In its fourth year, the Royal Highland Festival has come as a boon for the people of Laya Gewog in Gasa. Locals say the annual festival has contributed significantly to boosting the community’s socio-economic conditions.
Otherwise a quiet village, Laya turns into a hub of celebration once every year. People from all walks of life gather to celebrate the Royal Highland Festival, a festival that showcases innovation and exhibits the highlands as the pride of Bhutan. Highlanders from around 10 districts take part in the annual event.
Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering graced the opening ceremony of the festival this year.
It is around this time layaps are the busiest. Many host guests in their homestays while others are occupied at the festival marketing local products to the visitors. The hiring of horses is another trade that is most lucrative during the festival.
“The income from hiring depends on the number of horses one owns. People earn between Nu 10,000 to 50,000. Similarly, those running homestays make around Nu 30,000 to 70,000 during the festival. Moreover, the event has helped significantly in improving hygiene in the locality,” Lhakpa Tshering, the Laya Gup, said.
“Compared to past years, the festival has improved and we are receiving more number of participants and visitors. We get an allowance for bringing our cattle and horses to the festival. Although it costs the government paying us, for the highlanders, the festival has benefitted immensely,” Kinley Dorji said.
“We set up stalls during the festival which helps us make some extra money. I already sold many of my products to the visitors this time. I feel the festival has brought positive changes in our community,” Leki said.
According to the National Council member of Gasa, the festival has also encouraged people to stay back in their village.
“We are aware of the problems of the absentee household or rural-urban migration in other districts. But here in Laya gewog, we do not face such problems. Instead, the number of households here is increasing annually. Our people’s lives have changed positively after dealing with visitors,” MP Dorji Khandu said.
The two-day festival, which was held last week, also celebrates and promotes the culture of yak rearing. Yaks are brought from as far as Trashigang during the cattle show. They are adorned with various ornaments highlighting the richness of culture and traditions in the highlands.
The programme also consists of a 25-kilometre run, Laya Run, dance, music food, and other sports.
Besides being a good source of income, the Royal Highland Festival also helps preserve the age-old traditions of the highlanders. Various indigenous songs and dances are performed during the event.
A gift from His Majesty The King, the Royal Highland Festival was introduced on 16th October 2016 to mark the birth of His Royal Highness the Gyalsey, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal’s arrival into the country in 1616AD and Rabjung, 60 year-circle of Guru Rinpoche’s birth year.