The first day of the Nomads’ Festival was an early one for me. DS Rai said he wanted to leave the office no later than 5:15am. The opening ceremonies started at 8:30 and there were still some preparations to be made, not to mention it is about an hour drive. Luck happened to have this festival fall on the 26th so my early wake up was more enjoyable by a Christmas call from the family back home (though they did have to interrupt Star Trek in HD).
I packed up my camera, put on 5 layers of clothes, and set out into the early morning darkness for the walk to the office. I was a little worried since I was a few minutes behind schedule, but relieved when no one was there when I arrived at 5:08. That relief slowly dwindled away as I saw 5:30 come and go. Then 5:45 came and there was no sign of any one at the office. Just as I was about to call DS Rai a red truck pulled up at 5:52 and the driver told me to come quick. Getting in his car I saw the temperature outside read -14*C (just about 7*F); I had been outside the entire time.
About 15 minutes later I was squeezed in the back of a different truck and heading up to the site with DS Rai, one of his sons, and two of his friends. When we arrived I was completely amazed at everything that had been constructed in the past two weeks! I had just visited 13 days ago and there was nothing! Now fences, stalls, tents, and prayer flags covered the main grounds of Wangchuck Centennial Park. (All of these were made from bamboo or local logs and could be easily removed and recycled after the festival.) I was left to my own devices to wander the area until the opening procession. My eye was caught by the horses and yaks with colored rags braided into their hair and bells around their necks.
Nomads’ were first in the processional line, each playing their own instrument in welcoming. Directly behind them was the Chief Guest, the Minister of Agriculture, Dr. Pema Gyamtsho. Members of Parliament, local government officials, Lamas from surrounding monasteries, and other invited guests brought up the rear of the parade.
After many speeches, the Chief Guest cut the opening day ribbon from the stalls and proceeded to greet every group and spend a few minutes inspecting their goods. As he went around I stood on the other side of the flag boundary taking photos. Many reporters called his name and were asking questions. So you understand my amazement when, after snapping his photo and lowering my camera, he looked at me and said, “You must be Kim.” DS Rai was directly behind him and his eyes were bigger than mine. The Minister and I shook hands and exchanged some greetings and I’m sure a few other words, but I was to amazed to comprehend them. He said he heard I was here helping his country, in his department, and if there was anything I needed, he should be the first to know. On he went to the next stall and I got a nod of approval from my boss.
Saturday continued with cultural dances, traditional wrestling, khuru tournaments and overall celebration; following posts will elaborate more. I was lucky enough to have DS Rai’s sons to help guide me along the way and more will come on them also. Jan and Ute did make it for the day and brought me a Christmas treat of chocolate! The evening was spent with some people I met who worked in the Ministry of Agriculture around a brokhuri sipping ara, water or beer and having song wars. They told stories, jokes, asked me questions and welcomed me into their group. It astonishes me how hospitable and friendly these people all are. My favorite moments of that day were those spent living in the moment with the Bhutanese, feeling completely content and apart of their lives.