Driving through the barren mountains of Ladakh, we took a diversion off the highway to enter a valley. It was gorgeous, a stream cut through the valley with huge mountains on both sides and the further we went in, the more wild it looked! About an hour later, we came to a halt. With our backpacks strapped firmly to our backs we walked on the track for another 30 minutes. Meanwhile we came across a house or two and very old monastery.
We set up camp next to the fields, between the mountains. There was an old house which housed the cattle and a new building next to it. There wasn’t any other building in sight apart from the old monastery in the far distance. Wanting to see a typical Ladakhi home, we invited ourselves into the house next to the campsite.
A young lady with bright red hair showed us in. Inside the earthen house, an old lady sat by the kitchen. A wooden rack on the wall behind them housed beautiful arrays of traditional tea cups. There were two small kittens running around the women. I asked the red haired woman if she dyed her hair, she replied only with a smile. They could understand very little hindi and we knew none of Ladakhi. We communicated through one of our guides. The table nearby had a photo of a young man in army uniform. He was the brother and these two women stayed in this remote corner all by themselves. There wasn’t even another house nearby but the all pervading dish tv was present. It is from women like these that I derive courage whenever I am scared.
Meet Sri Angchuk and her daughter Kunsung.
They live in Shang, one of the remote corners of Ladakh.
One fine Saturday, a group of us went cycling away from the city. Far away in the outskirts, we rode on beautiful country roads with trees lined on either side.
All was normal until one of us spotted the vineyards and thought it will be a good idea to take the bikes inside. Another possible agenda was to try and get some fresh grapes. But getting inside the vineyards with the bikes was of higher priority! Luckily for us, the man didn’t think it was a crazy idea and he let us in. I think he was curious about us as well, with our flashy imported mountain bikes. He couldn’t understand for the life of him why we wanted to ride 100kms on a cycle for nothing, even more so when motorized transport was comfortably available. We could have tried explaining but that would’ve made us sound only more crazy, we know this from experience. Instead we’d just smile in a way that confirms their suspicion that we are crazy.
But the madness hadn’t reached its pinnacle yet! What could be more funny than a group of well educated adults all gung ho about getting a picture of the bikes in the vineyard? The man was strangely accommodating about all of it, he even offered us some delicious grapes. It was only now that I shifted my concentration to him. He had a very friendly demeanor. He spoke with much enthusiasm about his son, the two buffaloes with funny names that I now don’t remember.
Then I asked him if to look into the camera and he did. Click!
He owns a vineyard in the outskirts of Bangalore.
P.S : Did you say you need proof for the entire bike story? Here it is!
We stood shivering outside her tent. The kind woman that she was, she invited us inside their cozy tent, we smiled at each other. The plan worked.
Earlier that day when we arrived at our campsite in Kashmir, there was a tent of a local shepherd pitched close to us. As much as I wanted to photograph the locals, my friend told me he tried in vain to get the women’s photograph. So we devised a plan to first acquaint ourselves with them and then ask for a photograph.
Once inside the tent, the cold winds were blocked completely and it was unbelievably comfortable there. She offered to prepare Kashmiri Kahwa, a traditional tea from these valleys. There was a certain charm in the wrinkles that covered her face. The kahwa looked amazing in the traditional cups. We asked her how they kept themselves warm?
Promptly she pointed to a wooden basket in the corner of the tent. These baskets would contain burnt coal and it will be carried inside their flowing robe which keeps them warm. They jokingly even call it Winter Wife! It is amazing how people have devised infinite ways to live with nature. She has been coming here for three months since the last 25 years or so. And us, the so called trekkers took 2 days to reach this place while her family claims they do it in a day. I didn’t doubt them for a second! Between all this I took many photos of her.
Meet Asha, from the valleys of Kashmir.
She forcefully pushed aside my friend’s hand when she tried to stop her. This woman was having her way and we were sitting there grinning helplessly. Earlier, her husband offered us hot black coffee. Later they invited us for breakfast, at 7 in the morning.
It was a small house with two rooms and the earthy look made me feel completely at home. The morning sun was lighting up the room in the quaint corner where they sat.
She was serving us delicious idlis, at her home, just because we were guests in the village. Not one, but four gluttons like me! We wanted to say no, we tried putting our hands above the banana leaf so she wouldn’t serve more and empty her dishes. But she wouldn’t let us and we couldn’t resist. We had the idlis to our heart’s content and the family was more than happy to serve their guests without any expectation. She was a very pretty woman, I think anyone with a genuine smile looks extremely pretty. So was the case with her and her shy daughter held onto her observing us as the mother sat in front.
Meet Kamakshi and Kasturi, her daughter with brown eyes!
They are from the extremely hospitable village near Kodaikanal.
“One Chicken Sandweech?” she would repeat after my order in an inquisitive tone. And then I nod.
I sat at that cafe in Sikkim for over 6 hours, writing stuff in my journal, of all those almost forgotten things about my Desert Trek done in Rajasthan the previous year.
The view outside was demanding to me to do just the same. It was a Friday morning, the mist was hanging low, the gentle drizzle never stopped and everything else was screaming relax! I had a crazy trip already for about a week. Today was the rest day. Today I would just sit back, relax and enjoy just being there. Sikkim without tourists is heavenly.
While I ordered cups of tea, coffee and food, this lady always served me with a pleasant smile. She would’ve seen a lot of foreigners do this every now and then but I am sure she didn’t see a girl from India do this, sit in a cafe alone writing some stuff. During the last order, I asked her for directions to my next destination. She asked me what I was doing here. Later, I asked her the same too.
She is from a village nearby and she works in this cafe in Sikkim.
Meet Tshing! (Doesn’t it rhyme with Ka-Ching? ;))
Two of us whizzed past them to go behind the small temple. Trying not to look curious they stole glances to see why we were going into the bushes. To tell you the truth, most of Orchha is in bushes! Dry and dense shrubbery has overgrown through the ruins giving a classic eerie feel to the remnants. If you are anything like me, who grew up fantasizing going to places as Indiana Jones, this is the place to be. The entire place has ruins strewn all over, ramshackled yet standing still. Later, my friend and I entered the temple and we came out again. I didn’t notice anything but my friend did. She said someone is living inside the temple. I went back to see a bed, some clothes hanging and some utensils here and there. Someone was actually living inside the temple and the deity was worshipped in here too.
I smiled at the man and woman sitting on the steps. They smiled back. I let them ask their questions to us before I started my investigation. Orchha is a small place. It sees few international visitors and even fewer domestic tourists only from places close by. They were surprised to know we came from as far as Bangalore. They were even more surprised to know we were staying there from more than two days. They came to Orchha to visit the Ram Mela which happens to be a pretty big event around here. They said the old man who was the priest cum caretaker of this place was sick. So they are looking after the place until the old man gets back from Jhansi. Back in the 1960s, the old man was given the job of taking care of the temple. He continues to do it till date. It would’ve been interesting to meet that old man. But since the old man with a thousand wrinkles and a million experiences is such a cliché, I guess I am not really complaining that I met this sweet couple.
These people were from Jhansi, farmers they were. I asked the man’s name. He told me. I asked the lady’s name. All I got was a smile and then more smiles from the shy woman. Her husband laughed, looked at her and told her name too. She smiled sheepishly again. If she was so shy to tell her name, wonder what would’ve happened if I had asked her to say husband’s name. 😉
Meet Alak Prakash and Krishna from Jhansi, Uttar Pradesh. I met them in Madhya Pradesh.
The lines on his face caught my fancy. I went to him and he smiled again.
He is a rather frail looking man with a cheerful disposition. He was smiling constantly. I wanted to ask more about him but this was a classic case of communication problem. He spoke Nepali and I none. But lucky for me, our guide Iksha spoke his language.
His son is working as a Security Manager at one of the resorts around Ooty. 5 months ago, his son brought him from Nepal so that he could make some extra money too. I asked him if he lived in the mountains in Nepal. He said yes. I asked him how are the mountains here, he said they are quite small. He misses his wife and home but what can he do, he asks rhetorically. He intends to make some money and go back home in less than a year or two.
Meet Muniveer, he is from Nepal but he currently resides around Ooty, India.
That’s Avalanche Lake behind him.