Friday, 11 July 2008

Bhutan : One million new friends

9 July, 2008 - As hundreds of people circumambulated the Bhutanese lhakhang on Washington’s National Mall in a final tashi lebey on July 6, Smithsonian officials said that the Bhutan exhibition at the Folk Life Festival was not just a success, it was a triumph.

Many regular visitors to the annual festival described the Bhutanese exhibition as the best international exhibition they had seen over the years. “The Bhutanese presence touched their heads and hearts,” said the curator, Preston Scott. “More than one million people now know about Bhutan and the Bhutanese exhibits saw a record number of visitors as well as sales. “The exchanges with the Bhutanese people reminded us of President Lincoln’s words that our country cannot afford to be materially rich but spiritually poor.”

There is likely to be a surge in the number of visitors to Bhutan as a result of the festival, but one interesting element of the Washington exhibition was that a large number of people were from the American heartland and not the coastal areas where tourists to Bhutan usually come from.

“Bhutan has been well infused into American public perception,” said a Smithsonian veteran, who has helped organise the exhibitions for numerous countries. “We’ve also seen many business ventures emerge from the festival as Americans make contact with people from different countries.”

One sign of success, according to Bhutan’s home minister, Lyonpo Minjur Dorji, was that, with the blessings of the guardian deities, nothing went wrong over such a long period of time with so many people of all ages and backgrounds. Thousands of visitors attended the last day for the goembo tangra ceremony by the Tshennyi Lopon and even the rain, that was impending all day, seemed to wait until the final tashi lebey before it came down in a massive torrent.

After 10 days on the Mall, with the temperature occasionally climbing close to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, Bhutanese artisans, musicians, dancers, and officials said that they viewed the conclusion of the festival with mixed feelings. “It was hot and hard work but also very satisfying,” said a cane weaver from Thimphu.

“We were exposed to the ways of the world and we enjoyed this beautiful country but I started missing my family and food,” said a carpenter, who had been in Washington for more than a month. “We had a good time but we were getting tired.”

The general agreement was that it was time to go home.

The leader of the Bhutanese delegation, His Royal Highness Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck, said that the success of the festival was good for the Smithsonian Institute, for Bhutan, and for the American people. Most of the people who visited the festival did not know where Bhutan was, so it was an educative experience. “I’m sure that it will be a stepping stone for building stronger relations between the people of Bhutan and the United States,” he said.

Diana Parker, Director of the Festival, said that she was surprised by the number of people who came up to her on the Mall to say “thank you for doing this”. The festival cost about US$ 6.00 million to organise.

The lhakhang, which has been presented to the American people by His Majesty the King, will be dismantled and rebuilt at the University of Texas in El Paso, which has been built in Bhutanese architecture. His Royal Highness is leading a delegation, including a dance troupe, to El Paso for a cultural seminar this week.

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