Bhutan: An Eye to History

Rinzin Wangchuk, Kuensel Newspaper, December 25, 2009

Unique photographic exhibition extends from the first snap of Bhutan to pictures taken by His Majesty.

In 1864, the first photographer to focus the lens of his camera on Bhutan was Dr Benjamin Simpson, who accompanied Ashley Eden’s British mission to Bhutan as the medical in-charge of the trip. Campsite of the Ashley Eden mission to Bhutan, possibly at Haa

A photograph taken by Dr Benjamin Simpson in 1684, when he accompanied Ashley Eden’s British mission to Bhutan as the medical in-charge, is one of the earliest photographic records of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan.

Dr Benjamin’s photograph, which depicts the campsite of the Ashley Eden mission in Haa valley, is being showcased at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Jaipur House, New Delhi, as part of a special exhibition titled “Bhutan: An Eye to History”.

His Majesty King Jigme Khesar inaugurated the exhibition on December 23, which profiles Indo-Bhutan relations and showcases the early photographic records of Bhutan from the 19th and early 20th century.

The early history of photography in Bhutan (1860s to 1940s), exhibited for the first time, also includes the visit of the first King of Bhutan, Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck to Kolkata in 1906, and to attend the Delhi Durbar of 1911. “These are amongst important archival photographs that have never been displayed before,” said the joint secretary of external publicity division, Vishnu Prakash during a press conference organised on the eve of the exhibition.

The exhibition also displays the close ties of friendship and cooperation between India and Bhutan since the historic treaty of 1949. Sir Harishwar Dayal, representing India, and Gongzim Sonam Tobgye for Bhutan, signed the first Indo-Bhutan treaty at Government House in Darjeeling on August 8, 1949. The India-Bhutan treaty is the basis of the close ties between the two countries.

The collection of more than 80 photographic records focuses closely on the visits of political leaders from India to Bhutan and the reciprocal journeys made by Bhutanese leaders to India. The exhibition also shows the close economic and technological cooperation between the two countries, with photographs of several projects initiated in Bhutan with Indian collaboration.

The exhibition also has a premiere showing of the photographic work of His Majesty the King. There are about 37 photographs, ranging from a Bhutanese warrior to novice monks to blue sheep taken by His Majesty.

Signing of the India-Bhutan friendship treaty by Sir Harishwar Dayal and Gongzim Sonam Tobgye Dorji at Government House in Darjeeling on August 8, 1949

The exhibition also shows images of the first democratic elections held in Bhutan in 2008, with photographs of the prime minister and the new Bhutanese parliament.

“This exhibition is unique for three reasons,” said ambassador of India to Bhutan, Pavan K Varma. “It displays, for the first time, rare archival photographs of the beginning of photography in Bhutan. Secondly, it displays the largest selection of photographs to depict the key moments in the evolution of Indo-Bhutan relations, including from the reign of His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck, whose contribution in nurturing and developing Indo-Bhutan relation is seminal. Finally, it includes remarkable photographs taken by His Majesty King Jigme Khesar, which is displayed for the first time,” he said.

Pravan Varma said he is confident that the exhibition, privileged to have been inaugurated in the presence of His Majesty, will remain a memorable and permanent record of the warmth, goodwill, love and friendship between the peoples of India and Bhutan.

The exhibition in Delhi will continue until January 31, 2010 and then move to major cities of India. It will also be showcased in Bhutan, according to Pravan Verma.

The exhibition was curated by Pramod Kumar K G, with support from Lily Wangchhuk and Namita Gokhale.

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