Diya Gupta


Winter is Coming...

7:01 PM, Sunday, 26th October, 2014
The boys crack into their new cricket gear!
Dance with us, Spiti style!
The Ladarcha ground, encircled by mountains
The first two snowfalls of October have already come our way. The sky lost its brilliant blueness; the sun was dimmed by sludgy grey clouds, from where constant light wet whiteness descended. It is a peculiar sensation to step out of your flat at night and watch these tiny white flakes fall silently around you as far as you can make out – against a backdrop of pitch darkness. The combination of poor electricity and no street lights in Spiti make for an atmospheric ambience. At night, Shaun and I often turn our torch off for a moment and look back at where we have just walked – it looks like sheer nothingness, everything engulfed by a looming mountainous darkness.

With the approach of winter, all the teachers have started installing ‘tandoors’ in their rooms – wood burning stoves with attached chimneys. The fires burn merrily in these tandoors, keeping the rooms toasty. The ubiquitous enormous kettle – a feature of every Spitian household – is often placed on the tandoor, keeping water warm for cooking or washing.

Shaun and I were going to brave the cold days by using our gas heater in our bedroom, but we gave up after the first three days. Gas heaters provide insignificant heat compared to the mighty tandoor –and we were getting incredible tandoor envy by visiting some of the other teachers’ rooms. Now we have one of our own – hurrah! – and are learning the art of creating fire in it. I have to confess I am really enjoying making fires and watching the glowing embers as they burn.

When the sun is out, the days are still warm, and on one such sunny Sunday, the teachers along with the students of Class 10, the oldest class in the school, headed off to the Ladarcha ground for a picnic. This was no British style nibbles, with cucumber sandwiches daintily partaken with a cup of tea. A vanload of huge pots and pans came with us, replete with food and drink. Rice, dal, paneer, boiled eggs, chicken, bananas and chillies loaded our plates, and masala chai and biscuits followed afterwards.

The Ladarcha ground is possibly the strangest and most beautiful place for a picnic – in that characteristic stark Spiti sense. It is a huge piece of flat ground six kilometres away from the nearest village, surrounded on all sides by towering mountains in shades of brown, bordered by snow-capped peaks. Before the Chinese invasion of Tibet, Ladarcha used to be the meeting ground for Tibetans, Ladakhis and Spitians to barter and exchange goods. The fair no longer takes place here – the modern-day Ladarcha fair is more of a small market that comes every year to Kaza, the headquarters of Spiti.

Thanks to a wonderful donor based in the UK, we now have proper cricket equipment for the children at Munsel-ling – cricket bats, balls, gloves, wickets, pads: the works. The boys broke into this new gear with gusto. The mountains at Ladarcha gazed on as they bowled and batted and fielded almost like professionals (at least to my untrained eye). They are a talented lot.

The girls, meanwhile, were keen to start dancing, Spiti style. This means that everyone dances in a circle, moving their feet and arms to a specific Spitian rhythm. And you are not allowed to stay back and watch from the sidelines! The women and girls will drag you to your feet and make you join the circle, their colourful clothes and smiling faces never brooking no for an answer.

The picnic at Ladarcha felt like the remnants of a summer that had almost entirely passed away – a lingering taste of glorious sunny days without a cloud in the sky. But the journey home as the daylight dimmed was a reminder that the seasons were changing. A cold wind whipped the air; we shivered and snuggled into our coats. Winter indeed was coming, and with it, change.

Laura Clark on 10:02 PM, 4th November, 2014
Great post - there's nothing like a real fire when it's cold! When we were in Mongolia and it was getting below zero at night (in August!), we had real wood (or yak dung!) fires in little stoves in each ger tent, and sitting in the dark ger watching the light flicker out of the stove, feeling its glowing warmth (and listening to distant yak moos) was amazing! :-)
Diya on 11:58 AM, 4th November, 2014
Hi Peter. Great to hear from you, and to know that you're enjoying the blog. The mountains are indeed very bare! Logs of wood have to be bought and brought in from Manali (the nearest largish city) for the tandoor. When this supply runs out, people use dried cow dung - very effective. We stuck to wood! :-)
Peter on 12:11 AM, 4th November, 2014
Lovely post (actually they all are). What do you use for fuel in the tandoor? The mountains look very bare.
Diya on 8:20 AM, 28th October, 2014
Hi Vivienne! Glad to hear from you. And very pleased to hear that you're enjoying the blog posts!
Diya on 12:07 PM, 27th October, 2014
Hi Jane. So glad you enjoyed the post. And thanks for your good wishes! :-)
Diya on 11:57 AM, 27th October, 2014
Hi Urmi didi! Nice to hear from you. The tandoors are wonderfully toasty! Yes, they are straightforward to use, once you've got the hang of them.
Urmi Gupta on 11:42 PM, 26th October, 2014
The tandoors sound quite toasty! Are they straightforward to use?
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