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‘We Will Continue To Explore Globally Relevant Issues’

The Mountain Echoes Literary Festival in Bhutan later this month will bring together authors from across the globe, encouraging conversations on the environment, natural history, spirituality etc

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Bhutan, often referred to as one of the happiest nations in the world is gearing up for the eighth edition of the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival from 25-27 August in Thimpu. The literary festival is an initiative of the India–Bhutan Foundation, in association with literary consultancy, Siyahi.
This year, the festival will see celebrated names from Bhutan, India and across the world come together to discuss globally relevant issues such as environmental conservation, natural history, spirituality, leadership and the global evolution of textiles and design tradition.

BW’s Smita Tripathi spoke to Tshering Tashi, co-director of the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival on what to expect at the 8th edition of the festival and how it is going to be different from the previous editions. 

Edited excerpts:
What can one look forward to at the 8th Edition of the Mountain Echoes festival? How is it going to be different from the past seven editions? 
With each edition of Mountain Echoes literary festival, we aim to present a deeper insight into the literature, arts and philosophy of Bhutan and India. The discussion and discourse at the festival inspires both local and global audiences through a diverse range of topics.

Every year we try to give momentum to topics which are reflective of global populations. For example, last year, sessions at the festival explored the idea of climate change and its impact on populations across the world. Bhutan, as a carbon neutral nation, was the perfect backdrop for these conversations.

At the eighth edition of the festival later this month, we will continue to explore globally relevant issues such as this and will encourage conversations on environmental conservation, natural history, spirituality, and the global evolution of textiles and design traditions and present unique interpretations of each.

Audiences at this year’s edition can look forward to sessions with acclaimed Bhutanese, Indian and global authors such as Phuntsho Namgyel, Markus Zusak, Kuenga Wangmo, Padma Lakshmi, Devdutt Pattanaik, Amrita Tripathi and Pradip Krishen.

Apart from this, there will be sessions highlighting Bhutan’s cultural legacy. Her Majesty the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck will be in conversation with Khenpo Sonam Bumdhen, lecturer at Thimphu’s Institute of Science of Mind during a session on the continued presence of Zhabdrung in every aspect of Bhutanese life in the past four centuries.

Popular local performers such as singer Sangay Lhaden, pop band The Baby Boomers and dance troupes Druk Jackson and Waki Nation Crew will also perform for audiences at Thimphu’s iconic Clock Tower.

Fashion is another key element at the festival this year. We have used India and Bhutan’s heritage of handweaving and textiles to build a common thread between the two countries and their shared cultures. Celebrated names from the Bhutanese and Indian fashion worlds, including Chandrika Tamang, Chimmi Choden and Abraham & Thakore will come together to curate collections which intersperse their nation’s textile heritage with contemporary fashion. Malika Kashyap, founder of digital publication and creative agency Border & Fall, will present her pioneering work ‘The Sari Series’, a cultural documentation of India’s beloved apparel while stylist Prasad Bidapa will host a unique exhibition, titled ‘Handmade in Rajasthan’, which will present a 360-degree view of Rajasthani textiles and a unique perspective on the designs developed in the state by the local weavers, artisans and craftsmen.

We have received tremendous positive feedback for each of the past editions of the festival. As we gear up to celebrate ‘Untouched Beauty, Unexplored Ideas and Unstoppable Voices’ at the eighth edition, we are certain that our idyllic location, powerful programme and eminent speakers will leave audiences engaged and enriched.
Are there any special activities planned for kids?
We have planned a special creative writing workshop during the festival for children. To be conducted by Jerry Pinto, the two-part workshop has been especially designed for young minds in the age group of 12-16 years. The two sessions, titled ‘How Well Do You Know Your Mum?’ and ‘Let’s Tell Your Mum’s Story’ will give budding writers a chance to understand the intricacies of storytelling and learn how to breathe life into their thoughts.

Does the festival play a role in promoting tourism in the country?
Tourism contributes significantly towards our socio-economic development. It not only provides employment but also generates foreign currency for the state exchequer. Last year, we had 209,570 visitors which is an increase of 35 per cent over 2015. International tourist grew by 9.10 per cent to 62,773 over 2015 while arrivals from the regional market grew by 50 per cent. While no study has been done to see how much of the increase in visitors can be attributed to the festival, we would like to believe that it does. The Festival is well planned and receives its fair share of publicity both in Bhutan and outside the country.

How popular are Indian authors in Bhutan? Does the festival help promote them further?
Indian authors are not so popular but are slowly beginning to be read by the Bhutanese. Some of the better-known authors here are Ashwin Sanghi, Devdutt Pattanaik, Jerry Pinto, Barkha Dutt and Shashi Tharoor. A platform such as Mountain Echoes Literary Festival is the perfect way for these authors to engage and interact with their audiences in Bhutan, thereby strengthening their position in the country.

What role does the festival play in promoting Bhutan's identity globally?

Bhutan has always been a sovereign independent country and as a result we have a rich and unbroken tradition and culture with distinct identity. Over the years, the festival has helped provide a platform to discuss various aspects of the unique culture and tradition.