Six years ago, when Mountain Echoes, an Indo-Bhutanese literature festival began in Thimphu, Bhutan, it was an unpretentious, informal affair. All those who were participating in the festival from India got a wonderful summer vacation out of it. The three-day festival featured names such as Gulzar, Sarnath Banerjee and Chetan Bhagat — a curious mix to showcase “Indian” literature to a Bhutanese audience. But back then, it didn’t matter — Bhutan had no publishing houses and authors and poets struggled to find printers and have their books stocked in stores. Things appear to have changed, for the better, both for the Bhutanese publishing industry as well as the festival. This year, Mountain Echoes will open on August 26 with a session presented by Amitav Ghosh on the impact of climate change, and over 20 of the speakers at festival are Bhutanese, including Her Majesty the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, writers Kunzang Choden (the first Bhutanese writer in English), Dorji Gyeltshen, Lobzang Nima, storyteller Angey Nagley and poet Agey Dredang, among others.
“I am honoured to be both patron and active participant in the seventh edition of the Mountain Echoes Literary Festival. To discuss and debate the key issues facing Bhutan today, education, climate change, rural-urban migration, and to consider our history through the medium of literature, art and culture is a wonderful prospect,” says Her Majesty the Royal Queen Mother Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck of Bhutan.
Another big draw at the festival this year is Pico Iyer, who will deliver his TED Talk, titled “The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere” in which he makes a case for going nowhere, suggesting that it is the best way to make sense of one’s experiences. Mountain Echoes will also host talks featuring a range of themes including women’s voices, travel writing and love and relationships. Some of the more sought-after sessions include “I for Identity”, where writers Çiler Ilhan, Anjum Hasan, Mridula Koshy and Sonam Wangmo Jhalani will debate the maxim “write what you know”; actor Tabu’s conversation with model and actor Kelly Dorji about her career in cut-throat Bollywood; and one dedicated to children and young adults with writers Paro Anand, Venita Coelho, Karma Choden, Nawang Norbu and Edwin Thumboo.