It grew colder with every kilometer we covered; we were definitely ascending. The jagged cliffs were intimidating, the deep ravines forbidding, the broken road daunting. At altitudes over 13,000 ft, the sun rays are of a piercing quality that goes right through the skin and one can feel the burn.
On days such as this however, when the clouds are playing hide & seek; the sunburn alternates with the innate cold of the high Himalayas. That unadulterated cold that radiates from glacial fields and the towering heights of snow-capped peaks; that of the shivering, bone-chilling, teeth-rattling demeanor.
Riding up the steep road from Kaza was proving to be tough. To stay on track required quite a bit of concentration. The bewitching sights weren’t helping much either.
Abruptly, the jagged cliffs end. We arrive at an unexpectedly open tableau: large meadows painted with shallow hills, patches of green where a sporadic stream would pass through. Cold, but eyes wide in wonder, we amble through these little mounds and are suddenly heralded!
“Who called out?! Are there people around us here?”
A look around and we see the slim figure of a woman waving to us. Clad in a red kurta, chunni wrapped around her head she gives us a ‘come hither’ nod. Curiously, we turned back. Peering around the bend we arrive at a group of people sitting together in a culvert. They were gathered around a makeshift stove, chai steaming away.
Lo and behold! It’s a picnic at 4400 mts!
With enthusiasm we abandoned our bike and joined the circle. Cradling the piping-hot tea in our frozen hands, our gratitude knew no bounds. A polite exchange of queries got us settled in. This cluster of people; couple of old men, couple of young women and an assorted age-group of village ladies; had taken a break from their daily work in the fields and got together in the afternoon for chai.
The aunties were chatty and asked a lot of questions; in response to most of which they remarked among themselves and laughed playfully. The girls were polite and industrious. They handed us some Spitian roti (baked, fluffy & pita-like bread) and were passing around a jar of homemade pickle. One of the uncles had a loud sense of humor; he made fun of “all the fancy young men strapped in helmets and alien jackets” who rode along on their motorcycles. He figured they wouldn’t be tough enough for these mountains.
Another old uncle was constantly twiddling around with something black and stringy in his hands. Upon inquiry, he told us (actually translated via the young ladies) that those were balls of ‘Yak-wool’. He was spinning it into thread which he would braid in to rope. Yak hair is commonly used to make warm clothing, rugs and blankets too.
We gratefully sipped on the simmering chai, shared some laughs and bid adieu to this lively bunch who welcomed us to their corner of the world with such warmth.
But not before they told us to go look for fossils in Langtza!
kurta – tunic-like outerwear
chunni – stole, usually worn loosely around the neck/shoulders. Can be used to protect the head from weather