Celebrated at the base of the gigantic Mt. Jomolhari known as Dangochang in Soe gewog, about two days walk Gunitsawa in Paro, the Jomolhari mountain festival was initiated in 2013.
In this far-flung nomad community of Dangochang, yaks, horses and mules outnumber trees or residents. Here, nomads mainly depend on livestock for income and cater to trekking tourists through porter-pony services. They also collect cordyceps, which is a seasonal business. There are more than 200 mules or horses and about 1,500 yaks in Soe gewog as of 2013.
The festival is one of the many festivals in Bhutan that are fast gaining popularity among tourists from all parts of the world.
Amid serene snow capped mountains, the two-day event takes place right after the offset of monsoon in Bhutan. It is held on October 8 and 9 every year after it was endorsed as an annual event in 2013.
During the celebrations, communities of Soe located near Mt. Jomolhari come together to cater to guests and tourists. It is also the time of the year when villagers, both young and old, dressed in colourful attire flock the valley to participate and warmly greet visitors. The valley, which otherwise lacks any sort of entertainment, comes alive with a wide range of activities during the two-day event.
Besides local songs and dance performed by the communities and students, visitors are also welcomed with the snow leopard themed folk songs. Visitors can also take part in traditional sports like Khuru (darts), shot put and horse and yak riding competition, along with the locals. Also on display are various handicrafts, artifacts, and local delicacies for visitors to savour.
There is plenty of information provided to visitors on conservation of snow leopards besides the way of life of highlanders, among others.
The second day includes hikes to various lakes surrounding Jomolhari ranging from four to five hours or one could breathe in the beauty of the picturesque highland taking your own time. The hikes guided by locals include visit to glaciers and lakes like the twin lake (tshophu) around Mt. Jomolhari, Jichudrakey and Tsherimgang.
Trekking tourists on their way to different trekking trails passing by Dangochang stop en route to participate in the festival. More than 100 visitors gathered to celebrate the mountain festival when it kick-started in 2013.
The festival celebrates the unique culture of the communities of Soe, along Jomolhari trek and the unexplored rich biodiversity. It’s a different sight and experience altogether where nomads spend their lives far from the maddening crowd and the burgeoning city life.
Snow leopard conservation plays a vital role for the communities who have grown with these wild cats. Considered an endangered cat species, efforts are being made to conserve and create awareness on the importance of conservation of snow leopards. Several camera traps are set in the region. If lucky, visitors can also catch a glimpse of snow leopards and blue sheep through the camera traps during the festival.
The communities of Soe Yaksa and Soe Yutoe, located along the Jomolhari trek, in collaboration with Jigme Dorji National Park (JDNP) and the Nature Recreation and Ecotourism Division (NRED) – with support from the Snow Leopard Conservancy (SLC) and Bhutan Foundation initiated the festival.
The festival, one of a kind, was initiated to promote eco-tourism, create awareness on conservation of snow leopard, fund raising for the conservation of snow leopard committee and the local community.
A snow leopard committee has also been formed in October 2013 comprising 18 households in Soe Yaksa and 28 households in Soe Yutoe. The committee was formed with support from JDNP, Nature Recreation and Eco-tourism division of the forests and park services and Bhutan Foundation.
The mountain festival was also included as one of its activities under the snow leopard conservation programs.