The Laya in the North

The Laya in the North

The northern highlands, along the slopes of the Himalayas, are separated from the valleys of Central Bhutan by high mountain passes. This arid area, where essentially barley, high mountain wheat, white turnips and potatoes grow, is inhabited by the Linkshi, the Lunana and the Laya.


The Laya speak a dialect of Dzongkha, the Bhutanese national language which, because of its numerous deviations from the lingua franca, is hardly understandable for the uninitiated.

While the Linkshi and the Lunana usually wear the typical Bhutanese costumes, the Laya have their own traditional clothing, which consists mainly of garmets made out of yak hair and sheep's wool that has been woven together on back-strap looms. The classic components of the Laya costumes are a black shirt or, a black skirt with light vertical stripes respectively, a black wool jacket, heavy felt boots, as well as a cone-shaped hat made out of bamboo. The jewelry is mainly fashioned out of silver and is worn on the back.


The Laya in the North
.  Yak, the Source of Life
The East of Bhutan
The Sub-Tropical South
West and Central Bhutan

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The Laya are known for their distinct costumes. The most prominent accessory is a cone-shaped hat made out of bamboo.
Photograph by Erich Lessing

Basket, bamboo, leather: measurements 50 x 52 x 34 centimeters; on loan from Françoise Pommaret
Leather reinforcements protect the basket, used for carrying or provisions, from rain and snow.

A woman of the high valley of Laya, located at about 4000 meters above sea-level, in front of her summer tent made out of yak hair.
Photograph by Robert Dompnier

Blouse, wrap skirt and jacket: napped wool fabric, on the jacket are insets of imported Tibetan fabrics; hat (layap bulo): woven bamboo with worked-in bark; boots: napped wool, leather; rich jewelry made out of various materials; on loan from the Museum für Völkerkunde Wien
The Laya are semi-nomadic yak breeders in the mountainous north of Bhutan. Their lifestyle also defines their traditional clothing.

Horn with bone-plate; length 50 centimeters; on loan from the Völkerkundemuseum der Universität Zürich
Yak horns are often placed above the doorways of the house in order to prevent the entrance of malevolent powers. They are also placed on Steinsetztungen/stone markers in the landscape, which is indicative of the ancient pre-Buddhist practices of making offerings to the nature deities. Often sacred Buddhist formulas are inscribed on yak horns, whose ritual use and symbolic worth dates back to pre-Buddhist times, as in this case with the inscription »O mani padme hum«.