Royal Highlander Festival is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Gasa Dzongkhag. People across the country also crave to attend it. However, given the fact of its venue being at a place of about 3800m altitude, only 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 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).
Royal Highland Festival is the only 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 also communal living.
Some popular programs of Royal Highlander Festival
#1 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 most closest to his heart.
Some decorate the animal that shares his 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 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 open contest. Spectators get to see a line of artistically decorated animals mostly yaks and horses.
#2 Traditional Epic Poem Recitation
Royal Highlander Festival usually coincides with Auley. It’s a festival of Laya that is meant for showcasing 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 of being highlanders. This epic poem recitation is now one of the programs of annual Royal Highlander Festival.
#3 Horse Race Competition
Horse Race Competition is another program of Royal Highlander Festival. Young men would come with their horses to show their prowess and talents in horse racing.
#4 Snowman Run Competition
Association of Bhutanese Tour Operators (ABTO) announces that the Royal Highlander Festival in 2017 will happen tentatively from 23-24th October. This means you can also expect happening of Snowman Run Marathon on this date.
Snowman Run is one of the popular programs of 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.
#5 Gasa Dzongkhag Products Exhibition
Queen’s Project Office of Bhutan has an initiative of coming up with one product gewog one product (OGOP). The products that are popular among gewogs of Gasa will be on display during Royal Highlander Festival.
You get to see and taste products like arts, crafts, herbs, dairy, foods and pickles that are popular among highland people. You get to purchase medicinal fungus Cordyceps from first hand seller at cheaper rates.
#6 Highland Photo Exhibition
If you have good photos of Gasa and that of any other highland places of Bhutan, you can participate in Highland Photo Exhibition. Its objective is to showcase the beauty of Bhutan’s highlands through 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 Royal Highlander Festival.
#7 Selection of best Bhutanese Mastiff
Bigger dog breeds that are biologically closer with Tibetan Mastiff are very popular among highlanders for 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.
#8 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 organised in remote places like Laya to connect them. Sturdy and courageous local men would participate in this program. People attending Royal Highlander Festival can watch strong men from Gasa cutting and dragging wood blocks, carrying heavy vehicle wheels within limited time.
#9 Cultural Programs & Dances
Cultural programs and various dances that are unique and popular only among highland people 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 at the verge of disappearance.
Recommend to read following travel experiences and exciting stories from Bhutan:
- Royal Botanical Park of Bhutan at Lampelri, a nice place to visit.
- Bhutanese celebrate first snowfall as the symbol of prosperity.
- Mystical Mebartsho or Burning Lake of Bumthang.
- National symbols of Bhutan – Travel Bhutan to Discover them.
- Dzongdrakha Temple, which looks similar to Taktshang.
- The secrets of Tiger Nest Monastery (Taktshang) Hike.
- 45 uncommon facts of Bhutan that all tourists need to know.