Irian Jaya’s Kombai
The Tree House People

Kingdom of Bhutan
Around Paro

After we had left Gongyul, we hiked for hours without seeing any sign of any settlements. We eventually descended into a forest and decided to rest for awhile when these two girls appeared out of the woods to look at us. They were very shy and despite our invitations they would not come close to us. If we started to walk towards them, they’d turn and start to run away. 

We crossed the 16076 ft. high Shinje La Pass. Smugglers from Tibet pass
us going the other way. Smuggling is common in Bhutan. They bring in
cheap manufactured goods from China. Shoes are one of the
most commonly smuggled items, or so we were told.

A girl in the Laya region greets us along the trail. The Laya women are
the only women in Bhutan who don’t have their hair cut short.

Laya women standing outside their house

Laya women.

A nomadic yak herder stands outside of her yak hair tent.

As we got higher, we traded our horses for Yaks.

The town of Laya

Entering the town of Laya

These women are hanging out with our cook. It was a big joke with the rest
of our crew that he was a ladies man, but I always suspected that they just
like watching him prepare the exotic foods that we foreigners ate. Apparently
in his younger days our cook was a friend of the king and was given a chance
to go to a university. He turned it down because he was having too much fun.
Now he is cooking for us tourist.

These women joined us at our campfire one night. The laya women always
dress very traditionally. I saw them dressed like this even when working.
They believe that if they give up their traditional dress that their whole culture
will be lost. They may be right.

A carpenter in the town of Laya. There is no electricity so everything
is still done by hand.

Some towns in Bhutan still have a medieval feel to them with the castle
(or Dzong) still being the religious and administrative center of life. Here we
are standing outside of Gasa Dzong which is an important religious center
for the surrounding region.

We were told that we would not be allowed in to see the most sacred shrine
of the dzong, but then the head lama came out and he was flattered that we
all wanted to take his picture. He invited the men in our group inside to see
the shrine. The women in our group had to look inside from the doorway.
He said that the consorts on the diety would be jealous if the women entered
the room.

We hiked for several days through heavily wooded forests. The lower in
elevation that we got, the more jungle-like the forest became. We stayed
in one village where we were told that an eleven year old boy had been
killed by a tiger just three days before. That night while lying in my tent,
I could hear the village dogs barking wildly. I couldn’t help but wonder if
there was a tiger out there.