Layap – The Nomadic Herders of Bhutan

The mule skids on the wet ice and slides forward on the steep observe. The person springs ahead and grabs it by the muzzle. They both strain from the slope, breaking skids on the edge of the sheer precipice. The mule is lying on its tummy, its forelegs dangling above the cliff. Braced precariously, inches from edge, the person strains to hold the animal on the narrow monitor. In just seconds, the man’s teenage son runs back and deftly unloads the mule, handing more than the hefty packs to the female standing guiding the animal, keeping it by its tail. Alongside one another they haul the mule back again on the route. Far below them the mist swirls about the jagged rocks which line the bottom of the deep gorge.

A several meters behind, a 73 yr old girl is sitting down on an icy route, inching ahead on her buttocks, using both of those her hand and feet to sustain her equilibrium. She sits even now and watches calmly as her son, daughter-in-regulation, and grandson preserve the family mule and a year provide of meals grain.

An hour afterwards, alongside with other households, they reach a swift stream. Devoid of a thought the males, females, small children hitch up their Ghos and Kiras (Bhutanese costume) to the waist and wade across, oblivious of the h2o which is at about freezing place. Younger men go lewd remarks at the females who are forced to expose their upper thighs to steer clear of getting their kiras soaked. The women of all ages respond with rapid witty remarks.

By night, families are camped together the way in caves or less than leafy trees. They care for the horses initial and then sit down to a easy warm food. By dark, right after a couple of bottles of Ara and Sinchang (Regional brewed liquor and wine) they share their practical experience of the previous months. This calendar year, the highlight was the meeting in Gasa (District Head Quarters), in which they met their King and Queens. They marvel that their king walked just as they did, all the way.


The four day journey from Punakha, ordinarily stretched in excess of numerous months as they relay a year’s food stuff supply, delivers the Layaps dwelling to one particular of the most amazing location in the Kingdom of Bhutan, the uncooked normal beauty of the substantial alpine assortment.

Spreading upwards from 12000 feet above sea degree, Laya sits on the Lap of the 7100 meters Masagang, 1 of Bhutan’s 20 virgin peaks which are above 7000 meters. The combined conifer forest earlier mentioned Gasa Dzong, dotted with maple and rhododendron in entire bloom, merge into groves of birch, juniper, maple and mountain cane. The entire slopes are richly coloured by wild flowers.

Across Bari-la and Kohi lapcha, two rugged passes, the terrain leaves guiding the tree- line and the huge alpine grassland undulate towards the excellent northern glaciers. Superior over the crystal waterfalls which normally slice through the ice formations on the cliff side, and the very clear speedy streams, are their resources, the turquoise fresh new drinking water lakes numerous of which the nearby populace hold in sacred awe.

This is the environment the place the snow leopards roam, where the blue sheep, Sambar, and Musk deer graze in solitude. Decreased down, this is the residence of Takin, the Himalayan black bear, several deer and the wild pet. The winged inhabitants of the area include the raven, wild pheasants, snow pigeons, the purple billed cough, the alpine swift, the snow partridge, and the black necked crane.


The Layaps termed their home Bayu, the concealed land, with very good causes. The cluster of villages is wholly concealed by ridges and appears suddenly when the tourists reaches the to start with properties. The people believe that that they are secured by an ancient gate leading to the key village. It was listed here that their guardian deities held a Tibetan invasion at bay. In an crucial once-a-year ceremony, the Layaps pay homage to the protecting forces which turned all the stones and trees all-around the gate into soldiers to repel the invaders.

But if this kind of legend is heritage in Laya, heritage is also Legend. This was the spot in which Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal entered Bhutan. In a journey which resounds with conquest of human and supernatural proportions the Shabdrung crossed a chain of Mighty Himalayan ridges and entered Laya from Tibet. In a tiny meadow under the villages, identified as Taje-kha a chorten shelters the footprints of the shabdrung and his horse.

History and legend are nonetheless the realities of now. The pristine mountain ranges have not succumbed to alterations about the generations. Neither have its persons, like in lots of other areas of Bhutan, the land nor have the persons existed in a harmony which the present day earth does not sufficiently take pleasure in. And it is in this context that the Layaps ought to be viewed. It is against this rugged backdrop that they must be recognized.

THE Persons

“The Layap scent”, is a person well recognized comment. “You can’t count on the Layaps, is a further, typically from civil servants. “The Layaps are backward”, say people today residing in the decrease valleys. “The Layaps are alcoholics,” say numerous who know them, most men and women end to search when a layap female passes by in her distinctive, probably ‘quaint’ kira. Some would position her out to close friends.

The Layaps is all of these, if you do not seem past the area or if you do not comprehend him in the right context. A discerning observer would in all probability find, on the other hand, that the Layap has far more substantial attributes to be admired than these passing these derogatory comments.

If the Layaps are temperature beaten as the alpine rangelands they are as untamed and unpredictable as the forces of character which are sometimes harsh That is why, most likely, the stress of a civil servants who finds that the Layap cannot be bound to a deadline or even to a responsibility. When you phone them they constantly say of course but never transform up, clarifies just one District formal.

The Layaps are also as open up as their environment, ordinarily cost-free of social inhibition. Gentlemen and girls are open up and relaxed on issues like the boundaries sexual habits. This, in simple fact is, usually exploited by occasional people like tourist guides, navy patrolmen, and civil servants.

Survival has also sharpened the wiles of the Layap. Nowadays, it is a nightmare for District officers to pin a Layap herder down on a quantity of yaks in his herd mainly because he would like to steer clear of tax. Simply call a Layap family for official duty during the busy year and the very best guess is an old lady who is not desired at residence.

But inside of the tough Layap exterior is a tenderness which is invisible to the everyday observer. Every single Layap, for example, identifies with a 46 year aged horse operator who risked his existence to scale and icy cliff to his horse which experienced fallen. The person was oblivious to the bitter cold as he sat with his dying horse for two times, feeding the animal drinking water from his cupped palm, the water mixed with his tears.

The Layaps are most tender in their inner thoughts for the Yaks which are the mainstay of their semi-nomadic existence. They formally own about 2000 of Bhutan’s 30000 yak populace, each believed to be lessened figures. The 300 to 400 KG beast of burden is a resource of food, shelter, draught electricity, transportation and part of the layap Identification.

THE Lifetime

The carefree everyday living-fashion arrives with the liquor use by the layap adult males. Approximately each individual adult males drinks intensely, often shedding time, effort and hard work and tricky attained income in drunken stupors and changing all the tricky toiled food items grain into alcoholic beverages. 63 many years outdated Ap Tshering promises to be a common example of the Layap guy. “I have lived a tricky existence,” he suggests with a very pleased smile. “Now I have two crucial objectives in daily life. I brew sinchang (regional wine) all through the day and I consume it at evening.”

In this patriarchal society where by ladies are married early and go to the husband’s household, polyandry is on the drop. With apparent slice gender roles the girl bears a really serious domestic responsibility, searching immediately after the Yak herds, digging the fields, weaving the common garments, and normally preserving the house and family members together. The adult men are accountable for trade and the transportation of goods, their individual and for the Governing administration.

THE Group

With about 60,000 semi nomadic pastoralists unfold throughout the kingdom’s northern area, the 800 or so layaps share a solid community spirit. They are fiercely protective about the impression of their community. Inside squabbles are generally settled inside the group and even a child will not divulge the identify of a Layap who is guilty of some completely wrong accomplishing.

As a neighborhood, the Layaps are also very pleased of their self sufficiency in the fundamental necessities of life in spite of the working day to working day physical difficulties. Prosperity is measured by the number of Yaks in a herd or the quantity of rice. The Layaps are also swift to advise the guests that they represent an critical proportion of the Workforce in Gasa District.

THE Non secular

There is a robust religious ingredient in the cohesion of the Layap group. The men shell out obeisance to their Pho-la, the area guardian deity. Just about every archery match, every small business vacation, every journey, just about every enhancement undertaking begins with a prayer at the Pho-la’s sacred shrine, a smaller chorten over the village.

Like the broader Bhutanese modern society the advice of the village astrologer is sought on most functions and the local medium is commonly consulted in the course of illness. It is the legacy of the Shabdrung that the Layaps rejoice the Bumkar pageant to plant barley and the Aulay competition during harvest.

A superstition is potent and is, in actuality, one of the protecting forces of the Layap identification. E.g., the distinct Kira (women’s fabric) of Layap gals has been saved partly since of the belief in its necessity. A superstition also controls etiquette and other aspects of the neighborhood traditions.


The layaps are traders, bartering their animal products and solutions for foodstuff grain and other edibles every single wintertime. Setting up in late October, when character features a respite between the rains and the snow, they move to Punakha, their horses and each and every human being laden with Yak meat, butter cheese, incense plants from the wilderness and sometime trans border products like dried fish, footwear and brick tea. By March, when the path gets available, they shift back with rice, oil, salt, sugar, chillies, apparel and sneakers.

The only relief in this annual undertaking is a take a look at to the well known Gasa Tshachhu (sizzling spring) the place they sign up for folks from all components of the country in the baths which are considered to be of healing benefit and a strengthen to typical overall health.

Yak solutions account for 49% of Layaps earning, 18% will come from trade, 15% from animal transport and 4% from tourism, the last benefiting only 5 or 6 horse entrepreneurs who are in contract with tour operators in Thimphu.


It is mostly the publicity from these once-a-year excursions that have offered Layaps a view of a swiftly switching entire world outside the house. A handful has ventured as considerably as Thimphu. And, in new several years, they have watched the widening gap in economic development with some dismay.

The urge to get to out and pluck the fruits of progress which their fellow citizens are enjoying is starting to gnaw at the roots of Layap tradition. The target of a person guy was to develop a dwelling like the 1 he noticed in Punakha, a lady most well-liked a automobile so she would be spared a significant masses, a youthful girl envied the Punakha Faculty girls, and an eight yr aged boy rolled his father’s hat close to the campfire, his head on the plastic toy autos he had noticed in the stores.

Two women who had been selected to check out Thimphu in a cultural leisure crew returned embarrassed about their Kiras for the reason that they have been clumsy as opposed with the nylon kiras of the Thimphu girls. When instructed by a Thimphu official that the attractive and exceptional Laya kira really should be preserved she retorted. “So you can send holidaymakers to consider photos of us?”


It is an enlightened policy that the Royal Governing administration of Bhutan has sensitively pursued in the mountains of Laya. The intention is to strengthen the everyday living of the people devoid of upsetting the fragile stability in the unique cultural id of the people, the pristine pure ranges, and the abundant wildlife.

Finely tuned to the migratory pattern of the persons, the priorities replicate an emphasis on improving the Yak herds and fodder, on the crops, on the road, and on the transportation of goods.

But the major benefits of improvement in Laya have appear from the establishment of Health unit, a veterinary assistance, and the College. The Layaps nonetheless, place their prolonged time period hopes on a 100 or so children who signify the schooling of the group.

The Layaps have not been informed of the impression of backwardness they experience between a portion of Bhutan’s inhabitants. “Once educated, our kids can confront other individuals with pride,” claimed one weary mom. A 56 calendar year aged father summed up the typical sentiments, “Very last thirty day period, when I went to Thimphu, my son read the bus ticket and showed me wherever to sit,” he said glowing with pleasure, his ideal hand gripping the boys shoulder. “I did not have to confront the shame of sitting in the mistaken seat.”

Becoming A LAYAP

Laya currently confronts an difficulty which Bhutan, as a country, has been grappling with for the earlier 4 decades. If alter is inevitable, will the knowledge be much more harsh than the bitter winds which blow in excess of the mountains?

It is a problem with a common ring to it. It is a dilemma dealing with Bhutan. The Layaps signifies the Bhutanese populace on a more compact scale, the harmony with their purely natural atmosphere, the deep pleasure in their special cultural identification, and the intense will to protect their house.

“We Layaps have our superior points and lousy points.” Points out 1 village elder. “But in the end, our major delight is our land and our self. Indeed we go out to trade, obtain provides, to consume, to flirt. We complain about our hardships, the heavy workload, and the rough street. We are humiliated about our backwardness. But we would under no circumstances want to be anything but a Layap.”

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