Horse riders from Mustang and Manang districts take part in the Yartung festival in Upper Mustang in this recent picture. Photo: Kisan Sangit Nepali/Republica
LAMJUNG, July 15: Yartung, probably the only one-of-a-kind horse riding festival in the country, was celebrated in the high hills of Upper Mustang last week.
During the festival, that concluded on Wednesday, horse riders from Manang and Mustang district created a spectacular view as they rode like warriors on the mountain slopes. It seemed that not only the riders and viewers but also the horses were enthusiastic. “This festival is a vital part of our culture. We make preparations for organizing this festival for a long time. Along with training our riders, we also keep our horses ready,” remarks Karma Gurung of Bhakraguan of Upper Manang. “This festival brings horse riders in the region together too.”
No wonder the festival is always an impatient wait for the people of this region. There is no fixed date to celebrate it; locals organize it after they complete harvesting crops. “We celebrate it in July or September. Mostly it’s organized in September, but this year we celebrated a bit early,” Gurung informed.
“The most exciting part was the participation of horse riders from Mustang. It turned out to be such a grand ceremony,” Gurung narrated.
Locals have no idea about the origin or the date since the festival came into existence. But they remember celebrating it since their childhood. And they were told that it began from the time of their ancestors.
“In the old days there were many small states here and struggle for the expansion of their territory was an ongoing affair,” said Gurung. “Our grandfathers would tell us that the festival began with some victorious party riding horses to celebrate the win,” he added.
The festival is organized to celebrate past conquests and as a means of entertainment for the farmers. After a hectic harvest season, the Yartung festival is seen as a means entertainment that lets the participants relax, sing and dance for a while.
“Yartung is the other name of relaxation for farmers. They participate fully in the festival for around a week and feel refreshed,” Gurung said.
Yartung is, however, not just about sports for horse riders and fanfare for farmers. It is also closely related to religion. Gumbas are decorated, and visitors pay great attention to the spiritual dimensions during the festival. It revives people’s faith and energy. “Yartung is simply great,” Gurung remarked.
While the festival goes on for a week, the first three days are involves dancing and merrymaking. Locals organize cultural dances and shows in groups. The next two days include worshiping at the Gumbas and on the last day the horse race is organized.
This year the number of riders was bigger than the previous years. Around 90 riders from seven different villages of Manang including Pisang, Nangwal, Khangsar and Bhakra participated in the race. To make it even more special, 13 riders from Mustang had also competed in the event. The riders aged 16 to 55 years.
According to the Chairperson of Disyang Rural Municipality Kanchha Ghale, the festival is an essential part of Manang’s culture and history. “This tradition has to be continued and promoted further. It is unique and extremely thrilling,” he said.
Riders from Mustang had reached the venue after traveling through the high hills of Annapurna Circuit. “They traveled through the Throngla Bhanjyang to get here. It is at an elevation of 5416meters from the sea level. It’s not a small thing to do,” Ghale noted.
Meanwhile, a local tourism entrepreneur Binod Gurung said that the festival is extraordinary and unique to the region. He claimed that promoting it would bring in people from in and outside the country. “It’s mind-blowing to see them ride horses here. The skill of the riders as well as this very landscape makes you forget everything. You are taken to a completely different world,” he said.
Locals clad in their culture dresses were also a significant attraction at the festival. Locals clad in Bakkhu, Bhure, Chhatretop, among others offered a closer look at the richness of the local culture. Surrounded by snow-clad mountains, the grasslands steal away everyone’s heart.