The King of Humility

Passport of His Majesty the Third King

May 2, 2018 – Today is the birth anniversary of the Third King, Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, – the Architect of modern Bhutan. I never saw His Majesty – but heard countless and beautiful stories from my father – who briefly served as his chauffeur.

This one is my all-time favourite.

His Majesty the King wore mathra namza (red-patterned traditional wear) – most of the time. Apparently, he had very few of them, which he wore over and over again. He was never into pomp or personal property – preferring to live a very simple life in a cottage by the river near Tashichho Dzong in Thimphu.

On one of his State visits to India, the Indian minister-in-waiting noticed that he wore the same pattern of namza every day. So on the third day, the official remarked that the King must be really in love with the pattern. He asked the King how many of such ‘dresses’ the King had carried on that trip. The King replied that he had only one – the one he was wearing. The Indian official was shocked.

His Majesty’s humility and materialistic detachment were beyond that of a Bodhisattva. Another story that I uncovered, and have published before – pertains to the passport where His Majesty mentions his ‘profession’ as “government service” (picture above). This is a far cry from an argument that I overheard once at the Passport Office, where a young MP was gently demanding if his title, “dasho” or “honourable”, could be added to the passport. On many occasions when I was in the Bhutan Broadcasting Service, I was also thundered with angry telephone calls and visits by senior officials because the news did not mention their honorific titles.

As we celebrate the 90th Birth Anniversary of our Third King, Bhutanese people should reflect, at times, on their own demands and desires, which often are at the expense of the State treasury. There is so much craving for bigger pool vehicles, grander offices, lavish official dinners, foreign travels, etc. If His Majesty’s legacy and reputation are of any lesson to us, it is that such things don’t really matter in our performance. One’s humility and intents to genuinely serve might be able to generate legacies that are worth remembering. If the Late King’s lifestyle is history, look at our Fourth King. HM is here, in front of us, showing the way. Recently, I saw HM walking near Dechephu with no bodyguards, attendants or vehicles.

In the last photo below, the Late King is seen barefoot. According to Late Dasho Shingkar Lam, who worked as King’s Secretary, His Majesty when serving as Drongyer (Guest master) to Second King ate from the common mess with other retainers. He also took the blames and punishments on behalf of palace attendants who erred. His Majesty would tell then that it was better that He received them. He went about barefoot in the palace compound and vicinity – and, at night, slept on the hard doorsteps of the Second King’s chamber – with no blankets or carpets whatsoever to get some warmth. 

On this Teacher’s Day, my prayers and wishes are that our educators impart service and humility in their daily lessons and assignments – so that our next generation would be really humble, civil and simpler. Don’t just celebrate him. Emulate!

My generation, whether we like or not, is too old to learn new tricks.


*  (My father was a royal chauffeur for His Majesty – before he was commanded to drive for the Crown Prince and the Princesses. For the longest time he served HRH Ashi Sonam. He was later sent to BGTS by Ashi Sonam. My own entry into modern education happened as a result of a royal command that His Majesty passed to my father – “to put your children in school”. Otherwise I was headed and prophesied to be a monk)

Late King mathra gho
HM with mathra namza in Delhi, (source: Kuensel)
HM at Gandhi Jayanti, Delhi, a must-stop for all State Visitors


State Visit 1954, where HM is supposed to have invited PM Nehru to Bhutan
Notice that as other retainers he wore no shoes



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