A blog we wrote after one week in Kumik- we’ll post another when the internet gods allow!
Although as the crow flies Zanskar is not that far from Leh it is a far more complex journey by road. During the summer a treacherous 4×4 journey via Kargil is the only route into the valley by road. It was far from a boring journey however from bribing taxi unions to let us through the road, armed police checkpoints to stunning scenery and a stop at the beautifully isolated Rangdum Gompa. The Pensi-La pass was, as expected, a highlight- what we weren’t expecting were so many hilariously chubby marmots lolloping along the road ahead as well as two golden eagle sightings.
We had no idea what to expect when we eventually arrived in the village of Kumik but we were pleasantly surprised at how beautiful the village is and the warmth we have received from the villagers: we were drinking chang (a home-brewed barley beer) within an hour of our arrival. Chang was nothing compared to the home-brewed barley spirit, arak, that we would later discover.
The pace of life here is relaxed and the food is great but we have also been put to work- our own academic research as well as physical labour! One of the best afternoons so far was spent helping a neighbour harvest her wheat field in the company of the women in the village, singing as we worked. When a young kid asked one of our new Kumik friends who we were she replied “we called up England and they sent some people to help with the harvest”. The true purpose of the trip discovered!
Our first weekend here coincided with the annual festival at Sani monastery which occurs at the full moon around this time of year. Smoke signals were visible to villages across the valley who migrated to Sani in their masses over the next to days for Buddhist rituals, dancing and festivities.
Now that we have settled in our research proper has begun and none of the progress we’ve made would have been possible without our fantastic and fantastically patient guide and translator, Kalsang. Kalsang is a Zanskari university student of our own age and so we have a lot in common. We also have our own cook and assistant, Jamyang and Dawa, which lessens our burden on the food resources of the village. They’ve also been great Ladakhi teachers- we can now attempt basic conversation, although we are only understood about half the time!
We’re quickly learning that most of our interviews will have to take place in the evening after the day’s harvesting and that they will be accompanied by plentiful milk tea (cha), chang and arak. Not everyone in the team is excited by the prospect of more arak which is often accompanied by “Don Don” from our host which roughly translates into “Down it, fresher”.
As we have spoken to more people we have refined our interests and are focusing on three main projects around migration, education, and animal husbandry. Interestingly, what started as a project framed around climate change seems to be merging into one on the broader nature of globalisation, and our research so far has turned up results that are often positive and optimistic on the future of the village.
So far we are all happy and healthy aside from a few bruised heads from the low door frames and may be returning to England a few stone heavier after a month Jamyang’s delicious cooking.