#13 At Lhalung Village in Spiti Valley, India

An off-white pickup truck trudged up the winding mountain road, spewing tiny spurts of black exhaust fumes as it approached me. Upon closer examination, the truck was beat-up, its sides splattered with mud and covered in a film of sand and dust. I ran up to the driver, pleading desperately for a ride back into the main town Kaza where I interned at.

Alexandra, a fellow intern, and I had just arrived in Lhalung after a long and exhausting field survey, having hiked from another village for nearly four hours on foot. From here to the main town was a 45-minute drive on the treacherous mountain roads, but to walk back, would take almost eternity. Any vehicle that goes that way would be seen indeed as a godsend…

A cacophony of pure laughter, shrill screams and the occasional yelp from the one hapless boy being bullied by an older boy, swivelled my attention to a gaggle of children, bundled up in thick sweaters and scarves, cheeks flushed from the blistering winds. I sat on a pile of rocks, catching my breath as I waited for the truck driver, who coincidentally happened to the father of one of the gaggling children, to return so we could hitch a ride back. I took out my camera gingerly, worried that it would be ruining a pristine moment by taking a photograph.

What I didn’t expect was that the moment I removed my camera from its pouch, the children began to pounce on me like little cubs, curious yet knowing at the same time, some ready to pose for pictures. That’s when I knew that even in a remote village like this one, where children’s toys were made of twigs, sticks and little rocks, people were not spared from the influence of tourists and the outside world. I happily obliged, snapping pictures and showing them how my camera works. I wasn’t sure if they understood me much. But one of the older boys told me in broken English that he is ten and he gets English lessons in school.

Soon, it was time to go.

The children ran along the road, their tiny feet kicking up tuffs of sand and dust as the truck coughed up dark plumes of smoke.

I turned my head, craning my neck, and watched wistfully through the grimy back window of the truck, as their mottled little figures disappeared round the bend… ♥