Pelden Wangchuk was leading the race until the gate of the festival

The strongest and the fastest at the foothills festival 

Amid the crowd cheering, a dozen women struggle to rise from the Gelephu Higher Secondary School ground, carrying bundles of firewood. They look at each other and make several attempts before a sturdy woman from Samtenling gewog rises and runs to the other task.

The women, one each from the 12 gewogs of Sarpang dzongkhag, were competing in a modified version of the traditional Nya-goe competition. In a rush, the women arrange the firewood to build the load on the yellow rope they were provided with.

 Men compete to carry the 50kg bags of rice in the nya-goe competition

Men compete to carry the 50kg bags of rice in the nya-goe competition

They started the competition, lining up on the ground dressed in their best traditional attires. After a briefing on the task ahead, the women ran to cross the first hurdle, a wooden step obstacle.

They had to then bundle the firewood, carry it and perform the third task, which was pouring water from a bucket into a 20-litre jerry can.

Carrying the water on their backs, the women then rush to complete the fourth task. Rice was heaped on the green tarpaulin sheets and the women were given a sack and measuring instrument (drey) each. Once the sack is filled, they had to run around the ground, carrying the 30kgs rice on their backs.

Chengya Lhamo, 25, from Dungmin village in Umling won the competition and declared the women Nyagoe of the dzongkhag.

The class five dropout, who is a mother of two, said she was always interested in sports and she took the Nya-goe competition as an opportunity. “I don’t know how I won.”

The lady from Samteling is Tshewang Zangmo, 40. She bagged the second position.

She said she did not expect to win because she participated after the tshogpa forced her to. “I am usually a shy person.”

The mother of five said she took time to fill the jerry can and the rice sack. “Running around carrying the firewood, water and rice are easy tasks.”

Tshewang said she would participate in the competition next year if the dzongkhag conducts it again.

Dejung Dema, 42, from Singye gewog stood third. The mother of four said it was her first time participating in a competition but had expected the top position, as she is considered a strong woman in the village. “I could easily lift and carry 50kgs of rice.”

She said her main hurdle was rising up carrying the wood, water and rice from the ground. “In villages, we keep it on a slope.”

Dejung said would love to participate next year too. “It is a proud moment for me and my family.”

The Foothills Festival also showcased many traditional and indigenous practices. In the Nya-goe competition for men, they had to carry 50kgs of rice in a traditional way, run around the ground five times across the wooden step and sand obstacles.

In the marathon, three trainees of Jigmeling Police Training Institute bagged the top three positions for women’s 21kms run.

Dawa Choden, 20, Deki Peldon, 22, and Kinley Wangmo, 21, are the winners.

In the men’s 42.5kms run, RBA soldiers Gawa Zangpo, Sangay and Dechen Ugyen were the top three runners.

Meanwhile, in the 75kms cross-country cycling race, Pelden Wangchuk, 19, who entered the ground first and could have completed the race in 3:40:18 was made third after he did not reach he finishing point first. He had planned to go around the ground to reach the finishing point.

Two RBA soldiers, who were close behind Pelden, were also about to follow Pelden’s route but as crowds and volunteers yelled and cheered them on, the duo reached the finishing point first.

Norbu, 30, who completed the race in 3:40:19 was declared the winner and Kinley Tenzin, 30, came second for completing the race a second later.

While the organisers discussed with the winners about Pelden’s fate, Norbu was heard telling the organisers that he would be fine to consider Pelden as the winner, as in any international competition, entering the gate would mean the race is complete. Kinley, however, protested saying that in any event, there is a finishing banner and anyone who reaches the banner first should be considered the winner.

Some observers blamed the organisers for the slip-up, claiming that in any international cycling race, the participants should be made to go around the ground to complete it while some blamed the biker for not riding straight to the finishing point. There was no one to direct the participants which side they should head once they entered the ground.

Most participants said that they were not briefed on how the race completes but many observers, however, settled down to the traditional belief of the day’s luck for the winners.

Tashi Dema  | Gelephu

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