When a litfest happens in the pristine land of Bhutan, where the essence of spirituality can be felt everywhere, it is befitting that talk centers mostly around the spiritual and cultural traditions of the beautiful land. The eighth edition of Mountain Echoes Literary Festival, currently on in Thimpu, began exactly on that note. Day One of the Festival saw prominent names like Ashwin Sanghi, Emma Slade, Neel Madhav, Pawo Choyning Dorji, Markus Zusak and Prasad Bidapa in attendance, where the focus was on spirituality and Buddhism, writing, magic and mentalism and fashion, interspersed by performances that included Drametse Ngacham, Bhutan’s traditional dance of the drums, a sacred performance in honour of the 8th century Buddhist master, Padmasambhava.
Audiences at the Royal University of Bhutan, the venue of the fest, were taken on a journey through the tales that have shaped Bhutan’s cultural and spiritual history. Tales of the Zhabdrung, the revered founder of the Bhutanese state and creator of Bhutan’s spiritual and temporal laws, took centerstage in a conversation between Her Majesty the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, and Khenpo Sonam Bumdhen, senior scholar and secretary of monastic education at Bhutan’s central monastic body, Zhung Dratshang. But the festival is also taking into account the position of Bhutan and similar smaller countries that share boundaries with India. In Neighbours: Himalayan Perspectives, unstoppable voices from across the subcontinent united to discuss social development, transitions and connectivity across India, Bhutan, Nepal and Bangladesh. Global glamour came in the form of Markus Zusak, the force behind the internationally acclaimed novel The Book Thief. This literary festival is an initiative of the India-Bhutan Foundation, in association with literary consultancy Siyahi. The festival is on till Sunday.