Many might have seen Layap ladies in their famous Zoom (Ankle –length skirts made of yak hair). At one point of time, they were considered most beautiful ladies from whole Gasa district. Every year by November, they migrate down to Punakha via Gon Khatoe and Khamaed. Since the arrival of motorable road at Gasa Dzong, Layaps come down with scores of horses and camped in Khatoe, Gasa. Some even built small huts for their winter migration. They transport their rations in truck till Gasa and transport on horseback from Gasa till Laya. Today, Laya probably is enjoying highest per capita income in whole Bhutan due to cordycep collection. They also trade with Tibet (China) and Lunana (another gewog in Gasa). They buy 25 kg of rice from Gasa and Punakha at Nu. 1000-1500 and sell it to people of Lunana at whopping Nu. 4000. Layaps are at their polite best when they want something from government and stubborn worst when they have to do something like public works and services. However, good thing about them is whenever you pass through their houses in Laya, you will get experience their hospitality with offering of tea.
I and my two colleague had honor of visiting Laya for official work in end of October in 2015. What Layaps take six hours from Gasa, I took two whole days. Of all worry, altitude sickness crawled into my stomach like earthworms in summer. Three of us camped at Koina( mid way to Laya) transit camp located by the fast running stream. It looked as if two hills will willm lock horns anytime. The caretaker and his wife’s hospitality were admirable. Due to fatigue and cold, gulping down of few bottles of beer was necessary to fall sleep. Soothing our tired leg, we started our journey towards Laya by early morning next day.
Laya is located around 3800 meter above sea level. It is one of the four geowgs under Gasa Dzongkhag. Its beautiful villages are mostly clustered together. Now settlement is dispersing due to younger generation’s reluctance to live in clustered settlement. They grow wheat and buckwheat. Layaps are nomad by birth their lively mostly dependent on Yaks till recent years.
Laya also boasts of hosting Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel (1794-1651 A.D) in 1616 when he came to Bhutan through Laya in self-imposed exile. Today, few houses proudly display gifts given by Zhabdrung (in form of footwear, pots, precious stones etc). History also credited a lama of Optsho Gasa for inviting Zhabdrung to Bhutan. Indeed Gon Optsho Lam and Gasa’s guardian deity Ap Gomo went to receive Zhandrung till Laya along with guardian deity of Bhutan.
The origin of place’s name Laya is not concrete. One story said that a Lama from Tibet flung a huge rock towards south praying that he might be led to his destiny. The rocked landed in Laya. It is called Dho-Laya (Flying stones). Towards the north of Laya, the rock can be still seen today. It is believed that Dho was omitted from Dho-Laya and only Laya was adopted as name of place. According to another account, in Buddhist ritual, a ritual cake made of dough or mud made in shape of human bodies and dressed as human were cast away to ward evils to people. In south Tibet, a dull person used to cast away as a part of ritual custom. Exiled person was made to wear jewelries collected from households and forced out. One day, the curse was so powerful that one whole village had to be exiled as a part of ritual. They were dressed in black, given all wealth they needed, and were driven out. They came to a beautiful place below towering Masang Gang (7144 MASL). They were so excited to find that place and exclaimed “La!!! Ya!!!.” Thus place was named as exclaimed.
Along with other national festivals like Bhutanese New Year and Blessed Rainy Day, Layaps are known for celebrating two unique festivals-Bonko and Aulay. While I am not sure about Bonko except for fact that it is celebrated on 15th day of 4th month of Bhutanese year, Aulay is celebrated on 15th day of 8th month of Bhutanese calendar year to mark end of harvest season just like people in eastern Bhutan celebrates Chunipai Losar. They offer first grain of their harvest to Zhandrung Ngawang Namgyel (one who brought whole country under one rule and started system of government. They started celebration from a household who first hosted Zhabdrung. In three days of celebration, they covered whole households singing Auwlay and merry-making. It also functions like a match making day since boys and girls started romancing during celebrations. I also heard that girls had to be certain age to be able to go for sing aulay and visiting all houses.
Lastly, if you are people of Gasa, you don’t have to ask Layap regarding success of cordycep collection that year. All you should do is concentrate is on size of bunches of arrows they bought for their compound bow. Bigger the bunch, greater the success of cordycep collection that year.