Polyamory brokpa himalayas playboy

Escape Modernity and Sexual Confinement in the Himalayas

The Brokpa presents a different, polyamorous way of life

Volodymyr Goinyk/Alejandra Quiroz/Pablo Heimplatz

In a remote part of India, by the remote banks of the Indus river, sits a cluster of villages—Dha, Hanu, Beema and Garkone—where having multiple husbands is anything but frowned upon. In fact, polyamory is said to be ingrained in their social structure.

The road to Garkone, sitting in the Kargil district, is extremely narrow, uncomfortably close to the edge of the cliff which falls off to the furious waters of Indus. The deluge throughout the day had strewn small stones on the tar road. We get out of our car multiple times to clear the way, keeping a cautious eye on the denuded vertical rock to our right. One unruly gush of wind could unleash a thousand pebbles towards us like firing cannons. Fortunately, nature is benign and we continue our journey forward—to witness a way of life that must be seen to truly be believed.

When groups of lithe fair skinned young girls with prominent facial features, known as Dard people (or the Brokpa community), appear we know Garkone isn't far. Perched atop a knoll against a backdrop of loosely fit boulders, the village appears quintessentially Himalayan. We climb up the slope and patiently follow the directions which promised a homestay. The mud brick houses dangerously balance themselves at the edge of the sheer cliff, only haphazard boundaries built by stacks of boulders keeping them steady.

“Julley,” I greet a braided woman who is rotating the giant prayer wheel installed in the middle of the village—a common scene in Buddhist places. She took a moment to think and the corner of her eyes wrinkled. “Julley,” she greets me back. As I move further inside the village, ochre yellow tinges of barley color the land to my left. A thin stream of water runs between the houses and the field. The hay and dung strewn front yard of the houses give way to the enclosures of cattle. Goats occasionally peek from the windows of the lower floors.
The greenery painted by the apple, pear, grape, watermelon, almond and walnut trees makes this little nest look like a place only existent in dreams; a sprouting oasis in the desolate land.

I lock eyes with another curious old woman staring at us from the window of her two-story house. She wears two stacks of flowers on her head and silver chandelier-like jewelry dangles on the left side of her forehead while heavy silver and copper graces her neck, masking her chest.From the leafy branches of an apricot tree, a tall and fair handsome man smiles down at us as a stunning woman stands near the trunk of the tree, holding a basket half filled with apricots. The greenery painted by the apple, pear, grape, watermelon, almond and walnut trees makes this little nest look like a place only existent in dreams; a sprouting oasis in the desolate land.

In the evening I meet the man I first saw climbing foliage. His name is Nawang Tserap and our homestay is his residence. Tserap tells us he is the headmaster at a nearby school. “Many years ago, three brothers—Galo, Melo and Delo ran away from their village in Gilgit. They released arrows in the air with their bows. Wherever their arrow landed, they claimed the surrounding area. That is how Dha, Hanu and Garkone were formed,” says Tserap. The actual origins of the tribes are shrouded in controversy. Some believe the villages were formed by the remnants of Alexander the Great's army from when he invaded Asia in 334. On questioning Tserap about its validity, he nods his head doubtfully.

He goes on to explain how common it is for members to have multiple husbands and wives. Unlike the rest of India, sex is not a taboo in Brokpa culture. In this tiny village, cut off from the world, residents are not judged for displaying sexual affection in public. “My grandmother had many relationships before settling with my grandfather," he elaborates. "My father, Tashi Namgyal is the first matriculate from the area. He is an engineer by profession and has two wives. My mother is his pure Brokpa wife who lives here in our Garkone residence and his other wife, a Ladakhi, lives in our Leh residence."

Curiouser are the religious rules enforced based on gender. “The Brokpas, in older times, worshipped only their own deities, but after coming under the influence of Buddhism, we follow the religious traditions of both Buddhism and that of our own,” Tserap says. Women are not allowed to visit the place of worship of the indigenous deities of the Brokpas. Apparently, a visit from a menstruating being is considered to rob the place of its purity.

And even when it comes to polyamory, it's not all free sex. There are rules if one should have more than a single partner. For instance, one of the partners of a Brokpa must be from within the tribe. The practice of keeping multiple partners is on a decline in the younger generation though, as Indian laws do not approve polyandry or polygamy. Also, with access to possibilities of technology and better connectivity, the lives of the Brokpas nowadays are too busy to entertain multiple partners. Today, there are only five men with multiple wives in Garkone. The call for dinner ended our little chat session.

The food on my plate is piping hot, but sumptuously inviting. The white flatbreads are made of locally grown barley. I can’t resist gorging on the green Palak paneer, a dish made of spinach and cottage cheese. The ladies of the household had prepared the paneer or cottage cheese in their kitchen. The Brokpas use goat milk. Traditionally, they abstain from using milk or meat of any other animal. Eggs found a place in the meals of the Brokpas only recently. The eldest lady of the family still refuses to consume eggs.





The first rays of the sun entering through the cracks of the curtain lit up my face the next morning. Garkone is resonating with the sound of the Indus. I wake up and push apart the drapes. On the branches of a peach tree, a black billed magpie lounges. Swirling clouds pregnant with moisture cloaked the crest of the barren mountains. Opening the window, I reach down to get a bowl of fresh plums that Tserap is trying to pass from the ground floor.

It is difficult to believe that such a magical place, filled with pleasures and spirituality, is on the brink of extinction after 5,000 years in existence. In an effort to balance the changing world with tradition, the Brokpas now welcome tourists like me. They charge money to pose in front of the camera in their traditional attire—INR 500 per Brokpa—a price we are willing to pay. Our hostess, Disket Zomkar, Tserap’s sister-in-law, wraps herself in an overcoat made of goat’s skin, with a triangular cape bordered by distinctive long drooping fur. She loaded her neck and forehead with bulky silver and copper jewelry embellished with precious stones. On her headgear is a bouquet of three dozen assorted flowers, only one of which was natural; Munthotoh, as the Brokpas call it, is a red flower with a life of 12 years. The rest are artificial, another example of the Brokpas’ constantly evolving lifestyle.

The traditional dress of a Brokpa man is simpler: A reddish brown overcoat and a hat decorated with flowers. “Whatever we wear, we eat, we do is to please our Gods and Goddesses,” replies Tserap to my inquiry into the meaning behind the flowers. “For us, winter is the time for celebrations. Marriages are held and festivals are enjoyed”.

Tserap and his friends are now on a passion project to preserve their unique shrinking culture. With help from the National Academy of Arts, they have modified Tserap’s ancestral mud brick home into a museum—The Himalayan Museum of Labdak Culture and Heritage.The first floor known as Ktsha is the religious centre of the household. It contains the fingerprints of Guru Padmasambhava, a Budhhist monk revered by the Brokpa family. The cooked food of the day is always offered first to this fingerprint—a symbolic representation of God. The third floor known as Barkhang was primarily used during summer. Rafzal, the fourth floor is where the puja or the daily acts of worship took place.

As a ritual, a juniper twig is set on fire before I, a non-Brokpa, sets my first foot inside the museum. The condition of the museum is damp and dark, only lit by our torch. Stone weapons and other basic utilitarian metal objects rest against the corroded, uneven walls. With hands folded, eyes closed and voice humbled, our host, Tashi Namgyal, introduces us to the fingerprint of Guru Padmasambhava. Unlike Ktsha, the interiors of the Barkhang receive natural light. A shaft of sunlight illuminates the colourful photos of the brokpas in their traditional attires. The locals brew their own wine from the grapes that grow in their orchards— "chang", they call it. The rust laden enormous vessels spoke of the gallons of chang consumed by the villagers in the days of yore. On the musty third floor of the museum, mammoth utensils are on display, once used to prepare food for the entire village during festivities.

After visiting the museum we retreat back to our respective rooms. A flood forecast on TV forces me to leave the village and get back to my base in Leh, about 100 miles away. On my way, I stop awhile in another Brokpa village of Beema—a village with approximate 110 families. An old man emerges out of his residence and isn’t quite pleased when I tell the story of my experience with theBrokpas in Garkone. “We are superior to the Brokpas of Garkone, they imitate us. You should have chosen our village and stayed with us instead of staying there,” he yells.

That's my cue. As the sky grows gray and the thunderclouds begin to empty, I get in my car and speed off to navigate the unpredictable narrow road I entered on.

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