Angora shawls

When you ask someone what you can do in Munsiyari apart from walking through the hillsides, people will often recommend a visit to Darkot village. Women of this village raise Angora rabbits, and weave their wool into the wonderfully soft stoles, shawls, and caps which you can see in high-end stores in cities. The heavy smoke in the air meant we couldn’t possibly do any long walks. So off we went to Darkot.

I was beginning to get used to these gateways into apparent emptiness next to highways. They tell you where to find a steep path leading down to a village. This was the gateway to Darkot. As we walked down from here, a lady asked us whether we wanted to see Angora shawls. We did, and were glad to be invited into her house.

The lady who invited us in to see her products asked whether we would like to watch the weaving. I was hoping she would ask, and I jumped at the opportunity. An older lady was in an inside room, at a hand loom next to a window. The light was wonderful, and I took out my camera. She was absorbed in her work, but willing to talk as she worked. There would be a rush of words as she worked, and then, when she had to concentrate, the explanations would dry out, until she began to talk again. She was happy to talk me through the process that you can see in the video above. This is the last stage, she explained. The wool is sheared from the animal, the yarn is mixed with wool at home, and then woven.

She lived here with her son, daughter in law, and grandchildren. The whole family was involved in the business. Shawls were not the only thing they made, stoles and caps were also available. I inspected the caps, warm, with the halo which Angora wool has. The only colours they had were white and gray. Price? They would give it to us at the same price which they got from the cooperative. What does the cooperative do? They sell it to on to Delhi, but also have a showroom in Munsiyari.

I went out to look at wildflowers around the village. When I came back later, the older lady had taken a break from weaving, and was busy rocking the youngest grandchild to sleep. I waved, and she smiled at me.

Two yellow flowers

Darkot village (altitude 2000 m?) near Munsiyari is known for the angora caps and shawls which the local women weave. But any place in the Himalayas is good for a look at its flora and fauna. I stood on the steep path which leads down to the village from the highway and looked at the sides covered with a large variety of plants. A raven and a monkey had just finished their mid-morning snack, and peace had descended on the village. I went back to examining wild plants.

These yellow flowers are a little confusing, but after some thought I figured they must be yellow flax (Reinwardtia indica). They are found at an altitude of 500 to 2300 meters. It has a large overlap with the range of the Himalayan flax (Reinwardtia cicanoba) which is supposed to inhabit a range up to 2000 meters, but can straggle up a little further, depending on local conditions. The yellow flax is smaller, and the flower tube formed by the five petals fusing at the base is shorter. The fine reddish lines near the throat of the tube, the honey guides, are characteristic of the yellow flax. But the telling detail was the month I saw the flowers; April is usually too late for flowers of the Himalayan flax.

I’m still a novice at identifying Himalayan wildflowers. Of the five or so species that I can see in this patch, I could figure out only the yellow flax, after looking at its flowers for a while. The striped fruit next to it should be easy to identify for an expert, but right now I’m flummoxed by it: is the fruit of the flax, or something else altogether? Similarly for the featured plant. The trifoliate leaves make me think it is clover, and the yellow flower could belong to a clover too, but which? I have no idea. This looks like a project that can keep me busy on holidays the rest of my life.

Raven and Monkey have a tiff

In spite of the heavy smoke in the air, I stood outside and photographed nothing in particular. I was glad that I had an N95 mask on, it was good at filtering the smoke. I’m not good at identifying flowers and plants, so I take photos at the least opportunity, hoping that when I get back home I’ll be able to figure out what they are. On one side of the path that The Family had taken I saw this very common weed with lovely flowers, the Himalayan Daisy fleabane (Erigeron emodi) as I found later. I find it hard to tell the fleabanes apart, so I take photos of several features: the stems, the leaves, and the flowers. As I was busy doing this I heard a raven call.

It takes me a while to figure out whether I’m seeing a raven, but its call is absolutely distinct from those of other corvids of India. This Northern Raven (Corvus corax) was calling insistently. When I looked up, I saw it flapping about a ficus tree with fruits. There were movements behind a branch; a Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta). The bird circled the monkey, calling furiously for a while, and then flew off. I’d not been able to take a photo, so I followed it with my camera as it sat on a distant pine, still calling. In minutes it was back on a different branch of the ficus, calling again. The monkey barked back at it, and they continued this tiff as they kept eating the fruits. Clearly a territorial disagreement. I hadn’t seen these two species in a conflict before. I was happy to be out even on such a horrible day.