Bhutan Bird Festival at Tingtibi

Description

Zhemgang dzongkhag (district) lies in central Bhutan and it is known for its rich and diverse flora and fauna. Zhemgang district covers an area of 2125 Sq.km and has a population of 17,763. The district has eight gewogs with 3,803 households.  The gewogs are namely Bjoka, Bardo, Goshing, Nangkor, Nangla, Phangkhar, Shingkhar, and Trong. Zhemgang district shares borders with Bumthang to the north, Trongsa and Sarpang to the west, Mongar and Pemagatshel to the east, and the Indian State of Assam in the south. Because of the rich biodiversity, the district has wildlife sanctuaries like the Royal Manas National Park, the Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, and Phrumshingla National Park. These parks are home to more than 500 species of birds and other endangered species.

Every year, the Dzongkhag organizes an important event called the Bhutan Bird festival in the small town of Tingtibi under Trong gewog. The objective of organizing such an event is to educate and sensitize the local people on the importance of safeguarding the environment and also to promote community-based ecotourism in the region.

The gewog administration is located in Tingtibi along the Gelephu-Trongsa Highway. It is 35 km away from Zhemgang town, and it lies at an altitude of 500-620 meters above the sea level.

History

The Ugyen Wangchuck Institute for Conservation and Environmental Research (UWICER) organized the Bhutan bird festival in Tingtibi, Zhemgang. It was organized for the first time in 2015 to celebrate the 60th birth anniversary of the fourth king of Bhutan, His Majesty the King Jigme Singye Wangchuck for his visionary leadership in environmental conservation. The actual idea for the initiation of the festival came from the former Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay because he thought it would be good to celebrate as well as promote appreciation of the rich biodiversity, especially the bird species in Bhutan.

According to the National Forest Inventory report (2017), Dagana, Pema Gatshel, and Zhemgang Dzongkhags have the highest forest cover of 83 percent each, and Gasa Dzongkhag has the least with 36 percent. Bhutan has a fragile mountainous ecosystem and forest plays an important role given the adverse impacts of climate change. Therefore, the Bhutan Bird Festival has become a signatory event to pay our humble gratitude and respect to His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo for his leadership in conservation and forest governance.

Zhemgang dzongkhag is a popular place for bird lovers because of its ecological corridor that intersects with Royal Manas National Park, Jigme Singye Wangchuck National Park, and Phrumsengla National Park. The place is home to the critically endangered birds like the white-bellied heron (Ardea insignis) and houses all the four species of hornbill- Great Hornbill, Rufous-necked Hornbill, Wreathed Hornbill, and the Pied Hornbill. Beautiful Nuthatch is also occasionally sighted in the upper region of the dzongkhag. It is, therefore, a perfect time for bird lovers and cultural enthusiasts to join the three-day festival. During the festival, the people of Khengrig-Nam-Sum exhibit their age-old cultural activities, unique local cuisines, local drinks, and local arts and crafts to visitors. Therefore, the festival helps visitors understand the lifestyle of the people living in this region.

Importance of the festival

Zhemgang dzongkhag lies in the sub-tropical climatic condition, and hence it has rich flora and fauna including the endangered white Bellied Heron (Ardea insignis). The district provides a pristine and quiet environment for bird watching because it has less vehicle traffic and settlements along with the birding sites. The birding sites are Buli, Tama, Tingtibi, Gomphu, Zurphel, and Berti in Upper Kheng and Manas in Lower Kheng. The visitors can avail the homely facility of village homestays and experience tranquility in eco-friendly lodges in the midst of the forest. Therefore, Bhutan Bird Festival not only provides an opportunity for the rural people to showcase their way of life, but also provides prospects for the socio-economic upliftment of the local community.

The majority of the tourists visiting Bhutan today are not an only bird enthusiast, but also have a deep sense of appreciation for Bhutanese culture. Therefore, the three-day Bhutan Bird festival offers the visitors with the perfect opportunity for birding, white water rafting, and participating in adventurous activities as well as visiting exhibitions, watching cultural and traditional dances, and enjoying local cuisines and drinks. The visitors can also buy a beautiful cane and bamboo crafts like Bangchung (a pair of round containers to carry pack lunches), Beykur (a small square-shape basket), palang (a cylindrical tube to store alcohol and water), etc since the district is well-known for its bamboo and cane crafts. Thus, it is an important annual event for the people of Zhemgang as it promotes community-based ecotourism in the region.

Celebrations

During the three-day festival, apart from bird watching and river rafting, there are additional attractions such as the exhibitions of locally-produced cane and bamboo products, local cuisines, and drinks.  Basically, the festival provides a perfect opportunity for the people of Kheng Rig-Nam-Sum to generate income as most of the people are dependent on agriculture for their livelihood. The following are some of the attractions that the visitors can enjoy:

1) Food stalls: Food stalls are one of the main attractions of the festival. Food stalls display local cuisines from the eight gewogs. Khengrig Nam-Sum Cooperative (KNC) produces processed food products like banana candy, potato chips, and pickles. A Dakphel women’s group exhibits its gene bank seeds. Besides agricultural products like cereals, tengma (flattened maize), Zaw (roasted rice), and fruits, the rest of the gewogs are also engaged in collecting and selling forest products such as patsha (cane shoot), damroo (Elatostema), mushrooms, Kinmar & shingmar (oil extracted from wild fruits), cooked and roasted tubers, bamboo shoots, and wild edible ferns.

2) Tsharzo: Cane and bamboo product: Zhemgang district is the heartland of beautiful artisanal Bhutanese cane and bamboo art and craft called Tsharzo. Among the eight gewogs of Zhemgang, the people from Bjoka are the pioneers and they exhibit skilled craftsmanship in basketry and other bamboo products. Therefore, Bjoka Tsharzo Gongphel Tshogpa– a farmers’ group from Bjoka gewog displays an assortment of cane and bamboo products like hats, bags, purses, baskets, decoration items, bamboo furniture, and bangchungs during the three-day festival.

3) Cultural Extravaganza: During the festival, the villagers also present their traditional songs and dances.  The most popular of the songs being Chili Chili Bya Chili, Bomeyla Karmai Wangzom, and many more, which describe the beautiful rural life and activities involved in cotton farming and weaving. These songs convey a lot of messages to the community about their ancient way of farming life and practices. Thus, if one attends a bird festival or any other ceremonial function, one can witness local artists singing this song on the top of their voices.

4) Indigenous Games and Sports: To safeguard traditional Bhutanese games and sports from being eroded and eclipsed by other popular games and sports, indigenous games like Khuru (dart) and Degor (stone discus) competitions are also organized for the spectators. The Degor is a traditional sport played by men of all ages as a pastime. It is one of the simplest games ever played since it does not require more than a pair of flat-rounded stones.

5) White Water Rafting: Zhemgang Dzongkhag has the largest river basin in Bhutan and during the festival, people can also enjoy river rafting. The River Guides of Panbang (RGP) are the pioneer of river rafting in Zhemgang and they have also created some form of employment for the local youths.

6) Photography Trip: Buli village is one of the most beautiful places in Zhemgang and one can experience homestay facilities in Buli. It is located 56km from the district headquarter and is the most visited village because of its scenic beauty and strong historical connections. There is another attraction which is the Buli Tsho (lake) and it is a popular destination for every visitor.  The Tsho is located in the heart of a thick forest and takes about 15 minutes by car and 30 on foot from the gewog center. The visitors can also travel to Shingkhar in the Upper Kheng or Bjoka in the Lower Kheng to experience the rural life and its beauty, local products, and their traditional lifestyle. In lower Kheng, visitors can also visit the twin waterfall, the ancestral manor of Bjoka Khoche, cane and bamboo showroom, birding areas, famous Royal Manas National Park, and experience tranquility in eco-camps.

7) Duenmang Tshachu (Hot Spring): As part of the post-festival event, the visitors can also visit the popular hot spring called Duenmang Tshachu. This hot spring is situated on a ledge on a cliff of Kamjong in Nagkor gewog. It takes one and half hour drive south from Tingtibi town to a place called Praling. From there, visitors can hire ponies or local porters to carry luggage and then descend a trail down a steep cliffside which takes around 45 minutes to one hour to reach the site. The hot spring is believed to cure joint pain, sinusitis, headache, tuberculosis, and other diseases.

References

Department of Forest and Park Services. (2020). Royal Manas National Park. Retrieved on February 10, 2020, from http://www.dofps.gov.bt/?page_id=296

UWICER (2017). Community-based natural resources management programs in protected areas of Bhutan; A case study on Park festivals. UWICER Press, Lamai Goempa, Bumthang

Zhemgang Dzongkhag website. Retrieved on February 10, 2020, from http://www.zhemgang.gov.bt/tourism/bhutan-bird-festival

Informant

Thinley Jamtsho, Planning Officer, Zhemgang Dzongkhag (Member Secretary, Bhutan Bird Festival)

Researcher

Dechen Tshering, Associate Lecturer, CLCS Takste, Royal University of Bhutan 2019

(Click on the Thumbnails to view the Photo Gallery)