When the big day came, and it came Thursday, the other royal wedding of the year — this one in far-off, remote Bhutan — adopted a distinctly different tone.
In sharp contrast to the nuptials of Britain’s Prince William and Catherine Middleton, there were no star-studded celebrities, self-important film stars, fidgeting foreign royals or a long wedding dress train to trip over.
The theme in Bhutan was “of the people,” which is a lot easier when your country has a population of 700,000, almost all of whom were in overdrive as the popular fifth “Dragon King” married a 21-year-old student, the daughter of an airline pilot.
It’s hard to overstate the excitement that’s gripped the mountain kingdom since it was announced that Oxford graduate King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and commoner Jetsun Pema would wed.
Many had waited impatiently for the 31-year-old constitutional monarch to find a soul mate and get on with it. When he did, and word spread that he’d fallen for a brainy student he’d first met as a child, Bhutan’s people fell almost as much in love with her as had their king.
Times have changed, even in insular Bhutan. So it will be only one woman for this royal. King Wangchuck has pledged to love a single wife, in contrast to his father, who, in 1988, chose to tie the knot with four brides, all sisters. This week’s glowing groom is the son of his father’s third wife.
In keeping with centuries-old tradition, the rites were performed in a sacred monastery fortress in Punakha and included purification rituals, blessings, prayers and prostrations.
All this for a king who loves Elvis Presley, plays a mean game of basketball, sports long sideburns and slicked back hair and takes evening bike rides in the neighborhood.
Thursday’s joyous event has sparked days of celebration, dancing and drinking by a population that had no roads until the 1960s and no television until 1999.
The country is perhaps best known for embracing a “gross national happiness” index — a measure of people’s sense of well-being, environmental harmony and community ties — rather than the gross domestic product.
Bhutan’s rather halcyon image was tarnished somewhat, however, by a recent survey released by the National Statistics Bureau.
According to the Bhutan Business newspaper, the Bhutan Multiple Indicator Survey covering 15,000 households found that nearly 70% of women believed they deserved a beating if they argued with their partner, refused sex or neglected their children. The survey also reportedly found that more than 1 in 4 women believed HIV/AIDS was transmitted supernaturally and that 1 in 5 children were involved in child labor.
Those woes were largely forgotten this week, as images flashed across the country of the lovely bride with high cheekbones dressed in an elegant kira, the national dress for women, made of handwoven silk.
In keeping with his reputation for humility, the monarch had moved out of the palace years ago into a cottage where he’s known to invite members of the public to tea. Recent guests include members of the Thimphu weightlifting club.
It was not immediately clear whether the royal couple will move back to the palace.
Tanvi Sharma in The Times’ New Delhi bureau contributed to this report.