Last week I wrote a guest blog for the blog Mirror & Soul. I am really grateful to Grinia, for the opportunity to write for her blog and share my experience of volunteering in Ladakh with people across the world. Grinia is a scientist currently staying at home raising her two little daughters. She started her blog Mirror&Soul with the intent to share life experiences that inspire and bring hope to others. She also shares her journey through motherhood, creative easy-to-make recipes and inspiring stories from special guests. The link to my guest blog is here.

Here is the guest blog I wrote for Mirror&Soul-

India – the country I call home. Despite having lived here all my life, I haven’t been able to explore even a fraction of this vast country or experience the various aspects of its culture and heritage. I live in my secure home, a life equivalent to one in a very comfortable bubble. It took me some time to realize just how much of a difference there is between the life I lead and the lives led by other people who inhabit this place I call home. The first time I realized this, was when I was teaching a little girl from an underprivileged section of society for a school project – I found that the impact that some fun and easy teaching methods, and a little bit of love had on her was immense. It was then that I was inspired to do what I do today – teach the children in remote schools of Ladakh1 in my summer vacations.

Snow in summer too

Ladakh is the land of high mountain passes and with it also comes the dreaded altitude sickness. A place where you’re always greeted with smiles and snow even in the summer months.

My trips to Ladakh have always been the perfect blend of emotions – a cocktail of adventure, a little bit of fear, and a lot of love.

Journeying from one place to the next was always difficult, especially over mountain passes with road blocks due to avalanches, and heights that made me dizzy, but they consisted of the most beautiful sights as well. For most people, these sights would mean the Pangong Lake2, or the confluence of the Zanskar and Indus rivers, or even the green fields stretched out on either side of the road in the Nubra Valley, where you usually only find soft brown sand dotted with camels every now and then.

For me, however, the most beautiful sights have always been the smiles on the rosy round faces of the children as they venture to school in the morning, or the look of sheer delight that appears on their faces when they understand something or answer something correctly. Ladakh is a place truly fit to be called home, because no matter where you go you’re welcomed with warm smiles and happy faces, and people offering you everything they have even if what they have is only the bare minimum.

There are no strangers in Ladakh and everybody will greet you with a wave and a melodious ‘Julley3. It is only here that the ‘ammalays’4you meet become your ammalays as well – feeding you and caring for you as though you were their own child. The generosity you encounter here is unbelievable.

Hostess (Ammalay) with her grandson at the home stay

Ladakh also offers an unparalleled amount of freedom and serenity. Ladakh is my happy place, in the true sense of the word. A world free from wi-fi, phone calls, the internet, a world of nature, timid laughs, cool breezes and tranquility. All it takes to calm down your troubled mind is a walk out in the open fields, on the path built over the rushing stream that paces down the mountain, or a glance off the edge of a cliff into the snowy sky powdered with white clouds on a blue canvas.

I formed bonds with the sky and the streams and the children, whose small hands and happy faces lifted my spirits every day I was there and for long after as their memories lingered on in my heart.

I was able to be the older sister some of them had never had; I was able to show them a different world, one they had never experienced before, through my songs, my books, my dyed hair, and the stories they never seemed to tire of.

Lunch time play dates and bags of dried apricots became the building blocks for special friendships, and if you look very closely at the pictures you can still see them come to life, as though suddenly the ball games and jump rope adventures are taking place again, right in front of your eyes.

I have a treasure trove of memories from my visits to Ladakh. Performing a play based on Annual Haircut Day, one of the stories I read with the children, is definitely one of the highlights. Watching the story come to life through the students; the face-painting, prop-making, outdoor practice sessions, the giggles and subtle teasing, will always remain imprinted in my mind. I still catch myself humming the song that accompanied the game which I learnt from the children, mistaking it initially to be of Ladakhi origin and discovering later, much to my surprise, that it had travelled with some Israeli trekkers to that remote corner of Ladakh.

The face painted cast of the play

Teaching the children in Ladakh has been an eye-opening experience for me. It was me who was imparting knowledge to them, about stories and words and the world, but it was I who was being taught so much about life.

I have visited Mars with these children, had my hair fall off as I played a man from South India in a dramatic representation of a story, hiked mountains and faced the Winter Giant without flinching, and received more love and happiness than I had ever imagined possible.

They have taught me to appreciate every little thing in life – whether those things are the way the sunlight filters through the leaves on a tree or the sound of the stream as it pulses through a field, or whether they have legs and hands and soft laughs that echo in the room and spread happiness in the most pure and unadulterated manner. I have learned to appreciate them and not get so caught up in my bubble of a life. Ladakh has played an enormous role in shaping me into who I am today, and I intend on returning this summer too, and hopefully every summer in the future, to teach the children about my world, and have them teach me about a world that cannot be visited even in the most expertly written books.

  1. Ladakh – a region in the North Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. It is a sparsely populated, high-altitude desert known for its mountain beauty and culture.
  2. Pangong Lake – Tibetan for “high grassland lake”, it is situated in the Himalayas at a height of about 4,350 m. It is 134 km long and extends from India to China.
  3. Julley – A Ladakhi all-purpose word, which can be used to say hello and thank you.
  4. Ammalay – Ladakhi for Mother.

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.

37 comments

  1. I’ve always wanted to visit ladak. Ans this initiative that is immersed in memories of smiles brings in an additional charm to my going there .. How did you become part of this foundation?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I got involved in the initiative thanks to Sujata Ma’am, the founder of 17000 ft Foundation, who has actively been involved in other such initiatives in my school! I am glad my experiences could bring up the same emotions in you as they did in me ❤

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  2. Dear Ananya, felt so elated to go thru your beautiful post. Since i belong to Ladakh and an officer in school education dept. ,i sincerely appreciate your effort ,your dedication and luv towards our children. I profusely thank u for appreciating all about our place and wish to meet u this summer. When u visit this summer, if u wish u can contact me thru Incharge of 17000ft Leh who happens to be my newphew. Three cheers! for your good work at this young age👍👍👍.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank YOU so much for all your support. My endeavours would not have been possible without the support of people like you. I am so glad I was able to arouse the feelings of elation in you as the children manage to arouse in me, every time I see them in the summer. Can I have your name and contact information so that I can contact you in the summer please?
      Thank you so much 😊

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  3. thanks ananya for yours beautiful post of ladakh my hometown.if you are visit ladakh again than go to korzok where nomads children study in puga school espicially for nomads children who well talented and you can also join secmol which change the education of ladakh and today ladakh is 77 percent of literacy which is highest in india…i hope if you visit these two place u will have a great experince…

    Liked by 1 person

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