It is late afternoon. At Shiva Tea Stall the owner and I are sitting quiet across the table. Him fiddling with his mobile, me fiddling with mine, Indian music being played in the background. It’s almost tourist free here. Quite different from down the hill where hotels and guest houses are cramped along the narrow main road.
The bus from Dharamshala arrived at 8 am outside Manali. The parking lot is a muddy area where taxi and tuck-tuck drivers are waiting, hoping to get customers. I shared a taxi with two guys and arrived far too early to the guest house. So I left my bags and went for a walk.
I found a narrow path and let myself get lost in this completely different world. An ancient world in many ways.
The old wooden houses are tiny, roofs are constructed out of flat stones, most have balconies, and most are not only for humans but also for their cows and goats. Having cows in the mountains means they have to be kept inside most of the time. If outside they are always tied up. The dung is piling up inside and outside the houses.
I see women feeding the animals, sweeping backyards, milking cows, weaving, taking care of the elderly, washing. The house is the female domain. There’s no running water inside the houses. Instead every second block has a public tap outside. Some women make the dishes, do the washing or go there to fill up their water cans.
Walking these tiny narrow paths I feel like an intruder. I get so close to their homes, their lives. But I can’t stop myself from continuing. It’s so beautiful and untouched. The other side of that coin is the rough life they are living under these poor conditions.
Finally I end up on the main road and there I see this place offering chai. I order breakfast and the owner and I talk. Turns out he used to work as a guide, going to Leh and the Ladakh area, trekking and climbing mountains. 20 years ago, long before tourism got as big as it is today, long before roads were built, long before …
Then he stopped, bought himself a lot on a hill nearby overlooking the valley and the river, he built himself a house and opened Shiva Tea Stall.
So we sit and talk. He tells me that the snow arrives sometimes mid or late December and stays for around four months. I can’t imagine what life looks like here during winter. How do they cope with their everyday lives.
Late afternoon and I’m back to have food. Vegetable mono with hot chili sauce and ginger lemon tea. Absolutely delicious. I watch people passing, I look at the mountains and I have to pinch myself.