Ladakh. Just one word, but yet so powerful. This one name of a place might not have meaning to anyone else, but to me, it marks an unforgettable summer under the Indian heat and the mountain’s cold air. Along with 13 other international students and 10 Indian students, I embarked on an adventure that created many lifelong friends and some exceptional experiences that will forever be imprinted in my mind.
Simone and the local students.
On July 7th, I set out for New Delhi, India, not knowing really what was going to happen and who any of the other students were. Little did I know that just 3 ½ weeks later, I will be dreading the thought of even leaving India and other students.
After the first few days settling into India and then flying to Leh, the capital of Ladakh, the most northern state in India lying in the shadows of the Himalayas, we finally arrived at our campsite which was to be our home for the next few weeks in Thiksey. Thiksey is a town just a ride away from Leh and holds the largest monastery (gompa) in Ladakh.
Participants of RSIS Ladakh sightseeing at Taj Mahal.
The main goal for our trip was to help construct two more rooms for the Thiksey-Lamdon Model School dormitory. For the next two weeks, we lived near the school, taught at the school and helped create from ground up these new dorms for students coming from afar or orphans whom have nowhere else to stay. The students of the school were so kind and warmly welcoming us into their classrooms, where we got to teach (play with) every grade from year 1 to year 9. And to think the oldest students were only 4 years younger than us. The little kids were a joy to play around with and with the older students we made some lasting friendships and promises from us to visit them in the future. We even had many laughs as they danced and sang songs from all over the world including Justin Bieber!
Stone collecting, sand filling, mud making, brick laying, collecting and cutting logs, mud spreading, water collecting, you name it and we did it, but not without some complaints and many breaks in between. But all our efforts finally paid off when finishing more than what we expected to do, having a third and fourth room in the process. Once a week, each group got to have ‘a day off’ where they taught at the school and did domestic duties for the day such as cleaning up and helping the Snow Leopard Team with our food. To end each evening, the group of the day organized an activity for the whole group to do from speed dating to dancing competitions to reflecting on our trip so far.
RSIS group trekking in the Himalayas.
The final week consisted of a 5 day trek in the Himalayas. By then we were all laughing comfortably with each other and acting like a family, supporting each other during the trek at times where it seemed like we could just fall off the edge. Although it was hard and extremely tiring, we all felt accomplished after arriving back in Leh and now we can all say we climbed the Himalayas!
While the trip sounds like a lot of work, we had several breaks in between where we got to experience the culture and traditions of Ladakh. Ladakh is often known as ‘Little Tibet’ and the majority of the inhabitants are Buddhist. We visited numerous monasteries, learnt about Buddhism, saw many traditional dances and costumes, shopped in Ladakh style markets and some of us even got invited to the children’s homes. The boys even got to participate in a coming of age tradition where they shot at a target using a bow and arrow. To cap that all off, we visited the third highest motorable road in the world, visited Pangong Lake, which if any of you have seen “3 Idiots” would recognize as being a location in the film and the famous Taj Mahal.
By the end of the trip, the group of us experienced everything together, from the harsh realities of living in Ladakh to the culture shock to creating friends from the school, the trip and even the staff of the Snow Leopard Team to tiring ourselves out from work and trekking and becoming sick. We all grew in our individual ways and discovered new things about ourselves but as a group we became family. As like all the other people who went on an RSIS trip before, Ladakh became like a second home to me and I would return there in an instant if I could. For the rest of my life, Ladakh and all these incredible people that I have met will always have a special place in my heart.