Monday, December 03, 2007

Real Kashmiri Kawa

The MilkMan Cometh
Leh, Ladakh
This morning, I rounded the corner from my guest house and came face to face with what looked like a Depression-era breadline.

A big "lorry" or truck was parked in the main street, almost in front of the Buddhist Gompa. Two lines of people snaked out behind - one for women, the other for men. (This is "normal" in India, but it's the first time I had noticed such line segregation in Ladakh.) Everyone - grandmothers, small children in school uniforms and so on - was holding every kind of vessel you could possibly imagine. Plastic pop bottles, stainless steel "tiffin" containers, old plastic jugs with handles, and so on.

It was the dudh-wallah, or milkman, or in this case milk men. Men inside the covered truck bed dipped into old-fashioned metal milk cans, the kind Americans now think are quaint decorations for their front porches. Then they poured opaque white liquid into each container.

The lines were long (probably forty people in each line) and the process slow. Everyone was bundled up in a cross-cultural mix of cheap down vests, knit ski hats, woollen goncha robes and running shoes. The painted side of the blue-and-white truck said something like, "Ladakhi Valley Milk Concern, Chuchot Village." Chuchot village is about 1/2 hour away by bus.

I had already noticed the absence of milk in many stores. You can often buy the government-issued homogenized milk ("Amul Taaza") which comes in a plasticky box. For travling and for emergencies, which are frequent, there's milk powder (like Carnation instant milk). Also, the abi-les (grandmothers) who sell vegetables on the Main Bazaar sell milk in old plastic mineral water bottles. (They also sell blue kerosene the same way; hopefully they don't reuse the bottles for milk.)

I joined the women's line and started snapping photos. Actually, the men were much happier to have their photos taken. It's funny, before a certain age (before puberty) and after a certain age (maybe after 50), it is more "okay" to photograph women and girls. During the reproductive years, they feel obligated to be more demure.

On the sidelines were three adorable little Muslim schoolgirls with green uniform crested blazers, book bags, and white headscarves. The headscarves somehow make them more beautiful - like a frame for their faces. The little ones were being shepherded by an older (teenaged) girl in the same attire.

I squatted down to their eye level and asked if I could photograph them. "Photo thik hai?" They agreed, but didn't look very comfortable. They are so serious in these photos... most of their natural beauty is hidden behind a sort of grimace. (!) I think more time is required to gain their trust.

I asked the older girl if I could then photograph her. "Sorry, no," she smiled. She looked sincerely regretful. All the girls had that handsome combination of Mongolian, Central Asian and Indian features, along with pink-white wind kissed cheeks, that adds up to uniquely "Ladakhi."
The girls in the photo above live in the Nubra Valley near Hunder. They were waiting for the school bus home. Now that I've gotten so many "nos" to photo requests, I feel extra lucky to have this beautiful picture.
Call for Kawa
I mentioned Kashmiri kawa before. It's a regional hot tea drink made from - depending on who you ask - saffron, green tea leaves, cinnamon, cardamom and almond. You can go into three different tea shops and get three different versions of Kawa. I have been served Kawa that ranged from an uplifting, exotic brew to what was just obviously black tea with a bit of cinnamon. Another shop (run by Tibetans) served hot water with crushed almonds and a few leaves of saffron - but no tea.
So I decided to ask Mr Yassin, owner of the TsoMori Hotel, what was REAL Kashmiri kawa. Mr Yassin is a Ladakhi Muslim whose family have roots long ago in Kashmir proper.
"Kawa is a special leaf," he said with animation, even a bit of vehemence. "Only one, two shops in the bazaar are selling this now. You go to that main general store, in the big burlap bags, there they are selling."

So Kawa is not green tea or black tea? "No, Kawa is Kawa. It is a special kind of green tea that comes from Assam, but it is not ordinary Assam tea. Long, twisty leaves, they look like snakes."

How do you make real Kashmiri kawa?

"You take the kawa leaves, the cinnamon bark and the elaichi (cardamom pods), and sugar, and boil them all together. Then you strain it into the glass of course."

What about the saffron, the famous product of Kashmir?

"After straining, you add two, three leaves of saffron. Enough to make the colour golden yellow. Then you crush the badam (almonds) and drop them in the glass.

It was important, he said, to brew the first three elements all together - if added later, the spices wouldn't give enough flavour, and the sugar wouldn't melt properly.

Though I am typing now with gloves on, my fingers are stiff with cold. I would love a glass of Real Kashmiri Kawa. Even a fake one would do.

The Chinese Province of Nepal ("Autonomous Region")
You read it here first. I predict this will be a reality within 10, 15 years.
Nepal has long been squashed as a little Switzerland country between two giant, billion-person superpowers (the "yam between two boulders" syndrome), playing China and India off one another, with varying bits of success and failure.

With the growing influence of the Maoists (mostly growing for lack of a better alternative), the fence-sitting scales appear to be tipping Northeastward.
Last month Nepal government announced they were dashing the hopes of Tibetan refugees now living within Nepal by refusing to cooperate with a US plan to offer 1,000 of the refugees asylum in America. To quote the news story:
China says there are no Tibetan refugees, only illegal immigrants who should be punished according to the law of the land.

Now Nepal is actually inviting the famous/notorious Tibet Railway - widely recognized as a major factor in diminishing Tibetan presence within Tibet itself - to be extended to Nepali borders. I think Nepal thinks this means greater access to Chinese goods, and with that, greater ability to tell India to shove off. In your face India! Nyaah Nyaah Nyaah!
What it really means is greater infiltration of Chinese people. If they need proof, they can just ask any of the Tibetans now living in Nepal what it's like to be such close "friends" with China.
Not only that, but China itself, which had previously disdained the Nepali Maoists as not proper Maoists, are now taking a special active interest in Nepal.
A high-level Chinese delegation which is in Nepal to assess the latest political developments, held a series of meetings with the political leaders. The seven-member team led by central politburo member of the Chinese Communist Party Wang Ziarui, on Sunday met the senior leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML) and discussed the prospect of transforming Nepal as a "socialist nation".
China's claims to the Tibet region are based not only on supposed historical precedent ("it used to be part of China") but also cultural affiliation. Since Tibetan culture, according to them, has "always been" part of Chinese culture, logically they will lay claim to every area where Tibetan culture still survives, that has a convenient border with China. That means:
-within India: Arunachal Pradesh (birthplace of the 6th Dalai Lama), and Sikkim. According to an Arunachal Member of Indian Parliament, there are already Chinese troops inside Arunachal.
Ladakh is extremely well fortified now - after the Chinese made their point by commandeering Aksai Chin a few decades ago.
-Bhutan (there have been reports for the past several years of Chinese troops "accidentally" crossing the Bhutanese borders). Since India provides most of the muscle behind Bhutanese infrastructure, this would, for practical purposes, be equivalent to invading India.
-and of course, Nepal, particularly the remote Mustang region of Nepal (sometimes called "Little Tibet") where Tibetan Buddhist culture has survived, mostly unchanged, for centuries.
Some well-meaning European tourists this summer asked me about the heavy military presence in Ladakh. "Is it really necessary?" My answer: "Have you met the neighbors?"


shinu69 said...

Hello Siren,
Hope you remember me. This is Shinu.
It's been a long time, very long indeed.
Where are you now? I am in Bangalore, and probably will be here for some time.
Mail me. I don't write much on my blog these days.

Linda (Sama) said...

great minds think alike. thought the same thing when I read about the railway. only a matter of time before China marches full-force into Arunachal Pradesh, just like they did into Tibet.

Aadil said...

I just love Kashmiri Kahwa!!! Sometimes I make my own Kahwa at home. Thanks for sharing.