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  • Writer's pictureYak Pack Theatre Project

Yak Pack News #9 – Ki Old Folks Home

Ki Village is just 30 minutes from Kaza, along the valley floor, then up a little. The Spiti river is really wide here, split into lots of smaller channels and islands, with gravelly beaches at the banks. Small trees and scrub grows between the channels, cows meander, people wash rugs and blankets in the fast flowing rivulets. Across the far side we spotted some tents and a little waterfall, it looks an idyllic camping spot.

The Old Folks Home is home to 15 or so lovely elderly ladies, mostly retired nuns. They sit in a large sunny upstairs room, on floor mats around the edges, with little tables in front of them. Many are twirling prayer wheels and counting mala beads through their fingers as we arrive, the air full of the soft sound of chanting. Their wrinkled faces are beautiful.

We sat and chatted and drank tea with them whilst Miss Jo went out into Ki Village to see if any of the village children would like to join us.

Miss Jo is a New Zealander who is doing much to support creative activity in schools and promote reading. She visits schools throughout Spiti, and also runs an after school club in Kaza. All the kids know her, she’s definitely a local celebrity!

Miss Jo told us that the homestay that we stayed in in Sagnam used to be an Old Peoples Home.

But the elderly people of Sagnam didn’t like living away from their families, so instead its been converted to a homestay and all the income from renting out rooms is used to take the old people down the mountains to a warmer climate for 3 months or so during the extremely harsh Spitian winter.

Its lovely to think that the money we spent at the homestay is being used in such a great way.

These ladies of Ki seem very happy to be living together though, and clearly enjoy each-others company. They must have known one another all their lives as nuns, and have that comfortable easy familiarity with each other.

The performance here is being translated by Kaku into Spitian rather than Hindi so that the ladies understand the story. He’s really patient with them and answers their questions as we go along. They are a brilliant audience, enjoying being flowers in the show, and even joining in the actions for the dance in the final scene.

[Photo wall - practicing being flowers in the show]

Everyone really enjoyed the performance, and the spectacle of our visit in general. Just like in the UK, visits like ours to old peoples home really enrich their lives, providing talking points and memories to mark the days. Some of the ladies here remember our visit 4 years ago (and we remember them too!). After the show there’s tea and biscuits, always welcome.

A younger lady who’s come down from one of the high villages to have some treatment for leg pain, shows us news footage of the Kinnaur Valley. Kaku find some too. Scary images of roads and bridges washed away, angry muddy torrents of water and mud carving up the valley sides loosening boulders and trees, some people are missing. There are only two roads connecting the Spiti Valley to the rest of the world – and one is now closed. We have also heard rumours that the other way (via Lahaul Valley – the way we arrived) may also be closed but we’re not sure. The monsoon is not to be taken lightly.

We prepared to leave and I popped out to use the facilities before the drive home. Its downstairs and all the way along the path to the end of the building. Throughout our visit, nuns bent almost double had leant on their sticks and slowly made their way out and down to the same loo. No-one helped them, and they just took as much time as it required. The loo was a traditional Spitian dry composting toilet in which no water is used. There’s no smell and the simple design perfectly suits the desert environment. This particular loo had a HUGE hole to squat over, you could definitely fall in!

As we left I noticed a nun in the bottom room, by herself next to the window, rhythmically hauling a rope to turn an enormous prayer wheel. A timeless and peaceful vision to end our time here.

We headed back towards Kaza with lightening flashing over the mountains and glowering black clouds ahead, the awful reports from Kinnaur valley fresh in our minds.

[Photo - Kaza in the distance on the LHS]

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