As mysterious as the Himalayan Kingdom, is its national animal, the takin (Budorcas taxicolor).
It is believed that the hermit saint, Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529), popularly known for his eccentricity and lascivious disposition, who was visiting the village of Samtengang in Sha, Wangduephodrang was served a dish, which was literally a goat’s head and beef carcass. The villagers had known about the visit and were expecting him to perform a miracle.
Drukpa Kunley ate the whole of what was served, and put the skull and skeleton together. He then commanded the skeleton figure to rise and graze in the mountain. It did as commanded, and ran up to the mountain. The villagers’ craving for a miracle was satiated and a new animal, with a goat’s head and cow’s body was brought to life.
The takin festival in Damji, Gasa celebrates this mythical creature, found only in the Himalayas and in zoos in countries like the USA and UK. It is a rare and endangered species, and in Bhutan an inhabitant of the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park. There are about 164 recorded takins in the national preserve, the second largest in the country, which is a thriving population. The first known information about takin in Bhutan dates back to 1905 when a British political officer, John Claude White took a photograph of a baby takin. Until then, the west considered the takin as a creature from Greek mythology.
Takin, scientifically is associated to the sheep family, but in Bhutan it is still a creature from a legend, and so, the takin festival also celebrates the power of Drukpa Kunley. One of the highlights of the festival is the reenactment of the miracle Drukpa Kunley performed for the villagers of Samtengang.
Besides meeting the takin, the preserve also offers dramatic and spectacular views of the snow-capped mountains and other natural wonders, which are all a product of Bhutan’s strict conservation rules, values, and far-sighted leadership. It is also an opportunity to meet highlanders from Laya and Lunana who walk down to witness the festival.
One can also enjoy the mineral hot spring baths, one of the most popular in the country for the locals as well as tourists. Local handicrafts like yak wool products can be bought from the highlanders.
The festival is, for now, organised by the tourism council of Bhutan, to create awareness about the animal as an endangered species that needs protection.
If one misses this once in a lifetime opportunity to meet a takin in its natural habitat, one can head to the takin zoo at Motithang in the capital. The takin were once released but were brought back to zoo because rehabilitation in the wild was an issue. They were found loitering in the capital looking for food.