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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.