24.04.2014 - 15.05.2014
The town is surrounded by towering snow covered mountains, pine forests, steep rock walls, etc.
View of bridge leading to Gulabgarh
Unfortunately, like so many small towns in India, it is full of garbage on the streets, and in the narrow alleys near the houses. Tashi has said that he has organized a clean up a couple of times, but within a few weeks the place looks the same. People just don’t seem to get the concept and importance of cleanliness, and are content to live amongst the garbage and the shit, both cow and human alike, because that is what they are used to. Many houses seem to have some kind of rudimentary septic tank, but obviously not all. There is no town wide sewage system.
Alley leading to Tashi's house
Along side the main street is a three foot deep ditch with plenty of garbage, and so I have to watch where I step at all times. Cows and many stray dogs roam about chewing on the garbage.
There are 40 or 50 small shops selling everything from food and clothing to cell phone sim cards. There is even a “Peace Hotel,” with “semi-deluxe" rooms, though I wouldn't want to stay there. Despite all the rain, the main street is dusty, especially when trucks arrive from Kisthwar. Making it here along the extremely narrow and boulder strewn road is a feat unto itself.
The town has about three thousand residents, some of whom return to their mountain villages for extended visits to family members, or to help out on the family farm.
The Himalayan Culture School occupies a prime spot on a small hill in the center of town with prayer flags fluttering all around.
Unlike other schools, this one operates from March to November because it is simply too cold during the winter, and there is no source of heat in the classrooms. Even now, in late April, it is still quite chilly here, especially at night in the uninsulated, concrete houses with minimal sources of heat. I can imagine what it would be like here in mid-winter, at 6000 feet. Many of the the children who reside with relatives here in the summer, return to their parents in their villages for the winter. These villages are higher, 9000, or 10,000 feet, far more remote than Gulabgarh, and there is usually snow all winter long. Animals and people keep very close company, ie, in the same room, in an attempt to keep warm.
Mountain view from school yard
Relative to these villages, Gulabgarh is a metropolis with creature comforts, and yet life is still primitive here. Bathing is a luxury I have not had for a number of days, and everyone else bathes very infrequently because it is such a chore to heat up the water on an open fire, Doing laundry is also a major production, and I have more or less worn the same dusty clothes since I arrived. I am hoping to wash out some clothes today, or have someone in the village do it. If I can wash them soon, perhaps they will have time to dry in the sun.
After a week, there is no longer any more bottled water to be found in the shops. There was only one place that had it, and they have now run out. I have some trepidation about using the crude filtering system that Tashi has in his house. Thus far I have managed to avoid any major stomach problems.
We are also running out of toilet paper, and Tashi went to see if he could buy more. It seems like there is none left in the whole town, and at least one person said to him, in Ladakhi, “What’s that?”
Perhaps on his return from Jammu, he can bring some. He intends to go soon to check on construction materials for his house.
Drinking, eating, and sitting around the smoky wood stove are really the only forms of entertainment. Most nights seem like a party, as everyone knows everyone, or is related, and they often drop by to talk and drink, at least the men, and I feel some pressure to keep up with them. Tashi was complaining about it to me, although he drinks as much as everyone else. He also mentioned the lack of privacy in the town. These are my words, not his, but he feels that there is pressure to see everyone and check in, especially if he has not seen them in a while. He said he thought that there was extra partying going on as a form of congratulations, because he has started building his new house in Jammu.
I frequently take short walks in the town, and I am very noticeable. Kids openly stare and others just obviously wonder who I am and what am I doing here.
Two gentlemen in local shops
I may be only one of a handful of foreigners to come here. Two others than I know of, Alex and Mari, have also taught at the school because they know Tashi, but clearly there has not been an influx of tourists. Now that I have been here a little while, I feel incredible respect for Mari, who spent about a month here, longer than I will spend, and while she was here Tashi was absent for almost the entire time. And then she came back again for another month. This is not an easy place to be for anyone not used to doing without western conveniences, but for a woman alone without having anyone to talk to for a month, now that is impressive. Okay, she is 20 years younger than I am, but still....