The Royal Highland Festival was initiated under the Royal command of the King of Bhutan, by the Royal Government of Bhutan in the year 2016 to help the nomads and highlanders of the Laya region. It’s an occasion to show case the culture of these nomads and support them to have a better life.
Hence then, the Royal Highland Festival is held every year during the month of October at the high plateau of Laya.
Laya lies at 4200 meters altitude and is home to the nomads of Western Bhutan. Whole of the year these nomads rear their Yaks for sustenance but come October and it festival time and this festival brings people from all over Bhutan to interact and enjoy the hospitality of the Layaps, the highlanders of Bhutan.
During this festival one can witness and partake in the local dances, enjoy the local foods, there is the strong man and strong women competition, best Mastiff dog competition, horse riding competition, ride the Yaks, enjoy the yak hair weaves by nomads which you could buy and take back as souvenir, and of course one can never miss the beauty of the Laya region and its Pristine environment.
Apart from the festivities, the District organizes TWO Runs, one is the SNOWMAN RUN and the other is the LAYA RUN.
SNOWMAN RUN: This run is a part of the Royal Highland Festival. It is a very challenging two days race of 53 kms of running. The race starts at the GASA Tshachu ( Gasa Hot spring) which is at 2,231 above sea level and ends at the Laya plateau at 4,200 meters. Runners will cross several passes and pass by near mountain Rivers and streams and is one of the most beautiful runs.
Locals and tourists challenge their endurance level on this run. If one is a professional runner or athlete, this is one run in the world that you should not miss out on cause this is a run against nature and nature here includes the fast and strong Laya men and women who run these terrains like a walk in the park for all of their lives they have been walking the mountains for their livelihood. And it’s unimaginable but true that they run in their rubber plastic boots as they almost do not know how to run in a proper running shoes. So come challenge the unbeaten ones in Bhutan.
LAYA RUN: This is part of the Royal Highland Festival. It is a One Day race of 25kms. The race starts at Gasa and ends in Langothang ground in Laya. Usually it takes about 8 hours walk to complete this stretch of the trek but runners in Bhutan have completed this route in just under Two hours. The locals and tourists alike sign up for this race as it is doable and not very challenging as the Snowman Run.
The Royal Highland Festival is getting very popular with the locals of Bhutan and tourists alike, as it is an entirely different and once in a life time experience where one gets to share the space with the nomads of Laya with such festivities and at such an altitude.
This is one of the best and most popular cultural treks. It goes past many temples and monasteries and covers some of the same ground as the more difficult and more famous Snowman Trek.
The below Trek Route Itinerary and Package has been detailed from Trekking Guides who have been on this trek often. Bhutan Jewel Travel assign only experienced trekking guides for this trek.
Day 1: Arrive at Paro, clear immigration and customs, I will meet as you exit the airport, and take you to the hotel. hotel. Orientation. Visit the National Museum of Bhutan and Paro Dzong. Overnight at hotel.
Day 2: Sightseeing in Paro Valley. Overnight at hotel.
Day 3: Paro to Shana, The trek begins with a low altitude, 17 km walk.
Day 4: Shana to Thangtahankha, Gradually gaining altitude to 3750m during a 9-10hrs hike of 22 km, the trail follows the Paro River and then goes through evergreens and rhododendron and at last entering into Jigme Dorji National Park.
Day 5: Thangtahankha to Jangothang, This 19 km trail crosses up to 4000 m. Our night will be spend at the Chomolhari Mountain base camp.
Day 6: Recovery day with possible short hikes to enjoy the views.
Day 7: Jangothang to Lingshi, 19 km trail, alt. 4150m. Going through Wide Yak pastures on the way up and down the pass, we will have great views of Lingshi Dzong as we come down into the Lingshi basin. If the weather is clear Mt. Tserim Kang and it’s descending glaciers at the north end of the valley can be vividly seen. Today, the highest point we cross is the Nyile La Pass at almost 5000 but our camp is somewhat lower at 4010 m / 13,153 ft.
Day 8: Lingshi Halt : We recommend one more day halt in Lingshi for acclimatization. On this day visit the Lingshi Dzong. Lingzhi Dzong is one of the remotest Dzongs in Bhutan and very beautiful too perched on top of a hill. Not many Bhutan Trekking tour operators recommend this as they blindly assume that alls good to go, but most Guides on this trek have recommended one more day halt in Lingshi so that the trekkers are well rested for the next day to Chebisa.
Day 9: Lingshi to Chebisa, 19 km walk, alt. 3850m.
Day 10: Chebisa to Shomutang, 17 km walk, alt. 4250m. The walk is through wild pastures where we will probably see a few nomads and yaks. Our highest point will be when we cross Gobula Pass (4440m / 14564ft).
Day 11: Shomutang to Robluthang, 18 km trail, alt. 4400m. The trail climbs out of the valley through pretty desolate country up to Jhari La (4747 m /15,807 ft), about two hours from camp. During clear weather you can see the Mt. Gangchentag, Mt. Tserim Kang and Chomolhari. Herds of Takin are typically grazing on the slopes of the nearby hills.
Day 12: Robluthang to Lemithang, 19 km walk, alt. 4100m. This will be a long, hard day, crossing Sinchu La, the highest pass on the trek. It’s a tough climb from there to the Sinchu La Pass (5005m / 16,417ft), about five hours from camp. The snow covered peak of Gangchentag fills the horizon to the north. It’s then a short walk on a good trail through a cedar forest interspersed with small meadows to Limithang (4140m /13,786ft), a lovely camp site in a big meadow by the river. The peak of Gangchentag dominates the campsite, even though it’s quite a distance away.
Day 13: Lemithang to Laya, 10 km trail, alt. 3800m. Today its mostly downhill along a winding river.
Day 14: A day rest at Laya and a chance to wander around this remote and culturally unique village.
Day 15: Laya to Chamsa, 8-9hrs walk, alt. 3800m.
Day 16: Chamsa to Gasa Tsahchu, 5-6hrs walk, alt. 4160m brings us to the hot springs.
Day 17: This recovery day brings an opportunity to actually enjoy the medicinal values of the hot springs by the bank of the stream, below the hotel complex. The Jigme Dorji National Park administers the hot spring complex. There are five cement pools and a shower room, with more under construction. The water temperature is 40 degree centigrade, which is invitingly warm.
Day 18: Gasa Tshachu to Goen Damji. After the climb away from Gasa Tsachu the trail winds through rolling hillsides passing through fields, villages, forests. Gasa Dzong should be visible behind us, glued to the valley wall, seemingly floating in space After a 5-6hrs walk of 18 kms at the lowest altitudes of this trip, our trek ends in Goen Damji.
Day 19: Goen Damji to Punakha. After a long descent, the trail will make a few small ups and downs close to the river. The main valley is still very closed-in with sub-tropical vegetation such as wild banana trees, creepers and orchids; sometimes rhesus monkeys are playing by the water. Overnight at hotel.
Day 20: Morning sightseeing of the Punakha and Wangdi valleys. Afternoon drive to Thimphu. Overnight at hotel.
Day 21: Morning sightseeing of the Thimphu valley. Overnight at hotel.
Day 22: Tours of handicraft center and shopping in the morning; in the afternoon, visit Bhutan’s oldest Dzong, Simtokha, and then drive to Paro. Overnight at hotel.
Day 23: Drive to airport to check in for your early morning departure