After the successful initiation of the Royal Highland Festival last year, the second Royal Highland Festival was held on the 23rd and 24th October in the same ground at Langothang, Laya at 4000 meters above sea level.
The theme for the festival was, ‘Highlands- the Pride of the Nation.’ And the main objective of the festival is to support developments of the highlanders and showcase their unique culture and way of living to the people outside.
The two day event was graced by His Majesty The King. The event also saw the presence of the Foreign Minister Lyonpo Damcho Dorji, Indian ambassador Jaideep Sarkar, Gasa Dzongda Dorji Dhradhul and other senior officials from various ministries.
For the past few days, the quiet and secluded space at Langothang saw spectators from different parts of the country and the world, all of whom came to experience the highlander’s way of living, the pristine and serene nature and trek through the adventurous routes to come almost face to face with the otherwise towering peaks.
The festival also provided an insight into their culture and traditions, the giant Bhutanese mastiffs, women participants in Nyagoe Dyendurs (strongman competition), the beautifully adorned yaks and horses, relay race by the senior citizens and horse racing. People witnessed the highlander’s age old songs and dances and connected with the locals at personal level through home stays.
Moreover, the spectators, as an inclusion also gained better comprehension into the highlanders’ culture from different dzongkhags through their respective stalls that exhibited their local produce like fermented cheese, chogos or cheese snacks, yak hair products, dresses, hats, among lot of the other distinctive displays which have always been a part of their age old culture.
The festival also saw a surge in the numbers of curious and fascinated foreign spectators. Martin from Germany said, “It’s my first time visiting Bhutan, and Laya is a beautiful village, it is nice to be in the mountains surrounded by fresh air. It is good that Bhutan is trying to preserve its unique culture and show it to the world.”
Richard Wilson from Seattle, Washington, who had Bhutan in his bucket list since his boyhood, explained his fascination for the country. “I read a story about a stamp collector in America, who wrote to Bhutan asking about stamps long time ago and somehow connected with the King. Although I do not remember the whole event, it was a wonderful story and ever since then I’ve always wanted to visit Bhutan and we are very happy that we visited the place and got to attend the festival.”
Lindsay Holmes said that it is a great privilege for him to be in Laya attending the well represented festival. “I and my team also had the great honor of speaking with His Majesty where he talked about the importance of bringing all people together in the area and keeping the culture and traditions alive, which I feel is another great example of what Bhutan is showing to the world.”
Cathy from U.S.A, who is a health volunteer at JDWNRH, said that she came to know about the festival through a newspaper which was enough to spark all her interest. “I like that the festival is so real and so true, I guess ‘authentic’ is the word. It is very celebratory and people really celebrate their culture and traditions with pride. And I also like the fact that the King is proud of his people and he expressed his gratitude to the volunteers and recognizes our works. The opening ceremony also gave a penetration on how true Bhutanese are to their religion and how faithful you are to your country,” said Cathy.
Charlie, who is a volunteer in Thimphu with the Australian Volunteer Program, said that her friends who attended the festival last year recommended it to her and said that the royal highland festival is very different from any of the other festival she’s been to. “I really like the textiles and the costumes and we can see people from diverse culture all coming together and everything is so exciting.”
Similarly the locals, who’ve been anticipating the festival from their never ending routine of business at the place, expressed their gratitude for the positive aura and changes that such event brings about in the community.
“For men in the village, living is about work and it is never ending. Such festival around the locality is very uplifting where we can revive our old songs and dances and preserve our culture and traditions. We are extremely grateful to His Majesty The King and the dzongkhag for such an initiative,” said 73-year old Ap Sangay Dawa.
Ap Tenzin, 68 from Tongra in Laya said, “Earlier we had hard time meeting ends, but we are gradually becoming self-reliant now. With such festival, we can learn smarter practices of agriculture and we are also exposed to the modern ways of life. We never even imagined that the lifeless expansive ground here in Langothang will one day give a similitude glimpse like that of urban towns with unexpected number of spectators and become a sacred space where we get to display our culture and tradition through dresses, songs, dances, cuisines, crafts and our livestock.”
Ap Khandu said that with Civil Society Organizations like Clean Bhutan collaborating with the students in Laya and advocating on the waste management aspects, the locals are becoming more careful with their waste disposal habits and are helping them better understand the importance of nature preservation.
Another important highlight of the festival was the Laya run which saw participation from seventy three men and 23 women from different dzongkhags to run the 25 kilometers race. All the top three positions in the men’s category were secured by soldiers. Sangay stood first after completing the run in one hour 59 minutes, while the first runners up, Gawa Zangpo completed in 2 hours one minute and the second runners up completed the run in two hours three minutes.
In the Women’s category, all the top three positions were secured by the women from Laya. Choki stood first by completing the run in 2 hours 41 minutes and Yangzom secured second who took 2 hours and 42 minutes to complete the run while it took Karma Yangden 2 hours 53 minutes and to secure third. The 25 kilometers stretch would otherwise take more than eight to nine hours when trekked at a normal pace.