A couple of hours north to a more temperate climate is the Guge Mountains, home to the Dorze, a tribe best known for their beehive-looking homesteads. Giant 2-storey domed huts made from wood poles and woven bamboo, that left me with a kind of unfounded picaresque feeling. I guess it’s because the village felt so unique, especially when you look around and see just how many edifices there are outstripping the surrounding banana trees. And maybe also because the trip so far had been so episodic with the diversity of cultures and settings that it was like planet-hopping in Star Wars – I’m not likening the Dorze people to aliens but the aesthetics were alien to me and actually come to think of it wasn’t too dissimilar from the Ewok dwellings of Endor. The huts, which are also mobile, were really cosy inside but smelt smog stained, some were over a century old though and a lot of that smoke was probably in an effort to smother the resident termites.
The Dorze are a self-contained community that get most of their income from cotton weaving and selling banana leaf craftwork but had embraced the goods and chattels of modernity more than any other tribe in the region. They had phones, wore t-shirts and jeans, some had radios, two had cars, one guy even had a top-shelf blender in his kitchen. Having said that, most things were made from the bounty of the non-fruit bearing false banana tree and its massive durable leaves, which I now understand to be an almost incomparably versatile material. They make bowls from it, hats, umbrellas, bags, baskets, footballs, instruments, string and the best banana bread I’ve ever had (made from the leaves).
Late afternoon we were invited to try YoYoYoYoYoYo, a custom that entails banana bread with local honey and hot chillies, chased by 3 shots of Dorze Schnapps. Afterwards we went to another village near by to try honey wine, which is cheap, not as sickly as it sounds and served in a bulbous glass flask. There were no women in the bar, just very friendly middle aged men smoking and struggling to avert their gaze from the 2 Israeli girls. Noah – one of the Israeli girls – still reeling from the shots, passed out before she could finish her first flask and was then sick in the alleyway and on my flip-flops.