One of the many reasons I love to travel is the people. While I am inherently a shy person, I find myself drawn to people naturally and love to connect with them. And one old lady I met in a remote village in Spiti Valley left a lasting impression. I don't even know her real name. This lady was my local host at a homestay in Demul, 4200 mts high up in the mountains. The first time I met her, she looked as if she has been waiting to welcome me all her life. Even as my friend and me stepped into her small house, her face was creased in a huge smile. She sat us in her warm family room and brought us chai, a more sweeter and milkier version of the regular tea. She made conversation in her broken Hindi, as she indulgently watched us over our tea cups.
I took to calling her Yebe (grandmother in Spiti language) like her grandson, and stuck to that for the duration of my stay. My friend and I helped her with household chores and in the kitchen. Over the next 3 days, she greeted us every morning with the same enthusiasm and smile. Her son works in the town of Kaza far away, so the responsibility of running the house is on her along with her daughter in law. Between the two of them they work the fields, graze the goats and cows, collect the sheep skins and dry them, run household chores, collect water from the village pond, and still made the time to chat and cook fresh food for us each day. The chulha (iron heater) in the family room, which is always lit with a kettle ready for brewing, is to me symbolic of Yebe’s warmth. Every visitor is greeted with a cup of tea- the workers laying the road, a long distance cabbie dropping off a fare, a neighbour who’s come by to pick up her child, everyone is welcome. If they are hungry, the meal that is prepared for the evening is readily shared. Yebe exudes a childlike enthusiasm in life. She is trusting to a fault, her home is seldom locked and the home stay guests are free to use her space like their own.
One evening a couple of men walked into the small store that she runs at home to buy instant noodles. Figuring that they were very hungry, she unhesitatingly offered to cook the noodles for them. As I helped her chop the vegetables, I enquired if she charged them extra for the service. She was shocked at the thought! “A hungry person never leaves my home with an empty stomach” was her answer. And soon they were eating hot noodles in the family room along with the ubiquitous hot cuppa.
We all travel for different reasons- to gain perspective, experience freedom and independence, learn tolerance, among a few. A trek into the mountains taught me the simple art of sharing and generosity.