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India-educated Bhutan Queen

Punakha: Bhutan`s popular King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck today tied the nuptial knot with his childhood sweetheart and India-educated commoner Jetsun Pema in a traditional Buddhist ceremony at a stunning fortress in this historical city, 71 km from capital Thimphu.

Amid chanting of hymns by red-robe Buddhist monks and clanging of drums by Bhutanese, the 31-year-old dashing Wangchuck placed the crown on the head of 21-year-old Pema, whom he met when he was 17, as the Chief Abot (head of the monks) of Bhutan Je Khenpo led the proceedings.

Pema, who wore a yellow jacket and a skirt according to the traditions, was proclaimed the `Queen of the Kingdom of Bhutan` as the King bestowed the crown on her after a series of ceremonies that was attended by 300 guests, including Indian Ambassador to Bhutan Pavan K Varma and West Bengal Governor M K Narayanan, and members of the Royal Family. Wearing a raven crown, the King stood with a smile on his chuckle as Pema prostrated herself before him thrice according to the traditions and was served with a liquid that according to belief is for longivity of the couple.

Outside the stunning 17th century fortress, located between two rivers Fochu (Father River) and Mochu (Mother River), thousands of Bhutanese, including children and women, thronged the ground near the monastic fortress to catch a glimpse of their King and the Queen. The people, including nomads and villagers who live in remotest parts of the country, started assembling at the ground as early as 5 AM (local time) braving intense cold conditions, even as majority of the 7 lakh population glued to their television sets to watch the wedding ceremony live.

The elaborate wedding ceremony, that was conducted according to Bhutanese Buddhist traditions, began at 4 AM with initiation of special prayers by 100 monks led by by His Holiness Je Khenpo, the head monastic preceptor.

The Oxford-educated mountain-biking fanatic Wangchuck emerged from his palace at around 8.20 AM accompanied by Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley and the Chief of Bhutan Royal Police and proceeded straight to the large monastic fortress. Minutes later, the Royal Bride, who did her higher secondary schooling in Himachal Pradesh`s Sanawar, walked to the fortress through the wooden bridge across the river in a procession of 100 people beating drums and chanting hymns.

After her arrival at the Dewa Chhen-Poi Phodrang (Palace of Great Happiness), Pema lit a golden lamp, offered prayers and proceeded towards Wangchuck, whom she has been accompanying on official tours for the past few months. After a two-hour ceremony, Wangchuck and Pema were declared husband and wife and posed for television and still cameras at a specially-arranged room in the monastery.

Later, the King and the Queen joined thousands of Bhutanese at the huge ground near the palace in celebrating the Royal Wedding by dancing and singing with their subjects. While the guests, including envoys of various nations and personal invitees of the King, were served a traditional Bhutanese lunch that also had Indian items like roti. Around 60 culinary experts from all 20 Valleys of Bhutan have been engaged in preparing the food items for the guests.

After the Wedding today, the Royal Couple will set out on road from Punakha to Thimphu on Friday and are likely to be welcomed by people through the way.

Known for his simplicity, Wangchuck, who was coronated as King of Bhutan on November 6, 2008 after his father Jigme Singye Wangchuck transferred the throne to him, likes to cycle across the capital and invite his subjects for a cup of tea, a thing which is uncommon with monarchies.

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