Layap – The Nomadic Herders of Bhutan

Layap - The Nomadic Herders Of Bhutan

The mule skids on the wet ice in addition to slides forward on the steep track. The man springs forward in addition to grabs of which by the muzzle. They both strain against the slope, breaking skids on the edge of the sheer precipice. The mule is usually lying on its belly, its forelegs dangling over the cliff. Braced precariously, inches coming from edge, the man strains to hold the animal on the narrow track. Within seconds, the man’s teenage son runs back in addition to deftly unloads the mule, handing over the heavy packs to the woman standing behind the animal, holding of which by its tail. Together they haul the mule back on the path. Far below them the mist swirls over the jagged rocks which line the bottom of the deep gorge.

Layap - The Nomadic Herders Of Bhutan

A few meters behind, a 73 year old woman is usually sitting on an icy path, inching forward on her buttocks, using both her hand in addition to feet to maintain her balance. She sits still in addition to watches calmly as her son, daughter-in-law, in addition to grandson save the family mule in addition to a year supply of food grain.

Layap - The Nomadic Herders Of Bhutan

An hour later, along with additional families, they reach a swift stream. Without a thought the men, women, children hitch up their Ghos in addition to Kiras (Bhutanese dress) to the waist in addition to wade across, oblivious of the water which is usually at about freezing point. Young men pass lewd remarks at the women who are forced to expose their upper thighs to avoid getting their kiras wet. The women respond with quick witty remarks.

Layap - The Nomadic Herders Of Bhutan

By evening, families are camped along the way in caves or under leafy trees. They care for the horses first in addition to then sit down to a simple hot meal. By dark, after a few bottles of Ara in addition to Sinchang (Local brewed alcohol in addition to wine); they share their experience of the past months. This specific year, the highlight was the meeting in Gasa (District Head Quarters), where they met their King in addition to Queens. They marvel of which their king walked just as they did, all the way.

Layap - The Nomadic Herders Of Bhutan


Layap - The Nomadic Herders Of Bhutan

The four day journey coming from Punakha, usually stretched over several weeks as they relay a year’s food supply, brings the Layaps home to one of the most spectacular region from the Kingdom of Bhutan, the raw natural beauty of the high alpine range.

Layap - The Nomadic Herders Of Bhutan

Spreading upwards coming from 12000 feet above sea level, Laya sits on the Lap of the 7100 meters Masagang, One of Bhutan’s 20 virgin peaks which are above 7000 meters. The mixed conifer forest above Gasa Dzong, dotted with maple in addition to rhododendron in full bloom, merge into groves of birch, juniper, maple in addition to mountain cane. The entire slopes are richly colored by wild flowers.

Layap - The Nomadic Herders Of Bhutan

Across Bari-la in addition to Kohi lapcha, two rugged passes, the terrain leaves behind the tree- line in addition to the vast alpine grassland undulate towards the great northern glaciers. High above the crystal waterfalls which often cut through the ice formations on the cliff side, in addition to the clear rapid streams, are their sources, the turquoise fresh water lakes many of which the local population hold in sacred awe.

This specific is usually the earth where the snow leopards roam, where the blue sheep, Sambar, in addition to Musk deer graze in solitude. Lower down, This specific is usually the home of Takin, the Himalayan black bear, numerous deer in addition to the wild dog. The winged inhabitants of the region include the raven, wild pheasants, snow pigeons, the red billed cough, the alpine swift, the snow partridge, in addition to the black necked crane.


The Layaps called their home Bayu, the hidden land, with not bad reasons. The cluster of villages is usually completely hidden by ridges in addition to appears suddenly when the travelers reaches the first houses. The people believe of which they are protected by an ancient gate leading to the main village. of which was here of which their guardian deities kept a Tibetan invasion at bay. In an important annual ceremony, the Layaps pay homage to the protective forces which turned all the stones in addition to trees around the gate into soldiers to repel the invaders.

nevertheless if such legend is usually history in Laya, history is usually also Legend. This specific was the place where Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal entered Bhutan. In a journey which resounds with conquest of human in addition to supernatural dimensions the Shabdrung crossed a chain of Mighty Himalayan ridges in addition to entered Laya coming from Tibet. In a tiny meadow below the villages, called Taje-kha a chorten shelters the footprints of the shabdrung in addition to his horse.

History in addition to legend are still the realities of today. The pristine mountain ranges have not succumbed to alterations over the centuries. Neither have its people, like in many additional parts of Bhutan, the land nor possess the people existed in a harmony which the modern world does not adequately appreciate. in addition to of which is usually in This specific context of which the Layaps must be viewed. of which is usually against This specific rugged backdrop of which they must be understood.


“The Layap smell”, is usually one well known comment. “You cannot depend on the Layaps, is usually another, often coming from civil servants. “The Layaps are backward”, say people living from the lower valleys. “The Layaps are alcoholics,” say many who know them, most people stop to look when a layap woman passes by in her distinct, perhaps ‘quaint’ kira. Some might point her out to friends.

The Layaps is usually all of these, if you do not look beyond the surface or if you do not understand him from the right context. A discerning observer might probably find, however, of which the Layap has far more substantial qualities to be admired than those passing these derogatory comments.

If the Layaps are weather beaten as the alpine rangelands they are as untamed in addition to unpredictable as the forces of nature which are sometimes harsh of which is usually why, perhaps, the frustration of a civil servants who finds of which the Layap cannot be bound to a deadline or even to a responsibility. When you call them they always say yes nevertheless never turn up, explains one District official.

The Layaps are also as open as their environment, normally free of social inhibition. Men in addition to women are open in addition to relaxed on issues like the boundaries sexual behavior. This specific, in fact is usually, often exploited by occasional visitors like tourist guides, military patrolmen, in addition to civil servants.

Survival has also sharpened the wiles of the Layap. Today, of which is usually a nightmare for District officials to pin a Layap herder down on quite a few yaks in his herd because he wants to avoid tax. Call a Layap family for official duty during the busy season in addition to the best bet is usually an old woman who is usually not needed at home.

nevertheless inside the rough Layap external surfaces is usually a tenderness which is usually invisible to the casual observer. Every Layap, for example, identifies having a 46 year old horse owner who risked his life to scale in addition to icy cliff to his horse which had fallen. The man was oblivious to the bitter cold as he sat with his dying horse For 2 days, feeding the animal water coming from his cupped palm, the water mixed with his tears.

The Layaps are most tender in their feelings for the Yaks which are the mainstay of their semi-nomadic existence. They officially own about 2000 of Bhutan’s 30000 yak population, both believed to be reduced figures. The 300 to 400 KG beast of burden is usually a source of food, shelter, draught power, transportation in addition to part of the layap Identity.


The carefree life-style comes with the alcohol consumption by the layap men. Nearly every men drinks heavily, often losing time, effort in addition to hard earned money in drunken stupors in addition to converting all the hard toiled food grain into alcohol. 63 years old Ap Tshering claims to be a typical example of the Layap man. “I have lived a hard life,” he says having a proud smile. “at This specific point I have two important goals in life. I brew sinchang (local wine) during the day in addition to I drink of which at night.”

In This specific patriarchal society where girls are married early in addition to move to the husband’s home, polyandry is usually on the decline. With clear cut gender roles the woman bears a serious domestic responsibility, looking after the Yak herds, digging the fields, weaving the traditional clothing, in addition to generally keeping the home in addition to family together. The men are responsible for trade in addition to the transportation of goods, their own in addition to for the Government.


With about 60,000 semi nomadic pastoralists spread across the kingdom’s northern region, the 800 or so layaps share a strong community spirit. They are fiercely protective about the image of their community. Internal squabbles are normally settled within the community in addition to even a child will not divulge the name of a Layap who is usually guilty of some wrong doing.

As a community, the Layaps are also proud of their self sufficiency from the basic necessities of life despite the day to day physical difficulties. Wealth is usually measured by the number of Yaks in a herd or the volume of rice. The Layaps are also quick to inform the visitors of which they constitute an important proportion of the Workforce in Gasa District.


There is usually a strong spiritual element from the cohesion of the Layap community. The men pay obeisance to their Pho-la, the local guardian deity. Every archery match, every business trip, every journey, every development project starts having a prayer at the Pho-la’s sacred shrine, a tiny chorten above the village.

Like the broader Bhutanese society the advice of the village astrologer is usually sought on most activities in addition to the local medium is usually usually consulted during illness. of which is usually the legacy of the Shabdrung of which the Layaps celebrate the Bumkar festival to plant barley in addition to the Aulay festival during harvest.

A superstition is usually strong in addition to is usually, in fact, one of the protective forces of the Layap identity. E.g., the distinctive Kira (women’s cloth) of Layap women has been kept partly because of the belief in its necessity. A superstition also controls etiquette in addition to additional aspects of the local traditions.


The layaps are traders, bartering their animal products for food grain in addition to additional edibles every winter. Starting in late October, when nature offers a respite between the rains in addition to the snow, they move to Punakha, their horses in addition to every person laden with Yak meat, butter cheese, incense plants coming from the wilderness in addition to sometime trans border goods like dried fish, shoes in addition to brick tea. By March, when the trail becomes accessible, they move back with rice, oil, salt, sugar, chillies, clothing in addition to shoes.

The only relief in This specific annual venture is usually a visit to the favorite Gasa Tshachhu (hot spring) where they join people coming from all parts of the country from the baths which are believed to be of curative value in addition to a boost to general health.

Yak products account for 49% of Layaps earning, 18% comes coming from trade, 15% coming from animal transport in addition to 4% coming from tourism, the last benefiting only 5 or 6 horse owners who are in contract with tour operators in Thimphu.


of which is usually largely the exposure coming from these annual trips of which have given Layaps a view of a rapidly changing world outside. A handful has ventured as far as Thimphu. in addition to, in recent years, they have watched the widening gap in economic progress with some dismay.

The urge to reach out in addition to pluck the fruits of progress which their fellow citizens are enjoying is usually beginning to gnaw at the roots of Layap culture. The goal of one man was to build a house like the one he saw in Punakha, a woman preferred a car so she might be spared a heavy loads, a young girl envied the Punakha School girls, in addition to an eight year old boy rolled his father’s hat around the campfire, his mind on the plastic toy cars he had seen from the shops.

Two women who had been selected to visit Thimphu in a cultural entertainment team returned embarrassed about their Kiras because they were clumsy compared with the nylon kiras of the Thimphu women. When told by a Thimphu official of which the beautiful in addition to unique Laya kira should be preserved she retorted. “So you can send tourists to take photographs of us?”


of which is usually an enlightened policy of which the Royal Government of Bhutan has sensitively pursued from the mountains of Laya. The goal is usually to improve the life of the people without upsetting the delicate balance from the distinct cultural identity of the people, the pristine natural ranges, in addition to the rich wildlife.

Finely tuned to the migratory pattern of the people, the priorities reflect an emphasis on improving the Yak herds in addition to fodder, on the crops, on the road, in addition to on the transportation of goods.

nevertheless the main benefits of development in Laya have come coming from the establishment of Health unit, a veterinary service, in addition to the School. The Layaps however, place their long term hopes on a 100 or so children who represent the education of the community.

The Layaps have not been aware of the image of backwardness they suffer among a section of Bhutan’s population. “Once educated, our children can face additional people with pride,” said one weary mother. A 56 year old father summed up the general sentiments, “Last month, when I went to Thimphu, my son read the bus ticket in addition to showed me where to sit,” he said glowing with pride, his right hand gripping the boys shoulder. “I did not have to face the shame of sitting from the wrong seat.”


Laya today confronts an issue which Bhutan, as a nation, has been grappling with for the past four decades. If change is usually inevitable, will the experience be more harsh than the bitter winds which blow over the mountains?

of which is usually a question having a familiar ring to of which. of which is usually a question facing Bhutan. The Layaps represents the Bhutanese population on a smaller scale, the harmony with their natural environment, the deep pride in their unique cultural identity, in addition to the fierce will to protect their home.

“We Layaps have our not bad points in addition to bad points.” Explains one village elder. “nevertheless from the end, our biggest pride is usually our land in addition to our self. Yes we go out to trade, buy supplies, to drink, to flirt. We complain about our hardships, the heavy workload, in addition to the tough road. We are embarrassed about our backwardness. nevertheless we might never want to be anything nevertheless a Layap.”

Layap – The Nomadic Herders of Bhutan