Bavarian centenarian’s bond to Bhutan

Eleonora Kastner was our oldest visitor at 101 when she came here in 2011

Tourism: It took just a visit to make her fall in love with Bhutan.  Four years ago in 2011, Eleonora Kastner from Bavaria, a state of Germany, became the eldest tourist to visit Bhutan at 101 years.

If it were not for her age, she would visit Bhutan again.  Her love for Bhutan and Bhutanese culture is so strong that she invited some Bhutanese popular artists, including Lhamo Dukpa to perform in Catania Sicily, Italy during her 105th birthday celebration on January 7.

This, according to her, is a way of promoting Bhutan as a tourist hotspot in Germany.

Eleonora Kastner wears kira on social gatherings. “I really like the national dress of Bhutan, same as my Bavarian national dress. I wear kira often for special events and I’m proud to wear it, together with a sticker of the Royal family or the king of Bhutan.”

“I promote Bhutan everywhere with my kira,” she said, adding that she also occasionally hosted officials from the Bhutanese tourism industry. “I had the honour to meet the Dalai Lama and I wore a kira to make the meeting with His Holiness special,” she said.

She described her first visit to Bhutan as unbelievable. “I felt like in a dream,” she said. “The country and people are very nice; I love the culture and landscape and the religious spirit, even though I’m a Christian.”

In 2011, she was in Bhutan for two weeks, and met with the then Prime Minister Jigmi Y Thinley and His Holiness the Je Khenpo. “I like it when people smile, it’s good for the heart,” she said in an email interview.

“I love Bhutan. Everybody was so friendly. I had to bless children, and everybody who wanted to touch or see me,” she recalls.

She heard about Bhutan first in 2006 when her grandson visited the country.  Her grandson was then working with the Tourism Council of Bhutan.  Since then she has been actively promoting Bhutan as a tourist destination.

Lhamo Dukpa said, during her music concert in Denmark last year, Eleonora Kastner came all the way from Berlin to attend the concert.  She was already 104 then. “She’s old but active.”

Lhamo Dukpa said, “Eleonora Kastner wanted to have a mask dancer, so I had to take a multi-talented performer with me. Eleonora says she likes Buddhist chants and gets energy whenever she listens to Bhutanese songs.”

Born in 1910, Eleonora Kastner said her visit to Bhutan reminded her of her childhood, as she was born in the Kingdom of Bavaria, which also has mountains. The people of Bavaria, now a part of Germany, also wear traditional dress, she said.

“As Bhutan is my favourite country, I invited Lhamo Dukpa and other artists to join with my family on my birthday tour to Sicily, Italy.”

Asked if she wanted to visit Bhutan once more, she said, “I’m realistic. I’d love to visit Bhutan again, especially to meet the King and the Queen, though I’m too old for such a long trip.”

“Usually at her age, people get irritated so fast but in her case, she’s always smiling and live singing and dancing. She told me that whenever there’s a Bhutanese programme she will attend,” Lhamo Dukpa said.

“She has so much positive energy in her that we don’t realise that the time goes so easily whenever we’re with her.” She said Eleonora Kastner travels around the world to attend music concerts. “She tried to come for my concerts in Europe but she was always engaged in travelling and attending other concerts and festivals.”

In 2011, Eleonora was invited to the country by the Tourism Council of Bhutan upon her 100th birth anniversary.  She was accompanied by a grandson, who has worked with the tourism council.

During her visit to Bhutan she had attributed her long life to “telling the truth”, and not drinking too much alcohol.

Eleonora also said that she never smoked.  But she said that she did not mind other people smoking, as long as they did not smoke in the room she is in.

Eleonora is a devout Christian, but that did not stop her from praying at a Buddhist altar in Paro during her visit. “It doesn’t matter if you live by a different religion,” she said. “You have to be open to contact.” She added, “Every human has a warm heart, so you should think warmly of others.”

Eleonora has lived through two world wars.  Her father and husband both served in the German army during the wars. She recalled that the Second World War was a “bad and hard time” for the people of Germany.

She said that, like her, there were many women left with their children, and that food was scarce.  She constantly prayed for the safe return of her father and husband.

Today, Eleonora, while not travelling the world, spends her time playing chess and other memory games to keep her mind sharp.  She also does some physical exercise twice a week.  She said she also enjoys watching sports on television.  Eleonora has travelled extensively in Europe, and visited countries in the Americas and Asia.

MB Subba

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