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It was an eye-opener to a life so simple yet so happy, it becomes a life less ordinary.
We had hitch hiked in an Indian Oil Truck from Parkachik to Zanskar. After a day-long journey and an enforced night stay in the truck, we reached Sani early in the morning.
Communal tensions had however brought Padum to a shutdown. Which meant we had to put up in Sani.
We headed straight to the Sani monastery and dumped our bags in the monastery premises. It was getting all decked up for the big festival.
People of the village Sani
The shepherds had set out in the hills early morning with their flock. The schools were shut too, for the monastery festival. Everything seemed to proceed in slow motion.
Life was as basic as it gets and the inhabitants mingled together as one big family.
Living in the midst of such harsh nature, it was not really surprising!
Our homestay in Sani
But who needs any commercial setups when the locals are so warm and friendly? The owner of the lone shop in Sani agreed to host us for the two days of the Sani festival. He charged us a pittance for a cozy room and an unlimited supply of fresh, local food.
The terrace is an essential part of every house. This is where wood, dung, grass and any other source of fuel is set to dry for use in the winter months.
What these houses do not have, is a bathroom (or a toilet). A drainage system is conspicuously absent in the entire valley. What they have here are dry compost blocks. Lack of good bathroom facilities is not very rare in Indian villages.
But being denied any means of a clean shower after a long tiring journey is something we hadn’t anticipated at all.
We had our first (and only) cup of the famous yak butter tea here, in these cute little ceramic bowls. The taste was a bit too strong for us and we resorted back to regular tea.
Fresh local veggies with chapatis or rice were the brunch and dinner.
Once, the mother chaffed about taking her daughter with us, and finding her a suitable boy in Mumbai! It made us wonder if they had an idea where Mumbai actually was. We would often ask the school going kids we would meet if they knew of Mumbai. They would always say yes. On asking where it was, the answer always was “very far off from here”!
Mumbai, Delhi, or any of the other countries they would have visitors from, it all fell in this “very far off” bracket.
To them, it probably was all the same!
Dolma’s deftness in rolling the chapatis just with her hands (without the help of a rolling pin) was striking! I couldn’t help asking her for tips. And some impromptu cookery lessons ensued.
Being close to the valley headquarters had its perks. Sani enjoyed non stop power supply sourced from a hydroelectric power plant. Cooking gas was easy to reach.
People were overall much better off than their counterparts in the deeper inaccessible parts of the valley.
Attending a Zanskar wedding in Sani
“Welcome, have some Chang“.
This was our introduction to the staple drink of Zanskar – the Chang. It is made by fermenting a local barley like grain and is an essential component of their everyday lives.
Large tubs filled with Chang were kept ready and jars of this local brew were doing the rounds.
We had a few sips of this Chang, couldn’t bear much beyond a couple of sips. (Later, we tasted a more evolved version of Chang, named Arhak, made by distilling the Chang. We must say, we quite enjoyed the Arhak!).
No person in Zanskar willingly says a no to Chang, ever!
Later in the night, we would experience a bit of this craziness in our homestay.
The house was filled with the family’s relatives who were in Sani for the festival, and a big noisy family gathering was on. Denying several “Juley, Chang”s (hello, have some Chang), all of us “outsiders” stayed cocooned in our room.
Later, one of the younger guys came to our room and asked us to hide the car keys away from his uncle, who was drunk but insisted on driving!
It was an amazing fun-filled night! We were glad we hadn’t proceeded to Padum.
How else would we have been a part of a family reunion in the remote Zanskar valley?