I saw them behind Dubdi Monastery in West Sikkim. I’d just visited the monastery, one of the oldest Buddhist temples in Sikkim, built in the early 1700s. Dubdi is located around 7,000 feet, about 1,000 feet above the quiet Sikkimese village of Yuksom.
They were doing some road work, digging a ditch or something. The first time I passed them, I was walking to a quiet, mountain spot further down the path and I didn’t want to disturb them.
On the way back, I was curious as to what they were working on.
“We’re building a rest area for the monks”, they tell me. These Tibetan laborers belong to the Bhutia tribe and live in the Tibetan colony down in Yaksum, a couple of miles below Dubdi monastery.
I ask if I can photograph them and they say, sure. And that’s how we get talking. One of them is more talkative than the others. You’ll have to guess who that is.
We all stand together and say our names – I think it’ll be more fun this way than a plain ol’ 2D photo. Of course, I give myself a Tibetan last name just so I can be part of their gang for just a moment.
The talkative one offers me a white fermented liquid – homegrown alcohol. I’ve been recovering from food poisoning (don’t eat funky-tasting eggs and daal at a roadside stop!) so I told him I’d pass. He tells me in Hindi, “This special drink will take away all the food poisoning, try it.”
Against my better judgment, I take a sip, a tiny sip. It’s STRONG! And bitter. And sharp. I can see why he says it’ll cure my food poisoning. But I decide to pass on swigging another sip – you know, I’d like to get back to my homestay in one piece.
As I leave, they teach me to say Thank You in Tibetan. The teachers are quite good but the student…
© 2021 Marlon de Souza