Three days of traditional Bhutanese food cooked by local villagers, traditional spear and boomerang throwing, ‘human bull’ fights, a traditional hike and more were the highlights of the first folk festival, described by many as a “festival with a difference.”
The festival from December 13 to 15, set in Punakha with its picturesque valley and pleasantly mild climate, was organized by the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) and the Tourism Council of Bhutan. It was a unique effort to involve and benefit the local community, while also creating a winter festival to attract tourists during the slow season.
The festival was based on the lines of the Smithsonian folk festival, where traditional activities like oil pressing, wine making, sword making were showcased with traditional games. There were also various handicrafts on sale.
“We wanted to have something different from the usual tsechus and showcase our traditional way of life, to give tourists the real experience while involving the local community,” said the General Secretary of ABTO, Sonam Dorji.
The festival was a hit with tourists. Alicia from the USA said, “It was fantastic and I couldn’t imagine any other place to be, since we could be really with them, which is usually hard, and the food prepared by the villagers was hot and tasty.”
Her 14-year old son Richard said, “I had a lot of fun throwing spears and the pointed rocks (degor).”
However, one negative aspect was the poor response from the big tour companies, who did not attend, despite all 11 gewogs putting their best foot forward and the tourists having a great time.
Sangay Dorji of Druk Executive Festivals said, “The big tour agencies are not here because tour plans are made a year in advance, but they’ll be here from next year onwards.”
The General Secretary said, “The response from local villagers, tour operators and tourists here show that the festival is sustainable and so it’ll be an annual festival in Punakha, showcasing a different dzongkhag every year.”
The festival was a financial, cultural and festive success for the participants from all 11 gewogs, who sold out most of the traditional items. Some were employed as coordinators, while others were paid for participating.
Even the lunch, dinner and snacks for the three days were not from overpriced hotels, but prepared by local villagers.
A gup, Tashi said, “Apart from the financial gain, what was important was that many of our younger generation in Punakha now know and appreciate many of our traditional practices, some of which even I didn’t know.”
The response from the villagers was so good that villagers even asked ABTO not to pay them for participating next year.
His Royal Highness Dasho Jigyel Ugyen Wangchuck opened the festival on Saturday.
Many residents of Punakha said they enjoyed the first Bhutan folk festival in Bhutan although it did not attract many tourists.
The three-day Bhutan festival was organized by the Tourism Council of Bhutan (TCB) and the Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) at the Lekithang ground in Punakha.
One could see glimpses of Bhutanese culture, tradition and rural Bhutanese life at the ground.
For the first time in Punakha, people from different gewogs got together to participate in a Kangyur Lingkor (carrying of religious Buddhist scripts). On December 15, more than 200 people carried Kangyur from Tabab Chhorten in Punakha proper to Nubgang village and then returned to Punakha Dzong.