Ladakh service project and trekking expedition – June 2016

30 June 2016

22 students along with 5 teachers from 8 schools across India reached Leh from Delhi on the 13 th of June. As we got out at the Kushok Bakula Rimpochhe Airport in Leh, the sudden change in temperature along with the discomfort caused by the sudden lack of oxygen, added fuel to the fire! We were received by a resource person Mr Tony Hyde, who had come all the way from Switzerland for this project. A short drive took us to our hotel – The Ladakh Residency where we spent the rest of the day relaxing in our rooms to acclimatize to the low levels of oxygen. The next day we set out on a walking tour of Leh for sight-seeing. We saw the amazing Shanti Stupa, a Buddhist white domed stupa on a hilltop built in 1991 by a Japanese Buddhist Bhikshu, Gyomyo Nakamura. We then walked to the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa an old Buddhist monastery, a spiritually charged place founded in 1430 by King Tashi Namgyal of Ladakh. In the evening we went to the local market and bought beautiful hand-made Ladakhi goods at what we believed were throw-away prices. Later in the evening we had an interaction with the pastor of the Moravian Church Mr. Elijah Spalbar Gergan who literally knew everything about Ladakh. He spoke to us at length about the social, religious, spiritual and geographical aspects of the region and we enjoyed every bit of it.
We drove to Thiksey on the 15 th morning to start with the main objective of the project – the construction of two rooms for the boarding house of the Lamdon Model School. The hour long drive was infused with beautiful sights and one couldn’t glance away from the window. A very small and easy-to- miss welcome board at the Lamdon Model School welcomed us and so it took us a few moments to be convinced that we were finally there! The accommodation was indeed way more pleasant than most of us expected. There was one dorm each for girls and boys and three rooms for six adults. The food was particularly well taken care of by the team from Snow Leopard Trails. The delegates were asked to divide themselves in four groups with 5 members each with one rider that students from the same school must not be in one group. This was done in an attempt to increase interaction between delegates. Each group elected their leader and was assigned a teacher. One group was on domestic duty everyday, which was responsible for the cleanliness of the dormitories, helping kitchen staff, cleaning the dining area and also to visit the school during teaching hours to teach the allocated classes. Rest all the groups were supposed to be at the worksite and this was done on a rotational basis. We started working the same afternoon i.e. from the 15th and went on to construct two rooms for the Boarding House of the school in the next 9 days. We fetched unusually heavy bricks and passed them to the workers; fetched wooden beams from a not so near place and mixed mud with water for construction work for 6-7 hours a day. This continued unabated for the next 9 days i.e. till the 24th of June when we finally accomplished our objective which was to increase hostel capacity by two rooms and thereby provide opportunity for education to the Ladakhi children.
After the totally exhausting work each day, we used to look forward to a sumptuous dinner which was followed by an evening entertainment and reflection session. The reflection exercise helped the students keep track of their own mental, emotional and spiritual evolvement through the project. In between the construction work, we took a much deserved break and visited Pangong Lake on the 21 st which is situated 206 km away from Thiksey village. It took us a 5-hour drive to reach there. Ladakh revealed its beauty in endless forms on the way. We saw ice-capped mountains, a frozen miniature lake and the Indus River which appeared, disappeared and reappeared on the way. When we finally reached the lake, it stretched endlessly and all you could see was the mesmerizing still blue waters. After spending about an hour at the lake and having a delicious lunch, we started the return journey to Thiksey. This visit felt like a pilgrimage of sorts.
The last day of the construction work was 24 th June, till midday. The school had organized a cultural programme for us, which included various cultural dances and singing performances followed by a delicious lunch. The President of the Lamdon School Management gave a heartfelt vote of thanks which gave us an idea of our contribution in the lives of the Ladakhi people via the two dorms that we had built for them.
During the tough days spent at the construction site, what the delegates didn’t realize was that they were getting physically ready for the trek as it turned out that this was no easy challenge. We started our trek from Zinchen on the 25 th morning. The first night, after trekking for about 5 hours, we rested in a ‘low- lying’ area in Rumbak which by the way was at an elevation of 4200m with a rivulet running through the camp boundaries. The moonlit night, the shining stars and the surrounding weathered mountains added to the picturesque setting. The second day of the trek was the toughest as we walked up-hill till the Stok pass which is situated at a height of about 5000m. The view of the world from up-there was simply stunning and it gave us a different perspective to look at life. We took a short break at the summit and then trekked downhill and settled for the night in Latho. The trekking down the hill was somewhat easier though technical and interestingly the tents at Latho seemed more comfortable than the luxurious beds of a five star hotel after the 8-hour long trek. The next day everyone was up early and we continued our walk down the valley and reached Stok village by 11 am. We were picked up and driven to our hotel in Leh for a lovely lunch.
The last day – June 28 th was a rather emotional day. Everyone was aching to go home and meet their kin after a long time. At the same time what everyone was slowly realizing was that they had formed a family here as well and there was a different ache of leaving them behind…