Bhutan's annual Royal Highland Festival
Welcome to the enchanting world of the Royal Highland Festival. Surrounded by the snow capped Himalayan Mountains of Laya, the festival weaves and showcases the culture, tradition, and natural beauty of Bhutan's highlander communities.
Experience the warmth and authenticity of the Highlander's way of life, as you witness age-old traditions and cultural performances that have withstood the test of time, while being surrounded by magical peaks. We invite you to this year's Royal Highland Festival, set for 23-24 October 2023. See you in Laya!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“The Royal Highland Festival is one of the most popular annual festivals in the country. Every year, hundreds of people from across the country as well as foreign visitors trek the stunning trails among the Himalayan mountains to attend the festival. Two days of dancing, music, local arts and crafts, and animal parades, the festival celebrates the culture and lifestyle of people who live in the beautiful highlands of Bhutan. Our hope is to raise awareness of Bhutan’s commitment to conserve the glacial mountains, and for visitors to learn and experience the unique culture, traditions and daily lives of the highland people,” concluded Dorji Dhradhul, the Director General of the Department of Tourism.
View the Royal Highland Festival's video at this link.
Royal Highland Festival Itinerary
Day 1 (22nd Oct, Sunday): Thimphu to Laya
Depart from Thimphu after breakfast and enjoy a scenic drive through picturesque landscapes. Capture the beauty of the countryside and stop at Gasa for a delightful lunch. Continue the journey to Tongchudra/Tongchuzampa and embark on a 4-5 hour hike to Laya, arriving by late evening.
Day 2 and Day 3 (23rd - 24th Oct, Monday - Tuesday): Royal Highland Festival
Wake up early to the serene beauty of Laya and savor a delicious breakfast. Participate in the opening ceremony of the Royal Highland Festival, filled with traditional music, vibrant dance performances, and a fascinating animal parade. Witness Buelwa, attend sacred religious ceremonies, and explore historical landmarks. Relax with a hot stone bath or take a leisurely walk through the village. Spend the nights in Laya, surrounded by the serenity of the highlands.
Day 4 (25th Oct, Wednesday): Return to Thimphu
After breakfast bid farewell to you farmhouse host and begin your hike back to Tongchudra and drive to Thimphu.
Day 4 (25th Oct, Wednesday): Laya to Gasa
After breakfast bid farewell to your host and begin your hike back to Tongchudra and drive to Gasa.
Day 5: (26th October, Thursday):Gasa to Thimphu
Spend the morning in the healing waters of Gasa Tshachu nestled on the bank of Mo Chu is Gasa and drive back to Thimphu after lunch.
For personalized itineraries, contact Khandu at +97517767638 or email@example.com OR your preferred Bhutanese Tour Operator.
Note: Itineraries can be tailored to your group's interests, size, and time availability.
Activities in Laya:
Photoshoot in Laya dress
Visit the house that hosted Zhabdrung when he first visited Bhutan. The family still has relics of Zhabdrung that they received as gifts