Ian Williams / NBC News
NBC's Ian Williams reaches out his hand to offer congratulations to the king and queen of Bhutan on their wedding.
By Ian Williams, NBC News Correspondent
THIMPU, Bhutan – It's not every day you get to meet royalty.
And when I found myself just feet away from the king of Bhutan and his new queen, I have to admit that I wasn't entirely sure what to do.
Our Bhutanese coordinator had given me a white silk scarf and demonstrated how to hold it out as an offering, a mark of respect to the king – but only if he approached. Protocol in Bhutan – and there is a lot of protocol in Bhutan – dictated that you don't approach him, you don't doorstep the King of Bhutan.
Yelling a question from the midst of a crowd lined-up in silent and solemn respect seemed the surest way for an early flight out of the country.
We'd traveled out of Thimpu, Bhutan's capital, to a small village high in the mountains and on the route the royal couple would be taking back from the monastic fortress where their stunning wedding ceremony had been held.
Two or three hundred people had lined up along the road near the village, while from a hillside monastery barely visible through thick incense, the sound of horns and cymbals reverberated around the valley.
I joined the villagers, towards the end of the line, and waited, until the king and queen were directly in front of me.
"Congratulations your majesties," was the best I could go, completely forgetting about the scarf. To my utter surprise, King Jigme Khesar immediately approached extending his hand for me to shake.
"Thank you, thank you," he said.
"It seems as if the whole country is out to meet you," I replied.
"I am very fortunate, very fortunate," he said.
I felt the disapproving stare of a legion of protocol officers and some pretty rugged looking security types. But the king was smiling. The queen was smiling. They seemed eager to talk.
"It was a wonderful ceremony yesterday," I said, stating what I guess is the blindingly obvious.
"We enjoyed it," said the King, turning to his wife. "Yes we did," she agreed.
Then I thought, well, I might as well pop THE question.
"Do you have plans for a honeymoon?"
I felt those protocol daggers. But the king was keen to talk.
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"No. We start working right after the day we were married," he said. "And if we travel we'll travel around the country. We like to meet more people."
Absolutely convinced I'd probably overstepped every mark, I once again congratulated the couple, who both came forward, smiling broadly, the king again reaching to shake my hand.
"Thank you. Thank you. It means a lot to us."
Then they were gone. Then they were back in their car heading down to the next village. In fact it took them 11 hours to cover the 50 miles back to Thimpu, hopping from village to village, receiving offerings, and meeting as many people as possible, and all with an incredible air of warmth and humility.
The King of Bhutan is often called a king of the people, renowned for his common touch. I'd heard that dozens of times since arriving in the country. But journalists are skeptical folk. The more somebody tells you an object is black, the more convinced you become that it must be any color but black. You learn to suspect motives, to question supposed certainties.
When officials in Thimpu had spoken to us about the royal couple's journey home, they'd been unable to give us any sense of how long it would take.
"It's really up to him. He might linger. He does like to meet people," they'd said.
And with hindsight I was probably being way over-sensitive about offending protocol. There probably weren't any protocol daggers, for the simple reason that the king had decided he wanted to talk, and what the king decides IS protocol. And this is a king - and queen - who thrive on personal contact with their people, and even the occasional pushy foreigner.
Bhutan is often described as a magical place. I think I'd go along with that.