Last updated on October 1st, 2019
Royal Highlander Festival is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Gasa District that happens in Laya, Bhutan. People across the country also crave to attend it. However, given the fact of its venue being at a place of about 3800m altitude at Laya Bhutan, only a few can make there.
It was started in October 2016 under a personal recommendation of Druk Gyalpo Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuk, the present king of Bhutan. It’s to convene efforts of all stakeholders in making highland villages a better economy through a showcase of their cultural traditions and innovative arts and crafts.
Royal Highlander Festival is also to make highlanders come in line with modern development mainstream without compromising their good cultures and traditions.
It’s during this festival, various government agencies also share new scientific methods of raring highland domestic animals like horses, yaks and Bhutanese Mastiffs (Bjop-Khyi) that are day-to-day companions of highland people.
Royal Highland Festival is the only Laya festival event that brings highlanders from almost all parts of Bhutan together. They get to exchange knowledge, skills, values and the best practices related to highlanders, yak farming and also communal living principles.
Royal Highland Festival is another Laya Festival Bhutan. As it was in 2016, Royal Highland Festival Bhutan 2017 was observed as the Laya Highland festival at Laya with Layaps. Though there had been a rumor that the Royal Highlander Festival 2017 will happen in Bumthang.
Some popular programs of Royal Highlander Festival
01. Domestic Animal Decoration Show
The culture of decorating domestic animals is still prevalent among highlanders. Because caravan trading is still in practice. The animal that its owner decorates the most will be often the one that is the closest to his heart.
Some decorate the animal that shares his/her same birthday. Some do the one that was born on the day his father or mother died. But for some, the most decorated animal represents the power and pride of the family. So they decorate the strongest one from the herd.
Domestic Animal Decoration Show brings all the decorated animals for an open contest. Spectators get to see a line of artistically decorated animals mostly yaks and horses.
02. Traditional Epic Poem Recitation
Royal Highlander Festival of Laya Bhutan usually coincides with Auley. It’s an annual Laya festival that is meant for showcasing the beauty of their culture, traditions, arts, crafts and wealth. They thank their farsighted forefathers, protective deities and gods during Auley.
One of the highlights of this festival is the recitation of an epic poem that tells culturally rich stories of highland people. Spectators know sacrifices and their pride in being highlanders. This epic poem recitation is now one of the programs of the annual Royal Highlander Festival.
03. Horse Race Competition
Horse Race Competition is another program of the Royal Highlander Festival. Young men would come with their horses to show their prowess and talents in horse racing.
04. Snowman Run Competition
Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) announces that the Royal Highlander Festival 2018 will happen from 23-24th October. This means you can also expect to happen of Snowman Run Marathon on this date.
Snowman Run is one of the popular programs of the Royal Highlander Festival. Tourists treat this as the most important program of the festival. Because they get to participate in 2 day’s marathon along the trail of pristine Himalayan mountains.
05. Gasa Dzongkhag Products Exhibition
Queen’s Project Office of Bhutan has an initiative of coming up with one gewog one product (OGOP). The products that are popular among gewogs of Gasa will be on display during this annual Royal Highlander Festival.
You get to see and taste products like arts, crafts, herbs, dairy, foods, and pickles that are popular among the highland people of Bhutan. You get to purchase medicinal fungus Cordyceps from the first-hand sellers at cheaper rates.
06. Highland Photo Exhibition
If you have good photos of Gasa and that of any other highland places of Bhutan, you can participate in the Highland Photo Exhibition. Its objective is to showcase the beauty of Bhutan’s highlands through the photography of Bhutan’s highland history, cultures, traditions, people and nature.
However, I cannot say whether this year it will happen during the festival. In 2016, it happened in Thimphu town 2 months before the main festival as a separate program though it’s part of the Royal Highlander Festival.
07. Selection of best Bhutanese Mastiff
Bigger dog breeds that are biologically closer with Tibetan Mastiff are very popular among highlanders for the protection of their herds and companionship. Bhutanese call this breed of dogs as Bjop-Khyi (meaning dog of nomads).
During Royal Highland Festival, they select the best Bhutanese Mastiff for further breeding in Gasa Bhutanese Mastiff Breeding Centre. Spectators of the festival get to see many big, fast and furious Bhutanese Mastiffs.
08. Open strong man contest
This is one of the TV shows of Bhutan Broadcasting Services (BBS) that has been proving successful in bringing larger crowd. People in remote places having less access to TV connectivity, don’t get to watch it often.
Therefore, it’s now organized in remote places like Laya Bhutan to connect them. Sturdy and courageous local men would participate in this program. People attending the Royal Highlander Festival can watch strong men from Gasa cutting and dragging woodblocks, carrying heavy vehicle wheels within a limited time.
09. Cultural Programs & Dances
Cultural programs and various dances that are unique and popular only among highland people of Bhutan make the Royal Highlander Festival interesting festival.
Students, teachers of various highland schools that are among glaciers and senior highlanders would come together to perform various cultural programs that are unique yet are on the verge of disappearance.
10. Festival Royal Families Attend
This is one of the few festivals in Bhutan where royal families of Bhutan attend. No matter if you are a tourist or local, you get to talk face to face with the king of Bhutan. You might love to watch this video on YouTube about the exciting moments of a tourist on personally meeting K5 of Bhutan.
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