The image of Laya most of us who have not scaled up to the mountain is a mountainside hamlet dotted with yaks, the surrounding covered with juniper, rhododendron and other wild flowers and animals.
It is the bae-yul, the hidden land, located 3,800m above the sea level on the lap of the 7,100m Massagang. That was, perhaps years ago. Not now when we can go to Laya and come back in two days.
Laya has opened up and it is no more the bae-yul most perceived. Development has changed Laya and it is dealing with what we call development ills. Now they are faced with a problem, that until recently was an urban issue-waste.
Layaps are seeing more people and more waste. The problem is aggravated by the distance and location. They can segregate, but bringing it down for recycling is a problem. It is not worth unless there is a special program to fund such an initiative.
From our experience in the urban areas, there is no solution to it. With increasing purchasing power and consumerism, we are going to generate more waste. Layaps are no more isolated. What we find in Thimphu shops is available in Laya. We cannot force them to not purchase plastic paper or glass. Soon they will also be dealing with e-waste that they are unaware of until now,
So what do we do?
Making students clean through organised cleaning campaigns whenever the gewog receive visitor may help, but it is not the solution. The problem will be back when guests leave. If it is a Layap problem alone, it is manageable. The small population will be easier to convince to keep Laya clean, but it is not.
Locals are blaming visitors too for the problem. Ironically, visitors to Laya are the officials, tourists, people from the towns and cities supposed to be more civic sensitive. This week, Laya is a busy place. Hundreds of people have gathered for the third Highland Festival. There will be more waste. If the visitors bring back the waste together with the memories of visiting remote Laya, the locals will have lesser problem to deal with.
Our municipal authorities with men and machines are fighting a losing battle with waste. It will be a challenge for Laya. It is therefore important to make serious attempts to prevent our few pastoral communities from drowning in garbage.
It is not late and if prevention is the best approach, there is the need for policy intervention. In some countries, citizens go for environment-friendly practice in environment sensitive areas by choice. If it is the best approach, we could enforce such rules. What if people, including tourists, visiting Laya carry their own cups and mugs, instead of taking use and throw plastic cups, for instance?
Layaps cannot clean the mess left behind by visitors.