Lhakpa Quendren 

The three-day Bhutan Bird Festival is set to return after a three-year hiatus, scheduled from November 13 to 15 in Tingtibi, Zhemgang.

The festival aims to showcase Zhemgang’s unique culture and products, featuring food stalls and local goods from each gewog. For example, Bjoka gewog will present its bamboo products during the event.

Zhemgang dzongkhag administration has spent the past few months promoting and marketing the festival. The preparatory works are expected to be completed by November 11. The tourism department has fully funded promotional activities through various media channels.

A member of the festival secretariat, Ugyen Phuntsho said that this year vendors can lease both space and tents. “We’re also working on constructing permanent structures and roadside amenities for the festival.”

The Berti Eco Lodge in Tingtibi is currently undergoing renovation, financially supported by the tourism department, with an estimated budget of over Nu 5 million. A public toilet has been built at the event ground in Tingtibi, costing over Nu 3 million. Roadside amenities under construction at Wangduegang have a budget allocation of Nu 7 million, part of the festival’s preparations.

“We’ve introduced additional physical amenities this year, expecting increased visitor participation and excitement,” Phuntsho said.

Various activities are planned, including bird watching, trekking along ancient trails, fly fishing, white-water rafting, cultural experiences, and traditional games. Post-festival, programs include a trip to Duenmang hot spring, an overnight excursion to Buli Lake, and a photography trip to Singkhar and Bjoka.

In the 2019 Bhutan Bird Festival report, food and agriculture-related stalls from Zhemgang’s gewogs generated a total income of Nu 4,826,800.

The festival’s theme song has been composed, and a music video released by Sonamthang Central School in Panbang. The festival began in 2015 to celebrate the birth anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo. This year, the festival’s dates have been adjusted to accommodate attendees participating in the Black-necked Crane festival in Gantey-Phobjikha on November 11.

Invitations have been extended to approximately 80 guests for the event, with some international tourists already securing hotel reservations.

Zhemgang, recognised for its extensive forest coverage of about 94.7 percent, holds the status of an eco-tourism capital by the Department of Tourism. Renowned as a birding paradise, it is home to over 234 bird species, including the critically endangered White-Bellied Heron (WBH), with Bhutan hosting 23 WBH as per a 2021 survey by the Royal Society for the Protection of Nature. The global WBH population stands at less than 60 birds.

Other bird species like the Rufous-Necked Hornbill, Siberian Rubythroat, Black-Crested Bulbul, Great Racket-Tailed Drongo, and Golden-Throated Barbet are sighted in Zhemgang. Some experts believe there are still undiscovered bird species in the area.

The festival, aimed at celebrating the diversity of bird species, faced challenges in the past three years due to pandemic-related restrictions. Financial constraints hindered the sustainability of the event even before the pandemic.