The Festive Extraordinaire

Royal Highland Festival 2023 to begin on October 23

In the celestial realms above, a tapestry of festivity unfurled. The Royal Highlander Festival, a jewel in Bhutan’s cultural crown, graced the world stage for the first time on the 16th of October in 2016. Its inception was marked not by mere chance, but by the convergence of three significant celestial events: the celebration of His Royal Highness the Gyalsey’s birth, the commemoration of 400 years since Shabdrung Rimpoche’s presence, and the birth year of Guru Rimpoche within the Rabjung (60 years cycle).

This extraordinary celebration bestowed upon the world the splendor of Gasa Dzongkhag, revealing its treasures of nature, history, and age-old traditions. It served as a beacon, illuminating Gasa’s vision of transformation from “Good to Great Gasa,” while also laying bare the authenticity and simplicity of Highlanders’ lives for all who ventured to partake.

At this grand gathering, visitors would be transported back in time to witness the traditional Buelwa, a gift offering, accompanied by the Auley, a melodious ode rooted in the days of Zhabdrung Rinpoche. This lyrical offering symbolize the unshakable loyalty and profound respect of the Laya community, offered in homage to the dynamic and visionary leadership of their successive monarchs.

The heart of the festival pulses with Layaps, who grace the stage with a multitude of cultural expressions. Highland animals, including the majestic Yaks, noble horses, and resolute Mastiffs, compete in spirited contests. Traditional songs and dances adorn the festivities, weaving together the rich tapestry of Bhutanese heritage.

The festival is a bustling bazaar of ideas and innovation, with stalls spanning the spectrum from locally sourced yak products to highland agricultural technologies, medicinal herbs, and beyond.

Set against the backdrop of the picturesque Laya, the Royal Highlander Festival aims to breathe life into the highlands, fostering a thriving economy and showcasing the highlanders’ innovative spirit. It is a celebration of Bhutan’s highlands, uniting brethren from distant corners to share knowledge, skills, and best practices in the realms of highland life and yak farming.

Once again, the enchanting offering of Buelwa and the soul-stirring Auley mesmerize spectators, a tradition steeped in reverence dating back to the reign of Zhabdrung Rinpoche.

Layaps cast a spell with their cultural performances, their voices and dances painting vivid portraits of their ancient traditions. Meanwhile, the highland beasts – Yaks, horses, and Mastiffs – vie for glory in the arena, their spirited contests a testament to the enduring spirit of the highlands.

The festival offers a treasure trove of local delights, from delectable yak cuisine to highland technologies, agricultural innovations, and the healing secrets of medicinal herbs.

The Royal Highlander Festival stands as a unique testament to the nomadic way of life at 3,800 meters above sea level. It celebrated the cultural heritage of the highlands, painting Bhutan’s mountainous landscapes in vibrant hues. The captivating competitions involving highland animals and the stunning Himalayan peaks were highlights of this majestic gathering.

Conceived by His Majesty the King, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the festival is a heartfelt gesture of appreciation to the indigenous people who call the high mountains of northwest Bhutan home. Laya, a picturesque and remote town, serves as the festival’s stage, a place where time danced to its own rhythm, accessible only through a two-day trek along the Laya-Gasa route—a journey that unveiled Bhutan’s pristine and unspoiled landscapes.

The Royal Highland Festival Tour is thoughtfully designed to provide the quintessential Bhutanese experience. It not only immerse visitors in the unique festival but also transport them through some of Bhutan’s most enchanting valleys, offering cultural insights along the way.

During the festival, intrepid tourists can embark on a journey to the mesmerizing and secluded village of Laya, nestled among the awe-inspiring Himalayan peaks. They can explore one of the kingdom’s remotest villages, perched at a breathtaking 3,800 meters above sea level.

As they traverse the diverse landscapes and marvel at the Himalayan splendor, they can delve deep into the rich tapestry of Layap culture and their semi-nomadic way of life. Amidst all this, they can rejoice in being part of the unparalleled annual Royal Highland Festival and venture into local homes to savor rice-brewed wine, and experience the warm embrace of authentic Bhutanese hospitality.

The Royal Highlander Festival is not merely an event but a revelation—a glimpse into the heart of Bhutan’s highlands, where culture, tradition, and nature converge in a harmonious celebration of life at the roof of the world.

Ugyen Tenzin from Thimphu