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.
The Stranger :
The Story :
Many of you would’ve known that I was in Rajasthan until a few days back and I hoped to meet lots of strangers there. But I did not meet many. Many of the people I interacted with didn’t feel like strangers strangely.
Getting back to this lady, we were in the remoteness of Shekhwati region visiting old cenotaphs of Parsurampur. It was a single dome structure with exquisite paintings from Ramayana and Mahabharata and more such Indian Mythology. We were wowed by it and as we prepared to leave, the local villager asked us to pay 200 bucks as the entrance fee. We were surprised for sure at the demand. We refused upon which he said why don’t you come have a look at the care taker and then refuse.
We obliged and followed him only to find this lady standing by the door of her home. She stood and greeted us with a pleasant namaste. She looked old but there was a spark in her eyes that you can see. We didn’t feel like denying the request and paid her the 200 rs. Her husband used to be the caretaker until recently but now she has taken over.
I suddenly remembered the 100 Strangers project and promptly asked her if I could take her photo. She nodded and looked anxiously into my camera. I was looking through the lens and she didn’t show any signs of easing up. I asked her how old she was. She laughed and she said over 60 years. I asked her name – she said Shanta.
I asked her to smile and there – A brilliant smile that showed her beauty come alive!
We bid adieu and turned to move when we noticed. The youth in her face does seem to echo in her body. She was standing tall alright but she could barely move.