Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Everything is Possible.

Written last week: I'm in the wild Northeast. Wind gusts scatter sands into my face and saturate my clothes, filling in every empty woven pocket space. I will know the extent of the filth soon because the last time I did laundry, soot and grime filled my wash bucket even three rinses later. I wake up with phlegm missiles mounted inside my nose and shoot bits of dried blood with me everywhere I launch the snot rockets. I keep my nails trimmed and my steripen ensures a placated mood after every sip of water (Thanks Leon!). We've made it to the desert of the Himalayas, to Mudh after seeing a thousand-plus year old Buddhist monastery in Tabo. Jordan and I noted that the adobe-looking architecture is reminiscent of our own Southwest wattle and daub. Pin and Spiti Ladakh (Valley) is generally where we've decided to spend the next few days on account of our guide, Vikas, who proclaimed it his favorite place in all of Himachal Pradesh.

During the summer months, which is coincidentally peak tourist season and carries both the prices and hubbub of these crowds, the valleys are lush with wildflowers and greenery. We're grasping at the bottom of our pockets looking for lucky charms by being here so late into this time of the year. Most guest houses are closed and only through the association of acquaintances Vikas knows are we capable of having places to stay. We've done two house stays, which differ from guest hotels in that a family tends to run the operation and we eat with them in the kitchen-cum-living room. The second family has really enjoyed our stay. We giggle over short utterances in our broken Hindi and have had the fortune to drink some Arak, a potent homebrew of barley and wheat distilled over a week or so. We don't get a choice in food as the vegetable growing season has passed so whatever we can load up on, we relish: multi-colored dal and red beans stewed in a pressure cooker with a potent masala mixture, buttered wheat chapati or parantha filled with potatoes and cauliflower, spinach and shallots slow-cooked with garlic and onion, and fluffed jasmine rice topped with ghee and mixed pickle of lemon, lime, lotus stem, carrot and green mango. We're not complaining.

We're cold, chilled at waking and shivering as we go under the sheets at night. We haven't had a shower for a few days because there's nowhere for the water to be piped in to; it's frozen for most of the waking day. When we washed our clothes, an hour later than we'd wanted to and consequently frost-nipped our fingers, it froze on the line. The toilets here are adjacent to the house but to flush, I have to fetch a bucket of water three stories higher towards the main road, fill it from a freezing snow melt stream, and pour it down the hole. The doorways are short and I learned that fact after smashing my cranium three times, splitting skin on the final hit. Our “heating” comes from the exhaust pipe that runs through the center of our room, which we reach by climbing a confidence-inspiring wooden ladder. The donkey outside our room haws like a drunk woman getting nailed. Once the wind starts, it gusts with enough force to support our bodies leaning into it backwards. It does, however, dry the clothes quite quickly. Clothes, that reek of spent, youthful desire and unisex deodorant that I can only seem to find in the woman's aisle.

Vikas is quite the comedian, whether he realizes it or not. He tells us about “incredible India” like it's being read from the aging poster displayed in someone's travel agency cubicle. He tells us, “If you will be good, I will be the best. If you are bad, I am the worst.” I reckon we were the best as our homestays and opportunities to visit sites in the desolate Pin Valley proved quite fortuitous. We drank with him, the self-professed teetotaler. Shots of his laughter are forever emblazoned into our memories. “Nani! Nani! Nannn-ni, I love you!” he'd chortle. But it wasn't just these two wisps he'd impressed with gregarious behavior. Vikas, or Ranu as he'd let us call him, picked up hitchhikers quite commonly. Of the most unexpected, we'd humped about the dirt roads with three police officers heading to another precinct, two grieving (though you couldn't penetrate through their laughter) women headed for a funeral, and a postman with a rucksack full of letters waiting to be delivered 40km north. He never asked for a rupee, likely a tenant of his religious upbringing.

Days later: We eventually left our valley of grinning gusto to the milder clime of Shimla. More of the same, we felt quite competent to float within India; living in the extremes makes for bravado. We met a man in Shimla who spoke to us about couch surfing with his brother in Delhi but due to slow response time, we ended up having to book a room for Rs. 450 a night. The exchange rate has been favorable for us and though we're doubling things in cost for the USD equivalent, we know it's a wee bit cheaper. Needless to say, we slept in a room reeking of turpentine and put up with the sound of renovations for two days as the industrious hires chiseled away at unoccupied rooms. We met a man named Donald who indulged in cigarettes and scotch with us all night. In fact, he proposed the idea of getting a space for Jordan to instruct yoga sessions in Raipur, if we choose to come by and stay in his hometown. We're seriously considering it as it'd be a convenient way to save on expenses, however paltry ~$20 per diem appears. We're excited to be heading to Pondicherry this week. We're not sure what to expect but cheap imbibition, supposed French cheese craft, and the seafood cornucopia are all luring us in. It's a 28h train ride for us down to Chennai and then a 3h bus to Pondicherry but we'll be able to rest on the train and partake in soda-bottle-obscured beer. It's going to be a pleasure to leave Delhi; we really don't care for the oddball Eurotrash and the mammoth amount of disturbances. Bring on the mid-small-sized cities. We'll miss the mountains and tamer life but the beaches and warm toes await.

We frequented the Indian Coffee House to see her.

Hedonism found in our hotel room armoire.  We drank the booze.

Joined panorama of the ICH.

A very successful sunset shot, Shimla.

Guille, our Argentinean comrade.

$.5 for a tray of three cups of coffee and fresh cream.

Bilal, our generous Hotelier in Shimla.

One of many sheep traffic jams in Kinnaur Ladakh.

Splendid roadside vista, Kinnaur.

Villages dotting the foothills of the Himalayas.
The Himalays are snow-capped in the background.

We pose at 12k ft.

Exquisite woodwork at a Hindu temple we were blessed at.

The snow leopard motif prevalent in Himachal.

These looked quite similar to Cherry Blossoms.

Sweet men making sweets.

Wool caps and blazers, traditional wear in HP.

Colorful village panorama in Kinnaur.

Buddhist temple guard.

There are no "cuts" in India, I've concluded.  Butcher Shop, Sarahan.

We made a friend.

He followed us for several Kms.

Panorama in Chitkul.

Fine pair of thirst asses.

These geometric stonewalls delineate people's plots.  Notice the soil mounds, for the region's famed sugar peas.
All the streams started to freeze, explaining why we found no plumbing wherever we stayed.

Gorgeous Himalayan peaks, Chitkul.

We pose atop a boulder we mounted on our acclimatization hike, Chitkul.

Sheared, washed wool waiting to be spun, Chitkul,

Wood is being unloaded for future use.  Adequate amounts are stockpiled for the snow-in.

Hay store, Chitkul.

Halfway up our hike, we look down upon Chitkul.

Valleys and peaks dot the landscape in Kinnaur Ladakh.
Prickly fucks that nearly impaled my palm.

Everyone's favorite: Lichen!

Yeah, if you have a Ferrari..

Tree limbs obscure a cooking feast prepared for a wedding.  We heard it all the next evening over the temple's PA system, Kalpa.

Big-ol pots, for the feast preparation.

Evergreens struggle amidst the sedimentary rock formations, Kalpa.

We actually had the chance to boulder on V.choss for a few hours, Kalpa.

The lustrous rock was hard to capture but it was very gneiss, Kalpa.

Nako, approximately.  We mediated by a retention pond, not pictured.

Stonewalled pen we really wanted to wander into, Kalpa.

Raw building materials, Hay and Brick, Kalpa.

Stove seen in most homes throughout Kinnaur and Spiti.

Sweet hosts, Tabo.
Religious graffiti, Tabo.
Buddhist Gompa, built 997 CE.

Hand-knotted wool rugs at our homestay in Mudh.  Each rug takes a week or so to create.

On-Highest I've ever been-On, 14.1k in Mudh.

Mudh dwarfed by the stately Himalayas.

Jordan roughly as high as we can go without equipment, Mudh.

Vikas and Nani with her daughters, Mudh.

Very old Gompa, Kaza

What is that child doing with its nipple? Kaza.

Private Pranayama instructions, Shimla.

We were boarded by 15k eighteen-year-old boys who rode 5 hours with us, all waiting to get a handshake and phrase in with us.  I sang Jack the Necrophiliac to them.

The band leader, Mr. Kandi.  He insisted we visit him in Rajasthan.  All these boys are going to do exams for Tibetan border patrol and none had tickets.  Havoc en route to Delhi.

Common communism in the commons.  Blue, Chennai.