Now in its fifth year, Mountain Echoes has become more than just a literature festival for Bhutan. As HE Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, observed, the festival is a celebration not only of books but also of the friendship between two great countries.
Speaking of his experience with schoolchildren, he read out essays from a Class 6 reader and a Class 10 non-reader, highlighting the stark difference in thought and expression. The essays, he said, made his cry, for completely different reasons.
HE Lyonchhen Tshering Tobgay thanked Her Majesty the Queen Mother for being an accomplished writer, a patron of the arts and of the Mountain Echoes festival and an inspiration to countless artists and writers across Bhutan.
His deep love for literature and commitment to literature made him propose a national reading strategy. He also proposed a trust to fund Mountain Echoes, and to find a sustainable way to continue enjoying the art of literature.
The evening began with HE Ambassador VP Haran addressing the august audience. Welcoming the speakers to beautiful Thimphu, he praised the festival for moving from strength to strength, expanding both in terms of events and participation. He also noted that there are more Bhutanese speakers in the line-up this year, fulfilling the core objective of the festival, which is an initiative of the India-Bhutan Foundation.
Her Majesty The Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck said, “Mountain Echoes is close to my heart and I hope that it inspires the youth of Bhutan to pick up the pen.” She thanked the festival directors for their enthusiasm and the Prime Minister of Bhutan for being so supportive. She mentioned that she was especially looking forward to attending the session by veteran actress Waheeda Rehman, who Her Majesty called “a real woman’s woman.”
Shri Gajendar Singh, the energy minister for the state of Rajasthan, stressed the need for greater cooperation between the two countries in the field of energy. Representing the state of Rajasthan, which has extended its support to the festival, he praised Mountain Echoes for moving from strength to strength.
Lhamo Dukpa and troupe enthralled the audience with a soul-stirring hymn. They were followed by the Langa singers from Rajasthan, who gave a rousing, earthy performance.
Mr Siddharth Shriram, Chairman of the Board of USHA, represented USHA, Mountain Echoes’ principle sponsor. “People ask us why we support Mountain Echoes and the answer is that throughout USHA’s history and the Usha family’s philosophy, we have always supported literacy, education, empowerment of women and a free and responsible society,” Mr Siddharth Shriram said, highlighting the company’s various initiatives, from USHA women’s golf tournaments to its 300-plus Silai schools. Expressing his profound happiness at being a part of the fifth edition of ME, he also stated that “the festival is a great platform for budding Bhutanese writers”.
Festival director Namita Gokhale invoked the power of five to open the fifth edition of ME, and promised the audience a dash of all five tastes over the next three days. She said that the festival was built on its five pillars – Festival directors Namita Gokhale, Pramod Kumar KG, Kunzang Choden and Siok Sian Dorji, and festival organiser Mita Kapur.
She was followed by Festival director Kunzang Choden, who was happy that the festival has become better and more inclusive. She hoped it would continue to nurture exchange between the visiting writers and their Bhutanese counterparts.
The inaugural function ended with festival organiser Mita Kapur thanking all the speakers and the sponsors. She ended by wishing everyone a wonderful festival.