Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Layap's Hospitality

This post is long overdue. I visited Laya in April and I have been meaning to write about it for such a long time. But somehow, I couldn’t. It seems absurd that my excitement of it did not burst beyond the normal routine that ate up my time.


My office, the Centre for Bhutan Studies and GNH Research began its 2015 nation wide GNH Survey in January 2015. There were six survey teams: each team comprised of 11 enumerators, three drivers and one supervisor and one assistant supervisor. My team went to Samtse, Samdrup Jongkhar, Tashigang, Punakha and Gasa dzongkhags. The survey questionnaire was revised and it was shortened to 147 questions from 249 questions from 2010 survey questionnaire. But it still took 1 and half hours on average to complete one interview. I will not repeat the nine domains of GNH and any other aspects. For those of you who are interested more in GNH, please visit

We were in Gasa district towards the end of March. The Layaps move to Gasa to escape the harsh winter in Laya and settle there for a few months – also witnessing the annual Gasa Tshechu. Towards April, most of them go back. It was because of this coincidence that my survey team could contact many of the respondents’ household in Gasa and only five of us had to go to Laya to interview those households who had already returned.

We teamed up with the election commission’s team that was going to Laya to conduct the election of Tshogpa. However, we gave up the hope to get to Laya on the same day like them. We took eight hours to reach a place called Koina (originally called the Ku nye sa – the place to take rest – it is at this place that Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal took rest on his way to Bhutan from Tibet. There is a chair like stone near the river where Zhabdrung rested).  The government of Bhutan has constructed a small one storeyed guesthouse at this place run by a government paid caretaker. Everyone moving between Laya and Gasa take rest here – while some stop only for lunch or tea and snacks, others like us stop to halt a night. The caretaker is from Laya and he was in RBA. His wife is from Tsho Tshalo in Samdrup Jongkhar and they make quite a home there for the travellers. Despite our tiredness, our mood lightened up and felt doubly welcomed when we were joined by a group of Layaps – among whom two were our respondents from the previous day. Quite naturally, we felt akin to them and we shared the resources for dinner – in fact, it was them who gave us their ration, including cheese, which is a rare specialty when we have to travel on a long journey.

The guesthouse had enough blankets to fight the cold and we had a good night. The next morning, we left at 8 a.m. and reached Laya at around 4 p.m. By the regular traveller’s standard, we had walked at a snail’s pace but we were quite happy we made it. We packed lunch and ate on the way by a stream, sitting in the light drizzle. We hardly enjoyed the lunch but we had to eat to keep ourselves strong for the journey. We were served tea by the RBA stationed before reaching Laya called the Tashi Makhang. Those of you who are travelling to Laya for the first time must be aware that you need a letter (called the pass) and you have to show it to the person on duty at this army camp.
After two days, it is at this place that you get the mobile signal. All of us called home to inform that we had no problem on the journey and would be reaching Laya in two hours. In reality, we took longer and before we reached the village, it started to snow and we stepped into our destination cold and unsure of what the tomorrow would be like.

But, the Gewog ADM, who happened to be related to me through marriage, was very kind and arranged everything for us.

The second morning greeted us with a blanket of snow around us. We all felt jubilant by the sight and we went on with our work despite the difficulty it posed for us.
After two days in Laya, we went to Lugo, two hours walk from Laya village. We put up with our respondent we met in Koina called Aum Pego. She is by nature talkative and opens up easily and that is why we felt comfortable with her from the start. All of us put up at her house in Lugo and while there, we also went to her sister in-law’s house who treated us with tea and gave us chugo (dried cheese) on parting. What will surprise you is their hospitality and the resources. They have packed rice, blankets, mattresses and grocery items stacked up against the wall to the ceiling. They surely would survive in the times of calamity.

Aum Pego had sought help from one of the teachers (Dzongkha teacher) from her community school to prepare dinner and breakfast for us. They had also packed our lunch for the day’s journey. The house is usually not partitioned and all of us slept in a line in the room. She is two years younger to me but has three children already and seems strong and hardened by life. At dinner, what I noticed was that, contrary to her, her husband is quiet and sits next to her without much to add, while she talks almost exuberantly and flirtatiously to the teacher who had come to help prepare our dinner. She told us that he usually helps her household in cooking during the times of annual rimdro and other big gatherings.

What I would like to add is that, before you interact with them, you would feel that you are different from them, and as you come to know them, you will be surprised by how similar we all are. As humans, all of us have the same basic needs, and the same human values trigger the most humble and honest emotions. If not for their hospitality, friendliness and generosity, we would have enjoyed half our time there.
Laya Village
Preparation of dinner at Aum Pego's house
At the Gewog Guesthouse
Snow greeting us on the second day

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

I will be a beneficiary

I just read the following:

I can't contain my happiness right now. I feel like I am finally seeing better days coming my way. When I was expecting Dechen, my daughter who will be five years old in just four days, there was discussion of maternity leave being extended to four months from the existing three months. I looked forward to it with fervent hope, my expectation overriding the reality. And then, it didn't happen. 

But this time, I am going to be a beneficiary of the six months mandatory paid maternity leave and the six months flexi time. My baby could not have come to me at a better time. This makes me feel that he/she is lucky -- despite the Bhutanese's belief of the coming year not being the best one. I have never believed in it so much anyway--will the year we are born in determine who we become? I don't think it will. 

Anyway, I am not here to justify that my baby is going to be the lucky one despite his/her zodiac sign. I am here today to thank the government, policy makers and the stakeholders who had input in finally endorsing the extension of maternity leave. A working mother like me welcomes nothing better than this news. 

This is Bhutan

I moved to Adelaide, South Australia 10 months ago. This decision was driven by my belief that family has to be together and pursuing your c...