When Bhutan's charismatic young king was crowned in 2008, tens of thousands of his subjects, including nomadic yak herders, trekked for days from all over the tiny Asian country to salute him. King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck, 31 – an Oxford graduate whose tastes encompass mountain-biking and the music of Elvis – rewarded their affection by greeting thousands of them in person and hugging their children. Now, the 'prince charming of the Himalayas' as he's been dubbed, is to wed a beautiful student ten years his junior in three days of colourful festivities, starting from October 14.
His adoring admirers – he was once mobbed by weeping teenagers in Thailand – might be disappointed if his bride weren't quite so stunning and good-natured. The Druk Gyalpo or Dragon King announced his engagement to pilot's daughter Jetsun Pema in May. "She is a kind hearted girl who is very supportive and whom I can trust," he said. "I don't know what my people will say about her, but I find her complete with all the qualities a woman needs to have."
Locals seem to approve of his choice and there is feverish excitement ahead of the nuptials. "I have no words to describe it... I just feel wonderful," 21-year-old student Chencho Dorji told AFP. "They are the perfect match." In a country that invented Gross National Happiness – requiring the government to measure citizens' contentment rather their material wealth – everyone has been invited to participate. "Nobody knows how many would turn up. But we expect more than 10,000," said local official Kunzang N. Tshering. "His Majesty had been pleased to announce that his wedding celebration will be a family affair and the people of Bhutan are his family."
The focus of the celebrations is a stunning 17th-century fortress surrounded by mountains and built at the confluence of two fast-running rivers in the ancient capital Punakha. Rehearsals have been taking place with Buddhist monks, schoolchildren and women performing dances in traditional dress. There were similar scenes three years ago when his father Jigme Singye Wangchuck placed the Raven Crown on his head. The Elder Wangchuck abdicated in his favour as part of reforms to pave the way for a constitutional monarchy in a country of 700,000 that until the Sixties had no paved roads, electricity or hospitals. At the 2008 coronation, his son told the nation: "Destiny has put me here. I will protect you as a parent, care for you as a brother and serve you as a son.
"I shall give you everything and keep nothing. This is how I shall serve you as king." It will be an emotional moment on Thursday when their 'son' finally takes a queen to shares this life of royal duty.