Tag Archives: Dhauladhar

Pema … always smiling

Pema, always smiling and ever graceful while she gives me a patient lesson in how her name is pronounced.

Pema runs a fruit and vegetable store in Tibetan Colony, Bir, Himachal Pradesh, near the Dhauladhar mountain range at the foothills of the Himalayas. Bir is home to paragliding as well as a thriving Tibetan community and local handicrafts. Always pleasant, the warmth of Pema’s smile adds a touch of brightness to every interaction – it’s not just a sale and I’m grateful for it. In addition to fruit and veggies, she makes and sells handmade noodles in her shop. 

When I asked her if she ever took vacations, this mother of four laughed out loud. She said that as a member of the working class, it was hard to do but she tries to take a week off once a year, just to rest and to be with her family.

© 2021 Marlon de Souza

Lakhan the traveling bamboo chair seller


© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

Business is bad today, but I can’t give it all away to the dogs

His roadside stand is outside a tourist shop in McLeod Ganj, a half hour above Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh, northern India. He’s alone on this side of a busy tourist street with no other vendors next to him. A general store to his left is shuttered for the night. The painted letters on the front of the stand says Momo – chicken and vegetable dumplings popular in towns across the lower Himalayas. Almost every restaurant and street stand in McLeod Ganj sells momos. The chicken or the vegetable is mixed into a batter in small batches a couple of times a day and then steamed or fried to order. I’ve already eaten dinner, but I wouldn’t mind a small bite.


He’s got a grown out buzz cut, fullish face concentrating on the potato fries in his iron karahi – a circular pot similar to a wok. The wind from the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas is particularly fierce on this wintry night in March. I’m wearing layers under a heavy jacket, thermals and boots to keep me warm. He’s wearing a t-shirt and old trousers, a light North Face jacket and a pair of worn sneakers.

Any momos?” I ask him in Hindi.

“All gone, sir, it’s late now, but you can have soup and fries,” he replies.

I’ll pass on the fries, but the man intrigues me. All by his lonesome self at nine o’clock at night on this busy street in McLeod Ganj. Across from him is a Buddhist temple, its prayer wheels silent for the night, absent worshippers. A few meters away, on the other side of the street is a musician, wailing into the night, accompanied by generous amounts of hash and dancing puppet dolls.

Tanzin Thapa is the momo man’s name. From Dharamshala, he says. He’s been making momos in Dharamshala and McLeod Ganj for the past fifteen years.

Before that, “Bahut kuch kiya, labor kaam kiya, khetibadi mein kaam kiya, bahut kuch kiya — I did many different things, I was a laborer, I worked on farms, many different things.”

He’s worked in numerous places, he says, including Mumbai. At Grant Road station in South-Central Mumbai. Three months managing a small restaurant, two months with his own pav bhaji stand at the train station. Pav bhaji is a roadside snack for those on the go – a thick curry of mashed vegetables served with toasted, buttered bread. Light on the pocket, heavy on some stomachs.

Tanzin has also worked as a laborer in the famous Haji Ali mosque off the coast of Worli in South Mumbai.

He’s forty-eight years old. Of Nepalese origin, and a Pentecostal Christian. His family lives in Dharamshala, a wife and two children – an eleven-year old daughter and a fourteen-year old son. He works around five to six hours a day.

“Seven days a week?” I ask.

“No, I work six days. On the seventh day, I take a rest, like the Lord,” he says with a smile.

Five to six hours of work each day is enough to get by, Tanzin tells me. Some days are better than others. Some days are tough. “Today I made only a hundred rupees. What to do?” He laughs. A hundred rupees is the equivalent of a dollar and a half.

A stray dog comes up, familiar to Tanzin. It gets a couple of fries and goes on its way. A couple more dogs come by, but they’re shooed away.

“Business is bad today, but I can’t give it all away to the dogs,” he says as he chases them away. “Tomorrow it could be a busy day and I need to have fries ready for customers.”

He waves at me, head tilted to the side with satisfaction, even with a hundred rupees from a full day’s work. I take his leave and wander off to the wailing musician with the dancing puppet dolls.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

A ride in the dark

There’s a night sky outside my window, in the bus from the village of Chougan, Bir, Himachal Pradesh to Chandigarh. From Chandigarh I travel onward, back to Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay. In the cloudless, darkened sky, I notice stars, the same arrangement I used to see as a little boy from my bedroom window back when it was called Bombay, back when there was no light pollution and slight air pollution. Now it’s known as Mumbai, has been known as Mumbai for a long time now, and now it has heavy pollution of every kind.

The ride from Bir has been just a couple of hours but a lot of ground has been covered. Through the hill town and village of Baijnath, with fruit vendors, vegetable vendors, small roadside dhabas and men having a meal or a late evening chai.


A shop selling copper pots and utensils, next to a general store, next to a shoe salesman, next to a store selling the most tender chicken in the world, now closed for the day.


Next to all, the ubiquitous roadside mountain dogs that keep humans company in the hills though mostly not – they are here for the scraps and the random donations but very rarely allowed inside. Maybe they wouldn’t want to be inside always. Free to roam outside when they want to and food from humans when it appears.

Inside the bus, the conductor is cross-checking seat numbers with a couple of passengers, it’s going to be a full bus, no standees, he doesn’t want to have to ask anyone to leave when it gets full. The bus stops to pick up a couple of pre-booked passengers along the way. A man here on the road between Baijnath and Palampur, the next big town, a newly married couple at the next stop, she, visibly pregnant. At Palampur, a small send-off party of woman and child, her husband, his father, waving to a relative boarding the bus. Himachal music alternates with Bollywood inside the bus. Inside me, the music of tiredness is playing. 

Sudden tiredness, sadness to be leaving friends I’ve made in the last month at the Deer Park Institute in Bir, the hospitable and friendly villagers in the hills surrounding Bir, who’ve stopped to talk and engage, the Tibetan people in the Tibetan colony over there, those two little street dogs who weren’t afraid to ask for love.

Someone’s phone call on loudspeaker mode pulls me back into the bus. The night sky and the winding road pull me out. Outside, darkness. Not enough to ease the sadness, but does it really have to go away? Can it stay for as long as it does? The winding, downward road induces distracting churn. Constant. A sign saying zigzag road ahead. More than this? A child inside the bus begins crying, consoled by her father. She has woken up from a bad dream. The bus driver turns on the lights to make sure everything is okay. The music is turned off. The man, now self-conscious, tells his child, Be quiet, don’t cry, why are you crying? Turns out the child’s ears were blocked and popping – we are rapidly losing altitude down this road and the bus’s churn doesn’t help either. Now I see why there are throw-up bags in the seat pocket in front of me. Everything sorted, the conductor turns off the interior lights. The driver turns the music system back on. Punjabi music this time. With a drum beat to match the sharp turns on the road. 

My mind goes back to Bir, wistful of the adventures there, mountain rides on scooters, traffic tickets from polite cops, hikes in the hills, friends from Bir, from India and from the world over. Wheat fields and mustard fields and sweet-smelling cherry blossoms. Himalayan rivers and herded mountain goats. And friends and warmth in cool weather. Outer journeys and inner journeys. Writing workshops and songs in languages from all over India. And the world. Listening circles. A celebration of the equinox in the haunting music of the forest. And a newly discovered desire to learn Marathi so I can practice with a new friend from Sawantwadi in southern Maharashtra.

The bus twists again. The music is loud again, another turn, another churn. There’s no straight road up a mountain, there’s no shortcut down. Down the mountains we are going. Rapidly losing altitude. Cars up ahead, tail lights, headlights. We are passing an ambulance, with an ill person inside being attended to carefully by family. An empty truck in front of us, a full one further ahead. Increasing traffic. Signs of a different kind of life. I am reminded of Mumbai, of city living. There’s a bit of dread, heaviness. What’s there for me there? As if on cue, the bus crosses a patch of rough road, unpaved. Rough road back to a city? Or in a city? I rest my head on the window to comfort myself. The relentlessly loud Punjabi music in the bus is giving me a headache. Mumbai and city living inside, loud Punjabi music outside. And bereft at leaving Bir behind. In this moment, there’s no escape. I chuckle inside and smile outside. This moment is perfect. No escape. I look out the windshield of the bus, headlights illuminating the dimly lit road, outlines of trees bordering. The headlights go only so far. The road further ahead is unlit. Another adventure awaits.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

Wild flower

You too, wild flower,
you who are resting on a fence in an unknown field
like a stray dog rests its head, tentatively at first,
on my leg,
then calmly,
knowing it will be loved
and not harmed –
you, too, are beautiful,
Even though I won’t know your name
or see you again,
it is enough that we have met today.
I have seen you, and you, me.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

A Dharamshala Odyssey – Cherry blossoms, orange trees and a blue garden shed

Cherry blossoms at Deer Park Institute, Bir, Himachal Pradesh
Orange trees and a blue garden shed at Deer Park Institute, Bir, HImachal Pradesh – The Dhauladhar Mountain range of the Himalayas is in the background

Marlon de Souza Ⓒ2019. All rights reserved.