Indian and Bhutanese writers, including Amish Tripathi (centre) at last year...
By Shahnaz Siganporia Mountain Echoes is an annual literary festival held in Thimpu, the capital of the happiest of nations -- Bhutan. A celebration of Himalayan culture that began in 2010, this intimate literary festival explores a cross-cultural dialogue between India and Bhutan. So imagine long literary discussions, book launches, film screenings, music concerts, workshops and schmoozing with the South Asian literati.
Mountain Echoes is a mix of traditional and avant garde Bhutanese life.
This year, the fest will be held from May 21-24 at three venues in Thimphu: The Taj Tashi Hotel, the Tarayana Centre and the Nehru-Wangchuk Cultural Centre. If you're a jaded culture vulture that needs more persuading, here's five reasons to talk books in this breathtaking Himalayan kingdom.
It's in the happiest country in the world
Move over Pharrell, 'cause we're feeling a new happy! Wedged between India and China, the Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan is famous for its gorgeous Himalayan landscape, distinct culture and Gross Happiness Index. It's the only country that goes beyond economic indices and factors happiness into the quality of life by markers that take into account sustainable development, environmental protection, cultural preservation, and good governance.
Picture discussing literature in a land where traffic jams make it to the headlines, plastic bags are banned, and smoking and the sale of cigarettes prohibited. (Although international visitors may carry upto 200 cigarettes for their personal use but have to pay a 200% duty and carry a smoking permit at all times.)
Past fests have been attended by filmmaker Aparna Sen and actor Rahul Bose.
The Queen Mother takes part
Yes, a tonne of literary and cultural fests boast royal patronage, including this one, but her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck is also an accomplished author. Her first book, Of Rainbows and Clouds is a riveting family saga capturing the life and times of her father Yab Ugen Dorji. Her second, Treasures of The Thunder Dragon: A Portrait of Bhutan is a mix of memoir, history and folklore. Her participation extends way beyond the officious inaugural ceremony and she will be found in conversation with diplomat and author Navtej Sarna.
The dialogue between two very different democracies
From discussions on animism in the Himalayas and the art of folklore, to a deliberation on aphrodisiacs and food to suit your mood, and workshops on how to write a crime novel, the festival calendar is packed with a miscellany of subjects and speakers.
Mountain Echoes is a great way to explore Bhutanese culture and subcultures.
But the most anticipated discussion of the festival is a session titled 'Democracy: The Will of the People', between Lily Wangchuk, the first woman president of a registered political party in Bhutan, and author-diplomat Pavan K Varma. Dago Tshering, the former Bhutanese ambassador to India will also interact with journalist Mihir Sharma. The democratic systems of India and Bhutan, both emerging from landmark elections, will be juxtaposed in light of the outcomes of the change in government.
It's not just about Bhutanese authors
Apart from the massive Indo-Bhutanese contingent of writers, commentators and speakers, Mountain Echoes brings together a host of artists who are all part of the new Himalayan narrative. Sample these other attendees: Award-winning Scottish travel writer Gavin Francis, who is working on a book on the region; Danish photo-journalist Marie Venø Thesbjerg, who will be showcasing her most recent book My Way Of Life -- Stories by Children of Bhutan, which tells the story of Bhutanese culture in transition; and Yoko Ishigami, a Japanese artist who has been learning traditional Bhutanese painting and will be exhibiting at the festival.
Experience Bhutanese subculture
2013's fest saw Barkha Dutt interviewed by Bhutanese journalist Namgay Zam.
Cultural expression in Bhutan is steeped in tradition and a need to preserve and protect is intricate to the nation's mandate. While things are usually done the traditional way, which is the window most visitors get into Bhutanese life, the festival exposes fissures of the new wave. Films like Tashi Gyeltshen's The Red Door or Kesang Chuki Dorjee's documentary Bhutan Women Forward will introduce audiences to Bhutan's bold voices.
Open mic and jam sessions with Bhutanese bands like Zhaw and The Ngorigaps, The Baby Boomers, Poisoned Apple and Daydream Farmers will reveal how the sounds of rock 'n' roll give voice to another side of Bhutanese culture.


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