The time had come when I had to leave my guest house and go to a boarding school. Was it going to be a cold and uninviting place? Was my room going to be dark and dingy? The unrelenting Himalayan wind left not much room for positivism. However stunning Ladakh is, the cold can douse any sense of adventure if you are not suitably prepared. It was therefore a very pleasant surprise when my taxi veered towards a simple yet sprawling school overlooking the icy caps of the Stok Kangri. The sight was breathtaking.
Jamyang School was started by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It opened in the year 2008 and has been running quite successfully for the past 5 years.
I was led to a corner room. Thick red carpets lined the floor while bright magenta and gold curtains added warmth to my cozy Tibetan-style room. Two single beds lined either side of the walls. The bathroom was tiny, clean and equipped with a geyser and a western-style toilet. A newly fitted shower glistened becomingly in one corner. This was better than the guest house I stayed in!
What friendly people surrounded me! Gorgeous children with rosy cheeks and shy smiles greeted me everywhere I went. The cook, guard and warden were so very amiable. I was taken aback by the sense of plentiful around me. Every one ate as much as they wanted to. For breakfast, I was served at least 7 gigantic timoks (ladakhi steamed bread) of which I could only manage half… of one! The vegetables were acquired from the school’s green house. At night, if/when the power went, I pulled the nylon cord that hung beside my bed. Solar light flooded my room. I did not have to stare out of the window and contemplate my unchartered future!
The first day I stepped into school, I felt awkward and nervous. I am aware of how people from all over the world come here to change lives of the poor. They leave, feeling they have done a world of good, when what they have actually managed to achieve, is to leave the children with disconnected remnants of their tradition and culture. (Not my opinion! I watched a documentary on this. The name eludes me.) I was determined not to make that mistake. I just wanted the kids to have fun. I wanted them to sit in groups instead of structured rows. I wanted to have a chat with them in order to get to know them.
The students kept asking me when I would come to their class. They eagerly waited for me to walk into their room. They watched with baited breath as I took out oil paint, pastels, acrylics, canvas, coloured paper, brushes, colourful beads, clay, strings and different sized cartons from my magic box. They gasped with delight, gingerly feeling everything. I asked them if they had drawn a picture, or made a collage. One student thought hard and exclaimed that he had done this once before. He was in grade 6. I read them books they could connect to. There were a few Tibetan tales that I had carefully selected from the library. As I growled, whispered and sang my way through the books, the children listened, absolutely still.
Here are a few shots of the students at work. What bright and enthusiastic children!
The students read and imitate Eric Carle's art.
Here, the students abandoned their text books and created collages of different types of trees- Deciduous, Evergreen and Coniferous. They had to wrack their brain to translate facts into a visual piece!
The library was packed with excellent books from all over the world, including China! The Hungry Caterpillar, Where the Wild Things Are, Dr Seuss’s books, you name it, it was there. Students came in at will and glanced through pictures. Some tried to read, but I could make out they could not understand much.
I strongly feel that is not just enough to donate. Teaching children how to turn the pages of a book, how to keep them back in the correct place, these are absolutely imperative. In the store room, expensive water colour boxes, gouache, acrylics, brushes were lying unused, forgotten. The paint had dried up and I could find no use for them.
(There is a knock on the door at this point as I write my post…Lob Sang and Karma are waiting outside.
The weather is beautiful. The hot, desert-like afternoon has given way to a foggy, overcast evening. The setting sun is casting an ethereal almost sublime reddish hue over the drizzly landscape. One cannot, they insist, stay inside the room during conditions such as these. Karma is off to his village where they eat only meat and curd. So he wants me to come with them to buy fresh Ladhaki potatoes, onions, tomatoes and cabbages. I am honoured; I would also like to try out my new Millet: a bright-red, fleece-cum-wind and rainproof jacket I bought from a trekking shop. When I arrive home, there is hot Thupka -clumps of dough, with yak cheese and brown chewy lentils floating in yellowish milky gravy waiting for me. Along with it, a gigantic Chinese flask full of hot water. What a flask! Intricate pictures of dragons, lotus flowers and golden fish adorn its huge aluminum body. Its special cork and cloth cover keeps water hot for over a day. I curl up with a packet of Lays and bottled, synthetic mango juice which tastes, for the first time, like manna from heaven.
The days at school always end fast. I have so much do and so little time. As I sit on my little veranda and watch the sky turn from a bright cerulean blue to reddish-purple and finally, pitch black, I ask myself this question: Did I touch the lives of any person today? Lob sang says, accordingly to Buddhism, it is destiny that I am here. I was meant to meet him, to teach in a school in the clouds, to sit on the veranda on the 27th of June and look up at the bright stars. I won’t wrack my brains too much then.
Good night my little children of Ladakh. Sweet dreams.
Here's me signing off with a few glimpses of my travels around Ladakh.
At the Thiksey Monastery
At Thiksey Monastery, with Deachen (Left)
Up among the Himalayan range, at 17000 feet, I touch snow for the first time.
|Loved this sign against the mountain backdrop!|
The famous Pashmina Mountain goats.
Ice cold water of the Pangong Tso lake. Most of it lies in China!
Resting. Headache. Breathless.