In Stardust, Neil Gaiman writes "Are we human because we gaze at the stars, or do we gaze at them because we are human?"
I've spent countless nights picturing this exact moment — I'll stand in a valley, under a blanket of barely visible stars. But I know they are right up there, accompanying the prancing moon. I was prepared. Instagram and Tumblr braced me for this experience. The reality, however, is always different from the imagination. We were in Sangla when we fished out our cameras to shoot the night sky. The brutal wind was stranger to mercy and whenever we stepped into our balcony to monitor our devices, we were frozen in time. Not in a good way. I was in two minds — although I was glad I could Instagram the hell out of these Astro shots, I couldn't experience it. Between shivering to the bone in pitch darkness and taking in the frightening stillness, someone breaks the silence. It's dinner time.
I don't want to say that Sangla is truly something else but you'd be pushed hard to find a town that's as invested in its culture. But not to the point of vanity because they try to understand yours too. If you think you're the only one probing, they'll surprise you. The townsfolk truly go out of their way to make you comfortable. Whether offering you apples from their orchards or sharing anecdotes from their grand annual Holi celebration — they know how to entertain.
The mornings are perhaps the only time when you could witness some activity. There's a school in sight — the kids are marching, a child in a red sweater is heading the band. There's an air of pride in him as he leads the children. Outside the school, there are apple orchards and homes scattered across the valley. The rutted streets make way for motorbikers and the market area. The sun rays pierce through the gaps in the mountain ranges. I soak up as much as I can before breakfast. The breakfasts (and dinners) are enormous just like Kinnauri people's appetite for conversations.
The elders of the town gather for a game or two of Carrom in the evenings; of course, you can lurk around them and watch them play. Or you can choose to visit the closest sweet shop for hot jalebi and barfi. And chai, always. On reaching the hotel, I slipped into the bed and warmed myself up in the iconic Kinnauri shawl and some more chai.
And as I was preparing for another night of stargazing, through my phone, while layering up with every piece of clothing possible, I knew I had no answer for Gaiman's trick question. I might be wayfaring somewhere else tomorrow, but I am here now — both wallowing and feeling content, in this pitch darkness. Perhaps, that's enough for the night.