5 August - We see the puja at an early hour. It's not really a collective ceremony here these days: a monk is praying alone in the room, while a child isolated in a separate closet is repeating his formulae and scans them to the sound of brass cymbals. The poor child gives me pity, so young and all alone.
They don't know that in fact this ceremony hasn't started nor has it ended here. The bride is actually coming from Leh and is going to Padum. Along the way the convoy is stopping at every village to meet the residents, offer food and maybe gather gifts. We are to meet it several times in the course of our journey to Zanskar.
But, look! In the yard there is also a bus! We hasten to get our luggage back and ask for a lift to Padum. They say they have room and full of elation we tie our rucksacks on the roof. After half an hour we start.
As I review the passengers, I notice they are nearly all women in dark red Tibetan costume, with stone and shell ornaments, besides the headgear. A lady sports red-dyed hands and I surmise that it may be due to her job. In fact, at the first stop we find out what has happened to us: we didn't get on the public bus, the one we'd been waiting for days, but in the excitement of seeing a vehicle, we took the one that the yellow banner hanging on its side says what it is: Association of Zanskar Women, returning from an exhibition of handicrafts in Leh.
No sooner do our women see the shepherds than they get excited, demand a sudden stop of the bus, rush out of the vehicle, bargain, swap, buy, then come back to their seats with their plastic jars full. In their uncontainable rush, they forget everything, even my presence on the passage to the bus door and jump over me as if I were a sack. To make her crazy way shorter, one sets her foot on my knee, leaving a pretty stamp and making me burst with laughter.
The thing is that these women have a different feeling from ours as far as body contact is concerned. Earlier, as I was watching the view, I found a drooping hand on my thigh: it was my neighbour's. Without malice. And Albert too is serving as a sofa to his neighbour, sleeping ensconced on all his side...
We arrive at 6 pm, after the puncture of a tyre and leaving each of the women at their respective village. We find a room in a pretty hotel in the village, where I meet the three Italians of yesterday. As if memory were a superfluous gift, the man starts his lesson on the local peoples again, repeating the same things he said yesterday. But now I needn't cajole him and I cut short with the excuse that I'm hungry.