I considered life at 2000m and above to be harsh; especially in the winter. What would you really do with all that cold; with nothing to cultivate, no tourists? Well it turns out the more I swapped stories with the locals the more I was pitied. How did I survive a 30c and above summer; and what! I had to still go to work in that weather. Tsk! Tsk! The sympathetic head shake would start.
Here are a glimpses of lives that I discovered during my trek.
#1. The stone carriers
Roads are an important gift from the government to the people of Fanjila. When it is completed it will connect them to distant villages and more importantly they would have work, come summer and winter. Depending on who you ask the road leads to different places but that does not matter to them -they have work every morning, through the sunshine, the rain and the falling snow. They walk down to the stretch of the road being drilled for the day and carry their share of stones. While the mountain faces are being blasted or drilled by the experts they form their circle pass around the Chong (the local beer). One man has been coming here for a long time. He said it was going to take much longer to complete, 10 years or more. ” By then my son will also join me”, he added with a toothless grin.
#2.The home folks
Unlike the stone carriers the home folks have a different pattern of lives with the changing seasons. In the summer they open up their homes for the many tourists that come to enjoy the beauty of the place. Some of them go to the extent to getting wi-fi installed in their homes to stand out from the competition. The one’s that don’t run home stays tend their fields in the summer. They grow wheat, mustard, vegetable and apricots. When the weather gets colder they gather hay,wood and dried grass and store it. When the mercury dips well below zero and the ground has frozen they stay indoors; feed their cattle with the stocked up hay and grass and cut fire wood for the wood stove that heats their room.
#3. The helpers and the guides
The helpers and the guides are the backbone of the Ladakhi trekking business. When it all comes down it’s these people who can really tell you whether the weather is going to change or whether the ice is going to crack, the short cuts and the best camping grounds. Men folk usually head out with trekking groups as support staff- some cook, some wash up after and some show the way. They know every trail in their territory and are mighty proud to show them off to you. The really resourceful ones can source some Chong for you on a cold and dark night too.