So Stark

So there I lay, in the hot spring,
looking at these incredible mountains ...
like Ansel Adams pictures.

Day 5 ... Karte to Chame at 2600m
The days seem to alternate between clear and overcast. Today's overcast has a definite wet aspect, so I've pulled in for the day. I'm told it was snowing this morning. Now it is just raining. The snow from this morning has not stayed on the ground, but older snow lies close at foot. Cold out, cold in this classy but empty restaurant. Here in Chame, the sun is struggling valiantly to come out. There are some hot springs a stone's throw away, but I'm waiting for the rain to end before I get excited.
Last evening I'm sitting in the kitchen. The operation center is a long and narrow metal stove cemented into the floor. There is room for three kettles or pans on the stove top. A couple of burners are open, so the pot can settle right onto the flames. Here the whole menu of maybe 160 options will happen. The main pot has rice in it. There is always a kettle of water and often a small kettle of raxshi.
I'm drawn down around the stove. There is a man who works in the local forest dept. We have a halting conversation, I learn how to say "I am a farmer." There are three young German women and myself. The granddaughter of the proprietress is very interested in them, and they have halting conversations. Me, I'm just rotating around the fire until I achieve a real snug position.
People are dropping in and out. The forester and his friend just popped in for a hot drink before continuing. Another man, who seems to be family, comes. He is rolling up his smoke in a piece of corn husk. The husk does not stay rolled, and he tries a tie around the middle. The whole deal doesn't burn very well either. All the German women are smoking. One who is rolling her own, rolls him up one as well. He lights it, takes a couple of hauls, and then starts to look embarrassed. He doesn't like it. The gift ends up in the fire and he leaves.
More young Tibetan women roll in. A couple take a hand in cooking, a couple of them eat and leave. Really hard to know what goes on. Grandpa is beside me. He takes a spinning prayer unit - a cylinder on a disk, with a ball on a string tied just under the cylinder - and he twirls it around, giving his karma a boost. We sit for a while. I wonder when the rest will eat. I guess they've waited until we leave, because when I come back to relight my candle then I see them tucking in.
In my walk this morning other changes as well. The farming has petered out, and so has the population. I left the bamboo forests behind. The scene is much more forest ... pine and some birch. What a joy to be walking through the forest ... where there are people the trees are long gone. I could have been traipsing through the Pacific northwest ... the feel of pine needles under the feet, the smell of hot pine needles when the sun has warmed them. Nice, very nice.
They have an orchard in Danaqu. One plum tree was out in beautiful flower ... the perfume and the falling petals gracing the road. The orchard descends to the river. As I wander down I must carefully pick my steps as onions are planted all among the trees. Down at the water I watch the carving of stones. The water seems flat at one point, then it falls as a sheen, and curves over the rock. I have also come down to the river to play with the rocks. Seeing all the stone work I want to try too. The stones down by the river have been smoothed, so they offer a little extra challenge. I play for a while, mesmerized by the stream.
Then, I watch them plant potatoes for a while. A young boy is wrestling the plow and cows about. His wooden plow has a metal tip ... good idea as he hits rocks steadily. The field is really small, maybe twice the length of the plow and shaft. This means he can only plow half a furrow in any one pass. Every second pass a beautiful young woman drops in the spuds, and then the next furrow covers them up. To me, it looks really precarious as he often replows up the just planted spud. Yet, I guess it works for them. I like being in an area with more of a Chinese influence. I like to see the greens in my meals ... mustard greens last night, and I like how every hostel has some local wine warming on the stove.
Around this evening's meal the group plays cards, some saki keeps the chill off. After a couple of hours the restaurant space had become unbearably cold ... it is time for a soak. Happily most people don't come, as the warm zone in the pool is really limited. The pool is also shallow, and I'm not submerged until I diddle the outflow. So nice! The full moon is playing hide and seek with the clouds. The mountains are visible in part, and the light makes them look like Ansel Adams pictures ... so stark in the black and white. Really special. So there I lay, in the hot, looking at these incredible mountains.
At 9pm there are only three of us. My companion's faces are red. Today was their festival of colour and the celebrations included colouring your face, then the hot spring. Hot spring etiquette is different here ... there is none. They wash themselves, loads of soap, then proceed to wash their clothes which have also had a red run in. That's all fine, its their place. What takes me aback is when they spit, right there in the hot spring, right where we are all sitting. Weird! The time is great though, as I chat with these civil servants who are mostly interested in sex.
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