My friend and I – my neighbour friend who is still alive today – we did something which no one had dared to do before. There are these cows called Boedbam, the cows that come from Tibet. My friend and I decided to do the impossible – to trek to Laya to buy some of these cows.
We walked for five days through the thick forests and snows and finally reached Laya. When I look back, I realize that it had been a matter of too much pride and ego on our part, the pride of young age. No one had undertaken such a long, arduous and dangerous journey before.
When my friend and I reached Laya, the women and children we met on the way stared at us with worry and suspicion on their faces, and they disappeared into their house. Fear had spread among the villagers that some strangers were coming to their village. There is something that we need to understand about the Layaps. During winter, men go to Punakha to trade for food. Only a few women and children stay back in their villages.
It was late evening when we reached Laya on the first day. There was a man by the name of Chimi and his wife whom I had known when they came to my village once. It was they who had told me about the Boedbam cows available in their village. A yak herder showed me and my friend to Chimi’s house. When we reached the stone-walled house we saw a little girl plucking fleece from a sheep.
“Hello! Where is your mother,” I asked the little girl.
“Mother has gone to the neighbor’s house,” the girl said.
My friend and I waited for the mother to come. When she arrived, she recognized me and immediately invited me and my friend into her house. She gave us butter tea and cooked dinner.
After dinner, my friend and I went to bed. The woman gave a sack for each of us to sleep in. The hard and prickly sleeping bag was woven from yak’s hair. We had to take off our clothes and get inside it wearing just our shorts.
We slept in one corner while the mother and her daughter slept on the other side. The woman kept her wick lamp burning throughout the night. Perhaps they were afraid of us. I felt like telling the woman not to worry, and to put off the lamp, but I didn’t say anything.
When my friend and I woke up the next morning, the woman gave us tea and breakfast. After the breakfast, we went around the village looking for the Boedbam cows. There is another thing you need to know about the people of Laya. When you reach a house around three or four towards the evening, never leave that place. If you ask for shelter after that time, no one will be willing to give it to you. They give you plenty of food and tea, there is no problem with that, but when it comes to shelter, they will simply turn you away. This is perhaps due to fear because very few outsiders had set foot on their village during our time.
Things improved, however, after a few days, as people became more comfortable and accomodating with us. They were convinced that we were not up to anything mischievous. My friend and I managed to buy five Boedbam cows. After that, we went to a place called Tongrey. My friend stayed at Tongrey with the cows while I trekked alone to another village called Lungu.
When I reached Lungu, I negotiated the price for two milking cows along with three young ones and stayed there for the night. Yalama! It snowed very heavily that night. When I woke up in the morning, the snow was so deep that I couldn’t bring the cows with me. So I had to leave them. Luckily I hadn’t paid the money in advance and so I had no problem returning the cows to the owner.
I returned to Tongrey, and my friend and I made our way back home with the five cows that we had bought in Laya. My friend had two cows while I had three. When we reached a place called Barila, above Gasa, the snows became so deep and impassable that we had to stop and ask for shelter at a house where there lived a woman and her son. The mother and son had a nice Boedbam cow with them. They had named her Nakum. It was a black cow with a small white stripe on her forehead.
Early next morning, I asked the mother if she was willing to sell her cow to me, and she agreed. During those days, the cup that was made from a rare wood called Za was considered very special. I had heard that it had a good market in the northern villages, so I had bought one from the east for three hundred Ngultrum.
I took out my cup and told the mother. “Ama…let me tell you something. You keep this cup in exchange for your cow. This is a Norbu, a precious jewel. It will bring you good luck, prosperity and happiness.”
“Ap Tsongpoen,” the woman said. “Add one hundred Ngultrum on top of the cup and I will agree with you. I want to spend the money for going on a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya.”
I gave the woman a hundred Ngultrum note and the cup and the price for the cow came to over four hundred Ngultrum in all. The woman looked at her cow and caressed her for the last time. Then she inspected the other three that I had bought from Laya and said, “Right now you are taking four cows from here. When you get home, you will have eight. These cows are all pregnant.” Saying this, she bade us farewell.
As my friend and I left her house with the cows in front of us, the woman waved a white scarf from as far as we could see her standing behind us in front of her house.
It was a slow and difficult journey back home. The cows couldn’t walk fast. So we had to walk slowly at their pace. We stopped intermittently to take rest and continued our journey thus at a snail’s pace. When we reached a high pass, about two days walk away from our village, one of my friend’s cows died. When we skinned it for meat, we found a female calf inside it. We carried the meat on our back and resumed our journey slowly. The nearer we reached home, the slower our pace became and it felt like we could never make it back to our village. The cattle would take a few steps forward and collapse on the ground. When we fed them, they rose up unsteadily and moved a few steps forward, but they would fall on the ground again.
When we finally reached home after two nights, my friend’s second cow also died. I was worried about my cow too, especially Nakum, the black beauty that I had exchanged for the cup and a hundred Ngultrum. She was my favourite cow.
One night when I went down to the barnyard to feed some hay to Nakum, I saw that her eyes had sunken deep into its socket. The cow looked emancipated and thin like a chapatti. Just then, I heard a low bawling sound and found out that Nakum had actually given birth to a beautiful female calf. I suspected that it was a miscarriage and was extremely worried that Nakum would die soon. I was concerned about my other cows too. What if all of my cows also die like my friend’s cows did? I thought. All the hardships that I undertook and all the money that I had invested would go to a total waste. What a shame it would be then to have gone all the way to Laya, I thought. If all my cows died, it would seem like I had taken the hardship to travel up to that inhospitable place just to buy some meat.
I prayed for Nakum, and fed her with a warm broth prepared from maize flour. I fed her well, and a few days later, she regained her health. My other cows didn’t die too.
This particular cow, Nakum, she gave me the fortune that I needed badly in my life. It has been more than thirty years since I bought that cow and its progeny is still present today. That special cow not only benefited me, but she also benefited all my other fellow villagers who bought her calves from me. What was more amazing about that cow was that she gave birth to female calves only. Even those female cows sold to the others gave birth to female calves only!
That bountiful cow gave me some hardship but it brought great benefit to my entire village. Everyone who bought the cows from me thanked me for opening the door of fortune for them too. As for my poor friend, both his cows died. Whenever I tease him and remind him of our journey to Laya, his face turns sour and he says, “Ah! Don’t talk to me about it. It’s been like I had accompanied you to Laya as your slave only.”