During every summer holiday, I always visit Domkhar village (my maternal house) which is 60 km away from my village and 12kms from main city of Leh. Most of my childhood memories are intact here with my cousins. I still remember those days when I used to be so annoying and wouldn’t listen to anyone. I spent most of my days playing with them, chasing after goats, building mud houses and I don’t know why, but I always liked to run around the field. After almost 16 years things aren’t the same. I am 24 now and all my cousins had grown up. But there was a gap in which we didn’t see each other because of schooling and other work. But this summer was exciting as I got the chance to meet them and we decided to go to a place where we have never been before. So Deachen (eldest of us) told us that our family had a share of land in Satse (a high grazing land) which is five hours walking distance from Domkhar. Next morning we started our journey with chips and fruits that we had already packed the day before. The sky was covered with clouds and it meant that we would have a pleasant weather for our long journey. First up there was a small stream running down through a gorge and Deachen said we must follow the stream.
After a while there were huge rocks that might have fallen due to new road construction above the hill. The gorge got narrower and to our left side there was a huge mountain which was so stiff that I almost had to lie down on my back to capture a shot.
After one and a half hour we came across a small pasture land, where a man was grazing his animals. We greeted him “jullay” and asked him how long will it take to reach Satse. He replied that it would take another two hours and we thought we must walk fast otherwise it would get dark before we can come back. We rested there for 15 minutes as we were ascending through the gorge and our muscles had got tired.
Then once again we resumed our journey and we kept talking to each other about our own personal experiences about travel and shared jokes. An hour later we reached the end of the gorge and after a small open space, there was another gorge that was narrower. Though we enjoyed a lot making sounds as we could hear echoes but later on it got a little scary as well because my brother started making some crazy sound in order to scare us. As we moved on, the gorge starting expanding and we came across some beautiful flowers, a sparrow and wild vegetation. The mountain here wears an orange hue compared to brownish in other regions of Ladakh.
Here we were after 4 hours, we could see the lush green gardens and hear the herd of sheep making sounds. We were really tired and hungry, so we gathered on a hill top for snacks. From there we could see the mountain range on the other side and also a small village sitting at the lap of the mountain. I had a banana, an apple and a frooti, and I didn’t know when I had finished that, I was so damn hungry.
We went into the village and found the herd of sheep and seeing us, all of them ran away. We could hear women talking, then one man came toward us. Coming closer, to my surprise he turned out to be my schoolmate. We greeted each other and shared some news. He invited us to his house for tea. His house is a seasonal one, they stay here for only summer and move down to the village during winter. The house had two rooms and one of them is the main kitchen. By the time we got settled, his mother came up with a big smile on her face ” Jullay Jullay” she greeted. She was very happy to see us there, as not many people come there because of its terrain and remoteness. She offered us tea and local bread. There we got a feel of old Ladakhi way of living as there was no gas or cylinder and food were cooked on traditional Ladakhi stove which uses woods for fire. She told us that they are the only family which used to live here, rest of the families have moved onto other villages. It makes things very tough for them as they don’t have anyone to talk to, and that’s why she was very happy to see us. There is no mobile network or electricity, though they had solar lamp for light. We exchanged a lot of news and she also recognized Deachen as she looks like her mother and was her friend. After a while her husband also came and he was also very excited to see us. He had a very good sense of humor and in every conversation he would find something funny and made everyone laugh.
My friend took us outside to show the village and our piece of land. He knew, which field belonged to which family and he told stories about how a snow leopard had broken into their pen and killed 28 sheep and how once he fell asleep on his way back home and by the time he woke up it was about to get dark, so he had to run that day. He pointed towards an old house and said that this was our ancestors’ house and for the last 40 years no one had stayed here. Hearing that I was very curious to know what would be inside. We opened the door and inside there was nothing except some old pots and clothes, it gave us an idea how our grandparents would have stayed here. The windows were very small , it was hard to see anything so we switched on the flashlight on our phones.
The room that contains the prayer wheel run by water.
Cylindrical prayer wheel that contains 100 small prayers wheels inside and it is run by water .
We came outside and he showed us our farm, it was all barren wasteland. We sat there quietly, thinking that how were those days when people were working in their field and singing. All those beautiful things that one can think of, but the truth was that this land and house had lost its soul. Even the trees around the field had grown old, its branches had cracked from its body as there was no one to cut them off on time.
With mind full of thoughts we left the farm and there was a huge grassland at the top of the village. Spring water is the main source of water, it’s used for drinking as well as for farms. We rolled on the grass and laid down while looking at the open sky. There was a feeling of freshness there, the environment is so clean that I didn’t see a single plastic or waste.
Beautiful grass has taken over abandoned field.
After being fully relaxed we came back from the same route to his house. When we reached there, his parents were ready with the lunch and what a meal that was. We all sat around and they had cooked rice and turnip vegetable which is my favorite and dal as well. The food couldn’t have tasted better than this, in-fact that was the best lunch that I ever had considering the environment, the love I received and the whole day had been an exciting one.
After finishing the yummy lunch it was time for us to go back and say goodbye to these beautiful people. They asked us to stay there for a night but we couldn’t do that as we needed to get back on time. On the way back, in my mind I was still trying to imagine how were those days, and how the people might have lived. I have seen the land but not people. On our way back we talked about how humble those people were, the tasty food and my friend, who guided us through the village. While crossing one of the gorges we saw a beautiful sunset which was a perfect end to the day.
You might be wondering where is my mom’s story ? Well, here it is, this story does not end here. I came back to my own village and one evening I was looking at the pictures on my laptop that I took on that day. Then my mom came up to me and asked that where did I take all these pictures. I told her the whole story and I showed her the pictures. Looking at each of the pictures brought back memories of her childhood. Looking at those farm pictures, she recalled how she used to play around that field with friends and how every evening, people would gather around the field and watch drama performed by the children. For dinner, one family would prepare for everyone and the next day the other family would do that. Even while working in the fields the other family members used to come for help with tea and food. She said that there was nothing like mine and yours, you could be at anyone’s house for lunch they would serve you happily. At night the children would gather around grandfather and he used to tell the story of “GYALAM KESAR” (an epic folk story). Like this they had a very strong community relationship which we lack today.
Over time things have changed, people have left this place because they got government jobs in cities, there are no more children playing around because they are in boarding schools. Grandparents have also left as it is not really possible for them to take care of everything all by themselves as ageing is something that even they cannot stop it. Right now, there is one family left and even for small needs they have to walk down 4 hours to the nearest village. They don’t have the basic facilities but they know how to live with environment, they eat what they sow and the most important thing is they have mental peace. Going to that place made me realize the importance of community, environment and peace. Ladakh is already in a transition like any other place in the Himalayas where it’s forgetting its cultural roots and blindly following the westernization which is not only bringing the mono-culture but it is changing in terms of economy and environment as well. We need to think now.