Breaking News

Laya – The Land of Yak Breeders

Laya – The Land of Yak Breeders

Discover one of the most remote villages on the foot of the Himalayas. Laya, and in Particular Bhutan, has a reason to be grateful to the fox, for it helped Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to arrive in Bhutan and unify it. The year was 1616. Heavy snow had totally blocked the path between Bhutan and Tibet. The trail was lost. The mountains on either side seemed to close on each other. Zhab drung Namgyal was at a loss. That night, the great Lama dreamt that an animal would show him the way next day. And so it happened. A fox howled away at regular intervals. The great Lama followed the sound and the footprints, and was able to cross over the mountains pass safely. The region in which he arrived was Laya.

Below the village, in a small meadow, through which it is believed Zhabdrung passed through, there is a chorten with the footprints of Zhabdrung and his horse.

Spread over a hillside at 3700 m, near the Tibetan border, Laya is one of the highest villages in Bhutan. Here one come face to face with the most primordial in the stunning beauty of nature in its raw authenticity, manifest in the daunting Masagang (7165 m) towering over the village, snow-clad mountains emitting golden hues in the sun and the blue sky arching over the valley. It is a most fascinating as well as the most fearful sight.

Even now Laya is inaccessible. One can go there either by helicopter or on foot. The region is a home of Layaps and the old faithful – the hairy Yaks. The life here is not at all easy. People live under most formidable conditions. Day temperature in winter often falls to as low as minus 20 degree Celsius. Snow over one foot deep stays on for days on end. In rainy summers, the Laya valley is enveloped with fog and cloud. Stubborn elastic leeches harass humans and animals. Except for some wheat, maize, millet and few vegetables, nothing grows here. However to match the demand of the environment, layaps have developed the spirit and culture which is uniquely Layan – the spirit of adventure, the spirit of optimism. Layaps are sturdy as they are modest.

It is strange that in spite of so little growing here, Laya is called the grain basket of Gasa, One of the Districts of Bhutan. Some houses are said to have grains stocked dating back to two decades each house and even some of the cattle sheds is a granary.

Worshippers of the Dra-Lha (local deity), the Layaps are a community at peace with their culture which is quite distinct. The practice of Polyandry ensures that the property stays within the family.

The women keep their hair long and wear peculiar conical bamboo hats with a bamboo spike at the top, held on by a beaded band. Their dress comprises a black woolen jacket and a long woolen Tibetan style skirt with horizontal stripes in natural or earth colors. The men have largely switched over to Gho, National dress of Bhutan. Layaps live in one to two storied houses made of either stone or wood. Yaks and horses, mainly the former, comprise the lifeline of this community largely dependent on portering and barter. Besides being imbued with stamina and strength for a carrying load, yaks provide milk and milk products, as well as hair and hair products. Master of instinct and sure of foot, the yaks is the first and the last companion in the snowbound high altitude areas including the treacherous Snowman Trek. Yak could be the major tourist attraction and income generator for the community.

The Yak ride during the yak show held in October 2003, in Bhutan, greatly impressed the tourists. The show was organized to examine the suitability of the animal to be trained for riding. One of the riders from the University of Colorado said, “If riding the horse is like travelling in a Toyota hilux, riding a yak is like moving in a Land Cruiser”.

Even without the luxury of a motor road, Laya already boasts a basic health Unit, a wireless communication facility, renewable natural resources centre and two non formal education centres. With a society essentially inward looking and self reliant, Laya is a world unto itself. It was a day of monumental significance in April 1997 when the Layaps and the Royal Government willed a community school into existence.

This four-roomed, stone walled, mud plastered unassuming little structure is Laya’s window to the World. Sixty four little boys and twenty six little girls with crimson cheeks stream in from the neighbouring villages. They are taught the language of Milton and Shakespeare, numerals of the Arabs and the grammar of Thumi Samboda.

These students have already set their eyes on opportunities beyond the confines of Laya. Some of them want to become teachers, some dream about becoming a doctor or an engineer while some of them want to become dzongda (District Magistrate). During the wind of change, even close knit families find themselves torn between tradition and progress.

It is yet to be seen how the Layaps accept the change or respond to the world beyond. But one thing is certain – the school is there to stay and grow.