As the third parliamentary election campaign started yesterday, one of the most anticipated festivals in Bumthang got cancelled, leaving tour operators disappointed.

Ura’s gup Khandu Wangchuk said that the Bumthang Dzongkhag administration didn’t approve the request relating to reasons of election.

The mushroom festival was initiated about a decade ago. Since then, Thrumshingla national park, Mushroom centre, and Ura gewog administration among others had been organising the festival almost every year. It was learnt that the festival is also one of the programmes where local people made some income. During the festival, local products and food were also promoted.

Khandu Wangchuk said the festival had always been conducted on August 23 and 24, which is also reflected on the Tourism Council of Bhutan’s calendar as a festival period.  “The date is not altered owing to the fact that some tourists travel to Bhutan especially, to attend the festival.”

Bhutan Wilderness Travel’s managing director, Kesang Tshering said the cancellation of the festival at the eleventh hour was disappointing. He said they knew about the festival when 11 tourists from China reached Gangtey. “We had been promoting the Matsutake festival in China for about three years now.”

Going by this rule, he said, Thimphu Dromchoe also needs to be cancelled as it falls on the poll day. “All our efforts are in vain. It is like we have cheated them,” Kesang Tshering said.

The tourists reached Bumthang yesterday afternoon.

Kesang Tshering said that their company would resort to the activity of hunting mushroom to engage tourists. “Better planning should help avoid such problems in the future.”

According to gup Khandu Wangchuk, the gewog administration sought approval from the dzongkhag administration through a letter on August 15.

The response on August 21 didn’t approve Ura gewog administration to conduct the festival at the gewog centre. It stated, “With regard to mushroom festival which we learnt that there would be gathering, the Dzongkhag election authority regrets to inform you that approval cannot be granted since the said activity falls within election campaign period although the event is deemed vital.”

Bumthang dzongdag, Pasang Dorji, said the festival fell on the day when the campaign period started. “There is every chance that people from all walks of life will gather at the festival which could provide opportunities for politicisation.”

He said organisers were provided with the opportunity to take the risk and responsibility should any issue arise. “However, they seemed doubtful when we informed on the possible risks related to the festival. In the interest of the nation and to have peaceful and successful election, it was not approved.”

He said he met Ura gup on August 21.

Election Commission of Bhutan’s public advisory on March 4 stated, “All government agencies, autonomous bodies, corporations, private offices, religious organisations and the general public are being advised well ahead of time so that any such programmes and activities involving public gathering can be planned, avoiding the time periods of February to May 2018 and August to October 2018.”

An official from Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators said that more than 40 tourists had booked for the festival.

An owner of one of the tour operators who didn’t want to be named said he had four Spanish tourists who arrived on August 19 and they had booked for the festival. “However after learning about it, they were unhappy.”

Instead of the festival, we are taking the guests to Tang valley, he said. “It is fine now as we have convinced them. However, such news in a short notice could hamper people’s confidence in us. It might affect our credibility.”

As a Bhutanese, I understand the seriousness of the elections but it would have been better if we were informed earlier, he said.

Rinchen Zangmo