Breaking the Cycle in Ladakh

Sep 07

Khalse - Wanla - Photoksar - Lamayuru

Published at 02:22
Dispatch created from email
Day 2
Khalste to Wanla - 20km

The students at Khalse Secondary School rise at 5.30 every morning for
prayers, meditation and yoga. I stayed in the girls’ boarding house
which was protected by several dogs that would attack anyone they didn’t
know. This meant that every time I wanted to leave my room (even to go
to the outside toilet), one of the girls had to escort me past the dogs.
As I was getting ready to give my 8am presentation, the dog that the
warden said had, at last count, bitten 21 people pushed open my door and
sat there, tail wagging. It had accepted me and we were friends for the
rest of my time there. Jigmet (camerman) however, got a nip though.

My presentation to 130 students seemed to go down pretty well. The
students - girls on one side, boys the other - listened and took notes.
When it came to question time, they were very shy, but there were a few
contributors. Stanzin, from GHE translated as not all had a competent
grasp of English.

In each of the schools that I am visiting (Khaltse, Wanla and
Photoksar), GHE has set up an Innovation Centre, providing 8 computers
and a special device called “RACHEL” that creates a WiFi hotspot and
also contains a library of resources, enabling students to access
information and develop computer skills; the next best thing when they
don’t have access to the internet. In Wanla and Photoksar we were
setting up the RACHEL device and it was fantastic to see the students
learning to use the new resource with such enthusiasm.

There wasn’t much hurry to move on because I only had to cycle 20km to
the village on Wanla where I was to give another presentation in the
evening. Just after Khalse, the route veered away from the Indus River
and along the Yapola River, a tributary. The scenery just seemed to get
better as I turned off the highway towards Wanla, a village of about
1000 people.

There was plenty of time to meet the Principal and other
teachers, get settled in my accommodation in the teachers’ quarters and
wander up to the Wanla Gonpa (monastery). The village was located at
the junction of two river valleys, the stunning colourful mountains, as
a backdrop.Day 3

Wanla to Photoksar - 49km

The ride to Photoksar loomed as an enormous challenge for the third day
of an expedition. Starting from the Wanla school at 3138m elevation,
over the next 38km, mostly on a stony rough road to Sirsir La pass at
4826 metres, a 1670m climb. Up until 10 years ago, there was only donkey
track connecting Photoksar and other Zanskar villages to the outside
world, a track that according to Sonam Dorjay (Counsellor of Lingshet
village who was overseeing my talks) was so hairy that donkeys were
frightened to traverse. It may only be a dirt road, but there has been
an immense effort to build it at all, excavating rock from some of the
sheer cliffs to clear a wide enough path through a spectacular narrow
gorge, bridges and retaining walls.

I just tried to pace myself, keeping a low gear and avoiding unnecessary
exertion. After about 4100metres, the air temperature suddenly dropped
as the snowcapped peaks came into view. The air became much thinner and
a struggled to suck in enough oxygen as I neared the pass. It’s not the
highest pass I’ve ever done, but certainly the longest climb in one hit.

The 12km descent to Photoksar was a lot of fun, though I was sure to
ride conservatively to keep me from sliding over the edge of the road.I had seen images of the village online, but it is still much better for
real. Wow!

This time we stayed at Photoksar school with 31 students.
Some were just 4 years old, so young to be at boarding school, but they
come from such remote villages so there isn’t much choice if they are to
have an education. As in Wanla, I spoke to the students later in the
evening. The older kids were really soaking it all up, but it was too
much for the younger ones, who were exhausted from a full day.Day 4

Photoksar to Lamayuru - 64km

From Photoksar I retraced my journey, from 4238m elevation at
Photoksar, back up to Sirsir La and then descending what must be the
longest continuous and most awe-inspiring descent I have ever done. I
returned to the highway where we said goodbye to Sonam, and then up to
Lamayuru. There was a real sting in the tail, ascending steeply in
parts up to the monastic town. The gonpa is the central attraction and
the whole place is more geared to tourists. I was meant to speak at the
Secondary School here too, but the students happen to be out on an
overnight excursion. So instead, we are staying at a homestay owned by
the head of the school council.

Total distance - 230km


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