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Of Chai, Thukpa And Momos: My 4 Reasons Why You Should Go To Keylong For A Holiday

By Rajesh Verma:

Keylong is small city in the district of Lahaul-Spiti in Himachal. It took time for me and my team mates to pronounce it right. If you go with its spelling, you’ll pronounce it as ‘kiilong’, but as we proceeded with our journey, we came to know that it is actually – ‘kelaang’ (केलांग).

Image source: Rajesh Sharma
Image source: Rajesh Sharma

Keylong is a place of untouched beauty. Surrounded with green trees and white snow. Due to its nearness to the Indo-Tibetian border, the culture and traditions of Tibet are still nurtured here.

Sneak peek into the Past

As we covered our distance towards Keylong, we found that people were somewhat like Tibetans – in dress, language, livelihood, architecture- everything reminded us of the Buddhist culture. When we took a halt for tea break at a ‘chai ki thadi’ (a roadside tea dhaba), the ‘chai wala’ told us that Keylong was associated with the Vajrayana Buddhism during the 10th century, and used to be under the Guge Kingdom. This is why you get a reflection of Buddhist culture here.

People also have a mythological belief here, that during the exile of the Pandavas, they spent a few days in the Lahaul valley, where Bheem kicked the hills, to make a passage, which came to be known as the pass for Keylong.

In the home of the Pahadis

They call themselves as “pahadi” here. And as heard, they are really kind and generous. Communicating might be a little confusing but not hard, people speak Tibetan here mostly, along with little Hindi.

image source: rajesh sharma
image source: rajesh sharma

I like the way houses are built here, different from what we see in other cities. You won’t find cottages, mansions or skyscrapers, rather the houses are simple, utilitarian, 2-3 storey buildings with flat roof. Also, the houses are constructed close to each other, for security purpose in heavy winters, as told to us by ‘Mandru’- a native. We found him on reaching Keylong, when we were looking for some hotel to stay. He insisted that we stay in his home, but we didn’t want to trouble anybody. However, he became our unofficial guide.

Image source: Rajesh Sharma
Image source: Rajesh Sharma

Some of the houses were also made of mud walls and flat roofs, each having an animal pen and fencing made of wooden longs.

Thultan is a woollen mat filled with straw on which people usually sleep here. They place a low wooden table- Solchong in front of Thultans. Woolen blankets and bedsheets made up of goat-hair called Thobies are also common. Houses are usually whitewashed and properly ventilated. People don’t decorate their houses much, but mythological paintings of Buddha are there in almost every house.

Colorful yet simple attires

Pahadis here live a very simple life. People mostly wear woolens, for obvious reasons. Men wear loose trousers with a woolen coat and a ‘Kinnauri topi’ on the head. You will find numerous beautiful variations of topis, here. Women are dressed in tight-fitting pyzama and ‘dugpo’ (ladies gown). A shirt like Punjabi kurta is worn, as an undercloth, and a sash is worn round the waist. The color combinations are bright and unique. Gold and Silver jewelry during ceremonies and festivals are common in both among men and women.

image source: Rajesh Sharma
image source: Rajesh Sharma

Soupy Food and Drinks

When we went to Mandru’s home, he offered us lunch. My curiosity forced me to ask him about their food habits. He told us that they have three meals a day –Tshema in the morning, Chikken in the noon and Gongal at night.

One interesting thing about their food is that pahadis believe that the taste of the meat gets better with time. As such, they keep the meat of goats and rams before the beginning of winter and dried it to use, in the winter.

Image source: Rajesh Sharma
Image source: Rajesh Sharma

Before lunch, Mandru prepared ‘butter tea’ for us – tea prepared by adding and stirring butter and salt. Trust me, it was amazing. Momos made of meat or cheese is also loved here.

Image source: Rajesh Sharma
Image source: Rajesh Sharma

For lunch, we were offered ‘Thukpa’ and ‘Tangtur’. Thukpa is a noodle soup, which is prepared by mixing noodles with chicken and vegetables. Being a non-vegetarian, I loved it..really!! Tangtur is made up of butter milk mixed with wild vegetables. It is assumed to be good for health.

keylong7

To relish and celebrate, people here prepare their own local brew – ‘Chhang’. It is made by fermenting miller with yeast. Other than Chhang, ‘Arak/arah’- local distilled liquor is taken occasionally.

Image source: Rajesh Sharma
Image source: Rajesh Sharma

We stayed here for 3 days, away from tall buildings, screaming traffic and rushed life of the city, in the retreat of hills with blue skies, greenery and calmness all round.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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