Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Himalayan Homestay

After the universal drinking game known as 'SCULL,' I am invited back to the house of a new acquaintance in a nearby village. As an avid fan of 'Banged Up Abroad,' I'm always on the lookout for anything dodgy or suspect, but as I watched these two clowns dancing with the bar staff and smiling constantly, I decided to take my chances. I jump at the chance to leave Shimla too, as I've been cooped up in my hotel room due to injury. Going against the wishes of people back home, as well as the locals in Varanasi, I had bathed in the Ganges river with the pilgrims. While it had been a wonderful experience, somewhat supernatural even, I was paying the price for it weeks later, drunk and delirious with fever, on a long walk to a little known village on the outskirts of Shimla - with two drunken fools for company.

Channing was clearly the Krishna (think Casanova) of the duo, but it was me they used as bait for attracting local girls. I'm not sure if it's just a cultural difference, or a specific case, but it seemed to me like these two could not take a hint! The only things that seemed to deter them in their pursuit, were the words 'policeman' and 'call,' but even then it was hit and miss. When they weren't spouting bad Hindi pick-up lines, they were provoking members of the armed forces into often violent debates. I had no idea what was going on half the time, but I had a front row seat to the madness. I wondered long and hard about where this walk would take me, but after an hour's walk, we reached the house of Deepak's family before sunset.

The complex itself is four stories tall, and from the outside resembles a construction site. I have my reservations, but once I step inside the doors, I find both the living room and kitchen to be meticulously clean and immaculately presented. Almost immediately after setting foot inside, Deepak's younger sister is sent scurrying out the door in search of coffee. Unlike the majority of India, Deepak's household are coffee drinkers in an effort to combat Mata Ji's (Mother) low blood pressure. Like everything else on the subcontinent, coffee is heavily 'Indianized,' but it's not a bad thing. A delicate collection of spices is added, giving it a sweet, earthy and well rounded flavor.

Indian hospitality is famous, and just like my time in Bhita - I assume the role of evening entertainment. I am bombarded with questions, but not the usual onslaught of 'do you see lots of kangaroos' that Australians abroad are often subjected to. I'm asked about politics, music, morality, social order, and of course - marriage and children. My vegetarian declaration is met with murmured Hindi and downright astonishment.

"You must stay for dinner then!" declares Radhika, the eldest daughter of the family and apprentice veterinarian.

In true Indian spirit, no expense was being spared for the 'gora' (think cracker) who has come for dinner. As Mata Ji prepares the feast inside, Radhika offers to give me a quick tour of her village. After we leave her family's complex, she stops beside a decaying pile of broken-down bricks to fish out a pair of sticks.

"Here," she says, handing me one. "You will need one of these."

"Why?" I ask.

"If not for the monkeys, then for the street dogs."

After shooing away some mischievous macaques, Radhika takes me to her favorite chai stand, perched on top of a mountain, by the side of a winding road. Away from her mother's prying eyes, we are allowed to indulge in a little masala chai (spiced tea). Chai stands can be found all over India, and each purchase you make is like playing lucky dip, as every vendor uses different ingredients. Sometimes you'll find it overly spiced with ginger, and other times topped off with curdling milk, but this time the vendor gets it just right.

As tea was contraband in the household, we sip from our clay pots and sit by the side of the road to watch the setting sun. We watch it slowly disappear between the jagged peaks of two mountaintops, leaving streaks of sunlight across the mountain valleys below. As the aroma of spices from the chai wallah's stand wafts steadily in our direction, I think to myself that this recipe could be centuries old, and like the surrounding landscape - unchanged for generations. Drinks finished, Radhika reaches over to grab the cup from my hands. She smiles at me, like she's hiding a secret, and smashes the little clay cup into smithereens.

"Why did you do that?" I ask, looking over her shoulder to see if the chai wallah has noticed.

"We can use them only once, then it is returned back to Earth," she says solemnly. "Just like our hearts."

I decide not to ask her if she means physically or emotionally, but I nod my head anyway and stare into space for a while. Walking back towards the house, we hear the unmistakable chuckle of Deepak, who has been sent out in search of us - dinner is ready :)

* This article was featured on TouristAttitude on the 21st of December, 2010. Click here to check it out.

1 comment:

  1. So I'm guessing it wasn't a matter of language barriers with your two Casanova friends! A fantastic glimpse into your journey - thanx for sharing, and thanx also for following (and commenting on!) my blog!!

    Happy travels - look forward to seeing where your journey takes you in 2011!