I dreamt in music, of singing and clapping reverberating through the starry blackness of a Himalayan night. But when sunlight hit my tent at dawn, the serenade was still going. Following the sound, I crossed terraced fields that stairstepped to what looked like a medieval castle. It was built of intricately chiseled stones, laced by crooked alleys, and topped with colorful, wind-whipped flags. The midnight singers were gathered at the base of the southern wall. They were processing the barley harvest and, to judge by a suspicious level of graveyard shift enthusiasm, had been working—and drinking—all night.
Someone passed me a beer. It was chang, a citrusy beverage that, at 6 a.m., hit the stomach pretty hard. Then a man gave me a woven basket. In a place more accustomed to tourists, I might have been marked immediately as a fleece-wearing ATM. But in Humla, a yet to be discovered destination in a country otherwise well-known for trekking, a guest was something more elemental: an extra set of hands. The man showed me how to scoop barley from a chest-high mound, then shake it so that the chaff fell through. Easy enough, but after half an hour of work, I had sore arms and a sweaty brow. I got another cup of chang, and this time took a deep, satisfying draft.