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A spoonful of Chilling

The road to the small village of Chilling in Ladakh is a single lane track in the valley that tapers up the line of the Zanskar River. 

The valley is steep sided, made up of purple rocks, great slabs of grey slate and mud banks filled with rounded stones that were forced up from the sea bed 40 million years ago.

Rock falls happen daily and the Border Road Organisation are responsible for clearing it – often with shovels and brooms, with the occasional digger for the heavier stuff.  The BRO are also responsible for the road signs – when there's not an inch of room either side of the road, they'll paint it on the steep rockface.

Chilling means the place of the Muslims – Chi being Muslim, Ling being place – and is a tiny village whose population of 30 are all involved in metal working, apart from the 4 who are the noisy voices in the two-room school.   The village is no more than a cluster of houses reached by a narrow path winding up from the road; some buildings have been here since the first Muslim arrived in the 14th century and cling to the rocks like limpets.

These days, everyone is Buddhist, have been for hundreds of years if the pile of stones on the Mani is anything to go by.Metal working sounds much more industrial that it's meant to.  The metal here is copper, brass or tin and small sheets of it are gently knocked into submission with minature hammers and heated on outside grates - no more than 2 foot long -  in the apple orchard, with a fire made from a couple of bits of coal and bellows which turn out to be an entire sheep skin.

A blanket over his knees, his lined walnut face low over the flame, the metal worker sits on the floor and taps out intricate patterns on teapots, copper spoons and cooking vessels which line the walls of his kitchen and also those in the King's Palace at Stok.  As we leave he reaches into his pocket and hands over a spoon, a lotus flower embossed on the handle and tiny hammer marks in the bowl.

It is not polished, the edges aren't straight but it's one of the most beautiful things I've ever been given.

Posted by: Alex

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