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.
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.