How the Royal Highlander Festival helped Laya in a time of poor Cordycep harvests

Laya from 16th to 18th October was a celebration. The Royal Highlander Festival, the 53km Snowman run, World Food Day and Laya’s own Auley saw the entire population of the mountain village troop up some 200m to their celebration grounds at 4000m from sea.

The festival came at a time when the harvest of cordyceps have failed two years in sucession. From a harvest of up to a million Ngultrums some have barely eked out an income of Nu.50,000 this year. Aum Thinley Dem, the media team’s host, said that it brought much needed revenue to the village whose income is mainly dependent on harvesting the “worm” as the locals call it and on the hiring of horses by tourists.

The Snowman run started on the 15th from the Gasa hot springs and ended the next day as the Royal Highland Festival began in Lunguthang 1500m up in the mountains. The steep rocky trails and thinning mountain air made it a gruesome two-day competition for the 105 national and 19 expat participants.

The runners started arriving as the Festival was inaugurated by the National Council Chairman Sonam Kinga. The men’s category was dominated by the Royal Bhutan Army and Royal Bodyguard runners who filled up most of the top ten positions. The women’s category saw a little more variety with Chimi Dema, a 19 year old first year student in RTC ranking second. She had, on the previous day, beaten the closest runner by over 16 minutes along the newly excavated road from Gasa to Punzhokha, 28 kms towards Laya. The second day run along the narrow trails saw her lose the top spotfor the first time in over a decade of competitive running.

“It was the narrow trails and the gradient that got to me,” said Chimi who was awarded the Nu. 120,000. She however promises to be back next year, trained for the conditions of the Snowman.

The Nu.150,000 prize for the first place was taken by Laya’s 25 year old mother of two Yangden. The third prize of Nu.100,000 also went to another Layap woman, Lhamo. Hardened by years of journeys along their mountain trails, the Layap found the difficulty in the first day of the run along the Gasa motor road.

“I didn’t know how to run along the road, I ran funny,” said Yangden as she sipped tea in her yak-wool tent while her mother prepared their yak for the livestock competition.

People from highland (over 3000m from sea) communities in Tashigang, Tashiyangtse, Wangdue, Trongsa, Bumthang, Paro, Haa and Lhuentse also participated in the livestock presentation, decking their animals out in dazzling colors as was their respective traditions anddisplayed their indigenous products at the festival.

For many however, the highlight was the visit of his Majesty the King. Eighty year old Aie Dorji Pem was trudging up the mountainside to the celebration grounds resting ever few meters, much to the warm exasperation of her 63 year old daughter.

“She just wouldn’t stay back,” said Aum Dema, “she said she had to see His Majesty though it’s the last thing she did.”

The festival ended on the 18th during which His Majesty spoke to veterans of the armed forces and granted soereys. His Majesty visited the village on Wednesday before leaving on a six-day trek to Lunana along the Phochu River.

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