Every year, in the month of August, hundreds of people including tourists gather at the picturesque Ura valley in Bumthang to observe, taste, and partake in mushroom picking during the annual three-day mushroom festival.
Matsutake (Tricholoma matsutake), or Sangay Shamu as the locals call it is a ground fungi, which grows in abundance in Ura valley. Famed for its delicacy and nutritional value, the mushroom is also being exported to other countries particularly to Japan.
Matsutake is also called pine mushroom as it only grows in blue pine and spruce forest. The mushroom holds several nutritional value and aphrodisiac properties. The mushroom is also proven to be effective in fighting different cancers.
Visitors during the festival also get an opportunity to taste matsutake soup in the stalls and engage with the locals in a variety of sports, songs and dances.
The festival which is organized by the communities of Ura showcases over 40 other mushroom species well as local organic and traditional food items like Puta, (noodle made from buckwheat flour) buckwheat cake, and local breweries with mixed-in cordyceps.
Cordyceps, which is another caterpillar fungi, holds tremendous medicinal value and aphrodisiac properties. An excursion is also organized during the festival where tourists and visitors get to explore the protected jungles for mushroom hunting.
Tourists are provided with guides during the expedition.
The expedition usually last around two days and the participants while mushroom picking gets the rare opportunity of exploring the beautiful Ura valley. Ura valley holds the reputation of being one of the most picturesque valleys in the country.
Mushroom experts say that the highly medicinal value and the mushrooms delicacy last only for a few days. So it must be consumed within 24 hours from its picking from the wild.
The forests in Bhutan provide a wide variety of floral and faunal diversities for one to explore during the excursion.
However with the construction of Bathpalathang Airport in Bumthang, transportation of mushroom for exports has become easier and faster.
Visitors during the festival also get an opportunity to watch or partake in traditional Bhutanese sports like archery and khuru (dart game) during the festival. Locals organize mask dances and songs.
The mask dances and songs are all innate to the valleys local culture.
50 tourists mostly from Japan were present during the festival last year. The mushroom is prized mostly by the Japanese. While in Ura, one can always take an opportunity to visit the region’s temples and monasteries.
The district of Bumthang is dotted with several religious sites, ancient temples and monasteries. It is also a place where history comes alive. Fifty minutes on road from Ura, one can also visit the famous Mebartsho (burning lake) where a great treasurer discoverer called Tertoen Pema Lingpa emerged from the lake with several treasures and a burning lamp.
The first mushroom festival was held in 2008 started by the previous minister for agriculture and forest, Dr. Pema Gyamtsho. Since then the Ura valley has observed the fourth festival so far.
The festival was initiated to alleviate poverty and enhance rural livelihood.