Main story: The time has come yet again for the people of Thimphu to take part in one of the biggest literary festivals to be held in the country. The seventh Mountain Echoes reverberates with the promise of a celebration of not only literature but also of creative aesthetics involving art and culture of the region.
The preparations for the festival are in full swing in the capital. Bhutanese writers, poets, storytellers, musicians, journalists, filmmakers and students are eagerly waiting to take part in the endless creativity the festival has to offer.
The festival is scheduled to begin from August 26 and last until August 28.
There are many writers and speakers to look forward to, including world-renowned writers like Amitav Ghosh, Pico Iyer, Graeme Simsion and the first Bhutanese woman to write an English novel Kunzang Choden. There will be songs dedicated to the celebration of the Year of the Guru Rinpoche, 400 years of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel’s visit to the country and the birth of His Royal Highness the Gyalsey Jigme Namgyel Wangchuck.
For people who love travelling, a cultural journey called ‘Bonfire Tales’ will be launched as a part of the festival. A motorcycle trip led by actor Kelly Dorji to the Phobjikha valley and then to Punakha will take place. The trip is designed to provide an authentic experience of Bhutanese culture by visiting monasteries and discovering different places.
For those who love art, a photo exhibition about Gasa, by Dorji Dradul, titled Good to Great Gasa, will be held, followed by an exhibition of artworks by the Jogi family of Rajasthan by Tulika Kedia and another photography exhibition about Rajasthan by Sudhir Kasliwal, among others.
For music lovers, a performance by an Indian band, Indian Ocean and folk music from Rajasthan are being organised.
Unique to the event are programmes catering to the young children and their parents – sessions held in Dzongkha with the focus on writing stories and to encourage them to read. Session catering to teenagers will also be present where speakers will discuss issues teenagers often face and how to deal with them.
Workshops on creative writing and fashion photography will also take place with poem recitation programme for youth who are interested in poetry.
Founder and CEO of Siyahi, one of India’s leading literary agencies and a producer of the festival, Mita Kapur, said that Mountain Echoes for the last six years has offered a space where people can hear thier own voices and to exchange stories. Reader feels a kinship with the writer or an artist.
“We began with a dream of creating a cosy, warm and interactive festival. The dream grows in scope bit by bit every year in the beautiful land of Bhutan,” Mita Kapur said. “This time we are trying to reinvent the festival by bringing in variety of programmes and guest speakers. Topics and issues from the past and present time will take place; there is a little of everything for everyone.”
Her Majesty The Gyalyum Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck stimulates and encourages reading and she will also be sharing her bookshelf during a session, Mita Kapur said. “For me, this is one of the most important sessions, which is parallel to the festival’s goal – to attract and encourage people to read. Six consecutive successful Mountain Echoes have made a difference to spread the love of reading in this beautiful country.”
The first year saw 35 speakers from Bhutan and India. Today, the participants have trebled, especially in terms of Bhutanese writers and speakers.
There is a huge spur of reading with various book clubs and events being held all the time and Bhutanese people are not waiting for the festival to take place, Mita Kapur said.
“Now reading has infiltrated everywhere with every people reading all the time. It’s a positive sign,” Mita Kapur said. “The festival targets a holistic approach and the team hopes to deliver their best. With such diverse programmes, it will definitely be a festive celebratory festival.”
Co-director of Mountain Echoes, Namita Gokhale, said it has been an exciting and fulfilling journey since the first edition of Mountain Echoes in 2010.
“We have strengthened our roots and reached out to readers, writers and publishers, and had a significant exchange of ideas and experiences, music, culture and intangible heritage. I hope, expect and trust that Mountain Echoes 2016 will be as magical as ever. The takeaway should be a renewed connection with books and a sense of personal growth,” Namita Gokhale said.
The festival is a unique literary event, situated amidst the spectacular natural beauty of Bhutan, in the land where culture is steeped in tradition and is also the youngest democracy in the world, Namita Gokhale said, adding that the response of Bhutanese audiences was initially somewhat cautious as they weren’t sure what a literary fest like ours was all about.
“Over the years Bhutanese speakers and audiences have come to identify with the festival, as have those from India and around the world. Together, they create a harmonious sense of energy and engagement,” Namita Gokhale said. “From the festival, reading, writing, and sharing ideas has a huge impact which cannot be conveniently quantified but which continues to exert a positive influence towards a mature society for decades to come.”
Namita Gokhale said she’s looking forward to once again encountering the bright shining eyes and sharp minds of the young Bhutanese audiences, and perhaps a double rainbow in the sky.
“It’s been inspirational to interact with my co-directors Tshering Tashi, Siok Sian Dorji, and Pramod Kumar KG. Producer Mita Kapur and her team at Siyahi, and the ever-smiling and enthusiastic volunteers who contribute so much to the festival – it’s a privilege to work with all these wonderful people,” Namita Gokhale said.