KP Sharma

The annual Royal Highland Festival is scheduled to take place from 23rd to 24th October in Laya, Gasa.

The festival, seeking to bolster their economy, showcase the beauty and wonders of the highlands, and celebrate the resilience of the highlanders, unfolds in one of Bhutan’s northernmost settlements, nestled at an elevation of 3,800 metres above sea level. 

According to the Department of Tourism (DOT), the two-day festival promises to be a captivating and enriching occasion where the denizens of Laya will showcase their unique culture, traditions, and traditional attire through an array of cultural and entertainment programmes.

The festival will feature processions, games, races, and competitions involving highland animals such as yaks, horses, and mastiffs, all adorned with vibrant and intricate accessories.

Visitors will have the opportunity to explore textile and souvenir stalls, as well as food stalls offering local delicacies like dried yak cheese, butter, and alcoholic beverages.

Another highlight of the festival is the 25km Laya run from Ponjothang alongside the banks of Mochhu concluding at the festival grounds.

Attendees will have the opportunity to stay with a Layap family at a farm stay, don their traditional attire, relish authentic highlander cuisine, and partake in the festivities with the local family.

Visitors can also embark on hikes up the mountains surrounding the festival grounds to behold the pristine, untouched glacial lakes.

Dorji Dhradhul, the director general of DOT, remarked that every year, hundreds of individuals from across the country and foreign visitors traverse the breathtaking trails amidst the Himalayan mountains to partake in the festivities.

“Our aim is to raise awareness of Bhutan’s dedication to conserving the glacial mountains, and for visitors to gain insight into and immerse themselves in the distinctive culture, traditions, and daily lives of the highland people,” said Dorji Dhradhul.

Gasa is home to some of the loftiest mountain peaks in the country. More than a hundred glacial lakes situated at the base of these mountains feed some of the largest rivers in the country, including the Phochhu and Mochhu rivers.

Nestled at elevations ranging from 1,500 to 4,500 metre above sea level, Gasa falls within the precincts of Jigme Dorji Wangchuck National Park which boasts diverse wildlife, including musk deer, blue sheep, snow leopards, red pandas, snow pigeons, Himalayan black bears, Bhutan’s national bird, the raven, the national animal takin, and the yak, among others.

Gasa is also renowned for its awe-inspiring mountain trails, including the famous Snowman trek, and high-altitude pathways that offer breathtaking vistas of glacial lakes.

The dzongkhag is blessed with hot springs and menchu or medicinal water, showcasing a rich array of medicinal plants and herbs, including the coveted cordyceps fungus.