Into Laya, a village hidden by the clouds
After 5 days of resting in Thimpu, I finally got the good news, my visa was successfully extended and I managed to get all the permits needed to go further. Without wasting time, me and my Bhutanese trekking guide, Lhawang drove for the whole day from Thimpu to a remote village called Gasa. The road was good half way until a town called Punakha (which is the country’s first capital before moving to Thimpu), then its dirt mountain road all the way to Gasa which took us hours to reach. We reached Gasa when it was dark so we stayed a night there.
The next day, we left Gasa early. The trek from Gasa to Laya is long and difficult and we needed to complete it in a day. The government is building good roads all over Bhutan now to connect all the villages but the road construction to Laya from Gasa had just begun. The road from Gasa only goes for a few kilometers plus it is still under construction. We had the wrong choice of car so we only managed to drive only for a few kilometers before our car got stucked in the thick mud. The Bhutanese, whenever theyre in difficult situation, first they will joke and laugh hard, then only they start working. The action of pushing the car started but still… we failed. After a few minutes, we were lucky that we were saved by a 4wd jeep and we were sent all the way to the end of the road.
Upon reaching the end of the road, our horseman was already waiting for us. We then quickly packed all our stuffs on the horses since we were late and we started the long trek to Laya. It was only about 5-6 hours trek but it feels very long walking through the valleys following a big river. After about 4-5 hours of trekking, we finally reached an army checkpost where I need to show my army permit to go further. We were in the far north of Bhutan, where the Tibetan border is only a few kilometers away. After everything was ok, we pressed further, another an hour climb to the mountain to finally reach Laya, a very remote village in Bhutan, hidden by the clouds. It is the highest settlement in Bhutan sitting at about 3800m altitude.
Reaching this village is special. I feel like I’m travelling not only through space, but through time too. It feels like I just crossed into a magical portal and I was back to some 50 years ago. People here behave differently, the lifestyle is so different here compared to any other place, it feels so untouched.. making this village so special. The roads are currently being built here from Gasa and the electricity is coming here soon. Soon this place will be finally touched by modernization but I hope it wont touch the tradition and way of life of the people here. They’re very welcoming, everyone is friendly here and they give their smiles so easily… a signal showing that they’re approachable, a universal language of kindness, a free therapy.
I stayed 2 days here in Laya before going further and higher in the mountains. I visited a school here, with some 150 charming students. Despites a very remote village in the mountains, the population here is surprising quite big. The teachers here came from all over Bhutan. I could see that the facilities here are so limited. There is still no electricity here but its coming very very soon. The roads here are still being built, it takes a day to get here only by walking through the mountains and a few river crossings from Gasa, the nearest village. And even to get to Gasa is quite difficult by bad roads. But surprising, the students here are so well mannered, brilliant and they converse well in English. The teachers here are very determined and creative. Despites the lack of equipments, they still managed to bring the education level here to compete with other schools in Bhutan which have much better facilities.
I was invited to see inside the classroom and observed by myself how the classroom is conducted here. Travelling here really feels like travelling through time. Being here feels like I’m back in my school days. The teachers here do excellent job, the students here seem very interested in every word their teachers said. I also managed to watch English poetry recitation competition by the students. They seem really good at it, they pronounce most words very well and clear… a bit shy but lovely. They’re so discipline and everybody is quiet when their friends are performing.
The following day I just spent my time walking around the village, observing the village life here inside the clouds. I walked slowly, the altitude is high here and its very steep, since Laya is built on the mountainside. The air is cold and fresh, my lungs are pleased everytime i breath the fresh air inside my body. This village is really surrounded by nothing but mountains and clouds. Most of the people here are farmers and herders. Some of them including the teachers here, they play archery on their free time. Archery is the national sports here in Bhutan and theyre really good at it. With the distance of 150 meters, I can hardly see the target with my eyes. I have to get the help from my camera’s zoom lens to see it, but they managed to hit the target with their arrow most of the time.