Ladakh service project and trekking expedition – 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…