\n\n\nDreamt of spending time with nomads for a long time. To experience their minimalistic lives,\u00a0 to observe the mental strength with which they embraced the harshness of nature, to learn from their solitary non-community based living, to understand the near-absence of the need to possess material things, to keep moving tirelessly to unfamiliar new places out of their comfort zone\u2026.\nAn attempt last year to go to visit the nomads in eastern Tibet near Xining was a failure.\nThis September when I boarded the plane for Leh, I came looking \u00a0to experience the beautiful culture of Ladakh \u2013 the dances, the costumes, their traditions and the mentality of the people of the Ladakh valley, the Nubra valley and the Zanskaar valley.\nBut I did not expect to experience the life of the nomads of the Changthang \u2013 a desert region of Western Tibet that extends culturally beyond the political India-China border into Ladakh, India.\nHere is the double threaded experience \u2013 with the nomadic children of Changthang and with a nomadic family\u00a0 :\nDuring the magnificent Ladakh festival, I watched the children of nomads perform on 2 days.\nThis was their very first performance before an audience \u2013 they had never performed before this, even within the comfort of their own school.\n \nThey had come from a school in a remote area in Changhthang\u00a0 200 km away from Leh (of deep and treacherousHimalayan roads \u2013 not a 6 lane highway)\u00a0 and 20 km from the nearest village.\n\nComing from nomadic families that moved constantly, no regular day-schooling was possible \u2013 hence a residential school was set up specifically for nomadic children aged 3 \u2013 13.\n\nOf all the cultural performances and events presented during the festival by the various folk groups of Ladakh, the most striking one was the one put up by these children, and much more noteworthy because it was their first performance ever.\n\nThey danced in complete happiness, and their glee and enjoyment was obvious through their eye contact with each other and the communicative smiles they shared amongst themselves.\n\nThey were having the time of their life as they danced, and as a result, we, the spectators enjoyed the biggest visual feast of the festival.\nThe idea of connecting with these children, struck me as I walked to my car after their final performance was over and everyone had gone home.\nAs the idea grew to obsess me, I realized that I had to act quickly otherwise I would lose the already slim chance of establishing contact.\n It occurred to me that some lodging and boarding arrangements for this group (0f 50 kids) must have been made somewhere in Leh, and since the evening\u2019s performance had ended at 8pm, my guess was that they would spend at least that night in Leh.\nSo my driver was given the assignment of finding out where these kids were housed. And the resourceful man that he was, the next morning he had the answer!\nAt that point, I had no clarity of\u00a0 what I wanted out of this connection and hence no proposal or Plan A and Plan B, as taught to me at management school. I was going in completely blank and letting destiny unfold.\nSo at an appropriate time, under the guidance of my\u00a0 driver, I presented myself at the government building in which they were housed, sought out the adult organisers \u2013 the teachers \u2013 and attempted to articulate my interest.\nAm not sure whether my jumbled and excited expressions of my interest in culture, of my fascination of the nomadic lifestyle, of my naration of the un-forgettable experience with Kutchi nomads, my account of the failed visit to Tibetan nomads, my testimonials of awe of their textiles and jewelry, or my brief verbal biodata past work with the working on developmental skills of children made any sense to the teacher \u2026but maybe my excitement at being able to interact with these beautiful little people did get conveyed effectively to him. Or maybe it was just his kind and generous nature that eventually let me have my way. \n\nI went and sat with the kids who had gathered in the hall.\u00a0 We chatted open heartedly. They talked about themselves. I talked about me. As I praised their dances, they got up, pulled me up and began teaching me the steps and we all danced around in a circle \u2013 them with natural grace and rhythm and me clumsily trying to follow their steps and their spirits.\nI learnt that each had flocks of sheep or goats or yaks that numbered in hundreds. I asked what would happen if one gets lost \u2013 how do they track these animals. They replied almost in one voice, that if a sheep gets lost, it bleats and cries until it is re-united with the flock. As we sat on the floor in the dim light of a single 40 watt bulb, they told me of the wolves and the snow leopards they had seen. And of the 4 months of severe winter (-30 degrees C) they face. That most had not seen vegetables until they came to school, and how one of them cried when he was asked to eat a banana. The 13 year olds knew how to milk their goats and shear the wool off the sheep (I do not even have the right vocabulary for these activities!) and light fires using wood and call out to their flock with mere whistles. They know how to set up tents and how to assist in childbirths.\nInstead of quenching my fascination, this chit-chat was leading to an explosion of awe, as I was getting more and more attracted by their lives.\nAgain, it took a brief moment to stop and realize that I could not let the interaction end here, and that I would have to push my way into their life some more.\nAnd so I went back to chat with the teacher.\u00a0 Over tea and biscuits, I said that I would like to visit the kids at the school. This request was unusual so he tried to understand it better and over the next half an hour I animatedly expressed my desire. Finally we agreed that I would visit the school the next day, arriving around the same time that the busload of kids would reach back. We agreed that I would spend the night at the school in one of the rooms and he wrote me a note of introduction for the lady teachers who were stationed at the school, since he planned to stay back in Leh and did not intend to return to the school for the next 2 days.\nAnd so, the next day, dropping all other plans, I set off for their village, filled with happiness and gratitude. Carrying gifts of chocolates and photograph prints of their performance.\nTashi the resourceful driver, knew his way and after passing through golden landscapes lined by the Indus river, we arrived at the village at 5pm. The rest of the children who were not part of the Leh performance, were perched up on the walls of the school compound and on the gate and they greeted us with happy shouts \u2013 but it was not us they were waiting for.\nThey were eagerly waiting for the school bus to bring back their friends.\u00a0 Soon enough this bus arrived and the happy reunions consisted of shouts and screams and animated chatter and some wild running about. \nNo teacher was in sight. Not on the bus and not on the premises of the residential school building.\nThe kids got together and unloaded the sacks of food raw material, the stoves, the kerosene, the packages of clothing and other materials used for the performances from the top of the bus, cooperating and collaborating as a single one unit.\nThe oldest child was 13. Only 13.\nThis endearing show of responsibility, this complete self-dependence \u2013 this format of no-nanny, no-adult-care-givers (on long distance journeys or within the hostel) \u2013 surprised and delighted me. It made me realize that in the urban world we place too much importance on our own roles as parents. Here I saw perfectly responsible kids who needed no one to tell them what to do or not do. They simply knew. And they did what was required without any direction from some authority above.\n\nthe youngest\nThe cook who had gone with the bus, found the lady teachers who lived in a separate building.\u00a0 I showed them my note of introduction. After very hospitable chit chat, they took me to the school staff room that would be my sleeping room for the night. A mattress and a lamp were brought in and I was shown the Ladakhi toilets (this is a quaint eco-friendly system that I will describe later) that were in a different section of the building. Over tea and chit chat, a whole group gathered around us as we sat on the floor. Cooks, assistants and other teachers heard about the arrival and came in from their hostels.\nI asked about the nomads that I had seen in the valley within a km of the school. I wanted to go spend time with them and asked if they knew the families. Fortunately one of the children of that family studied at this school. So we \u2013 the lady teacher in charge, another lady and I set \u2013 out for the valley along with my driver.\nIt was past sunset and the dusk chill had begun to set in as we walked through the grass dodging patches of yak dung and puddles left by the stream.\nWalking in my constant breathless state, at this altitude of 14000 feet, carrying my beloved nikons and wearing heavy clothing wasn\u2019t easy, but for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I was willing to walk all night!\nThe first two families we came across were across the stream that was about 3 feet deep \u2013 this would mean wet shoes and clothes\u2026.so we walked further hoping that as the stream curved, we would find a family on the grassland on our side of the stream. Luckily we did.\nAs we approached, all I could see was a flock of long haired goats standing neatly in two rows with facing each other in a tight formation. I marveled at this discipline- that I thought was voluntary, until I was informed that they had been tied in this way for the night.\nMilking the Pashmina goats\nA few steps onward, I had my first sight of a nomadic scene : a lady all wrapped up in a cloak, milking the goats.\nWe\u2019d hardly exchanged smiles when I noticed the little bundle on her back \u2026.a baby!! She went about her daily milking jobs with this little bundle tied to her back. She was totally comfortable with his presence on her back \u2013 almost oblivious of his being a separate entity, and he seemed totally content to be an extension of her body \u2013\u00a0 a variant of the \u2018baby bump\u2019.\nWashing vessels at the hot springs\u2026 along with her baby\n\nThrough all the interactions I had with the family over the next 12 hours, the baby-bump remained firmly in its place \u2013 whether the mother washed vessels in the stream or carried loads from one spot to another.\nOver the week that followed I visited 2 other rural areas in Ladakh and this mother-child format was constant all across. The single and stark observation across these approximate 3 dozen toddlers that I encountered over a collective observation period of over 12 hours \u2013 is that I did not see a single episode of crying or tears or tantrums or bawling. This observation over a reasonable number of data points is so different from urban kids I encounter in buses and trains and planes or in parks and malls. My own 3 kids must never have spent 12 hours at a stretch without at least one of them shedding a few tears!\u00a0 I wondered if this continuous physical bond with the mother made these nomadic children more settled.\nBut I am digressing\u2026\nComing back to the mother milking the long haired Pashmina goats. Once the pail was full, the second lady in the family, the wife of the second brother, collected the milk and poured some of it into a\u00a0 long goat skin\u00a0 sack\u00a0 called \u2018Mashk\u2019 about 4ft x 1 ft holding the narrow ends with her two hands. She held it in her lap and rolled it back and forth, back and forth repeatedly. This constant churning would result in butter floating to the top, which could then be collected and stored separately.\u00a0 Each batch of milk needed to be churned for at least half an hour for any butter to appear and the longer the churning, the more complete the extraction.\nChurning the milk in a goat skin \u2018Mashk\u2019 to obtain butter \u2026.note the self woven Gabbeh rug on which the lady is seated\nThe family tent in which the lady sat\u00a0 was probably\u00a0 all of 50 square feet in area and about my height \u2013 which isn\u2019t much at 5 feet something. This space had to hold them AND most of their material possessions \u2013 not for a week or two but for all their lives!\u00a0 It shows me how my whining about living out of a suitcase on my travels is completely unjustified.\n\nOutside the tent, hanging from one of the ropes was a large white wet pouch. It was being used to make cheese or laabo \u2013 that would be used during the harsh winter.\nmaking cheese \u2013 \u201claabo\u201d\nA little fireplace at the centre held a large kettle \u2013 that probably held black tea that is had throughout the day. The fire had been put out for the night but the tent was extremely warm and cosy.\nRanchen Aangdu who let me in to his home and his life\nHis son\nTwo small gorgeous gabbeh rugs were immediately visible inside the tent \u2013 one on which the lady sat, and another on the opposite side. I need not have asked, but I did, simply to confirm whether these had been woven by the ladies themselves. And when they answered in the affirmative, I couldn\u2019t believe that I was actually seeing a nomadic rugs being used by the nomadic family that had woven them!!\nThe gabbeh\nThis is a dream I have had since my rug collecting days \u2013 to visit a nomadic weaving tribe and see the origins of the weavings that I loved so passionately. And here I was in the very moment in which this dream was fulfilled. After years of fantasy, this thought had become a reality. It is not always easy to be aware enough \u00a0to grasp that a dream is fulfilled in the moment in which it happens \u2013 usually the realization dawns after the episode is no longer a \u2018current\u2019 event \u2013 but I was fortunate to be conscious of this dream being fulfilled in the very moment in which it happened. I was thrilled and I was grateful. I hope that this experience and the delight and the discovery of a dream fulfilled will remain etched in my memory forever.\nAfter many happy hugs and clicks, after carrying the little chubby baby nomad, we finally left as it was late and the night had completely enveloped usBack to the school to spend the night.\nDinner with the 110 kids \u2013 A simple meal of masoor dal and rice \u2013 Cooked by the hostel \u2018mothers\u2019.\n\n\nWoke up in the room with a view \u2013 the teacher\u2019s staff room.\n\nThe children bathe once a week at the hot springs nearby. There is neither the physical nor the social need to bathe more often.\nThe environment and the circumstances dictate the lifestyle. Practices that \u00a0have evolved over generations within a system are usually mutually consistent, coherent and complete within their context and solve all the problems that the inhabitants of that system face. And there is no scope for criticism or judgement from elements outside the system since these criticisms usually only address a single dimension and do not provide more than a partial and incomplete solution.\nChatted with the nomadic children about their lives over breakfast. Had some fun in their dorms and fooled around a bit with them all.\nTheir lives have impacted me greatly and these hours spent in their presence will provide me with food for thought for a long time to come.\nPacked and Left.\n\nStopped again on the way to say good-bye to the nomadic family in the field. Today they will move into another pasture as dictated by their council. Their time here is over. A hired car will take part of the family across, while the herd of 500 goats and a few donkeys and yaks will walk across the valleys between the Himalayas.\nWe will never meet again.\nAm taking with me a little of their spirits. And leaving behind a little of my spirit.\nHave amassed enormous wealth on this journey!\nAm grateful.\n\n\n\n\nThe Gallery of professional nomadic portraits will be available in October on www.jainamishra.com.\njm\nSep 2011\nMore articles about Ladakh : \u2018Costumes of Ladakh\u2019, \u2018Polo and Archery \u2013 Folk sports of Ladakh\u2019, \u2018Bactrian Camels of the silk route\u2019, \u2018Chamms Masked Dances of Ladakh\u2019, \u201910th century Alchi mural\u2019\n\n\n\n\n\u00a0\nThe post A night-out with the Nomads of Changthang appeared first on The Art Blog by WOVENSOULS.COM.