Bhutan’s Royal Highland Festival is Just Around the Corner

The two-day annual Royal Highland Festival, coming in October, showcases the culture and traditions of the nomadic highlander people of Bhutan.

The annual Royal Highland Festival will be held from October 23-24, 2023 at Laya in the Gasa district. The festival, which is held at 4,000m above sea level, aims to celebrate, promote and preserve the life and culture of the nomadic highland people of Bhutan, support their economy, exhibit the beauty and wonders of the highlands, and laud their resilience.

Guests attending the two-day festival can enjoy the breathtaking sights and sounds of the high Himalaya, as well as games, parades and competitions showcasing highland animals including yaks, horses and mastiff dogs. Some of the animals are dressed in expensive fabrics with colored hair and adorned bells.  In addition, a variety of cultural programmes will be performed by the Layaps, the indigenous people inhabiting Laya, including traditional songs, dances, poetry recitations and gift offerings. Layaps refer to their homeland as Be-yul – “the hidden land.”

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The festival will also feature stalls selling local produce as well as showcasing highland agriculture technology, medicinal herbs and plants, among other things. The festival attracts communities from all over Bhutan and many tribes come down from the High Himalayas to compete in races and showings of their animals. The festival will also feature textile and souvenir stalls, and food stalls displaying local cuisines such as dried yak cheese, butter and alcoholic beverages.

The two-day annual Royal Highland Festival, coming in October, showcases the culture and traditions of the nomadic highlander people of Bhutan.

Located in the extreme north-west of Bhutan, Gasa district is home to some of the highest mountain peaks in the country. Over a hundred glacial lakes found at the foot of these mountains feed some of the biggest rivers in the country, including the Phochu and Mochu rivers. With an elevation ranging between 1,500 to 4,500m above sea level, the whole district falls under the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park and is home to various species of birds and animals such as yak, musk deer, blue sheep, snow leopard, red pandas, snow pigeons, Himalayan black bear, and the national bird and animal of Bhutan, the raven and takin.

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Gasa is home to some of the most beautiful and breath-taking high mountain trails in the country, from wide stretches of the famous Snowman trek to the high-altitude trails that take you close to the glacial lakes. The beautiful alpine ecosystem in this region is rich in many species of medicinal plants and herbs used in traditional medicine, including the famous cordyceps. It also has abundant natural hot springs and menchu (medicinal water) that are famous for their healing and medicinal properties.

The two-day annual Royal Highland Festival, coming in October, showcases the culture and traditions of the nomadic highlander people of Bhutan.

It’s an adventure to reach the festival ground in Laya; a 6-hour drive from Thimphu till the Tongshida base camp followed by a 4-hour hike up to Laya, alongside an aqua green glacial river. Visitors also have an option of availing a helicopter service to reach the location, but these should be booked well in advance due to limited seats.

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One of the highlights of the festival is the 25-km Laya Run that begins from Ponjothang, the point where the motorable road ends. The participants run along the banks of Mochu river till the festival ground. Visitors attending the highland festival have the excellent opportunity to stay at a farmstay with a Layap family; they can wear the Layap dress, eat authentic highlander food, and attend the festival with the family. Visitors can also hike up the mountains surrounding the festival ground to see the stunning, untouched glacial lakes

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About Author

Nick Walton

Nick Walton is a leading travel and lifestyle journalist, magazine editor, publisher, photographer, travel commentator, and media trainer, based in Hong Kong. He is also managing editor of Artemis Communications, the titles of which include Ultimate Encounters, Alpha Men Asia, and The Art of Business Travel.


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