Leh was just like Delhi – small winding streets with cars rumbling up and down and impatient drivers who refused to stop for even a second. There was even the same parking problem, and cement mixers dotted the streets here and there under the pretext of a ‘Leh Beautification Project’.

The minute I stepped out of the comfort of my hotel room, the cold hit me like a tidal wave. The weather was exactly as it had been described to us – like a child’s temperament, unpredictable and fickle in nature. I stood for long and admired the snowy mountain tops, playing hide and seek with a thick cluster of clouds. I was told that this indicated that it was snowing, and I longed to witness the snowfall, as I stood a silent spectator thousands of feet below.

On every street I roamed, little colourful prayer flags were strung across railings, roofs and streams, and the prayers of the people fluttered quietly in the cool Leh wind in the hope that they may touch every living being and be heard by the Gods above.

IMG_9338
Prayer Flag at Shanti Stupa, Leh

We visited the Leh office of 17000 ft. Foundation for a brief introduction and training. It was here that I first met Galdan and Sujata ma’am – two people who proved to be my constants throughout the trip. Galdan was a local and would be our Facilitator for the entire trip. Galdan gave us a crash course in Ladakhi, and we added Julley to our vocabulary; Julley is an all-purpose word, meaning hello, thank you and even goodbye. Sujata ma’am took me over the basics of teaching the kids, and had me read out a story in practice.

Soon after, Sujata ma’am, Massi and I headed out to a restaurant called Il Forno for lunch, where I ate a pizza, which was one of three substantial meals I had in all my 16 days in Ladakh. We then returned to our hotel, Mahey Retreat, where the Wi-Fi played games with us, as we struggled to stay in touch with our families and friends back home. But Mahey Retreat became our home faster than the weather which changed on a daily basis.

View from Il Forno
View from Il Forno

I spent a majority of my day preparing and re-preparing what I would teach the students from grade 5-8, and finally settled on a Hindi story book called “Saalana Baal-Kataai Divas”, or “Annual Hair-Cutting Day” in English. Excitement tingled in my fingers as I practice-read out the story, and ideas came pouring out like a pot overflowing. Massi and I brainstormed as to how she would go about the task of teaching, and we finally settled on her teaching the Human Body module we had prepared ourselves before coming on the trip, to the students of grade 9 and 10.

Catching a glimpse of a young Ladakhi girl, in her pink t-shirt with her round rosy cheeks widened in a smile, sealed the deal for me – I was one hyper ball of excitement. All packed and ready by the end of the night, I was itching to leave for the school. Next stop – Liktsey village!

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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