Friday, March 28, 2008

Char Dukhan by Austin Ryer

We walked along a long road, winding through the hillside. On both sides massive pine trees, as well as other species, rose above the path, blocking out any light that broke through the clouds of the monsoon. The road itself was well maintained, and work was being done as we walked by, passing two-man shovel teams and trucks moving earth and gravel to fix the side of the road that had been washed away by the recent rains. Through the trees the opposing hillside was clearly visible, as well as the hillside beyond and the mountains beyond that. Even further were the snow peaks, mountains so high that even then, during the height of the monsoon season in August, snow was evenly spread along their crests. However, our view was quickly blocked by a passing fog, thick enough to hide everything beyond five meters. Nonetheless, we continued down the road.

After many minutes, the road, which before had wound through the hillside, straightened out. It led out onto a bridge, though we couldn’t see past it because of the fog. But as we crossed it lifted, giving us a clear view of the small town known as Char Dukhan.

Translated from Hindi, Char Dukhan means Four Stores, and it is just that. Spread in the shape of a triangle, it serves as an intersection between the road we walked and the road that goes to the Mussourie Bazaar. As it split and then met again, the road formed the arms of a triangle, with buildings on the outside. The inside was a small park, with several benches scattered around the gravel and a large tree in the middle, surrounded by a raised concrete circle to provide earth and serve as another seating place. The whole park was surrounded by a wrought iron fence with small gates to allow access. The purpose of this was to prevent vehicles from driving through the park and to prevent cows and other animals from entering and bothering the people within.

The road we walked was the main arm of the triangle, with the village alongside. Four stores, all small family-owned restaurants, stood along the road with tables and signs displaying the dishes that each one made. Though essentially they were all the same, we preferred the one at the farthest end, called the Tip Top Tea Shop. Bracketing the open space that served as an entrance were a plexiglass showcase and a small cook range. The former displayed goods such as candy, cigarettes, and hundreds of other unidentifiable Indian foods. The latter was a cooking surface, with only about four burners and as many pots and pans as were available. Despite the appearance, the meals served here could compete with the best of restaurants in both quality and price; a full order at Char Dukhan was usually about four American dollars. Further into the shop, the restaurant appeared to be a small food market. Local goods coexisted with Cheese-itz and Tropicana juices, because as small as the shop was, the owner imported from America. Outside were three tables next to the road, but often the food was eaten in the park under the trees, or even further inside the shop, where there were several more tables to escape the cold.

With nowhere to go, we took the long road leading back to a place known as the “Sister’s Bazaar.” On the ridge of the hill lay two roads that connect and later split, roughly forming an elongated “X”. The section where they connect is surrounded by low buildings painted a red-brown, which extend down the ridge for about the distance of a New York City block. The street is always quiet, but is often the place of a quick Cricket match. At random points the buildings separate, offering stairs down to small herb gardens or stone walls overlooking the hillside below and across the valley. The stillness and simple beauty of the Sister’s Bazaar always brought to mind some small town market street on the Mediterranean. On one side there is an antiques and clothing shop, and farther down is a food market, with a much greater selection of goods, both imported and not, then the Tip Top Tea Shop.

In one corner of the Sister’s Market lay several computers, though the internet was never working. After purchasing some Red Bull, Godiva chocolate, and Ritz crackers, we went out onto the street and sat on a stone wall, to watch the snow peaks disappear as the fog moved in once more.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Out on the street

Thanks for asking about us.
We're on leave until 3/24 or thereabouts.