Dzago is Ladakhi for friend, and I was very lucky to make many of those in Ladakh. The friends I made from 17000 ft Foundation were vital to the success of our trip. Without their help and encouragement, I couldn’t possibly have turned those 16 days of summer into such an amazing experience with the Ladakhi people. A shout out to all the people who made this trip a success.

Sujata Sahu - Founder 17000 ft Foundation
Sujata Sahu – Founder 17000 ft Foundation

Sujata ma’am – She is one of the founders of 17000 ft Foundation.  If it wasn’t for Sujata ma’am, I would be less human and more snowman. Her constant reminders to put my jacket on and drink water were probably the only thing that kept me alive in the harsh climatic conditions of Ladakh.  She trained me on how to read out the stories to the children and introduced me to a book which went on to become one of my early teaching–successes: “Salaana Baal-Kataai Divas”, or “Annual Hair Cutting Day”. Sujata ma’am was the binding factor that kept everyone and everything together throughout the course of my trip; if it wasn’t for her I might have been the next unlucky victim of both, rejection at the hands of the children, and frostbite.

Stanzin Galdan - Friend & Facilitator
Stanzin Galdan – Friend & Facilitator

Stanzin Galdan – Our walking, talking Google Translate and dictionary, Galdan was not a facilitator as much as a friend. We would turn to him when even our Hindi translations weren’t understood and we needed a Ladakhi word. He was also our encyclopedia, pointing out local birds, naming trees and rivers for us and telling us all about the local history, culture and people. He also kept us entertained, and played an interesting mix of music on our long journeys across Ladakh.

It was Galdan who taught us ‘Ladakhi Uno’ on a late night in Diskit, when deprived of Wi-Fi, we were at a loss for how to occupy ourselves. We were soon hooked to Ladakhi Uno, a more challenging version of Uno as we knew it.

He would show us magic tricks that resulted in more laughter than so called ‘magic’.  Each and every day was made special and memorable because of Galdan. The photos he took were amazing and he knew exactly where the perfect spots were for good photographs – much to the delight of my Aunt, who was quick to make friends with Galdan, having discovered a shared love for photography. I managed to avoid the monster named ‘Altitude Sickness’ only because of his gentle reminders to keep drinking water. Whether it was painting faces, making props or singing songs as loudly and out of tune as the rest of us during Antakshari, Galdan always took part enthusiastically. Riddles were a frequent past time; one which my Aunt came up with, involving wine glasses with flies in them, confounded us completely, and no one but the eager restaurant manager could finally solve it. Whether it was holding our hand as we struggled up the steep slopes to the school in Turtuk or assuring us that we would make it alive over the treacherous mountain passes, or helping us with our lesson plans, Galdan was there all along and he gave us all the support we needed to make sure the trip was a success.

Sahu Sir – He is a co-founder of 17000 ft Foundation, or should I call him co-dreamer, since he and Sujata Ma’am dreamed the 17000 ft Foundation into being. Sahu Sir was my essential dose of humour on our pit stops in Leh. Whether it was making fun of my blonde hair, saying that the Army people would come after me because I couldn’t be trusted, or whether it was imitating my girly hand actions of surprise, Sahu Sir never ceased to find a way to make everyone laugh.

Palmo and Rigzin – The always smiling Rigzin, and the most dependable Palmo, made our visit to the third and last remote village in Ladakh another very special memory. I have to thank them for the delicious food I got in Chushul. They cooked Wai-Wai (a brand of Instant Noodles) in ways that made it taste better than anything I’ve ever tasted.

Ali – He drove us 7 hours away from Leh, over the highest motorable road in the world, on a slippery and icy mountain pass called Khardung La and got us to our destination alive. I could not be more grateful for that, in all honesty.

Dorjay – He safely got us to and from Liktsey and was a great help in the school there as well. He found us a roadside restaurant serving the most delicious noodles, made Ladakhi style and shared many laughs with us on our very first school visit.

Anjali – She took care of all the coordination and made sure everything was organized to perfection. She fielded all our numerous queries with utmost patience and encouraged our efforts to prepare the teaching modules.

The ‘Dzagos’ I made in Ladakh were people I knew I could always count on and look to for support, and their guidance is what helped me get by. I consider myself lucky, not only for all that I experienced in Ladakh, but also because I came home with lifelong friends.

Written by Ananya Saluja

I’m your average seventeen-year old girl from New Delhi studying in the 12th grade at The Shri Ram School, Moulsari. I volunteered during my last two summer vacations in Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir, teaching children in the schools of remote villages through the 17000 ft Foundation. It was the most life changing experience, and the childrens’ amazing reactions and responses made even the occasional accompanying altitude sickness worth it.

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