Gleaning the barley field, Lungo, 2002

Gleaning the barley field, Lungo, 2002

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Lungo, where the people rejected Shabdrung, is not a Laya beyul, a sacred hidden land. All the families died out, and the village was abandoned. Then, many years later, Layap from the beyuls began moving there.

At Singaythang, Choda joins us for the short trek to Lungo, where we will pick up yak for the high passes to Lunana, and Bidi will return to Gasa with the horses.

Choda doesn’t say why he’s going to Lungo, but I can guess. Generations after Lungo turned away the Shabdrung and the people died out, Layap from the main beyul villages began moving to abandoned Lungo farms. Many were younger brothers who fell in love and refused to marry their older brother’s wife. With no inheritance, they had to establish their families on new land and make homesteads of their own. Legend says that they took the most beautiful girls of Laya to Lungo.

“Brother Choda,” I ask, “how do the Laya zam choose their husbands?”

“They don’t choose. We choose. We call it night hunting!” he says. “If you spend more than one night with a girl, she will insist that you are her husband. If you don’t want to marry, then you must stop going to her before she insists.”

“How do you approach the girls?”

“We talk to the girls in the daytime and make plans,” explains Choda. “We start our journey about midnight. If the girls do not open the door, then we climb through the window. The girls tell us where they sleep so we can find them in the dark.”

“It is so cold in Laya, and your windows are so small—how do you fit?”

“The windows easily fit us,” declares Choda, “but we have to be careful. We must not oversleep or disturb the parents. If the girl’s parents discover us and we stay for breakfast, that’s the sign that we have accepted their daughter and we have to marry. So, if we do not want to marry, we must wake up early and buzz off.”

“With brothers marrying the same woman, what happens to the unmarried girls?”

“Some men have more than one wife, but we have more unmarried women than men,” Choda explains. “If an unmarried girl gets pregnant, she must stay in the house or hide in the pasture. She can only go to other houses after giving birth. Unmarried women work with the men and often go with the horses trading. Some of them are very rich. They weave and do business and don’t spend on unnecessary things, drinking and gambling, like the men.”

From BHUTAN: Hidden Lands of Happiness, by John Wehrheim (Serindia 2011)

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