September 27, 2022

The mule skids on the moist ice and slides ahead on the steep observe. The person springs ahead and grabs it by the muzzle. They each pressure in opposition to the slope, breaking skids on the sting of the sheer precipice. The mule is mendacity on its stomach, its forelegs dangling over the cliff. Braced precariously, inches from edge, the person strains to carry the animal on the slender observe. Inside seconds, the person’s teenage son runs again and deftly unloads the mule, handing over the heavy packs to the lady standing behind the animal, holding it by its tail. Collectively they haul the mule again on the trail. Far under them the mist swirls over the jagged rocks which line the underside of the deep gorge.

A number of meters behind, a 73 yr previous girl is sitting on an icy path, inching ahead on her buttocks, utilizing each her hand and ft to take care of her steadiness. She sits nonetheless and watches calmly as her son, daughter-in-law, and grandson save the household mule and a yr provide of meals grain.

An hour later, together with different households, they attain a swift stream. And not using a thought the boys, girls, kids hitch up their Ghos and Kiras (Bhutanese costume) to the waist and wade throughout, oblivious of the water which is at about freezing level. Younger males go lewd remarks on the girls who’re pressured to show their higher thighs to keep away from getting their kiras moist. The ladies reply with fast witty remarks.

By night, households are camped alongside the way in which in caves or underneath leafy bushes. They look after the horses first after which sit all the way down to a easy scorching meal. By darkish, after just a few bottles of Ara and Sinchang (Native brewed alcohol and wine); they share their expertise of the previous months. This yr, the spotlight was the assembly in Gasa (District Head Quarters), the place they met their King and Queens. They marvel that their king walked simply as they did, all the way in which.


The 4 day journey from Punakha, normally stretched over a number of weeks as they relay a yr’s meals provide, brings the Layaps dwelling to some of the spectacular area within the Kingdom of Bhutan, the uncooked pure great thing about the excessive alpine vary.

Spreading upwards from 12000 ft above sea stage, Laya sits on the Lap of the 7100 meters Masagang, One in every of Bhutan’s 20 virgin peaks that are above 7000 meters. The combined conifer forest above Gasa Dzong, dotted with maple and rhododendron in full bloom, merge into groves of birch, juniper, maple and mountain cane. Your entire slopes are richly coloured by wild flowers.

Throughout Bari-la and Kohi lapcha, two rugged passes, the terrain leaves behind the tree- line and the huge alpine grassland undulate in direction of the nice northern glaciers. Excessive above the crystal waterfalls which regularly lower by the ice formations on the cliff aspect, and the clear speedy streams, are their sources, the turquoise contemporary water lakes lots of which the native inhabitants maintain in sacred awe.

That is the world the place the snow leopards roam, the place the blue sheep, Sambar, and Musk deer graze in solitude. Decrease down, that is the house of Takin, the Himalayan black bear, quite a few deer and the wild canine. The winged inhabitants of the area embrace the raven, wild pheasants, snow pigeons, the crimson billed cough, the alpine swift, the snow partridge, and the black necked crane.


The Layaps known as their dwelling Bayu, the hidden land, with good causes. The cluster of villages is totally hidden by ridges and seems instantly when the vacationers reaches the primary homes. The individuals consider that they’re protected by an historical gate resulting in the primary village. It was right here that their guardian deities stored a Tibetan invasion at bay. In an vital annual ceremony, the Layaps pay homage to the protecting forces which turned all of the stones and bushes across the gate into troopers to repel the invaders.

But when such legend is historical past in Laya, historical past can also be Legend. This was the place the place Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal entered Bhutan. In a journey which resounds with conquest of human and supernatural dimensions the Shabdrung crossed a sequence of Mighty Himalayan ridges and entered Laya from Tibet. In a small meadow under the villages, known as Taje-kha a chorten shelters the footprints of the shabdrung and his horse.

Historical past and legend are nonetheless the realities of immediately. The pristine mountain ranges haven’t succumbed to modifications over the centuries. Neither have its individuals, like in lots of different components of Bhutan, the land nor have the individuals existed in a concord which the trendy world doesn’t adequately recognize. And it’s on this context that the Layaps have to be seen. It’s in opposition to this rugged backdrop that they have to be understood.


“The Layap scent”, is one well-known remark. “You can not rely upon the Layaps, is one other, usually from civil servants. “The Layaps are backward”, say individuals dwelling within the decrease valleys. “The Layaps are alcoholics,” say many who know them, most individuals cease to look when a layap girl passes by in her distinct, maybe ‘quaint’ kira. Some would level her out to mates.

The Layaps is all of those, if you don’t look past the floor or if you don’t perceive him in the appropriate context. A discerning observer would in all probability discover, nevertheless, that the Layap has way more substantial qualities to be admired than these passing these derogatory feedback.

If the Layaps are climate overwhelmed because the alpine rangelands they’re as untamed and unpredictable because the forces of nature that are generally harsh That’s the reason, maybe, the frustration of a civil servants who finds that the Layap can’t be sure to a deadline and even to a accountability. Once you name them they all the time say sure however by no means flip up, explains one District official.

The Layaps are additionally as open as their surroundings, usually freed from social inhibition. Women and men are open and relaxed on points just like the boundaries sexual conduct. This, in reality is, usually exploited by occasional guests like vacationer guides, navy patrolmen, and civil servants.

Survival has additionally sharpened the wiles of the Layap. At the moment, it’s a nightmare for District officers to pin a Layap herder down on plenty of yaks in his herd as a result of he desires to keep away from tax. Name a Layap household for official obligation throughout the busy season and the most effective guess is an previous girl who will not be wanted at dwelling.

However contained in the tough Layap exterior is a tenderness which is invisible to the informal observer. Each Layap, for instance, identifies with a 46 yr previous horse proprietor who risked his life to scale and icy cliff to his horse which had fallen. The person was oblivious to the bitter chilly as he sat along with his dying horse for 2 days, feeding the animal water from his cupped palm, the water combined along with his tears.

The Layaps are most tender of their emotions for the Yaks that are the mainstay of their semi-nomadic existence. They formally personal about 2000 of Bhutan’s 30000 yak inhabitants, each believed to be decreased figures. The 300 to 400 KG beast of burden is a supply of meals, shelter, draught energy, transportation and a part of the layap Identification.


The carefree life-style comes with the alcohol consumption by the layap males. Almost each males drinks closely, usually dropping time, effort and hard-earned cash in drunken stupors and changing all of the onerous toiled meals grain into alcohol. 63 years previous Ap Tshering claims to be a typical instance of the Layap man. “I’ve lived a tough life,” he says with a proud smile. “Now I’ve two vital objectives in life. I brew sinchang (native wine) throughout the day and I drink it at night time.”

On this patriarchal society the place women are married early and transfer to the husband’s dwelling, polyandry is on the decline. With clear lower gender roles the lady bears a critical home accountability, taking care of the Yak herds, digging the fields, weaving the normal clothes, and customarily holding the house and household collectively. The lads are chargeable for commerce and the transportation of products, their very own and for the Authorities.


With about 60,000 semi nomadic pastoralists unfold throughout the dominion’s northern area, the 800 or so layaps share a powerful neighborhood spirit. They’re fiercely protecting concerning the picture of their neighborhood. Inner squabbles are usually settled inside the neighborhood and even a toddler won’t reveal the identify of a Layap who’s responsible of some improper doing.

As a neighborhood, the Layaps are additionally pleased with their self sufficiency within the fundamental requirements of life regardless of the everyday bodily difficulties. Wealth is measured by the variety of Yaks in a herd or the quantity of rice. The Layaps are additionally fast to tell the guests that they represent an vital proportion of the Workforce in Gasa District.


There’s a sturdy religious aspect within the cohesion of the Layap neighborhood. The lads pay obeisance to their Pho-la, the native guardian deity. Each archery match, each enterprise journey, each journey, each growth challenge begins with a prayer on the Pho-la’s sacred shrine, a small chorten above the village.

Just like the broader Bhutanese society the recommendation of the village astrologer is sought on most actions and the native medium is normally consulted throughout sickness. It’s the legacy of the Shabdrung that the Layaps have fun the Bumkar pageant to plant barley and the Aulay pageant throughout harvest.

A superstition is robust and is, in reality, one of many protecting forces of the Layap identification. E.g., the distinctive Kira (girls’s fabric) of Layap girls has been stored partly due to the assumption in its necessity. A superstition additionally controls etiquette and different points of the native traditions.


The layaps are merchants, bartering their animal merchandise for meals grain and different edibles each winter. Beginning in late October, when nature presents a respite between the rains and the snow, they transfer to Punakha, their horses and each individual laden with Yak meat, butter cheese, incense vegetation from the wilderness and someday trans border items like dried fish, sneakers and brick tea. By March, when the path turns into accessible, they transfer again with rice, oil, salt, sugar, chillies, clothes and sneakers.

The one reduction on this annual enterprise is a go to to the favored Gasa Tshachhu (scorching spring) the place they be a part of individuals from all components of the nation within the baths that are believed to be of healing worth and a lift to common well being.

Yak merchandise account for 49% of Layaps incomes, 18% comes from commerce, 15% from animal transport and 4% from tourism, the final benefiting solely 5 or 6 horse homeowners who’re in contract with tour operators in Thimphu.


It’s largely the publicity from these annual journeys which have given Layaps a view of a quickly altering world exterior. A handful has ventured so far as Thimphu. And, in recent times, they’ve watched the widening hole in financial progress with some dismay.

The urge to succeed in out and pluck the fruits of progress which their fellow residents are having fun with is starting to gnaw on the roots of Layap tradition. The purpose of 1 man was to construct a home just like the one he noticed in Punakha, a lady most popular a automotive so she can be spared a heavy hundreds, a younger lady envied the Punakha College women, and an eight yr previous boy rolled his father’s hat across the campfire, his thoughts on the plastic toy automobiles he had seen within the outlets.

Two girls who had been chosen to go to Thimphu in a cultural leisure group returned embarrassed about their Kiras as a result of they have been clumsy in contrast with the nylon kiras of the Thimphu girls. When advised by a Thimphu official that the gorgeous and distinctive Laya kira ought to be preserved she retorted. “So you may ship vacationers to take images of us?”


It’s an enlightened coverage that the Royal Authorities of Bhutan has sensitively pursued within the mountains of Laya. The purpose is to enhance the lifetime of the individuals with out upsetting the fragile steadiness within the distinct cultural identification of the individuals, the pristine pure ranges, and the wealthy wildlife.

Finely tuned to the migratory sample of the individuals, the priorities replicate an emphasis on bettering the Yak herds and fodder, on the crops, on the highway, and on the transportation of products.

However the primary advantages of growth in Laya have come from the institution of Well being unit, a veterinary service, and the College. The Layaps nevertheless, place their long run hopes on a 100 or so kids who symbolize the schooling of the neighborhood.

The Layaps haven’t been conscious of the picture of backwardness they endure amongst a piece of Bhutan’s inhabitants. “As soon as educated, our youngsters can face different individuals with satisfaction,” stated one weary mom. A 56 yr previous father summed up the overall sentiments, “Final month, once I went to Thimphu, my son learn the bus ticket and confirmed me the place to sit down,” he stated glowing with satisfaction, his proper hand gripping the boys shoulder. “I didn’t need to face the disgrace of sitting within the improper seat.”


Laya immediately confronts a difficulty which Bhutan, as a nation, has been grappling with for the previous 4 many years. If change is inevitable, will the expertise be extra harsh than the bitter winds which blow over the mountains?

It’s a query with a well-known ring to it. It’s a query dealing with Bhutan. The Layaps represents the Bhutanese inhabitants on a smaller scale, the concord with their pure surroundings, the deep satisfaction of their distinctive cultural identification, and the fierce will to guard their dwelling.

“We Layaps have our good factors and unhealthy factors.” Explains one village elder. “However in the long run, our greatest satisfaction is our land and our self. Sure we exit to commerce, purchase provides, to drink, to flirt. We complain about our hardships, the heavy workload, and the powerful highway. We’re embarrassed about our backwardness. However we’d by no means need to be something however a Layap.”