In the morning, Brighu and I went to get an Inner Line Permit for me—apparently part of the route we are taking from Spiti to Kinnaur passes close enough to the Chinese border that I have to get special permission as a foreigner. So I got to experience a small slice of Indian bureaucracy. Those of you who have been to the visa office in SF might have some idea of what to expect. First we couldn’t even find the place—the building had no sign on it that I could find, and once we had the right building, we had to find the right room. Most of the doors were labeled, but of course the one we needed wasn’t. Once we got there, we found out that I needed to submit passport photos along with my application for the permit (and, I didn’t know exactly what was going on since it was all happening in Hindi, but apparently we couldn’t get the application form in that office either). So we had to walk across town and find the place to get passport photos (which did have a sign, although not directly out front). Inside, there was a small mob of people waiting for various services, and 3 guys behind the counter watching one guy do all the work. Brighu pushed up to the front and asked about photos, and the guy got out a camera and made me stand against a chipped plaster wall outside to get the pictures taken. Brighu very helpfully made faces at me to try and get me to laugh. He left to go get the form and I waited for the photos, which mercifully didn’t take too long. Although once I had them in hand and knew the price, it took the one guy a few minutes to get back to me to actually take my money. After that we went back to the first place, and filling out the application and getting it stamped was pretty straightforward.
After that, we went to see a thangka painter who showed us his sketches, practice slates, and diagrams for the facial proportions for drawing the Buddha and Tara.
He took us to the monastery, which was overwhelmingly ornate.
Then he took us around in search of weaving stuff. We went to a couple shops that were selling shawls, and looked at the patterns on them (twill base with weft-faced designs in wide bands at the ends). Nice, but not really what I’m here for. He tracked down someone to demo for us, and we went to this woman’s house and convinced her to set up her backstrap loom for us.
She hadn’t woven in 15 years, so she had to dust off all the equipment and we had to buy yarn for her to use. She demoed just a basic weave, which is what I’ve been finding people here doing. It’s really frustrating. I know how a loom works, I know how a spindle works, I want to learn about the patterning. Part of the problem is that weaving is done here only in the winter, so nobody has any projects actually in progress at the moment.
We were told that this woman knew a weaving song too, but she only remembered part of it and couldn’t actually sing it for us because someone in her family had died recently. She did recite the bit that she remembered. The song apparently narrates the story of a girl who is tired of weaving, and says that she wants to magically turn all the various sticks that make up the loom into pens so she can study. She runs off and follows this guru and becomes a Buddhist nun. I’d love to find someone who knows the whole song, but it’s not going to happen on this trip. But at least I felt like I was getting somewhere.