GAUHATI, India (AP) — Citizens in Bhutan are anxious to ensure the survival of groves of trees that have been planted across the Himalayan nation to honor the beloved king and queen's new baby boy.
Many people in the Buddhist country stop during daily walks or drives to water some of the 108,000 saplings placed on hillsides and in valleys. In Buddhism, trees are considered divine for their role in providing and nourishing all life forms.
"We are now nurturing the plants as if we are nurturing the little prince," said Dasho Karma Raydi, who is among those helping to care for the new trees. "We are committed to take care of the plants because so much emotion is attached to this unique way of celebrating the new arrival."
Raydi, who heads a government-run company, had driven his car to a small hill near a huge Buddha statue on the outskirts of the capital, Thimphu, to water a pine he had planted last week. He said he saw dozens of others doing the same.
Prime Minister Tschering Tobgay joined tens of thousands of volunteers last week in planting the trees to honor the newest member of the royal family, who was born a month ago. King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuck and Queen Jetsun Pema are wildly popular in the nation of 800,000.
In Buddhism, trees are symbols of longevity, health, beauty and compassion. The number of saplings was also symbolic, as Buddhists believe each person is required to overcome 108 defilements in order to achieve enlightenment.
"The trees will serve as a constant reminder to all of us about the importance of the Wangchuck Dynasty," said Tenzin Lekphell, the head of a private company that organized the tree planting.
The species of trees planted range from teak to oak, and dogwood to pine, depending on the altitude at which they were planted, Lekphell said.
Bhutan prizes environmental initiatives highly, enshrining conservation in a constitution that also declares that 60 percent of the country must always be under forest cover.
"Tree planting is a part of Bhutanese culture. His Majesty the King also loves planting. He, too, may have planted saplings inside the palace complex," said palace secretariat official Kunzang Wangdi.