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HARMONY in the Himalayas

In tiny Bhutan, GNH (gross national happiness) is more important than GDP (gross domestic product)

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Photographs by AP/ALEXANDRA REYNOLDS

The village of Laya, Bhutan, sits at nearly 13,000 feet above sea level in the Himalayas. The Laya Royal Highlander Festival is held here to promote the remote area and its native ethnic population.

LAYA, Bhutan -- Prayer flags whip in the wind, flying across steep valleys and roads. Buddhist temples, stupa shrines and majestic fortresses called zhongs dot the landscape. Giant water-powered prayer wheels spin from tumbling falls. Farmers tend yaks.

BHUTAN: tourism.gov.bt

Bhutan requires tourists to book packages using licensed tour operators and costing at least $200-$250 per day, depending on the season. Most tourists visiting Bhutan come from India and other neighboring countries. Tour operators geared to Westerners include National Geographic (nationalgeographicexpeditions.com/destinations/asia) and budget tour company Blue Poppy (bluepoppybhutan.com/en) along with luxury operator Gray Langur (graylangur.com), which offers Kingdom of the Clouds 14-day trip in October, including Royal Highlander Festival in Laya, starting at $6,400 per person, double occupancy, all-inclusive (airfare, four and five-star hotels along with camping and homestays).

BHUTAN ATTRACTIONS: Tiger’s Nest monastery, capital city of Thimphu and Punakha, the former capital, which best shows Bhutan’s regal past.

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Decorated with tassels, ribbons and colorful headpieces, these yaks were entered in the Laya Royal Highlander Festival’s best... + Enlarge

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Tsagay, a Bhutanese mastiff, won the best mastiff contest at the Laya Royal Highlander Festival. The mastiffs are beloved in ... + Enlarge

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Residents of Laya and their fellow Bhutanese citizens participate in a traditional dance at the Laya Royal Highlander Festiva... + Enlarge

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The iconic Tiger’s Nest Monastery, or Taktschang Goemba, perches on a steep cliff about 2,700 feet above Paro. The most famou... + Enlarge

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Trekkers cross the glacier-fed Mo Chhu River on the hike from Gasa to the Laya Highlands for the Royal Highlander festival. T... + Enlarge

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