A day at my uncle’s old mud house
I live with my parents in a beautiful mountainous village called Kaza in Spiti, the original name is “Kar-zey” which means white beauty referring to the snowcapped mountains surrounding our village. Up until I visited some neighboring Himachal towns like Rampur, Rewalsar, and Shimla, I never realized how unique our culture, language, and traditions are - even the houses we live in look different from the other parts of our state. Many questions arise in my mind when I look at the gigantic mountains and the mudhouses in my village.
When I visited my uncle’s village in Chicham, my curiosity even grew bigger witnessing very old big mud houses. I could not resist thinking about it and asked many questions to my uncle and relatives living there.
One fine day my uncle took me to his old ancestral mud house in Chicham and explained its structures. It was exciting to learn about the ancient houses built in Spiti and I want to share my experience.
When we stepped into the house, my uncle explained that the ground floor consists of a small cozy room for winter called Yokhang and a few cowsheds called Raah. There was a separate room for goats and sheep called
luk-raah. On the adjacent side, there was a big two-storey room called Dhaa to store the fodder for the livestock. When you follow the stairs leading to the first floor, there is a local dry toilet called Chaksa.
On the upper floor, there was a huge open courtyard called Thang-tsey. My uncle told me that during summer, some families used to sleep in the courtyard under the stars.
There was another room called Tsom opposite Makhang where daily necessary edible items are kept. There was a separate prayer room called Chot-khang, guest room called Don-khang, and a chamber called Che-khang for keeping fuel like dry dung, wood, and dry twigs. Every house also has an open corral for livestock outside the house called Dhangra and this home had one too.
The traditional houses in Spiti are painted with whitewash - the white color of the house symbolizes the compassion of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshwara who is often depicted in white colors
The window frames are painted saffron with a wider black color. The saffron color symbolizes bodhisattva Manjushiri which stands for purity.
The houses are color-coordinated like that for auspicious purposes and to bring harmony to the home.
My uncle further explained about the ground foundation when we walked out of the house. Big stones were used in the foundation floors which were locally available. Rammed earth walls with mud and timber were used to construct the roof, the window frames, and the doors. The mud house is best for cold places like Spiti because mud houses are warm in winter and cold in summer. Mud can be used many times for construction and has a lifespan of over 100 years while cement houses cannot sustain that long.
About the Storyteller
Tanzin Chhonzom is 12 years old and she studies at Jawaharlal Navodya Vidhyala school, Lari. She is in sixth grade and loves drawing, painting and observing her natural surroundings. She is an avid reader and likes writing about her curious observations and adventures in her diary. When she comes back to her home for holidays, she loves spending time doing art and craft or visiting her relatives in Kibber and Chicham village.
Julley and Tashi Delek.
I am Khando, a local resident of Spiti Valley. I once read a quote “change is a law of nature” and it made me think a lot. While thinking and planning to write about architectural changes in my hometown, I kept reflecting on it and it made me want to share my thoughts. Since my childhood, I have witnessed a lot of ancient traditional houses renovated into modern houses and I always felt upset seeing beautiful Spitian mud houses being replaced. It is interesting to think about the merits and demerits of architectural changes and the reasons compelling it in Spiti. When I go to the market and see new cement buildings getting constructed, it makes me miss my childhood days and my grandmother’s house which is a simple, beautiful mud house with rooms for our cows.
It had a big flat roof where we play and sit under the sun during winter. The hay for our goats is also kept there in one corner and the other fodder stock for winter is kept in a storeroom called Dhaa which has a small window for ventilation. Since the ventilation known as Numhar was built on the roof, we keep it open the whole day and during the night, cover it with a piece of cloth to prevent cold wind.
Houses like this built during my grandmother’s time are made of mud and wood and one special thing about those houses is that it keeps cool during summer and warm during winter. Building houses during those times was not a big task, it was more like a gathering of relatives, and villagers to help each other. Everyone works with so much passion, enthusiasm, and fun as if it is their own house they are building.
Gradually things changed around me and now houses are constructed from inorganic materials like cement and a lot of metal pillars. Building a house has become very expensive and a huge task nowadays. Our relatives and villagers no longer build houses together and it is now designed and constructed by laborers and architects from different states who travel from very far to reach Spiti.
I am not against development as we have to rise and be part of development changes around the world but why change? Why not improve? Improvements can be made to ancient traditional houses according to our desire and needs. Spiti houses now have western toilets, cement flooring, and smooth tiles but it is not healthy. Western toilets waste a lot of water and it is scarce. Living in cement houses gives joint pains, and back aches and I have seen my many relatives suffering from it. I hope people appreciate the old style and can adopt it in new design.
About the Storyteller
Pema Khando is born and brought up in Kaza. She recently finished her 12th grade studies from S.C.H.S Munselling in Rangrik village. She is currently preparing for medical entrance exams and loves reading, writing and exploring. She is deeply interested in archeology and natural history of Spiti valley and wants to uncover the fascinating mysteries of gigantic mountains surrounding her hometown. She loves observing fossils, visiting ancient unknown caves and marvelling at the rockarts.