Dorji Khandu

Journal of a Young Parliamentarian

A lot has been done under the vibrant leadership of this nation to keep alive the unique and pristine culture of Laya: a hidden and remote village in Gasa dzongkhag.

Today Laya is much evolved but we could still preserve our true image of being unique to other parts of the country. The community has become sensitive to the risk, the development possessed on their age-old culture and traditions.

Laya holds a vital reverence in the heart of the nation’s history and it should continue to live in all time to come. The people of Laya and Gasa led by Goen Wotsho Lam were the first to receive and host the founder of this nation, Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyel in around 1616.

The community of this historical and cultural importance cannot afford to be left without having access to basic infrastructure like road, which the community had been waiting for a long time. I hope the wait will not get longer anymore.

I would like to share my views and the potentials of this highland community, if the place is to be connected with motorable roads. I would also like to express my sincere gratitude to the past two governments for prioritizing road connectivity to Laya since 2009.

Incumbent Khatoed-Laya MP shared with Business Bhutan that the gewog center (GC) road from Gasa to Laya gewog center is scheduled to complete by 2022.

The total stretch of road from Gasa till the gewog center is around 36.60 km. So far, more than 25.50 km or about 70% of the road is complete. The construction of the road has almost reached Tongshodra and only about half of the kilometres of the surveyed stretch remain for the excavation works; it is expected to complete within two-months time.

As per the latest statistical information shared by District Engineering Sector, the construction of GC road is done phase-wise; in the first and second phases, 10 km each was constructed, and currently, the third phase of 6 km is under construction.

The first phase of road construction from Gasa to Chamsa Chhu awarded to M/s. Samphel Drakpa Construction Pvt. Limited with a total budget of Nu. 11.50 million is complete.

In the second phase of road construction from Chamsa Chhu to Sawagang awarded to M/s. Yeshi T. Denker Construction a total budget spent was Nu 29.40 million.

In 2016 the dzongkhag awarded the third phase to M/s. Yangki Construction for a period of 15 months to build 6km of road construction from Sewagang to Tongshodra; to date more than Nu. 13.50 million payments were made with 95% work completion. The contractor was imposed with a penalty due to the delayed work.

The monsoon, harsh weather condition and limited choice of bidders delay the construction of the farm road from Gasa to Laya every summer. Clearing of blocks created by flash floods and landslide cost the dzongkhag a minimum of Nu 500,000 every monsoon.

With the change and development coming to the place, the road to Laya has become essential to the highland livelihood and to end isolation from the rest of the country sustainably.

The highland of Laya holds the huge potential of being tourist hotspots or one of the most sought tourist destination in the country. Today the place falls within some trekking routes like Lingzhi-Laya trek.

There other trekking routes from Laya to Wangdue or Bumthang via Lunana. These opportunities, if explored would bring in the standardization of farm stays and ultimately lead to improvement of the living standard.

While better services can be provided to the visitors, there are other opportunities: commercialize local textiles and yak products. It would also help the community exhibit their indigenous lifestyles and products.

The improved connectivity in Laya would mean reaching of required amenities to the community and the people will be encouraged to stay back in their homeland instead of resettling in lower places of Punakha and Wangdue, where they foresee future in towering building and urban enterprises.

The place is known for having unique culture and traditions in the country and it is important those be preserved before it fades away completely from the community.

The unique dresses of Layap women: Auley, Layapi Kha, rituals, yak herding can be strengthened if we bring basic development like roads to the community. The rest would flow with improved connectivity. Road to Laya would be an inspiration for the residents to preserve and promote local culture.

The road to Laya would reduce the pressure on timber required to build a house in the highland. People would move to other resources, which would reduce dependence on the timber. This will enable them to protect the catchment area of Mochhu, one of the ultimate sources of Punatsangchhu Hydro projects.

Laya and its people through the practice of yak herding play one of the important roles in strengthening our security. They had been our guardians in the form of herders since the time immemorial.

What could be the result if most Layaps settle in low altitude areas and stop herding yaks? Currently, most of them move to the places where basic amenities required for daily lives are easily accessible: on the plains of Punakha.

The herders protect our border areas even more than the armed personnel. There is a risk of herders from the north encroaching our area and pastureland when the number of our yak herders decreases. I would say that when it comes to border security, highlanders are more important than security personnel in the border area. We should focus on keeping them with their community, along the borders.

The road to Laya should not be stopped for any reason. I would like to share that there is no compromisation in border security with road construction. Should the road to Laya be a concern, we should equally be concerned and challenged by road in Shana, Paro.

It takes only six hours to reach Phari (Tibet), a Chinese autonomous region from Shana, Paro. Phari in Tibet is the nearest border town to Paro border. However, it takes three days journey from Laya till Phari, Rham, and Neyro to reach the nearest border town in the north.

There are a lot we can win from the road to Laya and the people of Laya have high expectations from the government of the day to expedite the remaining 4th phase of 10.60 km road construction from Tongshodra till Gewog centre without much delay.

The road to Laya was one of the major pledges of the current Government and should consider as the top priority. Although the preliminary survey has been carried out recently, more needs to be done to complete the remaining 30% of the road to Laya.

Laya has a population of more than 1,000 and 262 households. Elderly citizens of the native also reflect upon their contribution made during the construction of the country’s first highway from Phuentsholing to Thimphu in 1962. It was on an agreement that the community would be connected with the road in the future. Thus, the much-awaited future has come for the Layaps today.

 

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own based on the information collected from the relevant agencies, which have been verified to the extent possible through consultation and literature review.