A 5 hour bus trip from Leh to Ang, a remote village
at the end of the road. The local bus leaves at 11am and we get
to Temisgam about 4 pm and then up a winding dirt road, very narrow,
another 5 or 6k to Ang. The bus got really full from Leh. Gradually
we began to drop people off along the way at various villages and
picked up a few here and there.
Soon after the bus leavea Leh, I realize, having drunk
a lot of water, that I have to piss really badly. I was sitting
in the very back row of seats and it was quite bumpy and subsequently
hard on my bladder. Sometimes these buses just keep going for hours
without stopping and I begin to do some creative panic imagery thinking
about how I was going to relieve myself. One option is to hop off
when the bus stops and tell the ticket guy to give me a minute so
I can do my thing. However, there aren't villages anymore where
we are on this stretch of road. I am getting desperate but would
be embarrassed to ask the bus to stop just for me. I am sitting
right by the back door with people all around me except to my left
where the door is. This is such a saga! I entertain the idea
of standing in the doorway, hanging it in the breeze and letting
it fly! Now how would I do that discreetly as well as keep my balance
- with a number of ladakhis watching, I imagine, and wondering what
this stupid American thinks he is doing. This leads to a mind picture
of ladakhis pointing fingers and the whole bus rocking with laughter!
Well, as the Buddhists say, laughter is the beginning of wisdom!
Well my bladder is bursting and the ride is bumpy.
What to do! As I look around me I realize by this time in the ride
everyone is literally sleeping - or trying to. I get up out of my
seat, stand in the doorway, hang my head out the door, look up and
down the road and figure I won't be able to keep my balance so I
go back and sit down. But my bladder is screaming with each bump!
I have to do it, chance it! I go to the door again and the bus is
going gradually up a grade so it is going a little slower. Everyone
is still sleeping so I try to be very causal about the whole thing,
nonchalantly hang it out in the breeze, sort of like a Buddhist
prayer flag (please let me keep my balance!) flapping in the wind,
and try to let her rip while maintaining my balance all of which
makes it quite difficult to piss even when you have to badly, especially
then! It takes a little patience and coaxing while all things are
getting air conditioned in the sunshine, but eventually it all comes
together and I achieve success - and a great deal of relief!
The scenery was of course jaw dropping, deep gorges
and huge barren jagged mountains. At one point we turn off the main
road and head up a narrow dirt road to Temisgam and then an even
narrower road to Ang. As we get closer it is fascinating to see
the real country ladakhi men and women who get on the bus. Old,
beautiful, darker skinned faces, traditional clothes - purple long
robes and a cloth tie around the middle, traditional hats, women
in long braids tied together at the ends. I am so transfixed by
some of the faces and could stare a long time. I don't even want
to take a photo because it would distract from my focus on the face
itself - as well as because it would feel irreverent to stick a
camera in their faces even with their permission. Such beautiful
people. The bus is full of laughter, talking and gesturing.
Two younger women get on the bus and sit beside me
when we arrive in Temisgam. I discover one of them speaks quite
good English and she asks me where I am going. I say to Ang and
ask if this bus actually goes the entire way to Ang. She says yes
and both of them are going there as well. I see this as my chance
to ask if they know the home where I am to stay. They do and when
we get to Ang, at the very end of the road one of them shows me
right to the house and introduces me to Dolkar, the daughter in
I am the only tourist, traveler, white boy, on the
bus the entire journey. When we get to Temisgam and pick up the
2 women who sit with me and help me, I notice the conversation at
one point seems to be about what this white boy is doing on the
bus and where is he going. A good many folks look my way with big
smiles. My new friends clue them in. I hear Tsering's name mentioned
and in that process another other woman volunteers to show me the
way. Such a delightful experience. The daughter in law's husband
is in the military and so is not home much. She has a delightful
5 month old baby girl. The family has 8 sons and no daughters. Only
two of them are at home along with mother and father.
Dolkar carries here baby around on her back in a decent
sized wicker basket. The little one, Sonam, is wrapped in blankets
and just coos away with her puggy face sticking out with her big
brown eyes. She breaks out in a smile when our eyes met, not at
all afraid of the martian, contrary to a small child who got behind
her mother and began to cry when he saw me as we walked up the road
from where the bus dropped us off. Of course my clown nose probably
didn't add to the child's sense of security! Later while holding
the baby on my lap, she gave me a big welcome into the family by
pissing on me! There seems to be a theme here!
I step outside the house to stretch and Dolkar
is bringing a calf to its mother to feed. The cow is brown, sort of
like a gurnsey. She ask if I would hold the calf while she milks the
mother - which i do. The calf is black. After she finishes milking
she lets the calf have its share from the mother and then brings the
calf in the house to a special room for it!
My room doesn't seem all too clean, although it
is covered in carpets with cushions placed along the edges to
sleep. A couple window panes are broken so it might well be quite
cool here at night. We're at about 12,000'. There is another room
across the hall, which is used as a bedroom, and it has a dirt
floor with a mattress lying flat on the floor. That room is quite
dirty compared to mine so I suppose it is all relative. There
is a lot of dust in the air and I imagine it must be quite difficult
to keep things clean. No running water in the house but a pipe
outside to wash hands and face. Mountain water from melting snow.
I imagine being without a bath for a week! Oh, well, why not??
There is electricity here, which comes on at 7:50 pm, yes 7:50
at night and goes off at 11pm. No switches to turn it on or off,
but all are at the mercy of the man with his hand on the big switch
at the main station somewhere.
This evening I have a Ladakhi stew for dinner. It
is very tasty. I have to get used to eating between 9 and 10 pm
and struggle to stay awake as 10 nears! Wongchok, the 55 year
old father, doesn't get home from his shop in Temisgam until 7:30
or 8:00pm. It is interesting to watch him because when he gets
home he immediately finds his granddaughter and wraps both arms
around her, cuddling her, talking to her, as long as he can during
the evening. He reluctantly gives her up to 'Abi', grandma, when
his food is set before him. Abi, whose name is Laskit and who
is 46, pours Wongchok his chang, the local barley beer, and then
sits on the floor with the granddaughter, Sonam, making sure she
gets her turn to cuddle. Everyone here is a nurturer, including
the boys. They equally love to have their turn with Sonam and
are very tender and loving with her.
When Wongchok comes home he walks past my room and
tells me to come to the dining room so we can sit and 'discuss!"-
meaning to talk. So I do. He likes his chang and always has a
couple glasses of rum mixed with water, and tells me he would
like to have four or five but I think Laskit keeps an eye on his
consumption. He keeps pushing me to have some chang but not caring
for alcohol I decline after a small glass. It has the taste of
a dry white wine. Each evening Wongchok and I go through the same
ritual of his wanting me to drink with him and my declining. It
is the custom here not to accept an offer of drink or food a couple
of times before actually accepting. It is considered impolite.
So that adds to the persistence. They think I am just being polite
when I really do not want chang. When the chang doesn't work,
then Wongchok tries the rum, but after several days he begins
to understand. He loves his chang and rum but by the end of my
time there he is apologetic about the amount he drinks.
This morning I sat outside the front door of this
two-story house. Laskit has a rather nice flower and veggie garden
for a front yard/garden. It is pleasant sitting there in the morning
sunshine watching the butterflies move from flower to flower as
well as the bees. Off to my right are the mountains and the green
terraces of wheat and barley fields. A peaceful and meditative
setting. A little later I go for a short walk through the fields
and along the streams. I wonder who built all these stone walls
which are everywhere to keep the terraces in place, and who built
over what period of time all the irrigation canals which seem
to be everywhere. The water comes out of the mountains and is
primarily from melting snow. One can see canals snaking high up
along the mountain sides being carried to fields farther away
while other canals make their way down to the lower fields. It
is learned over a long period of history, but the men and women
know when it is their turn for the water to enter their fields.
I often just watch the women, who seem to be the primary ones
to handle the irrigation, out in the fields with a small shovel
moving a clod of dirt here or there which changes the direction
of the water flow. It is not hard work but requires a knowledge
of which canal goes where to make sure all the fields get their
turn at being irrigated. It is quite an intricate and ingenious
system. Looking up along the mountain sides you can always tell
where the canals flow because of the greenery. No water, no greenery.
This afternoon I walked on up the valley following
the strong and full stream flowing down between the mountains.
I followed it to a point where there was no more human habitation
and basically no greenery, bushes, trees, just huge boulders and
mountains of scree which is a mixture of dirt, sand, very fine
stones and some a little larger. It is interesting to see how
far up the valley the Ladakhis cultivate the land. As long as
there is a flat space, or one that can be made flat, and water,
there is cultivation. Then I walked down the other direction to
lower Ang and came upon 5 women who were cracking and cleaning
apricot nuts. They invite me to come and sit with them and we
have our 'conversation' - given that we had no common language.
There is a cute little boy there about 2 years old. He is all
smiles, friendly and he lets me hold him for a little while. This
is the beginning of apricot season. There are lots of apricot
trees as well as apple trees.
I also find some wild mint tea growing so I pick
some and take it back to the house. Since I don't generally drink
black tea, I ask Laskit if she knows what this is. Neither she
nor Dolkar, the daughter-in-law, seem to know what it is so I
explain it to them and they are happy to make that my tea of choice.
I do like the butter and salt tea which is the common tea here
but my body says no so I listen or pay a price.
The food and crops here are grown organically.
The fertilizer comes primarily from the dung of the animals as well
as the composting toilet. In the houses there is no running water
and no standard western toilets. There is a room about 10'x10' which
is the toilet room and the floor is covered with dirt as much as
a foot or two deep. In the middle of the room is a hole in the floor,
which is where you do your toilet. Beneath this room is where the
toilet is collected and may be about 8' or 10' below. When you've
finished doing your business, you throw a shove of dirt down the
hole. Eventually this is mixed together with ash and dirt and then
taken to the garden and fields. Nothing is wasted; everything is
used. And that goes for just about everything else as well. For
drinking water here, Laskit or Dolkar will boil water for me and
let it cool and then for precaution I have a few drops of liquid
which I add which are supposed to kill anything that is still moving!!
I've had no problems. By this time I can probably drink the water
from the stream but I choose not too. Folks do their laundry in
some of the canals as well as bathe. However, in most villages everyone
knows in which streams and canals you wash your clothes, which ones
you bathe in and which ones are for drinking. The villages are mostly
self-sustaining but Western modernization is encroaching slowly
and making its nasty mark. The West is not needed here for the most
part but modernization will likely come nevertheless. That seems
to be the way of the world, but I am impressed with attempts by
the local people to put some limits and curbs on what, how and when
this happens. to be continued