They wear their long black hair topped with conical-shaped hats. Their clothes are made out of yak wool. They wear jewelry made of items such as silver and turquoise on their backs.
They are the unique, beautiful women of Laya, Bhutan.
In the remote Himalayan village of Laya at over 12,500 feet in northwestern Bhutan, the women have worn their unique style of dress for centuries. Along with the Layap’s distinctive language and customs, this style of dress reflects culture, tradition, religion, and history.
It is believed that a very important figure in Bhutanese history and religion, Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal, first entered Bhutan in Laya. Shabdrung was a Tibetan Buddhist lama who unified Bhutan, and is the great leader of the Drukpa school of Mahayana Buddhism, which is followed in Bhutan. One of my Bhutanese guides told me that the style of dress that the women of Laya wear shows that “they follow Shabdrung.”
The conical-shaped hats are made of darkened bamboo strips that are woven together. I asked another one of my Bhutanese guides the significance of these conical-shaped hats, and he replied that, “If they fail to wear the hats they believe they will upset the village spirits.”
The hats are adorned with a pointed spike at the top, and colorful beadwork in the back consisting of about 30 or more strands of white, red, orange, and blue beads. I asked if there was significance to the pointed spike at the top, and one of my Bhutanese guides replied, “Regarding the pointed stick at the top, there is no such reason as per my knowledge. It simply shows that it is a unique hat to Laya.”
This Laya woman is selling the conical-shaped hats.
The yak wool clothes include a jacket (called khenja) that is black with silver trim, and a long black ankle-lenght skirt (called the zoom) which contains earth-toned vertical stripes of brown, orange, rust, and mustard. One of my guides told me that the clothes are made of yak wool to “help with the extreme weather and the long trade missions” of the Layap.
These Layap women were working hard, breaking up the ground in order to clear an area of a field so that animals won’t cross into the crops. All the while they were wearing their traditional clothing. (Although the hats were kept safely off to the side.)
During my visit to the scenic village of Laya, it was quite amazing to see all the beautiful women wearing their unique clothing. Unlike fashion of today that goes in and out of style every few years, the women of Laya respect their culture, tradition, religion, and history over the centuries.
Some of the information in this blog was provided to me by two of my Bhutanese guides, Tobgay. And Pema Wangchuk. Thanks to you both!