Ladies Who Chang

The following story happened on a trip to Tibet in 2010.

I was fixated on the cobalt sky and the puffy, whiter than white clouds the whole way up the mountain. The high-altitude must make the sky bluer and the clouds whiter. We had ridden horses up the Drechen Valley to a local stupa, a popular pilgrimage site for the locals because of its religious significance and hot springs. The stupa was small, surrounded by prayer wheels and prayer flags. Pilgrims were walking around it clockwise. An old Tibetan woman with a huge smile spun every prayer wheel, grinning at us.

After spinning a few prayer wheels ourselves we ate our lunch and lay in the warm sun, napping and cloud watching. The air smelled of pine incense. Below us sat a group of women who were having a picnic. I walked a little closer so that I could spy on them and they started to waive at me to come down. I pointed them out to my sister. “I think they want me to come down. Will you come with me?” I asked.

We headed down the hill and I realized that that they weren’t having lunch, they were drinking chang—Tibetan homebrew. Their husbands were probably in the nearby hot spring and they had the afternoon off.

We walked up to the women and they motioned for us to sit down. They were laughing and boisterous. Tiny plastic cups were in our hands before we were seated. They poured the chang from what looked like a jerry can. It tasted sour and slightly putrid, kind of like my failed attempt to make pineapple vinegar one time. They laughed and we laughed back. They pointed and we laughed even more. We shared no common language except alcohol and camaraderie. Who needed language when you had chang, sunshine and laughter? As soon as we finished the change the cups were filled again. We drank a few rounds of chang and I realized we had to get back down the mountain without falling off our horses. We stood up and started to walk away—there no way be more polite about it. We laughed a little more and thanked them for the chang.

We walked back to the horses. Our efforts to re-mount them were overseen by the old woman from the stupa. She said many things we didn’t understand and smiled the entire time. Maybe she was lecturing us on the risks of drinking and riding. It wasn’t as hard getting on the horses as I thought it would be, chang must not be very strong. We could have probably had a few more rounds.

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