Hiding on the rooftop of the world and behind the mighty mountains of the Himalayas, Bhutan is known as the “Last Shangri La”. The country has been a hotspot especially for trekkers, because of its pristine nature, together with the distinctive culture as a Buddhist country and many secrecies remain undiscovered.
The Royal Highlander Festival is a festival annually held in October in Laya, Gasa, Bhutan. Gasa is the northernmost district of Bhutan, connecting with districts of Punakha, Thimphu, and Wangdue Phodrang. Gasa also shares a border with Tibet to its north. The astounding region has an elevation range from 1,500-4,500m.
First introduced in 2016, the festival’s goal is to share the beauty and the wonders of Gasa Dzongkhag through its nature, history, and its distinctive tradition and culture and to share Gasa’s vision of “Good to Great Gasa”. Highlanders from different parts of Bhutan come here to exchange values, knowledge, and experience regarding highlands and yak farming. The festival is the brainwork of the fifth king Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck and has definitely become more popular, attracting more people to this ‘‘less accessible’’ northern region of Bhutan. The performances in the festival are extremely captivating and unique, thus making the festival a great opportunity to understand the Highlanders’ life.
Living in this region is the Layaps, nomadic herders whose life is strongly connected with yak farming and trading products like yak hair textiles, cheese, butter, and yak meat. The Layaps have a very unique cultures and traditions. Asides from yak farming, they also harvest and sell Cordyceps, (a fungus of extremely high value that is frequently used in oriental medicine). Gasa is also home to a large number of herds of wild Takins.
Tour duration – 12 days/ 11 nights.
Trek duration – 6 days.
Tour destination– Thimphu, Punakha, Gasa, and Paro.
Tour overview: What experiences do you think you will have when participating in a festival in Bhutan at 4,000m?
The Royal Highlander Festival is held at an incredible altitude of 4,000m in Laya, Gasa, from 23rd to 24th October 2021. This unique festival brings new air to this remote region of Bhutan.
At an altitude of 3,800m, Laya is certainly not an easy destination, but all the effort will be worth it once you have touched its ground. In October, when the Royal Highlander Festival is held, the weather can be quite cold, from 1-12 °C (33,8°F to 53,6°F). The temperature may drop below 0°C (32°F), with light drizzles or snow. Due to the significant weather conditions, the hike to Laya is most suitable for experienced trekkers.
Nevertheless, the Royal Highlander Festival is a special opportunity for you to understand more about the rich heritage and the life of the warm-hearted Bhutanese living in the western and northern regions of the country. You will enjoy the local’s memorable festival, challenge yourself with the strenuous Gasa-Laya trek and revel in the striking scenery along the way with this unforgettable 12-day itinerary!
Day 01: Arrival in Paro
Your adventure in Bhutan does not start after you step out of the plane, but from the moment you first see it. Bhutan knows how to impress travelers with its staggering landscape, and so it will welcome you with the magnificent view of snowcapped Himalayan mountain ranges from your plane window.
Outside of the arrival hall, our guide will be there to give you a warm welcome and then you will check-in at your hotel in Paro. A short break will be followed by an authentic Bhutanese lunch.
After the break, we will first head to one of the most remarkable dzongs of Bhutan – Paro Rinpung Dzong (Fortress on A Heap of Jewels). This massive complex is said to be visible throughout the valley with its iconic towering buttressed walls. Once inside, you will find the wooden galleries displaying beautiful wall paintings, which illustrate Buddhist lore like the wheel of life or the old man of long life.
The next dzong will be just as interesting as the famous Paro Dzong. Well-known for the valuable collections it houses, the National Museum of Bhutan, or Ta Dzong, sits on top of the hill above Paro Dzong. As it was a watchtower protecting the important dzong, this location was perfect, and it is still so for offering a wonderful view of the valley. Turned into a museum in 1968, Ta Dzong’s collections include many antique thangka paintings, weapons and armor, and rich diversity of natural and historic artifacts.
You will stay overnight at a hotel in Paro.
Day 02: Paro sightseeing
A must-visit site in Bhutan – the sacred Taktsang Monastery will be our destination for the day. Also called the Tiger’s Nest, the monastery sits at an altitude of 3,120m on a cliff overlooking the valley. The trail is about 4.5km, so we will be ascending approximately 600m, a total of 5-6 hours hiking to reach the monastery. This will be your chance to immerse totally with Bhutan's pristine nature, passing through lush forests, and enjoy spectacular mountain scenery along the way. Breath in, fill your lung with the clean fresh air and climb up the trail, there is no better way than this to truly “feel” Bhutan!
All the buildings of the prominent complex are interconnected by a staircase carved into the rock. There are 8 caves in the monastery, where the monks live and mediate inside for a certain period of time. It is believed that the great Buddhist master Guru Rinpoche also came here on a tigress’s back and meditated inside these caves.
You will stay another night at a hotel in Paro.
Day 03: Paro to Punakha
- Altitude in Punakha: 1,300m
- Distance: 125 km
- Estimated travel time: 4.5 hours
Leaving Paro and heading to Punakha, we will see the ancient landmarks of this city, which is the former capital of Bhutan. On the way, we will visit Dochula Pass (3,050m) for its breathtaking panoramic view of the Himalayan ranges. Considered one of the most picturesque mountain passes, this site has left many travelers in awe with the sight of Chortens gracing the green hillside and the faraway mountains hidden behind the clouds.
Upon arrival in Punakha, we will head to the grand Punakha Dzong (Place of Great Happiness), arguably the most beautiful dzong in Bhutan. The majestic structure stands at the confluence of two major rivers in Bhutan, the Pho Chhu and Mo Chhu, which converge in this valley. Not only renowned for its structural beauty, Punakha Dzong is also a sacred place for it has witnessed an important moment of Bhutan’s history and it also contains the preserved remains of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, the unifier of Bhutan as well as a sacred relic known as the Tanjung Karsapani.
Afterward, we will hike to Khamsum Yuelley Namgyal Chorten (1,500m), located on a ridge above the valley. From Punakha suspension bridge, ascend 200m up the hill. This is an easy hike and will last for about 1 hour. Once we reach the Chorten, we will be at one of Bhutan’s finest architectural examples, also the only one of its kind in the world.
Tonight you will rest at a hotel in Punakha.
Day 04: Punakha to Gasa – Konia
- Distance Punakha – Gasa: 70km
- Distance Gasa – Konia: 14km
- Estimated time: 6-7hrs
- Camp altitude: 2,240m
- Ascent 1,5000m, descent 740m
We will leave Punakha in the early morning to drive for 4 hours to Gasa (2,770m), this is where the road will end. From Gasa, we will start trekking to Konia, which will be about 4 hours. The trek will first go up and cross Bari La pass (3,740m) then gradually descend toward Konia. Tonight you will camp in Konia.
Day 05: Konia to Laya
- Distance: 19km
- Estimated time: 6-7hrs
- Camp altitude: 3,050m
- Ascent 1,070m, descent 260m
From Konia campsite, we will trek to Kohi Lapcha pass at an altitude of 3,300m. After that, the trail will have small ups and downs along Mo Chhu river valley, along the way you can enjoy the incredible view of the raging river, feeder stream, and astounding waterfalls. Following a steep ascent, we will eventually climb up to the campsite in Laya.
Day 06: Royal Highlander festival day 1
First held in 2016, the Royal Highlander festival’s goal is to spread awareness about the beauty and wonders of Gasa district – its pristine nature, history, and venerable tradition and to introduce Gasa’s vision of “Good to Great Gasa”. Beyond that, it is to share with guests about the beauty right in the simple life of the Highlanders.
There are a variety of and events which take place during the festival. You will have the chance to witness the traditional offering of Buelwa (gift offering) with Auley (traditional epic poem/song recitation tradition originated from Zhabdrung Rinpoche days). This ritual is to show the loyalty and respect of the Laya community for the dynamic and visionary leadership of their monarchs.
Cultural programs performed by the Layaps range from traditional songs and dances to competitions on highland animals such as the Yaks, horse, and Mastiffs. There will be plenty more performances you can experience at the festival.
Day 07: Royal Highlander festival day 2
Today we can spend more time participating in the exciting festival.
Or you will also have an option of exploring Laya village and meeting the locals. It will be a unique experience learning about life in this more separated region of the country. From Laya village, it will be a short walk and you can reach a number of holy lakes in this area – Kharkhil Tsho, Paro Tsho, and Onemo Tsho. The scenery in this area is gorgeous with the lush meadows surrounding the crystal clear water lakes – a true feeling of tranquility.
Last but not least, you may visit the hot springs in Lungo village, which is also close to the village of Laya.
Day 08: Laya to Konia
- Distance: 19km
- Estimated time: 6-7hrs
- Camp altitude: 3,050m
- Ascent 260m, descent 1,070m
After 2 memorable days in Laya, we will start to trek back on the same path that took us to Laya. You’ll slowly climb down, go through some ups and downs before taking a sheer descent throughout the day. You will meet with the incredible picture of the raging river and stupendous cascades along the trek again. Then we will get to Kohi Lapcha and climb down from there to a broad stream of Koina Chhu, where our campsite is located.
Day 09: Konia to Gasa
- Distance: 14km
- Estimated time: 6-7hrs
- Camp altitude: 2,240m
- Ascent 740m, descent 1,500m
Continue trekking today, we will soon cross Bari La pass at 3,740m before seeing Gasa. From Gasa, it will be another hour of walking and we will get to the renowned Gasa Tsechu (hot springs). This is one of the most famous hot springs in Bhutan and definitely a great place to rejuvenate your body with mineral water after a whole day of trekking. The campsite is located close to Gasa Dzong.
We will spend time exploring Gasa Dzong, erected in 1646 by Zhabdrung. It is dedicated to commemorate the victories over the Tibetans and also guarded the region against invasions in the 17th and 18th centuries. The locals call it the Tashi Thongmon Dzong, named after the region’s protecting deity Tashi Thongmon. The dzong has a unique structure with a circular shape and three watchtowers standing at a strategic points. During clear days, the sight of Gasa Dzong becomes extremely magnificent with the backdrop of the mighty Mount Gangboom.
Day 10: Gasa to Thimphu
- Distance: 145 km
- Estimated travel time: 6hrs
In the morning, a car will wait at the trek’s endpoint to take us back to Thimphu, the capital of Bhutan.
En-route, we will follow a lovely trail crossing lush hillock meadows to visit Chimi Lhakhang (Temple of Fertility). The yellow-roofed temple is famous since childless women will come here to pray and receive a wang (blessing or empowerment), and pregnant women will come to select the name for their future baby from the bamboo slip collection.
You will rest at a hotel in Thimphu tonight.
Day 11: Thimphu to Paro
We will spend the day exploring Thimphu – the capital of Bhutan considered an ideal place for visitors to take a break after days of traveling.
The first site we will see is the National Memorial Chorten. The sacred building is the monument of world peace and prosperity and at the same time the memorial to Bhutan’s Third King, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1928-1972).
Then we will head to Changangkha Lhakhang in the afternoon. Built-in the 12th century, the ancient temple has served locals since then. Parents will come here to ask protector deity Tamdrin to bless their children or to choose auspicious names for their newborns. Because of its location on the cliff overlooking the whole valley, you will be able to enjoy the wonderful scenery of Thimphu from the temple.
After that, we will travel to visit the largest statue in Bhutan – Buddha Point (Buddha Dordenma Statue). The giant statue has a height of 51.5m, standing atop a hill in Kuenselphodrang Nature Park. It is believed that the prominent figure emanates an aura of peace and happiness to the world.
We can also take a quick trip to the General Post Office. Here you can have your own stamp made, which will definitely be a unique souvenir from Bhutan to take back home.
Afterward, we will drive back to Paro and spend the last night of the trip in Paro.
Day 12: Depart Paro
We will head to the airport after breakfast for your flight to your next destination, marking the end of your Bhutan journey. Tashi Delek (goodbye and good luck) and hope to see you again!
October  and  November
- Group of 2 people: US$ 3,360 per person
- Group of 3 people: US$ 3,030 per person
OFF PEAK SEASON
August  and  December
- Group of 2 people: US$ 2,810 per person
- Group of 3 people: US$ 2,480 per person
If you are planning to travel Bhutan with a group of 4 people and more, please feel free to contact us to get the cost for your group.
|Bhutan visa fee (US$ 40 per person).||Laundry/beverages/ telephone calls and any personal expenses.|
|3 star categories hotel twin sharing room or double sharing room.||Travel insurance.|
|Accommodation in the best 3 star hotels in Bhutan.||Airfares.|
|All meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) in day.||Airport taxes if any.|
|Bottled water, tea, and coffee on the trip.||Excess baggage charge.|
|A sustainable development fee of $65 per night.||Tips to guides and drivers.|
|Museum fees and other special entry fees.||Services not mentioned.|
|Internal transportation with experienced driver throughout the trip.|
|Sightseeing as per itinerary with qualified and licensed English speaking guide.|
|Gho or Kira (traditional and national dress of Bhutan) for your use during your stay in Bhutan.|
|Bhutanese sim cards.|
|Experienced guide, cook, and support staff for trekking tour.|
|Essential equipment for trekking tour: kitchen tent; dining tent; toilet tent with toilet pot and toilet paper; sleeping tent with full carpet, foam mattress with bed sheet and foam pillow, one small blanket.|