Here, a woman does not walk alone. Chitkul, H.P., India. 1994.

“Sitting on the shaded verandah – looking out at the snow covered Himalaya, in the fore-ground, a wood and wood-tile peak top of the house below, its wooden shutters flung wide.

The summer flies are buzzing and my old-enough-to-be-my-mother didi (sister) sits sewing the old mattress so that the cotton innards stay evenly distributed. She coughs grotesquely and then laughs like a young child.

The ‘clack,clack’ echoing up from the basic house building below and the crows are cawing.

My only sadness is my tendency to let myself get ‘kidnapped’ by these new cultures. A woman travelling alone, who opens her mind and heart to the people, shows willingness to respect their ways, their lifestyle and traditions can be quickly trapped.

Here, a woman does not walk alone.

Here, a woman does not smoke the bidi, or cigarette.

Here, a woman alone does not talk too much philosophy or act too strong with the men.

And in order to maintain good relations I must abide (at least outside this tolerant household!) to these rules.

In a way this helps me to truly understand a woman’s life here and , for a week or too, I think i can stand it!

Thank goodness the ‘guest-of-honour’ phase is relaxing now, otherwise I might have died of boredom. At least now I am allowed to help a little – make chai, bring water, chop wood and make a fool of myself over chapatti.

However many times I explain to them that I have travelled, over, 4 years alone, it seems that they believe this local area is more dangerous than anywhere else I might have been!

I have a rigid programme for today, which I hate. Sit in the house ’til around 12, then we will go and visit the school, after that I’ve been ‘allowed’ to go to the tourist lodge to see if there are any Westerners there, after which, I am instructed, I am quickly to return.

It is more complicated than just my safety. the kind man, who has taken me in, is Guru Gee, the Sanskrit teacher, here. And for his female guest to be seen wandering alone gives a very bad impression.

sigh.

My wings have been clipped, but this experience is definitely worth it. Walking around with my ‘didi’ the people have become more friendly, all ‘Namaste!’ and crazy curiosity. It is like suddenly the door has been opened.

Last night there was a huge, serious discussion between Guru Gee, another Kinnauri teacher here and a local friend.

It became fast and furious and I think I may have understood the jist of it.

To have Western tourists staying in the houses gives a ‘very third class energy’ to this village. The cigarette smoking, dirty, money toting, tourist vibe would destroy the purity here.

It seems that I am the exception, as I am alone, and Guru gee and his wife are very worried about my safety.

Didi is now tootling my flute, very badly, sticking out her tongue, waving her hands and laughing. “I don’t know how” she giggles in Hindi and then she begins sweeping.

The PDTC tourist guest house here is comparatively expensive at 50rps per night. In Delhi, the big city, I can find rooms for 30-40rps. This was my initial reason for seeing if there was anything cheaper when the family offered a room….but now I think this price is right.

Cheap tourists (rich tourists rarely move slowly!) can only afford to stay one or two nights and no-one would be tempted to stay very long. The village ways are therefore preserved.

I have been very lucky here, but would not do the same again.

The Kalash are a different story, due to their religious ‘isolation’ and strength of belief in their own ways, they have little tolerance for a lazy attitude from tourists and simply throw themselves at all incomers! Here, although the culture is extremely similar, (a Himalayan mountain tribe) these people do not need us at all….in fact I think they are better without.”

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