Laya Mart: A Jewel in Bhutan’s Highland Crown

Resilience, Diversity, and Community Spirit Thrive in Gasa’s Hidden Gem

In the heart of the enchanting village of Laya, perched in the heights of Gasa, a hidden treasure awaits locals and visitors alike. Amidst the crisp mountain air and breathtaking landscapes, the unassuming Laya Mart stands as a testament to resilience, adaptability, and the vibrant spirit of this Bhutanese mountainous community.

Contrary to the notion of upscale boutiques, Laya Mart is a modest abode that offers a diverse range of products, from popular Samyang noodles to national attires and fresh vegetables. The recent improvement in road connectivity to Tongchudra has proven to be a game-changer for shopkeepers like Kinley Zam, 52, and her daughter Phento, 23, allowing them to expand their offerings and introduce the latest products to the market.

Nestled in a bungalow where one room doubles as a shop and the rest as a home, Laya Mart buzzes with activity. Stepping into the store, visitors are greeted by a stack of egg trays near the counter. Inquiries reveal that eggs are priced at Nu 25 per egg and Nu 700 per tray, showcasing the diverse array of products available to cater to various needs.

Phento, the daughter of the entrepreneurial Kinley Zam, shares the inspiring story of the mart’s inception. Starting as a venture in the 90s while herding yaks, Kinley Zam transitioned to running the shop to overcome the challenges posed by her husband’s alcoholism. Sourcing products from Punakha and Thimphu through family connections, she turned adversity into an opportunity.

The yearly highland festival proves to be a boon for Laya Mart, boosting daily earnings to around Nu 5,000, with an additional Nu 2,000 during the festival period. Concerns about cleanliness are addressed through coordinated zero-waste hours, where locals actively participate, ensuring that the village remains pristine.

Reflecting on the evolution of shops in Laya, Pema Jamtsho, Laya’s magmi, reminisces about a time when only three shops surrounded Laya Central School. Today, with around 20 shops scattered across the village’s chiwogs, Laya Mart stands out as a beacon of adaptability and community strength.

Phento’s entrepreneurial spirit extends beyond traditional products, as the mart serves as a samuh agent, selling vouchers to locals. The introduction of Vivo phones at discounted prices, offered without profit, has gained popularity among the Layaps.

As the road to Laya continues to develop, the future promises more shops, yet amidst the changes, Laya Mart remains a constant. Welcoming visitors with a warm smile, it provides a glimpse into the vibrant life of this mountainous village, showcasing the harmonious blend of tradition and progress.

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