You never actually know how hard it is to sleep in a sleeping bag till you actually sleep in a sleeping bag. The night at the home-stay was a restless one for me because turning around in my conical sleeping bag was impossible.

The prospect of not brushing my teeth appalled me so much that I had settled for using a makeshift basin in the middle of the night with no electricity.

The household cat was a frequent visitor through the night, sauntering in and out of our room at any and every given point in time. Unfortunately for us, the cat knew how to open doors but not close them, and so with every visit the cat made to our room, we would be greeted with a blast of cold air from outside.

I also had my first encounter with a Ladakhi toilet – it’s safe to say that finding my balance to save myself from falling through the hole that passed for a toilet was the hardest thing I have done so far.

Nevertheless, I woke the next morning just as excited as the day before for the school day ahead of me. We headed out to the school again. Despite it being a government holiday, I was impressed to see that 11 students had turned up, out of which only 2 were boys. It became clear later that the boys had to stay back and help at home because it was the sowing season. Three girls had actually walked 4 kilometers just to attend school, and I was both touched and saddened that despite being so eager to learn, they literally had to come a long way before they could achieve anything.

We took a combined class with all the students, regardless of their grades, and we slowly went over a story from ‘Asian Folktales’ named ‘How The Summer Queen Came to Kashmir’. IMG_8113As they were not fluent in English, I went over each sentence in English first, then translated it to Hindi for ease of understanding. Yet another role play was planned out for them to showcase their understanding, and I quickly developed 11 characters and their dialogues.

The students engaged in memorizing their dialogues and making propIMG_8126s like sickles for the villagers and crowns for the King and Queen. I painted their faces with flowers, suns, moons and stars to suit their roles. Even though their giggles made it hard to paint, I think they all looked pretty amazing. They presented their play to their local teachers at the end of the day, and despite bursting into laughter in the middle of their dialogues and some shyness, it turned out great. The kids had a blast, and were delighted with the Mars bars they were presented with at the end of the day.

Little acts of kindness from them like the Khadaithey presented us with, and the two endearing little girls who ran down the streets just to pump water for me so that I could wash the paint off my hands, were what made me sure that no matter how much I had touched their lives, my life had been touched to a far greater extent. The small things that we take for granted like hot water in the winters, electricity and western toilets were things of extreme scarcity here, but their smiles and laughter were in endless supply.IMG_8128

Even on the bumpy ride back, their smiling faces were etched in my mind and their shy giggles echoed in my ears – and that’s not an exaggeration. I was leaving behind a place and people that had in just two days earned a special place in my heart, but was looking forward to another similar experience soon enough. Turtuk, here we come!

P.S. – I don’t mean to boast, but I’m now a pro at using the Ladakhi toilets, even though they’re just a hole in the ground! Perhaps the only thing I couldn’t get used to was the sandstorm that almost blew me away,  forcing me to take shelter and eat my plate of chowmein in the car for lunch and  accidentally locking myself in. I still have a lot to learn!

  1. Khadai – White strips of cloth that indicate good wishes

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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