Missing the weather in Ladakh
We have just arrived in Delhi and it is hot! I'm definitely missing the colder weather in Ladakh. When we flew to Ladakh about 3 weeks ago, we were greeted by the incredible sight of the Himalayas poking through the clouds, which we could see from the airplane window. After a few days of adjusting to the altitude (over 10,000 feet), we went to live with Ladakhi families in the village of Domkhar.
My experience with my family was a mixed bag. On the one hand, I did learn quite a bit about their culture. On the other hand, it deeply saddened me to see how much they idealized western culture above their own. This was particularly obvious in the younger generations. My sisters, who were 21 and 18, talked constantly about Justin Bieber and Shakira and tried their hardest to look more western. They wore mostly western clothes, painted their nails, and bemoaned their dark skin and rough hands. They endlessly praised all of my physical characteristics and possessions. I was somewhat prepared for a situation like this. Right before going to Domkhar we had read an article about how modernization in Ladakh was destroying their cultural values and replacing them with an admiration for the western lifestyle. Nevertheless, it was difficult to see. I was starting to get really depressed about it, but I found that when I prodded them, they were willing to share their culture with me. Some highlights were my sisters singing Ladakhi songs for me, my Ama-leh teaching me how to make the noodles for thukpa, and the family showing me a traditional Ladakhi wedding dress (and making me model it for them!) One other highlight was me walking into the bedroom where we all slept and finding the neighbors' cow eating from the bowl of dried apricots and then running frantically into the kitchen to inform my family.
After Domkhar, we spent 2 days at SECMOL, a school that offers an alternative method of education for Ladakhi students who fail their class 10 exams (as about 50% of students do), then we embarked on our 6-day trek. We had quite a crew accompanying us: 11 horses carrying our packs and supplies, a pony-man, an assistent pony-man, a chef, 2 assistent chefs, and a guide. Every night at camp they set up our sleeping tents as well as a cooking tent, a dining tent, and a bathroom tent. We would try to make them let us pitch our own tents, but often when we did, they immediately took them down and re-did them. We had chai every morning in our tents, then again at breakfast, and then again when we finished our hike, and then once again after dinner. The food they prepared for us was so good. We had at least 3 different dishes every night. But now to the treking part of the trek. We started out by slowly making our way up a valley and on the 3rd day we went over a rather steep pass, reaching 16,700 ft in elevation at the top. The second half of that day and the whole next day we were going down, ultimately landing in the Markha Valley, a very treking spot. We did a day hike in the Markha, and then on the last day he hiked to our pick-up spot. Now for some highlights. Firstly, the stars. The stars were so bright and so clear. We could see tons of shooting stars and satellites. Then on the last night of the trek, we all dressed up in costumes and took ridiculous photos. Amanda was a yedi, Josephine and Jen were Free Tibet superheros, and I was our fearless leader Peter, or Kushok, as we like to call him (which means monk in Tibetan). Then after dinner, we lit a bonfire and danced Ladakhi style with the whole crew before making everyone s'mores, a treat that seems to appeal only to Americans.
The Fearless Leaders: Rainbow Brite and Kushok Bumble Bee...buzzzzz
Now we are about to embark on the student-led portion of the trip, which we are spending in Varanasi. I am responsible for health and safety as well as communication, which means I have to make sure people post on the blog. So you can definitely expect to hear from us during this last week of our trip. I will make sure you guys have blogs to read!