Porter and pony business, including homestays, is one of the main sources of income for the people of Laya, and by looking at the current trend it has become a staple source of revenue in the gewog.
Before, the gewog was mainly driven by cordyceps business, but due to its unreliability and the production being hampered by change in climate pattern has made the people to shift their focus into these businesses.
However, Laya gup Tshewang said, “I think cordyceps business is still viable as people are earning more from its collection although the quantity of the cordyceps is declining yearly. Nonetheless, most village natives say that the business of collecting cordyceps has drastically decreased compared to the past.”
Change in climate pattern has also disrupted this seasonal highland business as harvests declined every passing year.
The gup said that due to climate change the highlanders have been receiving unpredictable rains and snow, aggravated with other natural disasters like flash floods, landslide, and soil erosion which has become more frequent in recent times.
Overtime, the people of Laya have come up with alternative business ideas apart from their routine cordyceps business, they have also opted for incense collection, porter business, labour wage, homestay, and sale of yak products.
Laya is considered as one of the best scenic tourist highland communities in the country and the villagers have been receiving national, regional and international tourists which have helped spur the local economy.
The locals today view the incoming tourist as their encouragement for running homestay businesses while porter and pony services still remain their mainstay which has helped improved their livelihood and income generation.
The gup added that local people gain exposure and socializing skills through their homestays hence, helping them in additional income generation and it will also encourage youths to stay back in the village.
Meanwhile, Tshering who is one of the owners of porter and homestay believes porter business to be the better and self-sustaining in the long run.
“Even though porter business requires a lot of effort and work, still the returns are good,” he said, adding that the income earned through collecting cordyceps at present times is Nu 150,000-200,000 in a year whereas, decades before the returns were substantially more.
He also added that the duration for collecting cordyceps is just one month while only three people from each household are allowed to collect the cordyceps in a year.
Similarly, Khendrupla, principal of Laya school believes cordyceps business to be unpredictable as the profit earned from the business are not given directly to the public. He adds that locals are less aware about the marketing process in which the profit earned are all taken by the dealers.
“Due to climate change and global rise in temperature people are not able to earn enough profit. In the past people used to collect 400 pieces of cordyceps while at present they can hardly collect around 100 pieces in a year.” Khendrupla added.
People first started homestay and porter business due to the increase in the number of people visiting their remote gewog. The gup said people of Laya saw it as an opportunity to generate income and to keep themselves engaged, and also to keep themselves connected with people from across the world.
The incomes generated from the two alternative businesses have today been able to substitute the loss caused by the cordyceps business. At other times, agents and tourist guides makes all the arrangements resulting in less customers and lesser income.
43-year-old Sangay Dorji, believes cordyceps business to be more convenient and better. Even though the collection is relatively less compared to the past, they still earn profit according to the amount and quality of the harvested cordyceps. “We can get more profit in a short period of time and it doesn’t consume much time as homestay do.”
“We can earn around Nu 150,000 a year from cordyceps business alone,” Sangay said.
He also added that through porter business they can just generate around Nu 70,000-100,000 and that there are times where horses fall sick and die.
Likewise, he says that there are less customers staying in homestay and most of the tourist and visitors prefer to stay in camps.
The gup said, for now, they have around 10 homestays which they operate throughout the year. But during the Royal Highland Festival the gewog sees many people operating their resident as homestays.
40-year-old Wangchuk says otherwise and considers porter and homestay to be better options compared to cordyceps business. He said that cordyceps business has become unpredictable in recent times.
When it comes to porter and homestay, it is observed that they get maximum number of customers only during the Royal Highland Festival.
Wangchuk said, “When there are no customers, we take our horses to Lunana for trading purpose and people staying in the homestay are family members.”
While there are contradictions to what locals have to say, the gewog has found a new avenue of business to lift their spirit and livelihood.