Yak Pack Theatre Project
The Yak Pack News #6 - Mane Village
Updated: Jul 23, 2022
We’re leaving Kaza today (Wednesday) until Monday, so that we can visit some of the government schools lower down the valley before term ends. Arrangements seem fairly loose, and we aren’t 100% sure whether Rana has managed to contact all the schools in question – The Pin Valley where we’re going to be on Thursday and Friday has no internet or phone coverage at all, so getting in touch is difficult. We think where we are headed today is expecting us at least, but it does feel like we’re heading off into the unknown!
Manoj our driver arrived at 10am, and we packed ourselves and the show into the minibus. Kaku and Manoj are friends, so he fitted seamlessly into Team Yak pack…until he flicked a sweet wrapper out of the bus window! We quickly put him straight and told him he has to watch the show at the first opportunity, so he knows what we’re all about.
Lotey has arranged a homestay for us in each village. We chatted about how waste is dealt with in Kaza, when I went to pick up the homestay list. Most gets burnt is the short answer. There are no recycling facilities here, and even if Loteys kitchen crew separate out recyclables from the rubbish, it usually just gets mixed together when its collected anyway. There are no factories in Spiti, no manufacturing. Every scrap of plastic comes into the valley from outside. Trying to deal with it is a problem imposed upon them.
[Photo - our destination - Mane Village School - the large building down the slope from the village]
We drove about an hour downstream from Kaza, following the Spiti river as the valley became narrower and the braided strands of the river were forced together into a faster torrent of milky blue meltwater. We crossed a bridge and started to climb the other side of the valley. As well as the infrequent road bridges, you can also cross the Spiti River sitting in a little metal crate suspended from a wire and hauling yourself across by hand. We passed one which looked only a metre above the rushing waters beneath.
Kaku has made a friend for life of Arjuna, by offering him his motorbike to ride for the next few weeks. Kaku is with us in the van, with Arjuna following behind on the bike.
Spiti is quite a destination for bikers, in a ‘man-and-machine against the mountains’ kind of way, and often there’s groups of bikers passing through Kaza.
The road is pretty shocking past Kaza; we bumped along raising clouds of dust, and Arjuna kept well away from the abyss side of the road.
Mane is split into 2 villages – Mane Yogma, and Mane Gogma – Upper and Lower. The school was in Mane Yogma and we arrived at the top of the village in a communal carpark where we left the bus and bike. The village is only accessible on foot, so we walked our show down to the school. There was a stunning view from the playground across the sea buckthorn grove in the gorge separating Yogma from Gogma, and up the Spiti Valley to the far horizon.
Our performance was at the secondary school, with the primary invited to join us. Unfortunately the primary had morning exams and the children had been dismissed straight after, so when we arrived the younger kids had already gone home. We sent the message out into the village and soon little children started appearing to join the older ones, slithering down the rocky slope above the playground, or peeping shyly round the corner of the school building until beckoned in.
The headteacher at the school was wonderfully proactive and enthusiastic, and even got up to join in with the final dance, along with plenty of students.
At the end of the show, he taught us the local slogan – ‘Clean Spiti, Beautiul Spiti’ which he wants us to say at the end of performances. In Spitian language of course: ‘Sangma Piti, Demo Piti’.
We gave the headteacher some books which will be passed on to the Primary school for their book corner. We also gave each child an ‘illustrate it yourself’ booklet, and some for the teachers too so that it can be used as a teaching resource if they wish.
Performance over, we walked slowly back up the steep paths through the village to the carpark, loaded up and hit the road again. Turning up a side valley, we started following the Pin river upstream, into the Pin Valley.
This area is a huge National Park, home to Snow Leopards, Ibex, Blue Sheep and other endangered animals.
Its stunningly beautiful with incredible rock formations; great arching layers of ancient sediment twisted up into mountains. Geological processes feel very alive here, a reminder that the Himalayas are still growing upwards.
A little greener than the main Spiti valley, Pin Valleys microclimate is slightly cooler and wetter.
When we reached Gulling Village, Ben and Kaku hopped out and popped into the school to finalise arrangements for Fridays visit.
We’d been unable to reach them by phone/whatsapp/email so aside from relying on the grapevine (which is remarkably effective to be fair), it seemed a good idea to nip in and chat in person. Happily they were expecting us, so we agreed timings, then carried on towards Sagnam, the main village of the Pin Valley.
Our homestay is run by local ladies Soni and Karma, in an old traditional building which used to be an old peoples home. It has a row of 4 upstairs rooms facing the valley, with doors opening into a long thin room with Spitian style floor cushions and tables where we can socialise and eat. The big windows in this room allow it to warm up during the day.
Downstairs there’s a big kitchen and some more bedrooms used by Soni, Karma and others working here. As a bonus, there’s 2 very friendly resident dogs who Arjuna and Izzy quickly bonded with. One is called Rocky, the other is nameless, so Arjuna has christened him Apollo.
The repurposing of the building has led to some rather special features in our rooms. Penny and Arjuna have a tin plate in the middle of the floor with a circle of carpet sat in it. Lifting it up reveals a hole in the floor down to the kitchen below. There’s a similar hole in the floor of our room ‘hidden’ under a tile; Ollie and Izzys room has a mysterious fat pipe sticking up 20cm out of the floor, all presumably a legacy of when each upstairs room had its own wood stove for the winters. And the top discovery – a scorpion in Penny’s loo!
The homestay is a new venture this summer for Soni and Karma, who are very industrious ladies! Karma is also a teacher at Sagnam village school, and they grow oyster mushrooms which they supply to Loteys restaurant among others.
The mushrooms grow in plastic bags filled with barley and grass. They served us an amazing dinner of homegrown delights – black peas and fresh green peas from the fields, greens from their garden, paneer that Soni had made that morning, little dumpling-like whorls of local bread rolls, and rajma dahl made from locally grown kidney beans. Every mouthful felt so good for you.
[Photo - Sagnam Village]
After the bustle of Kaza, Sagnam feels wonderfully unspoilt and peaceful. There are little sparrows flying in and out of holes in the rocky wall by the homestay. We spotted choughs too – black crow-sized birds with cheerful red beaks - rare in the UK and here too. There’s no internet or phone coverage in Pin Valley, so our phones are reduced to the status of alarm clocks and left in our bags unused. In the village centre there’s a tiny dhaba selling chang (the local rice beer) and chai; one little shop selling the basics. We spent the evening swapping stories about ghosts and UFOs and waiting for the moon to rise over the mountain opposite.