I was dozing in the shade of a garden café one peaceful afternoon in Leh. An unusual ring tone of a cell phone reached my ears. It was familiar, I thought, but I was too sleepy to think about it just then. When I surfaced, the waiter came to ask if I needed tea.
Just then, his phone rang. It was the same tune that I’d heard earlier.
I realised it reminded me of sandy beaches and the deep blue sea... of course, thought I mentally smiting my forehead, the music was Goan!
So far away from the west coast of India, as high up in the Himalayas as one could comfortably be, it was pretty much the last sort of music I’d expected to hear. “I thought,” I said conversationally, “I was dreaming when I first heard this Goan tune here.”
The waiter smiled, “I have lots of Goan music on my phone!” What was his connection with Goa, I wondered.
“I began working in Goa a couple of years ago in a shack on Baga beach,” he said, “the salary wasn’t great, but the tips certainly were.”
The only problem, he said, was that most Goan shacks operated only during the tourist season. “So the first year, while I had a fantastic time and made a lot of money, I found myself jobless from April to October,” he said. The next season, he found himself back in Goa, determined to find another job during the lean season.
One afternoon, while playing football with some tourists, he learnt they were going to Leh in June. They asked him to come along, and he agreed. “I discovered that in Leh, the tourist season is from July to October,” he said.
While the tourist trade in Leh is nowhere near as brisk as it is in Goa, he found it was still better than working in the metros. “Living in Leh is relatively cheap — I can easily get a room to stay in for about Rs 500, which is unthinkable if I were to stay in Delhi or Mumbai.”
“In Goa, I’ve often made three times my salary in tips. Since there aren’t that many tourists in Leh, the tips are fewer, but still quite good,” he said. He also discovered that many others followed the same path of annual migration. Since the tourism industry in Goa hibernates through the summer, as does Ladakh in the winter — waiters, chefs, masseurs and handicraft sellers alike, participate in a giant exodus from the west to the north of the Indian sub-continent every year.
“I guess we are now a small community of nomadic people who travel and work wherever the tourists go,” he said. Informal agreements with restaurant and café owners in both places gave him certain stability. “When I reach Leh, I know where to go first to ask for a job,” he said. The best thing, he said, was the privilege of working in two of India’s best tourist locations. “The weather is perfect in Goa during winter — and the blue skies of Leh so beautiful in the summer… in many ways, I have the best of both the worlds,” he smiled.
All this conversation and I hadn’t even asked him his name.
“I’m Tamang,” he said, “from Darjeeling.” From the east to west and then high up north — the distance the man chose to travel every year to make a living was mind-boggling. He smiled when I said so: “maybe nomads like me who aren’t rooted to a particular place, can better understand the needs of the tourists that we service!” Maybe he was right.
6 months ago