The small settlement of Laya in northern Bhutan is one of the most remote on earth.
Not only is it the northernmost settlement in the Last Himalayan Kingdom, it´s also the highest permanent town at 3800m (12 467ft) in the Kingdom. The whole settlement is no more than 110 houses.
Laya is only accessible by a two-day hike from the closest town, Gasa. However, this is changing fast. A jeep road is under construction and it scheduled to reach Laya within the next 3 years. Electricity has now reached Laya and while I was enjoying a glass of Bhutan Highland Whisky (amazing) in one of the 4 bars in the small settlement two electricians turned on the electricity for the first time in the bar.
The moment was celebrated with a double shot of whisky.
As said two days of hiking are required to reach Laya. The hike itself is not too difficult, but it’s incredibly muddy, and parts of the hike are infested by leeches. The monsoon season this year has been hard on the new road, and it offers no less than 30 landslides to scramble across, with some of them being very dangerous. I would probably not been here to write this post if I didn’t have my walking sticks.
The Hike from Gasa to Laya is about 28km, and there’s a small hut that´s run by the Bhutan Tourism in Koina, it´s basic but offers great shelter.
The journey from Koina to Laya takes approximately seven hours, an undulating trek but nothing too difficult. Approximately five hours in you will you reach a Bhutan Army Camp, where they will check your permit. From the Army camp to Laya is two hours, up, up and up.
When you finally reach the ancient gate to Laya there is 10min uphill left before you reach the first houses of the village. This gate was previously the town limit, where they would chase unmarried girls who fell pregnant.
The Layap are an indigenous minority roughly three thousand in number. They only inhabit this small part of the country, most of the people still life as semi-nomadic yak herders, spending time between the villages and the high altitude yak herding camps.
But these days a lot of the young men are also engaged in illegal trade with Tibet, noticeable given the beer sold in Laya is “Lhasa beer”. Most of the candy and other products here are Chinese. Due to this illegal trade, Laya is said to be one of the richest villages in all of Bhutan.
It’s said that the Layaps have lived in this part of Bhutan since they were banished from Tibet in the fifteenth century and that the Layap Women have used their distinctive hat, made of darkened bamboo strips woven together with a pointed top, even longer.
I was told only one living hat weaver is alive today and that the young are not interested in learning the handcraft. The future of this amazing handcraft is looking bleak as the young generation is more interested in modern technology.
A 2G internet connection has now reached Laya and the you can see the younger generation are busy with their smartphones.
As I’ve said while the younger generation are busy with modern technology the older generation are still living a semi-nomadic lifestyle in the hills surrounding Laya living the semi-nomadic lifestyle that consist of chopping rhododendron leaf for incense use, or weaving traditional clothes.
That said the older generation have also adopted some modern touches, there are no more black yak tents in the surrounding hills, now they use ugly blue tarpaulin to construct their tents.