television sent me on a location scout to pre-interview Sherpas in Nepal who had climbed Mount Everest, I found the people and the beauty of the Himalayas astounding. As a westerner, living for a short time with a Sherpa family forever changed my life. Watching their gentle, peaceful interactions and their accepting open demeanor opened my eyes to Buddhism and the ways in which all life is interdependent.
It’s not surprising then, that I would ultimately be drawn to Bhutan and the country’s philosophy of Gross National Happiness, an idea rooted in a simple Buddhist message, that happiness lies in the middle path.
After years of trying and failing to both visit and film in Bhutan, I finally made it there in 2008. I felt privileged to be able to film the Grand Coronation of the 5th King, but more importantly, I felt that I was given an honor that I might share Bhutan’s perspective with a world that needs to hear its message that happiness is indeed possible.
Bhutan is a model for us. Now, more than ever, in these times of global economic turmoil and re-evaluation of social and financial values, Bhutan has much to share and say about the ways in which we can be happy.
My hope is that viewers will be inspired by Bhutan’s courage and, as I was in 1997, somehow transformed.
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