Park celebrates lifestyles of highlanders
MAIN STORY: It’s a bright day at the Royal Botanical Park in Lamperi. Local visitors and tourists are strolling around the 125-acre park, the first recreation park in the country.
The park is known for its rhododendron species. About 46 species of rhododendron can be found in the park, of which 18 species are said to be native to the park while the other 26 were brought from other regions of the country and planted there. The rhododendrons bloom from mid March to early August.
It is a perfect time to visit the park and catch a glimpse of the different coloured rhododendrons. However, these flowers are not the only attraction the park offers. It’s also the time when the annual rhododendron festival was being held where different communities come together to showcase their unique culture, food and beverages.
Amidst the bustling tourists and visitors who were enjoying the three-day annual rhododendron festival held last week, Kencho Wangmo, 59, was silently weaving a piece of cloth made from wool under the warm sun.
For Kencho Wangmo, the piece of cloth represents a piece of history that has been passed down for generations in her family.
Kencho Wangmo was invited to the festival to showcase her community’s rich culture and lifestyle. If it hadn’t been for the festival, she never would have dreamt of showcasing this piece of history to the bustling crowd.
Most of the visitors and tourists had never seen or felt the kind of fabric she was weaving. They surrounded Kencho Wangmo and silently observed her as she wove a thread of wool into an intricate pattern.
“Many people are fascinated by this cloth because it’s not readily available in the market like the manufactured ones. Through this piece, people can catch a glimpse of the nomadic life,” Kencho Wangmo said. “The cloth is waterproof and is worn as a raincoat.”
Kencho Wangmo was placed at the Nomad’s Home, a place for visitors to experience the highlander lifestyle. A nomad’s tent was also placed next to where she was sitting and carpets were placed inside for the visitors to sit. The waterproof tent made from yak hair lasts up to 25 to 30 years.
Nomads, though few, form an integral part of the rich cultural heritage of the country. They share one common livelihood – raising yaks.
However, Kencho Wangmo comes from Dagala gewog in Thimphu, and her community reared sheep instead of yaks.
“Sheep was an important part of our lives. When I was a child, my family owned more than 60 sheep. Today, we don’t even own one,” she said. “We lost most of them to wild animals and dogs who ate them.”
The shift was also due to the change in their lifestyle, Kencho Wangmo said. “Our children started studying in schools and there was hardly anyone to look after the sheep. Slowly, we stopped spinning our own wools.”
Today, Kencho Wangmo bought wools from Bumthang, which is expensive.
“Before, we used to barter the wools for rice and other items in nearby places but that was three decades ago. Now, such practices are completely vanished,” she said. “People buy these cloth pieces for home decorations only.”
Despite such changes, Kencho Wangmo still upholds her culture. She wears the woollen kira and even shoes that are sewn from woollen fabrics that she weaves till this day.
Next to her was Dawa, 36, who was selling ropes and clothes made from yak hairs. Dawa was also from Dagala gewog.
Dawa owns more than 10 yaks. He spins and weaves the ropes from yak hair, a tradition that had also been passed down for generations.
It was the fourth time Dawa participated in the festival. His business has been doing well since most of the visitors bought these sturdy ropes.
“It is said that if we keep these ropes inside our homes, it will drive away evil spirits,” Dawa said. “We have a rich culture and history from where I come and it’s very important for others to learn about our way of life as well.”
Dawa also sold yak hair bundles, which the visitors bought as home decorations. He sold them for Nu 250 to Nu 500 a piece.
“Such festivals are important for highlanders like us to showcase and sell these items. It greatly helps in uplifting our livelihoods,” Dawa said.
Not only the highlanders but other communities also showcased their rare delicacies and craftsmanship during the festival.
Communities from Toeb, Kawang and Chang sold bamboo works, local brewed alcohol also known as tongba, delicious traditional dishes, snacks and teas, and performed traditional dances to the visitors as well.
The fourth annual rhododendron festival was organised by Meto Pelri Tshogpa, a community based organisation. The tshogpa consists of Kawang, Chang, Toeb and Dagala gewog, Dechentsemo Central School, Thinleygang PS, Phuntsho PS and Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division (NRED) of the department of forest and park services.
Meto Pelri Tshogpa’s chairman, Sonam Dorji, said the objective of the festival was to showcase the culture of these communities and also promote the conservation of the environment.
“Through such festivals, we hope that many people will visit the park and learn about the different flora and fauna of the country,” Sonam Dorji said. “We thank everyone who has supported us in this project.”
The park is located about an hour and a half’s drive away from Thimphu. The festival was organised by NRED and the Tourism Council of Bhutan.
By Thinley Zangmo