DISCOVER BHUTAN: Royal Highland Festival

Imagine a journey that transcends both time and terrain, leading you to one of the world’s most enchanting and secluded cultural celebrations. The Royal Highland Festival, held annually in the remote village of Laya, is an event that showcases Bhutan’s highland culture in its most authentic splendor.

Reaching Laya is no ordinary feat. Whether you trek through rugged trails that wind through pristine valleys or take a helicopter ride that offers a bird’s-eye view of Bhutan’s dramatic landscapes, the journey is an adventure in itself. Located at 3,830 meters above sea level, Laya rewards those who brave the journey with awe-inspiring vistas and a profound sense of arrival.

His Majesty The King initiated the Royal Highland Festival in 2016 to celebrate the unique culture and traditional way of life of the highland communities of Bhutan. The first Royal Highland Festival was held to mark the celebration of the birth of His Royal Highness the Gyalsey, 400 years of arrival of Zhabdrung Rinpoche to Bhutan and the Rabjung (60 years cycle) birth year of Guru Rinpoche.

As the festival opens, the atmosphere is charged with excitement. Traditional offerings of Buelwa, accompanied by the soulful recitations of Auley, set the stage. This ancient epic poem and song tradition, originating from Zhabdrung’s time, is a heartfelt tribute to Bhutan’s monarchy and their enduring leadership.

Throughout the festival, Layaps in their vibrant traditional attire perform dances and songs that tell stories of their ancestors and way of life. Competitions featuring highland animals – majestic yaks, horses, and mastiffs – highlight the skills and traditions of the highlanders. The most-beautiful yak contest is particularly captivating, offering a unique glimpse into the pride and joy of the community.

The festival grounds at the sprawling plateau of Jangothang transform into a bustling marketplace of sort, where stalls brim with local treasures – yak cheese, butter, highland agricultural innovations, and medicinal herbs, to name a few.

Each product reflects the ingenuity and traditions of the highlanders, providing a tactile connection to their way of life. Music, dance, and sports create a dynamic and immersive experience. From traditional wrestling matches to horse racing, spectators, both locals and tourists, are treated to an exciting range of entertainment programs throughout the festival. The Royal Highland Festival promotes cultural preservation, ecological sustainability, and economic development.

It’s a festival that not only celebrates the highland way of life but also shares it with the world, offering a rare and unforgettable glimpse into Bhutan’s heart and soul.

Attending the Royal Highland Festival is more than just a visit; it’s a journey into the living history and vibrant culture of Bhutan’s highland communities. It’s an invitation to experience a world where tradition and nature are intertwined, creating a unique and enduring legacy.

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