Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Drokpa Bonano Festival




10/24/2010
Ruth writes.......

We are just back from our 4 day homestays in the Drokpa villages of Dha and Las Ting, where we watched the Drokpa Bonano festival. The villages were nestled in the mountains only three or so miles from the border with Pakistan, and because of their lower elevation (relative to Leh), they offered us the last glimpses of late summer and early fall-green fields, peak foliage, and the final gathering of the apple and grape crops. The jumbled houses and the abundant vegetation gave the place a gentle loveliness and the mountain backdrop gave it an awesome splendor, and together it was perhaps one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The Drokpa people form an island of distinct heritage and culture within Ladakh. They are claimed by some to be the purest Aryans in the world, direct descendents of Alexander the Great. In any case, they are taller, with more distinct noses and eyebrows, and beautiful eyes, and they speak their own Drokpa language, which is not at all related to Ladakhi, although they learn to speak Ladakhi as well.
Hannah and I were in a homestay in the village of Las Ting, which was high up on the cliffs overlooking the main road. We had two younger brothers, Punchok and Dorjay. Punchok was the responsible 9-year-old who spoke some English and was usually a perfect gentleman. Dorjay was a holy-terror-though-hilarious 6-year-old who liked to make high pitched bird noises, throw walnuts at us, and turn everything into an airplane. We will miss them both.
Our Ama-le was the sweetest women in the world. She had four sons, two of which were away studying in Jammu, and so she was thrilled to suddenly have two daughters around the house, even if it was only for a few days. She spoke very little English, but with our little Ladakhi and plenty of hand waving (and sound effects from Hannah on occasion) we usually got our meaning across. We helped her cook a little, and fetch water for the house, and sort the apricot seeds from their shells, but often we found ourselves just watching or being served endless butter-salt tea as she moved in an out of the house, always busy.
We went to watch the festival each of the three nights. Although our Ama-le did not participate (she may have been in mourning, we think, for her grandmother), she helped to get her friends ready, which was quite a production. The women gathered at their neighbors houses and braided each others hair in the traditional Drokpa style-braids down the sides and in the back. Then they put on special wool dresses and covered themselves with shells, beads, and silver jewelry. Finally, when they were ready to walk to Dha, they donned goat-skin capes and head-dresses made from cloth covered in beads and silver, and with fresh flowers crowning the whole elaborate affair. I was amazed they didn’t collapse under all the weight, but they looked proud and beautiful. We walked or caught rides to Dha each of the nights to watch the singing and dancing in a small amphitheater with giant walnut trees in the center. It was something to see the women walk down into the small circle. Watching them prepare had been like watching girls get ready for the prom, but when they emerged as a group at the festival it was more like watching a national geographic clip. The men and women moved around the circle in separate lines for hours, many (of the men especially) a little drunk from the local barley wine. Their songs apparently told the story of their history and their journey to this area, although obviously we couldn’t understand a word. We made our way back the last night under a full moon, walking the full hour and a half to our homes. The mountains were lit up against the sky, and you could still see the white sheen of the first snow in their higher reaches (we got some sleet in the village, though mostly rain). It was beautiful and still and peaceful, and our family was waiting for us at home with hot tea and dinner. It was lovely, which basically sums up our stay in Las Ting in general. Goodbyes were difficult in the morning, and I hope, some day, to make it back.

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