This morning we had a breakfast on the green lawns of the farmhouse.
We left on foot heading up into the fertile mountainside.
Our bags were taken down the steep path to the car, which will meet us by midday.
The mountain was thickly planted with cardamom plants, among the trees.
W passed small self-sufficient farms.
Each farm grows almost everything they need.
They grow all of the vegetables and fruits that they eat, rice, millet, buckwheat, tea and sugar cane.
They keep chickens for eggs and they eat them before winter starts, because the chickens do not survive the cold.
They keep cows and goats for butter, milk and cheese.
What they cannot not grow, they usually do not eat.
On occasion, if the farmers are more industrious, they grow to sell, and with the money they earn, they buy what they cannot grow.
We saw some smoke rising from one of the farms.
Jules asked if they were burning trash.
They usually compost all green matter or keep it to feed to the goats and cows.
They produce almost no trash, since they do not buy much in stores or markets.
They make things from bamboo and wood, and use every pot and pan for a lifetime.
The smoke turned out to be Cardamom drying, and we walked up on the edges of their fields, into the farmhouse to see how it is done.
It was the farmhouse of a family of the Sherpa caste.
Many of the family members had gathered because one of the sons had just died and the family gathers for the funeral.
They welcomed us with warm smiles and invited us to sit and have tea.
We asked for black tea without milk or sugar.
The tea they served us was sprinkled with salt.
In the countryside, milky tea is usually served sweet, and black tea is served salty to replenish the body’s salt that is lost by sweating while working in the fields.
The Cardamom was spread on a large metal grid, over an outdoor stone oven.
They did not place the fire directly below it, but a little to the side, because they intended the cardamom to be smoked, and not roasted.
They used freshly cut wood for the firewood, which makes a lot of smoke while burning.
The whole family lives together in this farmhouse, the grandmother and grandfather along with the adult children and all the young children born in this household.
Before we left, the grandmother, who did not speak to me while I was there, pressed two small avocados into my hands and pushed them towards my chest to indicate that they were a gift to me to enjoy.
We continued on our long hike through the villages, but this time we collected an entourage of a few of the Sherpa family’s young girls to guide us to the temple up the hill.
It was an impressive Hindu temple called Singhdevi Mandir, which was built around a huge banyan tree that is over seven hundred years old.
The first floor of the temple is dedicated to the goddess Kali the destroyer.
The second floor was dedicated to a Singhdevi, a goddess who rode on a tiger to rest under that same banyan tree.
We made a small donation and in return we were blessed and given flowers to place at a nook in the curves of the thick tree.
An old man who was one of the caretakers and stood there along with the local priest, came closer to me and pointed at my Dzi bead and said “Zeee…”
I said that yes, it is a Dzi….
He shook his hand in the air to indicate that it was very expensive… And added that he had a few Dzis that he was selling, but they were NOT real…..
He went over to his hut and brought a small white cloth filled with his “treasure,” which he hoped to sell to me.
He had a few mass produced glass Dzi in peeling plastic pearl necklaces, and a few Hindu Ruddrakh tree beads that had some mold on them.
I passed on buying anything from his jewelry “treasure” sack.
We walked farther, to a small Buddhist Sherpa monastery.
A funeral puja was going on, and the locals came from the nearby villages and sat on the floor around the room while the monks chanted and performed rituals.
At some point in the chants, the locals chanted along with the monks, like a choir, which was the first time we had seen such audience participation in a Buddhist Puja.
We walked farther, down a very steep hill and through a small village and charming simple house farms, down to the road.
Later in the afternoon we hiked up a very steep stony path to an old monastery called Reshup Gompa.
The old temple was closed and we could not locate the key keeper, but by one of the stone stupas we met a family who insisted on taking our photos and photographing themselves with us.
The hike up there was strenuous, and I foolishly wore sandals instead of my hiking boots, which made me slip and unstable on my feet.
My legs and lower back muscles felt fatigued and tired from the many hikes that we have done in the past few months….
It felt as if my mind and body were rebelling against me…..feeling unhappy that I was demanding so much of them…. And not providing myself with enough rest time….
Luckily, the way down was beautiful and easy.
We walked thought the thick forest as the sun set, and the golden sun filtered through the branches and played with the leaves, looking like the forest’s spirit was alive and joyful.
That night we stayed at the Yangsum Farm which was tucked away with a backdrop of the Khangchendzonga mountain range.
I did not have high hopes, since our itinerary said that the farmhouse offers a toilet and a shower and that it has electricity, and running water…… It did not sound very promising….
But when we got there, we were offered out choice of rooms and we chose the charming old cottage which was covered in a red flowering vine.
The Sikkim Tsechu Tharpa family has owned the farm since 1833.
They manage a 44 Acre mountain farm, consisting of a forest with Pines, Himalayan Alder, Chestnut, Magnolia, Rhododendrons, cherry trees, and more.
Like most other farms in the area, they grow cardamom for sale, but also avocados, oranges, bananas, pears, apricots, and mangoes.
And again like most farms around this Himalayan area, they cultivate maize, rice paddies, millet, potatoes, ginger, turmeric, and sweet potatoes.
In their kitchen garden they grow seasonal vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, tomatoes and peas.
This abundance of fruit and vegetables in the fertile hills of the Himalayas, reminded me of a Lepcha poem that I’d recently read.
The Lelchas were the indigenous people of Sikkim, and they are often referred to as the “Rong People” :
“Since the creation of the earth by God,
The land of the Rong
Rests on the lap of the great Himalayas.
Covered with clouds and decked with flowers,
With fruit, hills and valleys,
Ageless amid the symphony of birds’ chirps
And the humming of bees and wasps
A country where divine Spirits dwell
There is bounty here
People are happy
But the land yet is a land of wealth…”
(Taken from a collection of old poems with an unknown author about the Rong Lepchas and their heritage)