India / Places We Go

Old Dirang

Old Dirang

The Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh is a unique place. Seriously, throw out your mental picture of India because it doesn’t apply here.

Old Dirang, the village I am highlighting here, is found on the road to Tawang and I feel it serves well as a representative sampling of the villages one will find on this route winding up through the Himalayas. Aside from giving you a feel for what this part of Arunachal Pradesh is like (Hint: heavy Tibetan influences), I also hope to generate some interest in you for Arunachal Pradesh in general. So, when I discuss it more in the future, you’ll hopefully feel more connected to what I am discussing.

Old Dirang is populated almost entirely by the Monpa people who are Mahayana Buddhists and live in the high valleys on the Bhutanese and Tibetan borders. Mahayana Buddhism is the form followed in Tibet, Bhutan and Mongolia.

And I have to say that I found the whole place to be quite photogenic:

Old Dirang

Old Dirang

 Old Dirang

Corn is a significant crop in the Himalayan foothills and you’ll thus see scenes like this one quite often:

Old Dirang

Old Dirang

As with everywhere else we went in the Northeast of India, the people were very warm and welcoming:

Old Dirang

This kid liked having his picture taken… I thought his boot/pant suit (pants attached to the boots to make it sort of like those footed pajamas we had when we were kids) was awesome and told him so, but I don’t think he understood me:

Old Dirang

This woman’s friend thought it was hilarious that I wanted to take a picture of them. It is funny because what is boring and commonplace to them is unique and interesting to us (Well, at least to me):

Old Dirang

A view of Old Dirang from one of the hills overlooking the town:

Old Dirang

Also on the hill from which the above picture was taken is an attractive gompa. What the hell is a gompa? Well, a gompa is simply a Buddhist center – I suppose our Western equivalent would be some sort of church complex.

Climbing the hill to the gompa… Prayer flags are in the foreground:

old dirang gompa

The Buddhist temple in Old Dirang:

old dirang gompa

A view of the temple from the side:

old dirang gompa

And out behind the temple where myriad trails lead up into the mountains:

old dirang gompa

Just to the right of the temple are the living quarters for those affiliated with the gompa:

old dirang gompa

As with all of the Buddhist temples we visited, we were immediately accepted as guests and invited into the living quarters. This is the entrance:

old dirang gompa

A bedroom inside… These double as living rooms since people can sit on the beds:

old dirang gompa

Once inside the living quarters, we were presented with tea and food. Now, of course, before we leave we make a donation as a gesture of thanks, but this is not compulsory or expected. In other words, it isn’t like going to a restaurant. It is a gesture of hospitality on the part of the Buddhists rather than a commercial transaction.

At this juncture, I must clarify something. When I mentioned above that we were presented with “tea”, I am not referring to the dried and processed leaves of Camellia sinensis that form the Early Grey or English Breakfast Tea so many of us are used to. Instead, in this part of the world, the “tea” is made from salted yak butter. When I was first presented with yak butter tea, I was told to think of it as a soup and to expel all thoughts of tea from my mind. That helped, but it is still definitely an acquired taste (a taste I never did quite manage to acquire).

And I’m sorry to say that the yak butter tea we were presented with in Old Dirang was just a little too much for us. It had the greasy, gray appearance of dirty dish water and tasted, well, not very good. So we politely pretended to sip our tea until at an opportune time my Italian, who was seated next to an open window, swiftly emptied the cups of tea out the window and then placed the empty cups down in front of us.

This had the unfortunate effect of creating the impression that we really, really liked the yak butter tea since we had apparently guzzled it down so quickly. And so for the duration of our visit, the kind monks kept trying to provide us with more yak butter tea.

Our host inside the living quarters… He was designated as our host since he spoke a little bit of English:

old dirang gompa

Some of the kids in the gompa that came to check out the Westerners:

old dirang gompa

As we said our goodbyes and started to make our way back down the hill, this big boy that had been following us around the grounds of the gompa elected to escort us down the narrow path on the hill as well. You just can’t beat Buddhist hospitality:

old dirang gompa

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4 thoughts on “Old Dirang

  1. Dear Justin,
    i have just few words……..wow…..wow……wow and wow. you did great justice to the old dirang by taking such great pictures and with wonderful description.
    i wish you were here as there will be a three day ritual/festival in my village which is celebrated after every three years. this ritual is definitely related to Bonpoism. the villagers has to sit as per their position (clan wise). there are four clan in my village. the Bapu and the Khochilu are the upper clan and the komu and the tsarmu are the serf clan. the shaman’s family sit in the middle dividing the upper and the lower clan.
    i hope all is well with both of you
    with regards,
    dawa …….(do you remember me?)

  2. I completely agree with Dawa. You gave your readers a great description pf Old Dirang. I particularly enjoyed the salted yak butter tea experience.

  3. I am so glad I put your website on my watchlist! I do not visit very often but at times there are posts like this in my mailbox and I just have to come back and have a closer look.
    Your pictures are wonderful! Especially the ones with the Old Dirang people. It seems like these people really belong there on your photo and they do! I think photographers often misunderstand this: It is not the landscape that makes a culture different, but the way people live (in) the landscape.
    By the way, the houses kind of remind me of bavarian buildings… with the wooden framework and the undulating sourroundings. It looks peaceful!
    Thanks for the post!

  4. Pingback: Tawang Monastery | The Velvet Rocket

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