Todnam – The Spiti village the world needs to take lessons from

Nestled within Pin Valley, between folds of the Himalayas and vast expanses of nothingness, lies the tiny village of Todnam. Having travelled extensively through the region, I now know that Life in Spiti Valley is unlike anywhere else. And while even the larger town such as Kaza has taught me immensely about the elusive concept of happiness found so easily in the mountains, the smaller villages impart bigger lessons. 

Todnum Village

Consisting of a total of ten households, this is as small as a village gets. Yet, this village is as distinct as any other, with its own customs, festivals and routines. As with the rest of Spiti, life here follows a set graph, preparing for and then living out the winters. 

The summer months are spent being active and efficient, with excessive physical labour that is undertaken with a jovial disposition and amazing dexterity. Life here is mainly agrarian, and all pursuits are towards the cultivation of the financially viable pea crop. The cultivation of peas has brought a lot of prosperity to this village and as a downside, almost done away with the cultivation of other crops such as the traditionally produced buckwheat. The cycle starts around the first week of April, as some of the snow begins to melt. The ploughing season is in full swing and yaks are used for the purpose. It is still an arduous task, both for the people and the yaks. The farmers sing songs glorifying yaks and praise their strength and vitality. As we hear about wet markets and cruel animal rearing practices so frequently that it has stopped making our skin crawl, the reverence that locals treat their animals with is not only surprising but jolting.

The spirit of gratitude is so all-pervasive that it includes every being connected with their lives, a fact that we are too far removed from to realize. We take for granted everything in our consumeristic world, while some people still sing songs in praise of Yaks. 

Fields
Fields being prepared for sowing

 

The animals they rear are one of the most important aspects of the locals’ lives. While there are some cows for milk and donkeys to carry loads, it is the yaks and the famed Chamurti horses that are their prized possessions. For a life in the middle of nowhere, it becomes important to make full use of their resources. In keeping with this, yaks are used for a range of purposes – on the fields, for milk and cheese, their fur, and on rare occasions, for meat. Being a cold desert, vegetables here are scarce, especially in the winter, and dried yak meat is a rare treat used as a stuffing for momos during that time. 

The Chamurti horse, also known as the Spiti pony, is indigenous to the Pin Valley. These horses are prized more than anything else for their agility and ease of riding. There are places as yet inaccessible by any other modes of transportation, where only these horses can take people. It is no wonder that they are in great demand and are even used by the army in the region. Locals sell these horses for a handsome sum of money and go back to rearing and training young colts. 

Todnam - The Spiti village the world needs to take lessons from 1
Chamurti Horses ( Pic Credit : India in Motion )

 

Spiti works as a community and the shared aspirations of people are what make life in these harsh conditions bearable. Be it huddling around the kitchen to prepare dinner, or out in the fields, the workload is shared equally between men and women, and almost always in the company of other villagers.

The herds of animals are watched over in pairs, taking turns through the season. What strikes one as unique is the complete dissolution of a sense of self, and a heartening stress on the community as a whole. This uplifting attitude transcends into the big and small things equally and makes Spiti what it is. 

The kitchens of the homes in Todnam are the epicenter of all activities. Warmed by the traditional bukharis that use wood and gobar to generate heat, all sorts of indoor activities are performed here. As the women sit knitting socks and weaving carpets for their homes, they sing songs that warm the heart a little more than the bukharis

The concept of communal living is apparent not just in daily tasks, but also in all major life events. As winter approaches and people have more time on their hands, the village really comes alive with festivals, archery competitions and free-flowing alcohol. The Sunchok, a ceremony for long life, native only to the Pin Valley, sees the villagers come together along with lamas from nearby monasteries. This is of course, a large expense for the family organising it and even in such instances, villagers pitch in not just in preparations, but also financially. The entire village gathers to bake over a thousand flatbreads to distribute amongst the guests and monks, they dance together while the ara flows, and give the organising family money as a gift. This is a cycle that carries on as everyone partakes in every home’s Sunchok. 

 

For a village of this size, Todnam has an uncanny ability to capture your heart. Standing on the land flanked by a crown of imposing mountains, where nothing hits the eye for miles and miles, and then to witness giggles and high-pitched songs, a flash of coloured  dresses and the obvious merriment, is an experience I have travelled miles to live.

How we define community in our modern societies is an egoistic manifestation of identity. The people at Todnam, are instead living out the true meaning of the word. While they drink to each other’s health and dance to the tunes of someone else’s happiness, there is an exuberant feeling of belonging that they seem to carry in their hearts. The people of Todnam have the privilege of knowing that there will always be an entire clan to care about them, their hopes and sadness. Everything they do for each other is a reciprocal arrangement of affection and unity. It would serve us well to visit this obscure village and realize what gratitude, camaraderie, and kinship really mean. A lesson that would no doubt prove to be priceless in a world overridden by greed, power struggles, and capitalism. 

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Thank you very much to you and your team for arranging this fantastic tour. One of the best pick from this tour was your meticulous planning and promptness of service. All arrangements were fantastic, be it a delivery of vehicle at Chandigarh airport, hotels particularly at Chandigarh, Leh, Nubra, Pangong. However the best was at Jispa, Kargil and Srinagar for different reasons. Jispa was simple but authentic with very tasty food.

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Absolute Networks, Mumbai

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Wow. wow, wow. What a experience! We took the route of Delhi - Jammu - Srinagar - Leh - Sarchu - Manali - Delhi.  Sunil Kapoor gave us excellent service which includes his next to new 4WD in immaculate condition and all hotels were top class. Coming from Australia, we were bit nervous in start but when we met Sunil, we had full trust and all went very positive. Sunil gave us perfect instructions and everything was according to plan. Thank you Sunil and your team for our one of the best experience in life you have provided us. 

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Director, Webential, Australia

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Eight of us from Sri Lanka got Sunil to arrange a self driven tour to Leh and we are very happy with our decision. He was punctual, trustworthy and met our expectations. The service provided was very professional. As foreigners it’s hard to arrange such a tour by ourselves and Unwind outdoor filled in the gap perfectly. All places we stayed were nice and decent. Should specifically mention about the two Scorpios which we instantly fell in love with. They were very well maintained ... 

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Friends from SriLanka

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After days of research, we finally came across a facebook page called ‘Unwind Outdoors’. It seemed like our dream was going to be finally true. Very reasonably priced and Sunil from Unwind was like a know-it-all person.

The itinerary was so crisp and so very well laid out that there was no reason for us to worry other than coping up with nature’s fury. 

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Clifford Chance, Delhi

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We did a SUV self drive trip from Chandigarh to Ladakh and back organized by Unwind Outdoor.
Highly recommend Unwind Outdoor as Sunil and Manpreet took care of everything we needed (car, hotel bookings, sightseeing and food recommendations, permits) and everything was organized seamlessly. Sunil was very patient with all our queries, giving suggestions and options to suit our preferences.

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KPMG, Bangalore

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Great to see the know-how of the Unwind Outdoor team regarding every aspect of the Srinagar - Leh - Chandigarh self drive trip. From weather conditions, to road conditions, to health/clothing requirements, and also driving instructions - Sunil and Manpreet are warm, meticulous and knowledgable. Villa Himalaya in Sonamarg surpassed all our expectations and ensured that our expected standards for the rest of the trip were extremely high. 

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Parth Deshmukh

Symbiosis Law School, Mumbai

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Thanks Sunil for arranging a wonderful trip. Everything went well and we were in good hands with friendly and competent drivers. Accommodation was good and tents were comfortable beyond our expectations. We didn't have problem with food choices. It was a totally rejuvenating vacation and experience for us. Thanks from us in Singapore!

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Singapore

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We had an amazing 9-day from Manali to Leh. Serene, breathless and picturesque. High altitude sickness was a big issue for us but we were in good hands.

Unwind Outdoor was superb in arranging and coordinating the trip. Taking care of all arrangements and checking-in on us. Kudos to Sunil and his team.

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Assistant Director, Jurong Town Corporation, Singapore

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We travelled as a couple & completed a self drive trip from Delhi-Jammu-Srinagar-Kargil-Leh-Nubra-Pangong-Tso Moriri-Sarchu-Manali-Delhi. Itinerary was meticulously designed to be a mix of adventure and comfort. Hotel choices were best. Support was available at all points in case of emergency.Vehicle provided was top notch. Thanks to Mr. Sunil Kapoor for personally putting in efforts to maintain such high standards. 

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Manager L&T, Mumbai

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Six of us (two families) travelled to Leh in Jul / Aug 2015 and we had an excellent experience with Unwind Outdoor. From the very beginning of our excited planning phase, Sunil has been willingly suggesting us options, number of days, places to visit etc. He has all the knowledge of the terrain, passionate about trekking and traveling himself, so he understands travel-crazy people such as me and my quirks.
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Barclays Bank, Bangalore

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