Bhutan highland festival
Royal Highland Festival
Royal Highland Festival: A gateway to heaven

The annual Royal Highland Festival is one of Bhutan’s many unforgettable festivals and a must-see for tourists; that takes place in October. Festivals in Bhutan are as magical, vibrant, and striking as the country itself is.

Whether themed or spiritually significant, all Bhutan festivals are marked by colorful dances and culturally extravagant treats. This highland festival in Bhutan brings nomads from the northeastern and northwest Himalayan borders for a two-day celebration in Laya.

If you want to travel well in Bhutan and experience a celebration of nomadic highlanders’ life and culture for yourself, consider Druk Heritage Tours. We excel at customizing Bhutan trips for our guests that they will cherish forever!

Allow us to show you a glimpse of this one-of-a-kind nomad festival.

What is the Royal Highland Festival?

Royal Highland Festival
The inspiration behind Bhutan highland festival

When we say that the Bhutan festival brings people together, we mean everyone from royalty, nomads, locals, and tourists. 

The Royal Highlander Festival in Laya, Bhutan, is a two-day annual celebration of nomadic highlanders in Bhutan. 

But how did it come about? 

You might be surprised to learn that the Royal Highland Festival was another initiative of His Majesty, the fifth king of Bhutan.

Prior to the Royal Highland Festival, most festivals in Bhutan are typically held in more accessible regions. Unfortunately, this made it challenging for nomads in the mountainous northern region to attend.

Thus, His Majesty introduced the Royal Highland Festival, which was accessible to all. This highland festival in Bhutan brought hope and joy to the resilient highlanders who live in the northern Himalayas of Bhutan.

During the Royal Highland Festival, you can see everyone from local Layaps wearing pointed beaded headdresses to tribes of Monpas wearing yak hair hats, sharing their culture.

Reaching Laya: The Highest Settlement In Bhutan

Royal Highland Festival
The 5th King of Bhutan at the Royal Highland Festival

The Royal Highland Festival takes place in Laya, the highest settlement in Bhutan. This offbeat village is one of the most remote places in Bhutan that is untouched by the modern world.

That means that reaching this picturesque village with a stunning backdrop of surrounding peaks isn’t going to be easy. Visiting the Bhutan highland festival venue is a multi-day endeavor, even for a native. 

Royal Highland Festival
Trekking to the Royal Highland Festival

With no road to Laya, there are only 2 ways to reach the festival; by trek or by hiring a helicopter. 

While traveling by helicopter is a great way to enjoy a bird’s eye view, trekking to the Royal Highland Festival is the most preferred way to travel, including for the 5th King of Bhutan, who trekked to the Royal Highland Festival in 2017!

Royal Highland Festival
Take in the scenic view on your helicopter ride to the Bhutan highland festival

Trekking to the Bhutan highland festival will take you across the marvelous scenery of Bhutan through the muddy paths with a picturesque panorama of Laya.

What Can You Expect From The Royal Highland Festival?

  • The Laya Run
Royal Highland Festival
A sight to behold!

The Laya Run kicks off the Royal Highland Festival, with locals racing and running 25 kilometers up and across Bhutan’s Himalayan mountains. During the adrenaline-pumping run, participants are greeted with beautiful scenery and fresh air. 

It is truly a sight to behold-seeing men and women dressed in their finest garb as they race each other to the finish line surrounded by cheering crowds and snow-capped mountains. 

  • The Animal Parade
Royal Highland Festival
Horse race between the nomad riders during the Royal Highland Festival.

You’re in for a treat if you expect an exciting animal race as they travel in caravans!

The animal parade is similar to the Laya Run, which tests herders’ athletic prowess and the strengths of animals such as yak, horses, and mastiffs.

The animals and nomads are dressed in traditional and cultural ornaments from their respective regions. The animals are dressed in expensive fabrics and are adorned with bells that add to the energetic vibe as they try to outrun each other. 

Needless to say, the animal parade during the Bhutan highland festival is a sight to behold! 

  • Strong Man Competition 
Royal Highland Festival
A friendly match of strength

The popular obstacle course is another must-see activity at the Bhutan highland festival. This friendly match demonstrates the nomads’ strengths as they laugh and compete in the strong-man competition. It is yet another example of the Highlanders’ tenacity!

You will see the brave nomads hauling the log and running, a friendly brawl, and a piggyback ride race across the field.

There are also games for dynamic duos, wherein two people pull heavy sandbags along the course, stacking them one on top of the other before running back and forth from the starting line to complete the race.

  • Visual Feasts 
Royal Highland Festival
The Royal Highland Festival at a glance

In addition to the joyous and vibrant flurry of activities, the Royal Highland Festival has a multitude of stalls that are sure to catch your eye!

You can try everything from local yak products to highland technology in agriculture, medicinal herbs, and plants in Bhutan’s pristine environment and unadulterated culture.

The Royal Highland Festival offers tourists the opportunity to taste nomadic delights while surrounded by snow-capped mountains and nomads from various parts of Bhutan dressed in traditional garb.

The annual Royal Highland Festival spectacle features men wrestling, horse racing, and children dancing while clueless animals win prizes and runners scale mountains.

The festival acknowledges the roles that people who live in the highlands play as custodians and protectors of our borders. Bhutan’s Royal Highlander Festival is a visual feast of hues, delicacies, and culture. More than anything else, this is a festival of joy and celebration.

In essence, the festival is a multifaceted celebration of Bhutan, woven into the charm of the nomads of Bhutan, its culture, and its people.

If you are as excited to experience the Royal Highland Festival as we are to share, contact us at Druk Heritage today! 

We are a trusted brand with decades of expertise in the travel industry, and we provide our clients with customized Bhutan trips designed to meet their needs.

Want to learn more about taking epic adventures across Bhutan during your Bhutan trip? Read Walking In 500 Years Old Trans Bhutan Trail before traveling well to Bhutan with Druk Heritage today! 


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