Narendra Modi arrives to a rousing welcome in Bhutan

Thimpu, Jun 15:  Hundreds of school children cheered and waved the national flags of India and Bhutan as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived here on a two-day visit to the landlocked Himalayan nation Sunday, his first foreign tour since taking over the reins of the government in New Delhi three weeks ago.

Modi arrived at 11.40 a.m. local time (11.10 a.m. IST) to a red carpet welcome at the picturesque Paro International Airport, which is nestled amidst mountain ranges. He was greeted by Bhutanese Premier Tshering Tobgay, his cabinet ministers and senior government officials.

As a smiling Modi alighted from the filght with his hands folded in namaste, Tobgay received the prime minister in the traditional Bhutanese style by draping a khadar around his neck.  After a ceremonial guard of honour at the airport, Modi was driven in a huge convoy of vehicles to the scenic Bhutanese capital Thimpu, about 60 km from the airport, amid tight security.

Enthusiastic school children, some of them carrying colourful umbrellas, lined up at various sections of the route to the capital, waving the flags of the two neighbours, while there were several welcome arches with cutouts of Modi and Tobgay.

On one arch was embossed: “Bhutan takes pleasure welcoming our close friend Indian prime minister Shri Narendra Modi”. Another was dedicated “to Bhutan and India – a shining testimony of bilateral relations”.

The flags of the two countries were also hoisted at many lampposts. Modi is accompanied by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh.

He will call on Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and also hold talks with Tobgay. In the evening, Modi will inaugurate the new Supreme Court building in Hejo, which was constructed with funding from the Indian government.

Modi will also formally call on Prime Minister Tobgay, who will host a banquet for him at the royal banquet hall. On Monday, the Indian prime minister will call on former king Jigme Singye Wangchuck, a close friend of India. Modi will also address a joint sitting of the third session of the second parliament of Bhutan.

Later, he will unveil the foundation stone of the 600 MW Kholongchu hydropower project, a joint venture model between Satluj Jal Vidyut Nigam and Druk Green Power Corporation. Construction on the project is expected to start later this year. The Bhutan king will then host a lunch in honour of the Prime Minister Modi and his delegation, before they depart from Thimphu June 16.

In his pre-departure statement on the eve of his trip, Modi described Bhutan as a “natural choice” for his maiden visit abroad after assuming office in New Delhi, and said relations with the neighbouring nation would be a key foreign policy priority of his government.