National Geographic : 1993 Dec
should be able to eat yours. Give me grass and firewood. My sheep will give you manure, and I will give you salt when I return." The headman accepts the gifts, but his wel come is strangely cold. He does not even offer a cup of raksi, or grain alcohol, as friends nor mally do. Shocked, Nanda Lal goes back to the camp outside the village. What has hap pened to the bond between them? Later the headman, feeling guilty, comes out to the caravan's camp to explain. Sitting at the fire, he says he was pressured by the other villagers into not showing his friendship. "Don't let them eat our grass or burn our wood," they had told him. "We won't have enough for ourselves." He tells Nanda Lal that he likes him, but that these are tough times. A caravan burns as much firewood in a day as a villager burns in a week. The caravanners pay two rupees per sheep for pasture rights, but the people would rather keep the pastures than the little money they earn. Soon there will not be enough grass for both the villagers and the caravanners. Nanda Lal and his flock move on. It has been a month and a half since we began walking, and now, with the Himalaya far behind us, the trail has widened and rush ing torrents have become languorous rivers. We are only 40 miles from the border with India, and people are cutting trees and digging into the hills. It takes me a while to realize that they are roadworkers. Every day roads cut deeper and deeper into the mountains. Wheels will soon replace the hoofs that since the dawn of time have paced the Himalaya. The trail gets busier as we approach Bhote chaur, the bazaar at the roadhead. Porters pass us carrying dried ginger and butter from mountain villages, their bare feet spread over rocks, their calf muscles flexing. Men go back and forth, exchanging information about the best places to trade, the best rate, the best shops. Nanda Lal puts on a sweater knitted by his wife in the hope that someone will offer to buy it. Bhotechaur has the feel of a frontier town. Shopkeepers have erected a few straw-and mud shacks to do business with mountain people who trek down from their villages. As Tucked in and tied down, a baby is the last item packed in a cargo basket as sheep caravanners approach trail's end. The harsh life takes a heavy toll on Rong-pa children: Of those under five years of age, about 30 percent die each year from diarrhea,pneumonia, measles, and other diseases.
1993 Nov 30