Books and travel make a heady combination. If a literary festival is thrown into the mix, it can get headier still.
Mountain Echoes is an annual literary festival held in Thimpu, Bhutan organized by the India- Bhutan foundation. Started seven years ago, it aims to render a scaffold for the greatest literary minds to engage in a cultural dialogue and collaboration. This year it was held from 26th-28th August and featured an eclectic group of writers and celebrated personalities like Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji, Wangmo Wangchuck, Pico Iyer, Amitav Ghosh, Tabu, Piyush Pandey, Graeme Simsion, Zac O’Yeah, and others from India and Bhutan sharing stories and experiences from the Himalayan region.
Though there was an expansive range of topics, Buddhism had a prominent place in the schedule this year. Pico Iyer, the British born essayist and novelist of Indian origin, best known for his travel writing, spoke about happiness in Bhutan. He had last visited Bhutan in 1988. In his last monograph ‘The Art of Stillness’, the lifelong traveler talks about how quietly sitting in a room could be the greatest adventure. According to him, in our madly accelerating world, our lives are crowded, chaotic and noisy. There’s never been a greater need to slow down, tune out and give ourselves permission to be still.The Art of Stillness paints a picture of why so many personalities right from Marcel Proust to Mahatma Gandhi to Emily Dickinson—have found richness in stillness. Ultimately, Iyer shows that, in this age of constant movement and connectedness, perhaps staying in one place is a more exciting prospect, and a greater necessity than ever before.
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He says meditativeness got him thinking about the expectations people have of places.“Whenever people asked me about my favorite place, I’d always mention my second favorite “he said, indicating his reluctance to have his favorite overrun by tourists. “We want the rest of the world to remain quaint and undeveloped without cars and TVs things we find indispensable. But we visitors have to be careful about what we wish for the countries we visit.’’
If Iyer recommended stillness, mountaineers Dhamey Tenzing Norgay (son of Tenzing Norgay) and Odd Harald Hauge recommended restraint. Other conversations centered on Buddhism and Guru Rinpoche, folk tales, climate change, online news, branding Bhutan. The 3-day festival featured 33 Bhutanese and 45 international participants.