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Bhutan's king marries student, 21, in modest ceremony

October 13, 2011 | 12:35 am

Bhutan's King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck marries Jetsun Pema
This post has been updated. See the note below for details.

REPORTING FROM NEW DELHI -- Not all royal weddings include long wedding dress trains, Rolls Royce processions and pomp, as Bhutan showed Thursday morning with the marriage of its popular fifth "Dragon King" to a 21-year-old student and daughter of an airline pilot.

The remote mountain kingdom has been abuzz for weeks over the big event, marked by a modest ceremony, hand-woven outfits and a distinct absence of VIPs, bling-bling film stars or foreign royals. Also missing was the usual flood of tacky commemorative tea towels and key chains, although there are plans afoot for a special stamp and coin.

After taking part in various purifications and blessings and prostrating themselves and praying, in keeping with centuries-old traditions, 31-year-old Oxford graduate King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck married Jetsun Pema, whose looks have captivated the Bhutanese public almost as much as they have the king.

[Updated, 6:34 a.m., Oct. 13: The wedding ceremony started at 8:20 a.m. after consultation with royal astrologers.]

The conclusion of the ceremony set off three days of celebration, dancing and drinking among a population of 700,000 that saw no roads until the 1960s and no television until 1999.

King Wangchuck, a keen basketball player and Elvis Presley fan, came to power in 2008 at the start of democracy in Bhutan.

The country has pioneered the use of a "gross national happiness" index -- a measure of people's sense of well-being, harmony with the environment and community ties -- rather than focusing on gross national product.

Several countries have expressed interest in borrowing the idea of measuring contentment. Last year, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced plans for a "happiness index," although it will probably be a while before a British royal frock is hand-woven.


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-- Mark Magnier

Photo: King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema after their marriage. Credit: Kevin Frayer / Associated Press