Saturday, March 7, 2020

Life in Winters: A volunteer experience

Spiti to me is everything that it made me experience, Spiti to me is the life of the Spitians :)

Spiti was on my wish list for close to three years and somehow this December seemed to be the right time. I was very particular to not visit Spiti as a mere tourist and I was surfing through volunteering opportunities in the Himalayas and that's when Spiti Ecosphere happened. I know I am expected to say how dreamy and surreal Spiti is, how it felt like a fantasy world - while I did feel all of this for brief moments sprinkled here and there that would last close to a blink of an eye, I felt I was hit hard and made to open my eyes to the reality that Spiti is - its people and their life. 


I wanted to experience anything close to living life as a local and that's exactly what I did. If you ask me, anybody who talks about a through and through happy experience at Spiti wouldn't have really understood or began to understand what Spiti actually is. On my first night at Kaza, the conversation with my host began like this, 'Life becomes even the more difficult during winters' - being the first night I couldn't really make sense of his words although I could get a glimpse of it from the mind numbing cold, towards the end of my 15 day stint I fully understood the depth of what the phrase meant. When I was so close to experiencing their difficulties how can I not feel them as my own and how could my experience turn happy in and out? And truly, I'm glad because I wasn't in search of a dreamy experience but I was after reality.


And now ask me how Spiti was and I would begin with the saying with full confirmation that life in Spiti is really difficult especially during winters. My heart sank when I saw women and children carrying big cans on their backs filled with water from the stream that's situated farther from their houses. While I know this is how water supplies in villages happen, it was quite difficult to witness their plight in the cold that makes it harder than it already is. As for electricity supply it is highly unpredictable and worse if there's snow fall. When I say cold, don't be imagining the kind we'd look forward to feel pleasant. It's the kind that would threaten to freeze the air that's around you, the kind that needs survival measures.


I was absolutely glad or rather relieved to see greenhouses built in the village, one of Ecosphere's initiatives that is definitely helping the local community in their daily activities. The warmth trapped inside makes it possible to get some respite from the cold without sitting around the firewood stove. These houses also make it possible for the locals to bathe during winters. I spent my time setting up a library and I'm extremely fortunate to have been able to do it for the people of Chicham :) I got to speak with the locals, inspite of not being fluent in Hindi I had some of the best conversations. 


The people are definitely the key to keeping the place warm, I have honestly not met such a wonderful community. I'd prefer calling them Chicham family instead of Chicham village - they made me feel safest inspite of being alone hundreds of miles away from home with zero network. I learnt to make a few Spitian dishes with Takpa and his family and also witnessed a Spitian marriage ceremony. I was taken aback by the simplicity of the entire event! I got to interact with a few monks and learnt a thing or two about Buddhism. 


Every night, I'd stand outside Takpa's house and spend a few minutes to gasp at the beauty that Chicham is. Sleeping under a gazillion stars, it would appear to me as though the universe pulled a thick white blanket over Chicham and kissed her goodnight :)   

By Roshana, who volunteered with Ecosphere in December 2019 and helped us manage the library in Chicham.

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