The Royal Highland Festival

Holidays Bhutan welcomes all travellers around the world to the 7 th edition of the annual Royal Highland Festival featuring the last living nomadic herders across the northern highland belt of Bhutan.
This fixed journey combines the best of alpine trekking and cultural extravaganza, traversing majestic rugged ridges crisscrossing the northern frontiers of Bhutan.
Hundreds of nomadic herders – Layaps, Brokpas of Merak Sakten and semi- nomadic communities – gather at Laya (4,000 meters) to celebrate their diversity of cultures, customs, foods and many more. Laya, the festival venue, is truly a pristine alpine wonderland surrounded by some of the highest unclimbed Himalayan peaks in the world.
The physical and cultural activities throughout the journey include exploring landmark heritages and monuments, acclimatization hike on high-altitude mountain pass, outdoor wilderness camping, yak riding, high-altitude marathon with the highlanders, therapeutic soaking in natural hot spring, immersive village exploration and white-water rafting among others. To experience authentic hospitality, local homestays in Laya host accommodation and meals.
Bhutan is home to some of the most fragile glacial ecosystem on earth. To fully appreciate the beauty and majesty of the Himalayas, private helicopter excursion can be arranged with prior booking.
Referring to the festival dates of all past editions, the two-day Royal Highland Festival routinely takes place in late October. Holidays Bhutan will share the festival date as soon as it is officially announced by the Department of Tourism.
Holidays Bhutan is open to pre-booking inquiry, tour planning and customization to cater to your traveling needs and expectations. We look forward to hosting your unforgettable journey in Bhutan.


Our tour guide will receive you at the Paro international Airport for a swift
transfer to the hotel.
The Airport is 2,200 meters above sea level and located in western Bhutan.
Check into hotel and refresh. Attend welcome tea, formal introduction and tour
orientation led by our local tour guide.

For quick familiarization, our local guide will take you on a walking guided tour
inside the historic 5-storied Ta Dzong (watch tower established in 1968) which
houses cultural, historical and spiritual artifacts dating back to 3000 years old.
Hike down and visit Rinpung Dzong (built in 1645), the castle fortress and
powerhouse of western Bhutan.

Welcome dinner
Enjoy authentic Bhutanese beverages and cuisines.
Please feel free to share your dietary restrictions to adjust the cuisine recipes to
suit your palate.

It is always helpful to pick up some local words and phrases from your tour guide
to make quick polite greetings with locals during the journey.
Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation: Hotel in Paro

Gear up for the day-hike at Chelela Pass matching the altitude with Laya at 3,800-4,000 meters above sea level.
Hike Preparation
Please inform our travel host / tour guide if you have any preconditions or need medical attentions.
We would advise and expect our guests to work on pre-departure fitness level and endurance for an enjoyable high-altitude hike.
Please don’t forget to double-check the hiking essentials in your checklist: hiking boots, sunscreen, sunglasses, sun-cap, long-sleeves, down jacket and backpack.

Morning Activities
Drive to Chelela Pass (3,990 meters)
Drive from Paro to Chelela Pass.
Travel info: 38 kms / 1hr 15 min approximately
Hike the Pass terrain ranging from 4,000 – 4,500 meters

Hoist prayer flags at the pass for world peace and successful journey.

Picnic lunch at Chelela.

Afternoon activity
Cycle to Haa valley to boost your physical endurance. It is a gradual descent on a motorable road from the pass to the valley.

Biking tour through Haa Valley.

Drive back from Haa to Paro.
Travel info: 66 kms / 2hr 15 min approximately

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation: Hotel in Paro

Please note: Double-check your hiking checklist. Except for your hiking essentials, your personal luggage will be safely transferred to a hotel in Thimphu for your overnight stay on your return journey.

Mountain Drive from temperate Paro valley through tropical Punakha driving up to the sub-alpine Gasa mountain valley. Make stops along the way to enjoy and take pictures of the picturesque valleys, terraced rice-fields and bucolic villages.

Travel info: distance: 182 kilometers / driving time: 5 – 6 hrs depending on weather and road conditions and sightseeing stops.

Gasa is 2,330 meters above sea level.

After lunch in Gasa, drive to Tongchudra.
Please note: From Gasa to Tongchudra, switch to an off-road pick-up truck.
Travel info: distance: 20 kilometers / driving time: 2 hrs approximately.

Dine like a local
Try the local butter-tea/ fiery rice spirit. Try the famed fragrant rice varieties of Punakha valley and yak meat.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation: Outdoors camping at Tongchuzam, Gasa

Gear up for the hike from Tongchudra (sub-alpine) to Laya (Alpine zone). Please inform our tour guide if you need medical attentions.

After breakfast, hike from Tongchudra to Laya.

Hike information:
Tongchudra elevation: 3300 masl
Laya: 3,900 masl
Elevation gain: 700 meters approx.
Distance covered: 14.32 km
Duration: 4-5 hrs approximately
Difficulty level: moderate – difficult depending on the fitness and endurance level
Please note: it is a gradual climb for the first 2-3 hrs and gets steeper as you near Laya.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation: Outdoors Camping in Laya / Farm stay in Laya (optional)

Enjoy breakfast and the scenic snow-capped mountains in the morning sun.

Attend the official opening ceremony of the Laya festival, featuring traditional music, dance performances, animal parade and cultural shows.

~ Locals usher in the festival with Buelwa, a traditional greeting and gift offering of auspicious and symbolic objects such as grains, fruits, traditional food, religious artifacts, monetary donations, and livestock. Buelwa is customarily observed during ceremonies, festivals, weddings, birthdays in the community.

~ Local elders perform Auley, a 17-century traditional song recitation. The unique song was first performed by the locals to receive the founding father of Bhutan Zhabdrung Rinpoche in the locality. Today Auley is performed by the locals to express their loyalty, gratitude and aspirations to the wise leadership of the beloved kings.

~ Folksongs and dances by local elder men and women
~Wrestling contest & pillow fight among locals
~ Visit the tent stalls woven from yak-hair. Meet the locals and try the local delicacies and beverages.

Contest activities
Take part in a Horse Race and high-altitude marathon ‘Laya Run’ with the locals. The 27-km Run takes about 8 hrs for average walking pace. Participants are charged an entry fee, which will cover packed lunch, refreshment, prize, certificate and porter.

In the evening, attend the cultural program performed by local celebrity singers and artists.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation: Outdoors camping in Laya / homestay in Laya (optional)

Walking tour of Laya Village. Meet the locals and visit their homes for an immersive interaction translated by our tour guide.

Visit the village household, which hosted the historic arrival of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal in Bhutan in 1616, the founding father of Bhutan. The household exhibits gifts – pots and precious stones – gifted by Zhabdrung.

After picnic lunch, visit the local temples namely Omchu Lhakhang, Jagchhey Lhakhang, Jangchubcholing Lhakhang and Zogchencholing Lhakhang. Listen to the rich oral history and legends.

Please note: For large interest group, Holidays Bhutan can prearrange and organize a friendly Khuru / archery match with locals in Laya. Khuru is a traditional dart game. Bhutanese are keen archers and sharp shooters.

In the evening, attend cultural program in the locality.

Meals: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation: Outdoors camping in Laya / homestay in Laya (optional)

Morning Activities
After breakfast and bidding farewell to the locals, hike down to Tongchudra and drive back to Gasa.
Visit Gasa Dzong: The historic castle fortress was built by Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in the 17 th century.

Evening activity
Enjoy a relaxing and therapeutic soaking bath in the natural hot spring in Gasa.
Health benefits of hot spring In Bhutan, hot spring is locally known as Tshachu, which is popularly used for recreation, relaxation and therapeutic purposes. The natural hot springs are believed to contain medicinal and natural minerals such as rdo-sol (coal), mu-zi (sulphur) and rdo-sho (limestone).

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation: Outdoors camping in Gasa

Bhutan is known for the towering peaks over 7,000 masl and pristine wilderness. With rivers meandering through picturesque valleys, Bhutan offers great opportunities for water sports.

Morning Activity
White-water Kayaking (option 1) or Rafting (option 2) along Mochu River

Rafting info: Option 1: Mo Chu -
Tashithang Devil’s Gorge (Tashithang – Below Punakha Dzong)
Length: 12 km, 5 -7 hours with scouting
Difficulty: Class V
Flow: 1000 cubic feet per second (a unit of measurement referring to the volume and speed of water flow)
Season: Feb/Dec.
(Caution: higher than medium flows makes this run dangerous. High water runs not recommended for amateurs)
Craft: Kayaks only (too steep for rafts)

Option 2: Rafting along Mo Chhu River
Khamsum Yullay base – Changyul
Level: easy 1-2: Some rough water and may need some maneuvering with basic paddling skills
Rafting distance: 7 km
Rafting time: approximately 1 hr depending on water volume and season

Visit the Landmark Punakha Dzong.
Built in 1638, the landmark fortress epitomizes the finest architectural heritage of Bhutan. The historic fortress is the venue of the coronations and royal weddings of the kings of Bhutan.

After lunch, enjoy a short hike to the popular Temple of Fertility in Punakha. Learn about the beloved saint Drukpa Kunley (1455-1529), whose songs and stories of spiritual realization continue to influence and shape the Bhutanese socio-cultural life.

Stop-over at Dochula Pass for a tea/coffee break.

Drive back from Punakha to Thimphu.
Travel info: distance: 72 kms / driving time: 2 hrs 30 mins depending on weather and road conditions and sightseeing stops.

In the evening, visit Beer Garden, an extension of CSI is Bhutan’s flagship store exhibiting over 1500 products made by more than 500 local entrepreneurs. Try the local draft beers.

Dinner with Holidays Bhutan travel host.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation: Hotel in Thimphu

Morning Activities
Visit the city landmarks and heritage monuments.
~ Buddha Dordhen Statue (169 ft. one of the largest seated Buddha statues in the world) at Kuensel Phodrang, Thimphu. Enjoy the bird-eye view of Thimphu city.

~ Visit Motithang Takin Zoo. Takin is the national animal of Bhutan. Listen to the legend of the Divine Madman and his magical creation of this strange animal.

~ Visit the National Institute of Zorig Chusum, where you can watch and learn about the thirteen arts and crafts of Bhutan. The institute remains closed on Sunday and public holidays.

~ Visit the Royal Textile Academy of Bhutan/ museum (instituted in 2005) and learn about the history and craft of textile weaving in Bhutan.

~ Stroll through the craft market showcasing the authentic crafts of rural Bhutanese artisans.

Drive back from Thimphu to Paro.
Travel info: distance: 50 kms / driving time: 1 hrs 20 mins.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation: Hotel in Paro

Morning activity
Warm-up and gear-up for the last hike to Taktshang popularly known as the Tiger’s Nest.
Hike Information
Taktsang altitude: 3,100 masl
Hiking time – 5-6 hrs with optional Pony-ride
Distance covred: 6.4 km (4 miles) round trip
Altitude – 3000 masl
Elevation gain – 520 m (1,700 ft)
Difficulty level – moderate

The first temple complex was built in 1692. Legend has it that the temple site was named Taktsang or Tiger’s Nest after Bhutan’s Patron-saint Padmasambhava visited the site surfing on a tigress and blessed it as a power-place and treasure trove in the 8th century. The magical site has attracted some of the legendary Buddhist saints and treasure discoverers who attained spiritual realizations and revealed treasure teachings.

Hike down and drive back to Paro town. Enjoy a rejuvenating herbal body massage and relaxing traditional soaking bath.

Later in the evening, attend cultural show and farewell dinner.
Formal closing session by the travel host of Holidays Bhutan.

Meals included: Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner
Accommodation: Hotel in Paro

This morning/afternoon we see you off at the airport to catch your flight to Bangkok or other gateway cities to connect with your international flight to next destination.

Please note:
This itinerary and the tour map are intended only as a guide. The timing and sightseeing activities are subject to change due to local weather conditions, unforeseen circumstances (logistical or otherwise), and physical fitness level.

Laya village is at an altitude of 3800masl and the festival venue at 4000m. Laya is ralatively cold in October, with daytime temperatures ranging between 1-12 degree celcius and nighttime temperatures dipping below zero. Light drizzles and snowfall may be expected with an average humidity of 48%. The hike from Gasa to Laya can become challenging in wet weather conditions.