Friday, August 30, 2013

A Night with cow herders

The sun wanted to play hide and seek. It hastily hid behind a big mountain; the very mountain I was trying to leave behind. But my legs were too heavy for me to carry and I couldn’t keep up the pace. I was alone. I was on my way from a visit to a remote village called Melongkhar in Trashiyangtse. I had already started my return journey towards Trashiyangtse. The school principal had generously asked me to spend the night at his residence but I was determined to return home. The journey takes about 5 hours to reach the nearest road point but I was determined to make it in 4 hours. It was a downhill journey and I felt confident until the sun prematurely hid behind the mountain.

Fear started overtaking me. I knew I won’t be able to reach my destination nor can I return back to the village as I was in the middle of my journey. The songs of the birds and the rustling leaves were my only friends but I grew suspicious of them. I felt like they were hatching an evil plot, along with the sun, against me. By now, the sun’s rays has let go off its grip from the tallest mountain peak.  The blanket of darkness began to cover the entire mountain slope.

I took out my ‘Black and White’ Nokia mobile phone from my hemchu. It was 5:42 pm. Anxiously, I dragged myself down the sloppy trail hoping to meet other travelers. Soon, I met scores of travelers- travelers with horns and tails. Nonetheless, I was happy to meet my companions for I knew its master won’t be far. Few hundred steps and I landed at the doorstep of a cowshed. An elderly couple, Meme Pema Norbu and Abi Gumo were its owners. They were sitting happily around a small fire in their cowshed no bigger than an average toilet in Thimphu.
Meme and Abi

“Kuzuzangpo la,” I greeted them.
“Kuzuzangpo lopon.” “ Oga joncha ya la?,” meme Pema Norbu greeted back with a question.
I told them about my journey in a tired tone and ask them how much longer I have to walk to reach the road point. Meme Pema Norbu confirmed that the darkness would outrun me and offered their cowshed for me to spend the night. I agreed without second thought and quickly settled near the fireplace. Abi Gumo offered me a big bowl of tarchu (whey) which I hurriedly gulped in a single sip. She offered me another. This time I was more civilized and drank with proper etiquette. (I could still feel the warmth of the fire and the warmth of their company as I write these lines).

Meme and Abi have been herding cows for more than four decades and are married for 43 years. They herd cattle for about 9 months and spend the other three months in their village. All their children are grown up and have gone their own way. Cattle are their main source of livelihood and they seemed to be more attached to their cattle than their children. They have very little expectations from life and are happy with their cattle. They were more content with their 18 cows in their simple cowshed than those businessmen who own dozens of trucks and live in sophisticated mansion. Happiness radiates from their face and there is nothing more peaceful than a true, happy, genuine smile. The happiest of people don't necessarily have the best of everything they just make the most of everything that comes along their way.

Abi Gumo served me dinner and three of us ate like a family. I felt very much at home in their small, dilapidated cowshed. It was more comfortable than the luxurious hotels I have been to. One can never eat like a child,eat like nobody is judging you, in any hotel. But, in their shabby hut, I slurped three plates of rice in peace and the meal was more satisfying than the grandest of dinner.

Tensionmo and her mother      
With filled belly, sleep was next on my menu. I made my own bed using my gho as pillow and Abi Gumo gave me a blanket. We chatted about our lives and shared our past and aspirations of our future. Meme Pema Norbu claim to have been to Thimphue a decade ago while Abi Gumo was content to have visited Chorten Kora. Most of the talks were about their cows. Meme was in happy mood because his toka (ox) returned after wandering off in the forest for 3 days and Abi was happier because one of her cows gave birth to a healthy calf. The calf was just 10 days old and Abi Gumo gave me the honor of naming the calf. I wanted to name the calf “Tension” (my nickname) but since the calf was a female, I named her “tensionmo. Abi spent the night chanting “tensionmo…” in order to by heart the name of her new calf while meme was chanting “Om Ah Hung Baza Guru Padma Sedhi Hung.”

With the dazzling stars above my head mesmerizing my eyes and the mighty Tawang Chhu humming from far below, the melancholic breeze caressed my hair gently drowning me into deep sleep. Last thing I remember was the betraying songs of mosquitoes encouraging me to slumber away into the realms of dreams.

When I woke up the next morning, Abi Gumo was still chanting “tensionmo….” while Meme was into deep meditation. Abi offered me a bowl of tarchu which I drank, simultaneously, scratching my hands and legs. Everyone was happy; the mosquitoes being the happiest. I quickly got up, dressed and went to enjoy the morning fresh air. I took some pictures of the cowshed and “tensionmo.” Abi Gumo has already prepared breakfast when I returned. After a healthy breakfast, I took pictures of my friendly companions, thanked them for their warmth and love and offered some cash for their hospitality. I took a final glance at “tensionmo” and continued my journey with happiness in my heart and tears in my eyes.
The Cowshed