The very mention of Leh-Ladakh pops up images of surreal beauty. My husband and I celebrated my birthday amidst the interplay of ice-capped Karakoram ranges, golden brown Ladakh peaks, emerald-blue waters of Pangong Tso, and pristine white sand dunes of Nubra. However, what caught my imagination particularly was the extremely amazing people experience that we had.
Keen to enjoy the local flavour, we embraced the unique opportunity of staying in a “homestay” called “Tukchu”, where we lived with the absolutely wonderful Tashi Gyaltsan and his adorable family. Tashi, an engineer, works at the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) office in Leh, while his wife is a nurse at Leh’s government hospital. Handling home, office and tourists efficiently, both remain a hard-working and warm couple. Their three children were home for summer vacations.
We were eight tourists sharing Mr Tashi’s home and hospitality. A couple each from Thailand and Tamil Nadu and two Czechoslovakian women. After the entire day’s sightseeing and trekking, all of us looked forward to falling back to the aesthetic and cosy living room of Tashi’s home. His wife would serve us home-cooked food, which we ate together, sharing our anecdotes and learning from each other’s experiences.
To our excited tales, Tashi would add stories from his life in Ladakh, his religious connect with the landmark Shanti Stupa, his preparations for the winters, and his bond with his children. We found that Tashi was also a recipient of the Ati Vishisht Sanchar Sewa Padak, 2001, for keeping the BSNL’s telecom services alive in worst-hit areas during the Kargil War of 1999.
One evening, the Thai woman was unwell. Tashi’s wife and eldest daughter looked after her in the dead of the night, serving her therapeutic herbal soup and medicines. Apart from the family’s hospitality, I savoured Tashi’s brilliant collection of fiction and travelogues. Bookshelves and flower pots adorned their wonderfully cosy home.
During our stay, the Dalai Lama was visiting Leh for a day. Keen to attend the service of the Tibetan spiritual and temporal leader, the Tashi family left their home to us. We could use their kitchen anytime we wanted. While it is necessary for a host to be polite and good, but to leave your home to your guests requires large heartedness and deep faith in humanity.
Time flew and the day arrived when we had to catch our flight back to Mumbai. As a token of gratitude, we gifted Tashi’s wife a Rajasthani dupatta and a Ganesha idol. As we bid goodbye, we realised how comfortably the Tashi family had accepted us as we were. From culture to language, lifestyle to appearance, we had nothing in common, yet they didn’t ever let us feel different.
On the surface, we all are different indeed. But deep within, we are also the same. Tashi’s family rendered the entire notion of diversity an illusion. The true beauty of diversity is not in celebrating our outward differences but in rejoicing our inherent similarities. Thank you, Tashi family, for allowing us to soak in a portion of your home and goodness. Thank you for being different in what matters.
This article was published at Hindustan Times.