As we drove up from the plains towards Tawang we realized that Edmund Hillary was not the only Kiwi in the Himalayas. There is also Kiwi, the fruit. As we crossed the first pass on the way, Nechi-Phu La at an altitude of 1708 meters, we began to notice bags of Kiwis being sold. The explanation of this wonderful collaboration between New Zealand genes and Himalayan climate came when we reached the beautiful valley of the Dirang river.
The road to Tibet passes through the crowded Dirang bazaar. If you drive down towards the Dirang river from the cross roads at the center of the bazaar, and take the first turn right immediately after, you’ll come to a stilt bridge across the river. Cross this, bear left, drive on until you think you are lost. Then drive a little longer, and you suddenly see an orchard full of Kiwis sloping down the hillside.
A harvest was on when we arrived. Crates of Kiwis were being loaded on to a truck. The workers were happy to talk to us. We were told that the crated fruits were harvested before they were ripe, so that they could ripen as they travelled. If we wanted good Kiwis, we were welcome to walk through the orchard. One of the ladies at the harvest told us that ripe fruit would have fallen off the branches, and we would do well to look for freshly fallen fruits.
We walked through the orchard, looking for ripe fruits on the branches, or on the ground. The Family found lots of small Kiwis on the ground, but they were not ripe. We saw a couple of large ripe ones, but they had been lying there for a while and insects had discovered it before us. As we returned, the workers told us that we could walk up to a house above the orchard, and could perhaps get some ripe Kiwis.
The four of us walked up to the house: clearly someone’s private bungalow. The Family and Mrs. Victor walked in, found a distinguished looking Monpa gentleman and asked him whether they could get some ripe Kiwis. The Victor and I stopped eyeing the fleet of SUVs which went with the house and followed the ladies. The gentleman farmer was very gracious, and told us that he could not sell us any ripe Kiwis, but invited us to sit down. He was proud of the fact that he had introduced Kiwi farming to the region. As we chatted about Dirang, Arunachal Pradesh, the roads, and Kiwis, a plate of peeled and sliced Kiwis appeared on the table.
I’m not very fond of Kiwis; each and every Kiwi I’ve eaten has been sour. So I did not reach for the plate. The Family tasted a slice and told me I should try it out. I did, and for the first time in my life I tasted ripe Kiwi. It was sweet and had the flavour I associated with Kiwi, but something about the consistency of the sweet green flesh reminded me of bananas. This was a Kiwi I could get to like. The conversation continued to the difficulty of getting crops across the mountains over the bad roads, the increased vagaries of the weather in recent years, and the interesting monasteries we would see on the way. Eventually we thanked the gentleman, and got up to leave. He wished us a good journey, and saw us off to our car. His two strong men had followed our conversation silently, but did not come down the steps with him.
We bought a bag of the fruits in the bazaar. They were the usual sour mess. I guess I need to visit New Zealand or go back to the same gentleman’s house to get a taste of real Kiwi.