Today, Sonam showed me her flowers. She beams as she names each flower in English — Poppy, Dahlia, Zinnia. Sonam knows exactly which plants have to be taken inside during the winter and which ones can survive the bitter cold. She lovingly shakes the seeds from dried flower heads into her palm so that I can admire them.
Earlier Sonam proudly told me that Nyanjen, the guest house she runs with her family and where we are now staying, is completely self sufficient. Inside the compound, every plant is cultivated carefully. Under the sun, apricots from the orchard shrivel gently on the roof and the patient barley dries in the field. Every evening, Sonam harvests vegetables from her patch for dinner.
One glance at the mountains encircling the village of Phyang makes clear that not much grows here. Munched within an inch of its life by grazing cattle, the grass by the river outside the gate measures no more than a few centimeters. Sea buckthorn grows wild in clumps and the locals pile its spikey limbs on top of stone walls to protect their precious fields from the animals. Beyond the reach of the river, the green dissolves into brown rock and dust.
Sonam’s flowers seem to flaunt the desolation of this place. And her garden is perhaps a lesson that the vegetation is no true indication of what thrives here.
What does grow here, at Nyanjen guest house, and in abundance: kind people, who welcomed me with open arms, warmed me with endless reserves of milk tea, and inspired me with their unlimited generosity.