The three-day Royal Highlander Festival that began October 16 in Gasa will conclude today. The festival brought together more than 100 highlanders from Bumthang, Gasa, Haa, Lhuentse, Paro, Thimphu, Trongsa, Trashigang, Trashiyangtse and Wangdue to exchange highland values, knowledge and skills. Schools were recognised for excellence in agricultural practices. Among the highlights of the festival was the 53-kilometre Snowman run from Gasa Tshachu to Laya.

For the highlanders who remain in the mountains all year round, it was their good fortune to be able to celebrate the birth of His Royal Highness The Gyalsey, the birth year of Guru Rinpoche and 400 years of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s arrival in the country. It is most propitious that Gasa hosted this year’s highlander festival because Gasa was the first Bhutanese soil that Zhabdrung stepped on when fled Tibet in 1616. Its relevance couldn’t be more appropriate.

Gasa is the northernmost dzongkhag with breath-taking beauty to be enjoyed. It has some of the tallest unscaled mountains and the highest passes this side of the eastern Himalayas. If we can imagine real Shangri-La, it is here with unique cultures and traditions still intact. Here the communities have largely remained secluded, untouched by decadent and often destructive air of modernism.

Our highlanders are our last sentinels. That’s why we celebrate our highland cultures and ways of life. That’s why we celebrate our diversity. In a way, celebration of highland cultures and lives is taking development to places that have largely remained isolated in the folds of formidable mountains. It is reinforcing the fact that we do care about our people and communities that are far removed from the comforts of the city centres.

More than anything, we celebrate highlander festivals to keep our unique traditions alive in the face of rapid societal evolution. It is preserving our cultures, which is one of the main pillars of Gross National Happiness.