The bus dropped the five of us exchange students at the far end of Tagong town on the Tibetan plateau. Packs on backs, wide open grasslands laid before us like our certain bright futures as Mt. Yala rose up at the horizon like a success within reach. We even helped a group of pilgrims get their wagon unstuck from a muddy patch in the field before pitching our tents atop a hill overlooking stream meanders and the monastery in town.
But the Himalayan cloud and wind descended reverently in the late afternoon obscuring our view and mostly our pride, as our Chinese-factory biscuits crumbled dryly in our mouths as we were serenaded by the violent flapping of thin nylon and the tin-can rain, ready to humble us even more. Just as we felt the first icy moisture accumulating on our socks and sleeping bags, we heard a howling that was more human than wind. Halfway down the hill we could make out a light, our saving grace and source of the friendly greeting, “Tashidelek!” The pilgrims invited us to stay with them in their communal canvas tent down below.
Not even bothering with our soaking flimsy “shelter”, we stuffed our packs and made a run for the valley, for the fire and its steaming kettle, and mostly for the transcendent kindness of strangers. We were welcomed into thick wool blankets, given hot mugs of yak butter tea, fresh flat bread with ghee, momo potato cumin dumplings, tsampa barley with honey (honey, our one, yet well-received sweet contribution) and best of all, thick sherpa thukpa stew, loaded with juicy yak meat (the first meat I’d eaten since I was nine years old) chunks of potato, doughy hand-pulled noodles, shredded carrots, cabbage, and tomatoes, and even some cedar-smoked wild mushrooms.
Warm, dry, and happy
We ate, drank, sang with new friends
Tujay Chay*, pilgrims.
*Tibetan, ‘deep gratitude’
2017, Amaya Engleking
Join the potluck at Dverse, hosted today by Toni, where we write a haibun recalling the best meal we’ve ever eaten.