Royal Highland Festival
Welcome to the enchanting world of the Royal Highland Festival! Nestled amid the snow-capped Himalayan Mountains of Laya, this festival is a vibrant celebration that weaves together the culture, traditions, 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 against the backdrop of magical peaks. This year’s Royal Highland Festival is set for October 23-24, 2023. We look forward to welcoming you to Laya!
The annual festival, situated at 4,000m above sea level in the Gasa district, aims to celebrate, promote, and preserve the life and culture of Bhutan’s nomadic highland people. It also supports their economy, showcases the beauty of the highlands, and honors their resilience.
Guests attending the two-day festival will be treated to breathtaking sights and sounds of the high Himalaya. The event features games, parades, and competitions showcasing highland animals like yaks, horses, and mastiff dogs. Some animals are adorned with expensive fabrics, colored hair, and bells. Cultural programs by the Layaps, the indigenous people of Laya, include traditional songs, dances, poetry recitations, and gift offerings. Layaps affectionately refer to their homeland as Be-yul, meaning “the hidden land.”
The festival grounds will host stalls selling local produce, highland agriculture technology exhibits, medicinal herbs, and plants. Communities from all over Bhutan, including tribes from the High Himalayas, participate in races and animal showings. Textile and souvenir stalls, as well as food stalls offering local cuisines like dried yak cheese, butter, and alcoholic beverages, will also be featured.
Gasa district, located in the extreme north-west of Bhutan, boasts some of the highest mountain peaks, glacial lakes, and diverse wildlife. The district, part of the Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park, is known for its alpine ecosystem, high mountain trails, and medicinal plants like cordyceps. Natural hot springs and medicinal water add to the region’s allure.
Reaching the festival ground in Laya is an adventure, involving a 6-hour drive from Thimphu to the Tongshida base camp, followed by a 4-hour hike alongside an aqua green glacial river. Visitors can also opt for a helicopter service, but booking in advance is recommended due to limited seats.
The Laya Run, a 25-km race along the banks of the Mochu river, is a festival highlight. Visitors have the unique opportunity to stay at a farmstay with a Layap family, immersing themselves in the Highlander’s lifestyle, dressing in Layap attire, savoring authentic highlander food, and attending the festival with the family. For those seeking adventure, hiking up the mountains surrounding the festival ground offers a glimpse of stunning, untouched glacial lakes. Come and be captivated by the magic of the Royal Highland Festival in the heart of Bhutan’s highlands!