Manmohan Singh gets grand ceremonial guard of honour

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Thimphu, May 16 : It was a ceremonial guard of honour worth replicating for its precision and panache. Visiting Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh was given a grand welcome at the Tashichhodzong, the seat of government in Bhutan Capital Thimphu on Friday afternoon.

It was an event that emphatically emphasized the close and strong ties between India and Bhutan. All stops were pulled out by the Bhutanese administration. Sequentially, it included a presentation of a guard of honour by a smartly turned out and uniformed 166 personnel of the Royal Bodyguards in red berets and the Royal Bhutan Army in green berets.

Shortly before the Prime Minister's arrival, the heavens opened and it was pouring cats and dogs, preventing both dignitaries and accompanying media to stand out in the open. But wonder of wonders, the downpour stopped in seconds. Inquiries with locals revealed that Buddhist monks had uttered some chants, and stopped the rain. An official escorting the media said: "When the rain comes, and it stops for an event like this, it is considered auspicious."

"The monks here have the power to stop and bring rains," he further added.

Coming back to the ceremony, the Indian Prime Minister was escorted into the central courtyard by a cultural troupe singing the traditional Bhutanese song of welcome for a guest, and by people dressed, helmeted and armed as per Bhutanese tradition. Cymbals crashing against each other and drums preceded the dignitaries.

Dr. Singh was escorted up to the saluting dais by Bhutanese and Indian officials. The national anthems of the two countries followed, and then he was presented with the guard of honour with a precision usually associated with the men in uniform.

Another interesting detail revealed about the Tashichhodzong was that it also serves as the summer capital of the Je Khempo or the Head Abbot of Bhutan, His Holiness Truelku Jigmi Chodra, who commands equal, if not more respect the King. We were told that His Holiness has presently set up his base at his winter capital in Punakha, but would be coming to Thimphu soon.

After the ceremonial guard of honour, the Prime Minister had a 45-minute meeting with King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk in the "Throne Room". The respective delegations were introduced to the two leaders prior to the talks.

From there, Dr. Singh headed for the Gyalyong Tshokhang or the National Assembly building for a meeting with his Bhutanese counterpart Jigmi Y. Thinley in the Prime Minister's Office. Both sides were accompanied by their respective delegations, and details of the meeting are expected to revealed later today by Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon at a news briefing.

The Prime Minister is scheduled to attend a banquet hosted by Prime Minister Thinley at the Taj Tashi Hotel, the last event for the day. By Ashok Dixit

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