2007 #15: In Which God WILL Have His Little Joke

Another day went by, consisting of lolling, drinking chai and chatting. We had an afternoon rest from this exhausting business in our concrete cell, reading and doing crosswords. A local guy went past our open window (which wasn’t actually very public at all), happened to notice us (hmmm) and insisted he was coming around to the front for a chat. My partner cut him off before he got to the door (I was feeling too lazy for talking) and he turned out to be one of the local schoolteachers. So somehow my partner ended up at his place, tasting the local brew (Angori), which has the kick of a bee-stung donkey and smells like tequila. It transpired that this guy found out I was a teacher (all right, literacy tutor, but YOU try explaining that to them), and he wanted us to visit the school the next day. So we found ourselves entered into his appointment book.

Meanwhile, we waited like vultures for the people upstairs in the only room with a bathroom and hot water to hurry up and vacate. It was quite a humourous situation, as they knew we were waiting for it, but liked the village so much they kept staying for ‘just one more night’. If they were horrible people we would have resented them, but they were very nice and we got on well, so we just kept patiently doing our vulture act and they kept staying on and apologising.

We, being more and more onto it as we spend more time in the mountains, had ordered some mutton to be brought back to the village by our guesthouse owner, Raj, who to our great delight turned out to be a fabulous cook. If you want mutton (all else here is vegetarian – not a chicken in sight), you have to ask for it well ahead of time. We’d ordered ours two days earlier, so when he finally arrived back from a trip down to the next village to pay his tax, we rubbed our hands together with glee at the thought of having meat in our food again. And it was as wonderful as we expected. We ended up sharing the veranda outside our room with various other tourists staying here also, and that evening I think they came to the conclusion we were mad, as we kept getting up to take photos of the moths on the walls. They couldn’t seem to rustle up the same excitement as we had about the fact there were at least fifteen different kinds of moths right in front of our eyes. Sad how some people just overlook the beauty of nature if it’s not more that three feet tall. Poor God – all that effort…

The next day – oh joy of joys, the room-with-a-bathroom-of-it’s-own people had vacated. We wasted no time. I’ve never seen my partner pack and haul his belongings so quickly. In fact, almost before I could turn around, he’d hauled most of my stuff up there also. The entrance to this room is a bit of a hard case, as Raj had added the ‘suite’ fairly recently and hadn’t bothered to create any additional stairs for it. So we had to go up the stairs leading to the balcony next door to the room and then climb into ours. We made mental notes to take extra care with descent, particularly if we came into contact with the local brew again.

This suite was well worth the wait. Not only did it have a bathroom with hot water AND a western toilet and a sink (which did not work but decorated the bathroom well in all its porcelein grandness), but it had a private enclosed porch also, complete with two big stuffed easychairs. Oh heaven!

However. God will have his little joke and decided that on this day and the day following, all power will be off in the village until after dark, so that the locals could install a couple of new streetlights somewhere yonder. And what does a hot water cylinder run on? That’s right – electricity. “So what?'”you say. “Have your shower at night time.” And I put it to you to have a shower in what still amounts to a concrete shell, albeit with a layer of paint over it, with only gauze in the window to NOT keep the cold out, ankle-deep in cold water as always, at 3,500 metres at night time, not forgetting to wash your very long hair, and keeping in mind that you have no towel to dry with, leave alone a hairdryer. Don’t forget to peek fondly out the gauze at the snow-capped peaks while you’re at it. Then you come on back to me and tell me what fun it was.

Aside from that, we loved our little suite and wallowed in our private porch and revelled in finally being able to loll with our feet up whilst looking down at the world going by. In private.

Once having moved and sated ourselves with food and chai, lolled and gloried in our new-found grandiosity, we trotted off down to the village to visit the little school we had walked past many times. We were invited in and offered a seat with the utmost of politeness, and then the schoolteachers looked at us as if to ask why we were there exactly. Finally, the message got through that we were indeed ensconced in the wrong school. Bugger! I knew immediately what was going to happen. I had witnessed older school children coming up the hill from the river, when sitting at “The Great Hindustani Dhaba” sipping on chai. Indeed, I had glanced down the hill when going past one day. Right at the very bottom, way way way down there, was a building. And sure enough, it was confirmed that this was indeed the other school – the Chitkul High School (which in this case was a Definate contradiction in terms. God laughing again?…). And we all know when you go down, what happens when you want to go in the opposite direction? You go UP. Dammit! I HATE hills when I have to walk up them. My partner doesn’t seem to have the same aversion to inclines that I have, and laughed at me when I wondered aloud if there were any donkeys for hire. Grrr. It’s disgusting how he almost skips merrily uphill while I stop every minute or so to puff and gasp, almost strangled from lack of oxygen. Who would’ve thought my ancestors come from the Highlands of Scotland while his come from comparatively flat Ireland.

Anyway, the school visit was fun. When we first got there, there was a line of female students lined up alongside the stone wall in the yard, sitting cross-legged and reading out loud to themselves from books. Their teacher was just hanging around looking superior. He came up and talked to us, and much to my alarm, one of his jobs was English teacher. This alarm was due to the fact I had to ask himself to repeat what he said several times because his accent was so thick. Erm – bit of a worry really.

We were then invited into the Headmaster’s office, which contained the rest of the teachers (all male) who were sitting around yakking and playing what looked like a game of pool on a legless square table, without a pool cue. There was a ramshackle, home-made-looking woodstove in the centre of the room, upon which a girl student was instructed to make the lot of us a pot of chai.

Outside, a gong was struck and lots of students piled out of the other rooms and started a game of volleyball. I was so hot in the headmaster’s room that I asked if it was okay to go out and talk with the students. I pulled out a ball and introduced the girls to the game of Hackey, in which you kick this little ball up in the air and try to keep it up while not using your hands. This was somewhat of a challenge, seeing as the local game here was volleyball. I wondered aloud why they didn’t play cricket here, as is normal in India, but when my partner told me to try playing cricket on the side of a mountain I immediately saw the sense in it.

It was a great visit, and I shan’t spoil this tale with graphic details on how I nearly died getting back up the hill again. Suffice it to say, I did survive, and in fact by the time we got back to our room a cold shower was starting to look quite attractive.

There’s a silver lining in every cloud, is there not?

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