It’s 8 in the evening. I’m at Khibber. This is turning out to be different than what I had imagined. It’s still jagged and breathtaking but also slightly greener and flatter here. I think we are on the top of the rocky cliffs that mark the road till Kaza. The terrain looks quite walk-able. The Ki monastery is at 4116 meters. This is definitely higher up. The bus wound up quite a bit. The clouds are grey and menacing and the sunset is stunning.
On the bus, a woman boarded with a crazy collection of things she needed to carry back home. A variety of bags, a crate of eggs and a green plastic tricycle. The interaction started when I helped her place her egg crate safely on the engine cover next to the driver. Then she needed to figure out how to put her phone on silent mode. Then she paid 6 rupees for my ticket, which totaled to Rs. 26 after the special ladies discount, because no one but her had change. Himachal encourages its women to move about for cheaper.
At Khibber, the bus driver offered to help find me a place to stay for the night. But before he could proceed to tell me about his friend with the home-stay, I had jumped down the bus and shamelessly asked the egg crate woman if I could stay with her for the night. That was that. Now I’m sitting in a very cozy but spacious living cum dining cum kitchen room, which at times also doubles up as the bedroom. Her house is up the hill in Khibber, next to the temple and the junior school with its oddly painted Gandhi face.
Her name is Sita and she works as a member of the pan India Asha collective. She is a dai and helps deliver babies in her village. She had gone to Kaza for training. She is in charge of this village and helps train the other women here.
Soon she was pouring out to me with the details of her life. She has six children. Sita got married at 18 and is at 37 now. One baby after the other has left her “khokhla” (empty), she said. All because the first boy was born after the fourth daughter. She had even had cysts in her womb and doctors suggested she needed vasectomy but the medicines and the gurus helped cure her. They did jhaar phook and said spells to her stomach and now she is okay.
Rinzin Chachi was also in the bus. She has very fancy and very traditional gold earrings clipped to the top of her ears and hanging well till her neck. Her neck is fortified by a luxurious gold choker. Now she sits here at Sita’s Kitchen downing glass after glass of chaang (liquor made of Barley). While I continue to struggle with my first glass. A sip or two makes me feel very relaxed and I feel like spreading out on the low floor wooden cot.
For dinner, Padma (the third daughter), Tanzin (the eldest son) and Sita made momos. Atta was kneaded in the evening and kept aside. The aloo was boiled simultaneously and later mixed with onions, salt and local garlic. Fat round chapattis stuffed with boiled aloo and steamed.
The dinner was dry. The atta too hard for my maida momo palette and made me feel bloated and breathless all night. Along with the dumpling there’s spicy chutney made of tomatoes, chillies, onions and dhania, stored in a small plastic container, that was passed around from plate to plate.
For breakfast the same menu but with clear soup left over after steaming the momos. And white milk tea. By 8.30 a.m. breakfast is set out. That’s also when the bus leaves for Kaza.
Khibber doesn’t have your modern day toilets. There are dry ones. Yesterday evening, when there was still some light left to the day, I was led to a cemented rectangular structure, about 20 paces away from the house. Two small rooms with metal doors and no latch. A couple of bricks have been removed from the wall behind for ventilation. The floor is littered with dried leftovers from previous users. The washroom without water. A community washroom, local style. Later I am to find, there is another such loo in close vicinity. Within the house. Used by the family members only. I will have earned my right to use this sometime before my stay is over and wouldn’t have to walk so much with so little oxygen every time I need to relieve myself.
Later at night, when it’s dark, when I say dark I mean it literally. There’s no light outside at the moment. And the number of stars keeps increasing infinitely the longer you look at the sky. The household inside is preparing for the night. There are solar powered bulbs inside. I open the door and step into the gallery that leads straight to the kitchen. A wooden ladder to the left leads to the roof, slippers lie scattered beneath it and outside the kitchen door the corridor. Two small wooden doors to my left, and on the right the curtained entrance to the in-house loo. Padma and Dolker stream out of the last door on the left with piles of blankets. I see Tanzin is collecting pillows. I grab a few chadar. This room is smaller. There are three wooden beds and a huge pile of bedding on a cot in the corner. A warmer room with no windows. Perfect to endure the winters I suppose.