It was by chance that we reached at the Wangdi Homestay in Dirang! We were coming back from one of our hikes, and decided to take a new route to town. Saw a cute Cake House sign, and stopped by. We found out it was part of a homestay.
The next day, we returned with all our bags.
At that point of time, we thought we’d probably stay for 3-4 days. Never in our wildest imagination would we have known that we would end up living with the family for close to 25 days. From the very first day, we fell in love with the food they prepared. Lunches, snacks, desserts – it was all so yummy. Slowly and steadily, we got to know each of the family members.
Where are my manners? Let me introduce you to everyone – Wangdi, a strapling young man 26 years old. His adorable fiancee – Tsering. Uncle and aunty. Lhhamu – Wangdi’s elder sister. And Coco – the laziest and cutest pug in the world.
During the initial days, we ate our breakfasts on the terrace and Wangdi would walk in with the hot parathas and bhurji, huge smile writ on his face. Once the rains started, the cozy kitchen became our place to be. Tsering, who had initially been shy, started getting comfortable and talking to us. Llhamu who is a school teacher, a baker, a new mom, and super woman, came down from her in-law’s house and the energy levels at Wangdi Homestay rose by several notches. One day the family invited us to attend a party – it was Tsering’s birthday! Hastily we ran all around Dirang town to find her a cute present. That evening, all of us sat around a bonfire, sang songs, there was karaoke, there was local wine, we danced to “O o jane jana” and a dozen other songs. We found it super cool that the whole family could sit and drink together, made Tsering feel so special on her day, and how close knit they all were.
After that night, we never felt as if we were staying at a hotel, we felt we were with our own family.
Lhhamu, generous and big hearted girl that she is, would walk in to our room every other day with a cake, or a mango mousse or momos or something and despite our protests she would laughingly say “I made some for you guys as well”. Her charm, happiness, laughter rubbed off on all of us. Tsering and she would regale us with strange local customs and stories – the Oracle who could predict the future or remove your illnesses, he who would dress up in gawdy costumes and could pull out snakes from your body; the Sherdukpen community and their age old custom of marriage by kidnapping. We’d smile as we saw Tsering open up to her, looking super adorbale in her curly hair, long sweaters and animated excited childlike excited way of story telling.
The tales fascinated me, and I’d run back and google to know more.
Through the course of all these events, all that Coco would do was to sleep. You could pat her, love her, tickle her, push her, whack her, sing to her, spank her bum, but it would not amount to any labour from her side. At max, she would raise one eyebrow and then tired at that extreme activity of hers, would sleep off again.
One day Wangdi told us about a massive waterfall in the hills. We went trekking, but found nothing. For the next week, we kept teasing him about it and said we would never take his word again. He would take the jokes sportingly, and would always smile and laugh. Much later, we got to know that the waterfall did exist! I wonder if he ever spotted him without a smile on his face. Tsering and he make an adorable couple.
My favourite was aunty though. Simple, emotional, expressive – her family was her world. I am not sure if she still knows my name. She would call me Captain, Aaamir Khan or Shahrukh alternatively. In all her narratives, her son was beautiful, so was her daughter, her husband and every person in her family. We would roar with laughter as for the millionth time she would tell us who else was handsome in her family. She is extremely extremely proud of her husband, all the different work he does, and between glasses of alcohol, told us how when she was going to marry him, all her friends found him very handsome and were jealous of her. Lhhamu quipped in, “When we were kids na, one day we went to the football ground and my friend said look at that captain how handsome he looks, and I told her that is my papa”. Their laughter, the smiles on aunty, Tsering, Lhhamu’s faces as they shared all this endeared them to us so much.
Uncle, on the other hand was always dignified, calm, and exhibited a grace and politeness that made anyone want to respect him. Every day he would wake up early in the morning and feed pigeons on his terrace. He had served in the army for many years before an eye problem forced him to leave. When I asked him if he missed being in the army, a tear rolled down his eye and I ran to hug him. Seeing him, aunty began to cry too, and Manushi, Mounika embraced her. Proudly they told us how uncle had never taken a bribe, and how he was good at all sports.
The day before we left, we were all sad. We didn’t want to leave at all. As usual aunty decided to give us a party, insisted that she would not let us pay for it, and filled us up with wine, snacks and tasty food.
When it was time to leave, Tsering told me, “I read most books in one sitting. But I don’t want your book to finish at all”. I have had some people say that to me before, mostly on text, but when Tsering said it, the emotions she felt cos we were leaving, our own feelings, it all silenced me. All I could do was smile and gruffly mouth, “I hope you like it”.
A lot of people ask me “which is your favourite place that you travelled to?”. And I always tell them, that when you travel long enough, its not as much about the place but about the people you meet there and the memories you create that will decide the answer.
I have been travelling for 6-7 years now and have been to 45 countries. Love does not necessarily see how pretty or develped a country is, love does not see how luxurious your hotel is, love does not see you just for your physical appearance. Love can happen in a homestay, in a small village that most of the world does not know about, with a group of people who worked hard all day, have simple souls and big hearts.
We were already in love with Dirang for the beautiful weather, the long hikes we could take, the river, the mist that shrouded the top of the mountains, and the monastery that looked upon town. But living with the Wangdi family made our days so much more special.
Some day we shall return, and reunite with everyone. Maybe Coco will be awake too.
All the love in the world, Dirang’s best family! You have our hearts.
p.s If you go to Dirang, don’t miss their cheesecakes. Best in the world