My parents decided to send me to the village school. We used to call it a school, but there wasn’t actually a school building. Whenever the teacher came he used to teach us under a tree next to my parents’ house. There were only ten students in the school and I was one of the youngest. After no more than a few months the teacher started to prepare for another long holiday. We were happy, because it meant we would not have to go to school anymore. School was boring and the teacher was too hard.
As soon as the teacher left, my friends and I decided to go to the highland pasture with my mother’s uncle. I called him grandfather. We were excited and ready to go when my mother’s cousin, who I called aunty and who lived in Manali, came to my parents’ house and asked them if they wanted to send me to Manali for schooling. She said she would be happy to take me with her and that she was leaving for Manali the next morning.
My father agreed immediately, but my mother was not happy. She pointed out that I was still only seven, and said I was too young to go to Manali. “It’s five days walk and one day by coach from our village. The passes are too high and the crevasses on the glacier are too dangerous for a child”. But my father was determined to send me to Manali. “You have seen that the teacher has already left and he will not come back for another seven or eight months. If Tanzin stays here he will learn nothing. We must send him away to study.” And he asked my mother to prepare some food for me to take on my journey.
Then my father looked at me and said, “You will enjoy it there, it is a beautiful place and there are lots of cars and buses.” I had heard about buses but I had never heard of cars, so I asked my mother what a car was. My mother said it resembled a beetle. “Some of them are black and some of them are white and people sit in them and one man drives.” I had no idea what she meant.
First, I had never seen a white beetle in my life and second, it was difficult to imagine how people could fit inside one. Nevertheless, I was excited to hear all these things about a new world and I told my mother that I was really looking forward to seeing beetle-cars in Manali, and also a train. My grandfather had told me about trains. He had said they were as big as our house and there were hundreds of them joined together and they moved with the help of a ‘mother’ train, which pulled them like a snaking rope as fast as the Testa River outside our house.
My mother did not reply. She was silent for a while, with her eyes full of tears. She kept moving from one room to another, looking for a small sack in which to put salt, tea, tsampa, a matchbox and some sugar. That day she was generous to me. She gave me a pinch of sugar, which was a rare treat. Then she went to look for a bigger sack to carry my goncha. She squeezed my goncha tight and could not hold back her tears. Because my mother was crying I was sad too, and soon my eyes began to fill with tears. A little bit later, my aunty came in and told my mother that she mustn’t worry. “I will look after him as my own son.” She then told my father that we would be leaving tomorrow ‘nema gayang shar ‘ (soon after sun rise). We did not have a clock, so we measured time according to the position of the sun in the sky. “Get him ready and I will come to pick him up.”
It was my last night at home. The atmosphere of the house was not as lively as usual. My mother almost made herself ill. We went to bed quite early, as we had to get up early. Next morning my mother got up even earlier than usual and she prepared thukpa (soup) and salt tea. Just before we left, a group of women from my village came to my parents’ house. They said, to my mother, they had heard that young ‘No-No’ (that was my nickname) was leaving for school in Manali so they had come to say goodbye. They had brought chang (barley beer) and a khatak, a white scarf given to someone about to leave on a journey. One of the ladies said to me, “You are such a nice little boy; we will miss you, work hard and study well. Safe journey and safe return.”
Just before sun rise we finished loading our horses and started to leave the house. My family and the villagers came to see me off, drinking chang and giving me my khatak. My mother and all the ladies from the village were crying again. I was numb and my heart was heavy. My eyes were full with tears. I simply did not know what to do or what to say. Somehow we said goodbye to each other and I started to walk away with my aunty. We walked very slowly, looking back again and again towards my family and friends. After half an hour of walking, I turned once more to look at my parents’ house. My family, my friends and the villagers were still there looking at us.
As we moved further up the valley, my house and the village become smaller and smaller. My family and friends started to fade away as if in a dream. When we arrived at a place called Latho Longpa my village had disappeared behind a hill. I was still sad and I was crying again. I tried to talk, but I could not say anything. Eventually, in a breaking voice, I asked my aunty, “Why do I have to go to school in Manali? Why do we not have a good school in my village?” She did not answer. She just kept walking on the rocky track and held my hand. I think she was sad too.”