[Credits to all media used in this post: Nyima Tenzing]
Nyima Tenzing, from Karang village, is a former student of mine. He was one of the kids who was studying “Lama studies” under the guidance of a local Rinpoche in Pal NgongGa Jhangchup Choling Gumba, Nyisal Village. We used to take turns going to Gumba to teach the kids there, every day after classes were over in School. He graduated from Gumba last year and is currently teaching kids in his Villag, Karang. On 14th October 2020, he came to Dunai, the district headquarters of Dolpa, to buy essentials like rice, flours, and so on for winter. He had a friend from Karang and two horses as his company. Usually, the people from Dolpo buy their essentials from the marketplace that opens up once a year, for about 2 weeks, during August, in China. But this year, because of COVID-19 the marketplace was canceled and as a result, the people from Dolpo have to come to Dunai for their shopping. It might sound surprising for people to go to China for their shopping rather than coming to the headquarter but the Chinese border is about a day’s walk whereas the Dunai is about, minimum, 2-3 days walk and the path towards China is easier for the yaks, mules, and horses. As it is proper and reliable, internet connection in Dunai, Nyima Tenzing has sent many beautiful photos and videos that he took this year. Seeing those pictures brought back many memories from my stay in Dolpo back in 2018 and this idea popped up to write about “Uwa“.
Uwa is the local name for Barley in Dolpo. It can be considered as the national food of the Dolpo region. From breakfast to dinner, from tiffin for kids in school to food for hike/work, from making Chyang (local beer) to alcohol, from casual food to food used for rituals and so on, Uwa, and its varieties, is extensively used in Dolpo. It can be eaten in its powdery form itself, or the powder, along with sugar for taste, can be mixed with water, ghee, or even cooked or fried. There are so many varieties of Uwa and each variety has its own unique mysterious-sounding names (Pak, Thousend, etc). People from all age groups enjoy eating Uwa, and its variants.
Usually, the sowing of Uwa seeds starts around the middle of March. The fields are huge and there are no tractors or other machinery to speed up the process so the whole process takes some time. As I only reached Nyisal on May 3, I don’t have much idea about the process, and the information provided about the process might not be completely accurate but will rather be precise, but I have seen some people doing fieldwork during my journey. The plowing of the fields is done with the traditional equipment and instead of oxen, horses are used as there are no oxen. The harvesting of Uwa starts in October. First, the plant is hand plucked and collected in heaps and left in the fields to dry. Then the top part, the grains-bearing part, of the plant is separated from the hay manually. The grain-bearing part is beaten with traditional equipment, called Gheprik, to separate the malt and the chaff. The yield is placed in the middle and a group of 3-4 people beats the seed, in a synchronous manner and rhythm. Even though the chaff and the yield are separated, they are still together in the same pile. So the winnowing process is done after the beating process is completed, to separate the chaff, from the yield, with the help of the wind. Then the final yield is taken to a nearby water mill, which is usually located near the river, and made into a powder to be used and stored. The hay is fed to the horses. The process takes about 2-3 weeks. The processed yield is used for the whole of next year. Some of it is sold or traded with others for different items.
Now I would like to share my personal experience with Uwa, its usage, and the overall process. I was not a big fan of barley before I went to Dolpo, neither am I at this moment. I have had “satu” (a common name for the mixture of powder and water; it is not just limited to barley powder) a lot during my childhood, because of the excess I still don’t prefer it. Even though the Uwa in Dolpo was as fresh as it can get, as local as it can get I still could not get me to like it. But I did have Uwa, and its variants, during my stay in Dolpa, and had I stayed for more than 6 months then my perspective towards Uwa would have probably changed, but we will never know. But I know for sure that Uwa gives you a lot of energy and stamina, a small amount can last for a long time and can be prepared without much hassle and can be eaten with, or without, anything so it is one of the most perfect foods to carry for long treks. It surely kills your hunger as well. Besides the taste of Uwa, I am amazed by the fact that the people of Dolpo can eat Uwa, and its varieties, most of the time, every day for all their life (I don’t mean that they just don’t eat anything else), though it is also their compulsion because not many crops can be cultivated in Dolpo because of the terrain and the cold climate. My amusement is probably because of my upbringing and my habit of eating different kinds of food without much repetition between them. I see the beautiful side to this amusement as well, that is, people are very happy and content with what they have and their spirits are always high unlike us who have been spoiled with different kinds and varieties of food yet we are never content and we always complain about our food and even waste it.
Talking about the process, I never got a chance to see, or participate, in the sowing of the seeds but I did get to see the final stages of the process. Though it was only for a short time, probably a month, a dry land turned into a beautiful green meadow which pleased my eyes and that emitted a different kind of vibe in the mystic land. After the process was completed, the fields were barren like before. This gave us the opportunity to play football in the fields, which was a very fun experience. Every day after school, and a bit before sunset, we’d go to the fields and play football. I also participated in the plucking of the plant, only for a very short period of time. The thing that I was impressed with was that there was a provision of a work-loan in Dolpo. After finishing their work in their own fields, people go and help others. This labor will be paid back next year. I am pretty sure there are provisions of paying back with money, with Uwa itself. For example B, after completing his fields, can go and help C with his fields. C will pay B back next year by helping him out in his field. And this workload sharing goes on. The beating process is usually done by the members of the family in a synced rhythm. The Winning process is usually done by the females of the family. The people of Dolpo are very hard working especially when it comes to their fields. As Uwa, and their fields is the major crop for their survival they do their tiring job full of joy and commitment and even help others without many complaints. Life is very hard and tiring without much technology and machinery but still is very beautiful, and so are the people of Dolpo.
-Hrishav Bhattarai, Fellow 2018