Learnings From Lingshed Hostel In Leh
As much as the stark terrain of Ladakh makes it a dream destination for adventure and hiking enthusiasts, many have recounted how the essence of simplicity in Ladakh made them think and reflect their own lives and taught them about sensitivity and sensibility.
Today, there are many such travellers who have visited Ladakh and have been inspired to make a contribution to better the lives of those who face the daily struggles of their location.
Tammy Leland is one such person. Many years ago, Tammy met Geshe La in London. Geshe La, a former monk in the Lingshed village monastery, has been working tirelessly to give a better life to the children by helping them in getting educated. Lingshed Hostel is one such initiative of Geshe La. It was a hostel set up for students from the Lingshed and neighbouring villages that were not connected by road. The students, now having a base to stay, could easily attend school in Leh.
Geshe La’s ideas and actions inspired Tammy to visit Lingshed. Her travel to the region and witnessing how people coped in such extreme weather with simplicity must have affected her for she kept returning with other fellow volunteers. This year, everything fell into place. She visited with a group of six students from Pacific Ridge School in California wanted to volunteer at the Lingshed hostel.
I was to oversee that the visit and volunteer work by the students is concluded smoothly. I reached there before the group to ensure everything was in place.
On the arrival day at the airport, I met Geshe La and the young brigade of students from the hostel who had come with khatas (traditional scarves) to welcome the group. Eager to meet their guests, they stood in a straight line, happy, restless and shy all at once.
The children with bright, smiling faces welcomed their guests from the US who were also very happy to meet the children. We then drove to the hotel and the students left for their schools.
I joined the guests for breakfast and we got acquainted. We spoke about the programme, the reason behind the six girls joining this programme, their expectations from this project, life in Ladakh as well as the dos and don’ts of travelling at high altitude.
Later, we explored the old town and went around in the narrow alleys by the market.
The Lingshed Hostel has a huge dining room without chairs and tables where students would sit down for evening prayers and dinner. There is a hall for evening studies where the senior students help the younger students with their homework and studies.
Geshe La envisions this hostel to be more than just a residence for school going children. He believes that an overall holistic development of the children is imperative. As a result, with the classroom, the compound has a small football field and a small cricket ground. They also have a small kitchen garden where they grow vegetables. There are dormitories for the students and few rooms for guests.
A typical day at the hostel starts with a bell at 5:30 am signalling students to assemble for the morning exercise. This is followed by tea, a bit of studying for the students after which they get ready for school and take their breakfast. Students go to 14 different schools in Leh. This includes private schools, government colleges, Buddhist schools and medical colleges. Once back around four, the children get their evening tea and play for a while. In the evening, they study for another two hours and then indulge in some well-earned dinner. By 9:30 pm the hostel falls silent as students go off to sleep.
While dining with the children on the first evening, we broke ice and the children started to talk to us and ask questions. Being curious as kids are, they wanted to know what we do, where we came from, why we have come to the hostel, and where did we go during our day visits and if we were enjoying being there. Some even had questions about the effects of global warming in Ladakh and what could be done to stop or control it. They made an effort to get to know us and we did the same.
On the second day we left with our guide Tenzing for a tour of the monasteries and visited Shey Palace, Thiksey, Hemis and Stok. Tenzing, a Buddhist scholar, gave us an insightful tour of the monasteries and introduced us to Buddhist art, culture and religion.
Ladakh, with its spectacular landscapes, is an excellent place for hiking and multi- day treks. We wanted to spend some time hiking in these mountains that have allured many adventurers from all across the world.
We climbed up to the Namgyal Tsemo monastery with Tenzing and upon reaching were literally rendered speechless by the panoramic view of the town, sliding into a comfortable silence brought on by the peaceful environment.
Our thirst for the hike wasn’t quenched though. The next day, we drove to the village of Gangles located just 15 minutes North of Leh town. Taking time to explore the wonderful views around us, we climbed up the mountain pass with partridges scurrying around and Lammergeiers soaring above. The whole experience of trekking in the wilderness was a great feeling. We ended our walk at the village of Phyang where we had lunch at a local home. The people were wonderful and home cooked food was just what we needed after the long walk.
After the trek, we drove back to the hostel at Choglomasar where students were back from school and waiting to meet us.
I discussed the plan for the days ahead with the volunteers. They were allotted different jobs like interviewing the students and staff, collecting videos and pictures, and spending as much time as possible with the local students so that we could get a real insight into their lives for the school blog, social media, and for the fundraising page.
The one week we stayed at the hostel was full of different activities – singing, playing, teaching, visiting schools, meeting their teachers, principals and friends, attending classes, going for a picnic with the junior school students and sharing interesting conversations. On Sunday morning, we made a breakfast of french toast, hot chocolate and fresh fruits for the all the students and in the evening they had planned dance performances for us on Ladakhi and Bollywood songs. Some of the students also sang Ladakhi folk songs.
While working, we also took some time out to explore Ladakh. We went rafting on the lower Indus, attended a private session with the Imam of a mosque who presented us with a Quran translated in English. We enjoyed a leisurely walk through the market, had sumptuous cakes at a German bakery, relished momos (dumplings) and pizzas prepared on mud ovens, visited Leh palace and saw the vestiges of the life of the kings living in the Palace when Leh was an integral town during the silk route trade.
Ladakh has never enjoyed great rain — the district receives extremely low rainfall of about 10 mm every year. Ladakhis are thus, out of sheer necessity, some of the best water managers in India. For our members, it was a new concept and they were beginning to learn the challenges the people of Ladakh face every day. All the work in the hostel is done by the students – cleaning, managing the store room, minor plumbing and electrical work. While there is a cook, senior students work help out in the kitchen. It is a system that binds them all together. The younger students who can’t take care of themselves are taken care of by the senior students.
Time spent at the hostel was a revelation of a different world. It was was a completely different experience, a journey taking us away from the hustle and bustle of the city where we lead a life full of unnecessary comforts to this place where children as young as six years old are compelled by circumstances to stay away from their families to find hope and opportunities for a better life. It also confirms that being tough, nature has made us capable of moulding ourselves to fight for the survival.
Lingshed hostel has no indoor plumbing and electricity never really comes for hours at a stretch. But these problems and struggles to lead a life with basic ease has not taken away the innocent happiness away from these children. They know that to find a better and easier life for themselves and for their village, it is getting educated and independent that matters.
Learnings from Lingshed is the page created by Pacific Ridge Students on the Facebook. Do like this page. You can see a few images here.
Link of the donation page – https://www.generosity.com/education-fundraising/learnings-from-lingshed-to-leh
The purpose of the trip by the six students was to stay at the hostel to get an insight into the lives of the children and build a website to increase awareness about the hostel to help in raising funds. Creating a fundraising page to ease the process of transferring payment from donors to the school was also a part of the plan.
Tammy is the co-founder for Crooked Trails, which is a non-profit organisation that works by encouraging people to impact societies, culture, and communities positively with volunteering work during their travel.