I don’t suppose you’ve met Nyima. But then, by a crazy accident, perhaps you have. Strange coincidences do happen in this world. Perhaps you took a holiday to Ladakh and bumped into her. In which case, you would have met Urghyen, her father, too. You must have seen the way his face shows a thousand wrinkles when he smiles. And you would have met her shaggy dog and seen how Urghyen immobilises him by putting his forepaws into his collar so he does not bother people.
You would have seen Nyima milking the goats and picking up their droppings which her family uses for fuel to survive the biting winter. And perhaps Nyima took you to the Hanle monastery where she prays for the goats and yaks of her tribe, the Changpas. Nyima must definitely have shown you her father’s rebo (the traditional Changpa tent). Perhaps Urghyen greeted you: Julley! Namaste! And perhaps, you commented on the hard life they lead and Urghyen told you, too, “The grass grows by itself, the goats and yak eat them, reproduce and stay healthy all by themselves. We get whatever we want – milk, meat, clothes – from them. We do nothing, and you call this a hard life?”
Did Nyima’s uncle Lobsang give you a ride on one of his horses? And did he feed you any of those dried and salted meat preparations? While you were in Changtang (I am sure Nyima told you it means ‘the vast nothingness’ in her language) did you look up at the sky and see the cauliflower clouds?
How lucky you are. I wish I had been to Ladakh and met Nyima and her family, especially her dog. I read about them in a travelogue by Sankar Sridhar who spent time with the Changpas. They even gave him a Changpa name while he was there. Thamo (the thin one), they called him.
That is why I read, to meet people like Nyima and Urghyen, to go to different cultures and places and to understand different ways of being. That is why when, as a child, I would go to my cousin’s house, while everyone else would be playing in the park, I would be hidden under the bed (where no one could find me), with his collection of comics and encyclopaedias, reading about far-off places and people.
Now, please excuse me while I imagine what a face with a thousand wrinkles looks like.