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Fifth annual nomads’ festival draws crowds

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IMG_8017Villagers and guests participate in a game of tug of war that was organised at the festival

Though the number of gewogs halved compared to last year, the number of visitors rose

Occasion: The nomad festival this year had a grand theme: “Park and communities coexisting harmoniously,” but there were nomads from only four gewogs attending the festival held at the Kizom eco-camp ground in Tang gewog, Bumthang on February 23.

Nomads of Sephu gewog in Wangduephodrang, Choekhor, Tang and Ura gewogs of Bumthang attended the festival, compared with nomads from eight dzongkhags attending last year.

But despite that, the one-day festival had been a success with an increased number of visitors, including tourists.  About 800 visitors, including nomads, civil servants, business people and locals, and about 40 tourists, witnessed the festival.

The park manager DS Rai said they had invited nomads from all across the country, and were able to disseminate the knowledge about the importance of nomads in the highlands in the last four years since the festival started.  But different festivals in different dzongkhags had affected the participation.

“In Haa, they have the summer festival, Gasa has its takin festival and there is Jhomolhari festival. That’s why we didn’t include them this year.”

DS Rai said the festival was not only a product for tourists. “It’s also for nomads, communities, civil servants, business people and others to understand the importance of retaining nomads in the highlands, and how they live harmoniously with the eco-system,” he said. “We need the cooperation and support of the community for the conservation of the park.”

Villagers compete to lift and carry 100kgs of sand

An American couple, Bill and Penelope Valentine, who said they researched places to visit in Bhutan a year ago, read about the nomad festival and timed their holiday around it.

“This festival is everything that we wanted to see, the fun, the culture, the people and the energy,” they said. “It’s interesting to see people from the hills and also of the town together, the festival was 100 percent up to our expectations and we’ll be recommending it.”

Steve Thaddey from Switzerland said, although his visit to the festival was accidental, it was worth seeing the traditional games, dances and tasting local food.

Apart from the budget constraints, the festival was reduced to just one day this year, because the venue was changed to Tang gewog, and the organisers wanted to try the new venue with just one day.

The venue was changed to Tang to introduce the Kizom eco-camp ground to the tourists and the local people, and also promote the culture trek from Chhoekhor to Tang, whose trial has been improvised by WCP, by making bridges and putting up signs and interpretations.

DS Rai said the idea is to give equal opportunities to the other valleys in Bumthang, but since Ura and Chumey didn’t fall under WCP, it was not possible for the festival to be held there. “Since Sephu of Wangduephodrang falls under WCP, that can also be the venue next time,” he said.

The festival was also introduced to encourage tourists during lean season.  Apart from the exhibitions of the nomads, Ugyen Wangchuck institute of conservation and environment, renewable natural resource centre, rural development training centre of Zhemgang, health, Bumthang’s organic group and national recreational eco-tourism department also took part.

The festival was organised by Wangchuck Centennial park, department of forests and park services under ministry of agriculture and forests.

By Sonam Choden, Bumthang

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