2018/02: visiting the boarding school

Tra­vel Report by Tru­di Vetsch

Last autumn, Sonam Dor­je, Coun­cil­lor and per­son respon­si­ble for edu­ca­ti­on in the Sen­ge La area, asked me for sup­port for the win­ter tea­ching activi­ties in Kalth­se. In the col­dest sea­son, the schools in Ladakh have win­ter holi­days. During this time, win­ter tea­ching offers stu­dents addi­tio­nal learning activi­ties and pre­pa­res school lea­vers for the final examinations.

This pri­va­te­ly orga­nis­ed offe­ring can only be car­ri­ed out when the ent­i­re costs such as wages, tea­ching mate­ri­als, food, equip­ment and fur­ni­tu­re are spon­so­red. Sonam Dor­je, who initia­ted the­se efforts in coope­ra­ti­on with the EAL pro­ject mana­ger, Lob­zang Rinchen, defi­ned a bud­get for all the necessa­ry fun­ding. The EAL asso­cia­ti­on makes a con­tri­bu­ti­on for the tea­ching materials.

In order to gain a more pre­cise pic­tu­re of how a boar­ding school sys­tem func­tions during the cold sea­son, I deci­ded to visit Ladakh in the winter.

Dol­ma, who stu­dies at the nun’s school in Leh, taches stu­dents in Kalth­se during the win­ter vaca­ti­ons. (third from the left)

Ladakh in win­ter — a spe­cial experience

During the win­ter sea­son, „the High Pass Coun­try ” can only be reached by pla­ne. Even on the way from the air­port into the town, it strikes one how calm it is on the stre­ets. No hon­king cars, no clouds of dust whir­led up by traf­fic and only a few tou­rists — ins­te­ad, this quiet­ness and icy-cold, clear moun­tain air. The view up to the 6,000 meter high, snow cove­r­ed moun­ta­ins is unique.

The sun shi­nes so inten­se­ly during the day that the ther­mo­me­ter in sun­ny cor­ners that are pro­tec­ted from the wind can some­ti­mes climb up to zero degrees. After sun­set, or on a clou­dy day, it gets very cold. Only a few peop­le in the Ladakh area own an addi­tio­nal source of hea­ting apart from their coo­king sto­ve. The kit­chen is the focus of life in winter.

Most fes­ti­vi­ties such as wed­dings or clo­is­ter fes­ti­vals are held in the cold sea­son. Soci­al events are of gre­at impor­t­an­ce to the Ladakh peop­le. Now, in the win­ter, they have time for a chat, to visit rela­ti­ves or to par­ti­ci­pa­te in festivities.

Kalth­se –the boar­ding school for teen­agers from the Sen­ge La area is loca­ted here 

Kalth­se is on the main road bet­ween the dis­trict capi­tal Leh and Kar­gil. In this small town, the road to the Sen­ge La area bran­ches off. The government boar­ding school is here. From March to the end Novem­ber, some 300 stu­dents from the sur­roun­ding vil­la­ges attend school here.

During the long school vaca­ti­ons bet­ween Decem­ber and Febru­ary, vol­un­ta­ry win­ter schoo­ling occurs in the­se pre­mi­ses. 30 stu­dents, seven boys and 23 girls aged bet­ween 14 and 18 years, recei­ve tui­ti­on in English, Hin­di, Bho­ti (Tibe­tan lan­guage), com­pu­ter sci­ence, natu­ral sci­en­ces and mathematics.

It is impres­si­ve with which eager­ness and joy the tea­chers do their work. The rooms are only hea­ted by the sun­beams fal­ling through the win­dow front. The pupils sit on the floor – only a thin mat ser­ves as pro­tec­tion against the cold floor. In spi­te of the­se not very simp­le cir­cum­s­tan­ces, they demons­tra­te  a gre­at wil­ling­ness to learn.

Foto­shoo­ting on the schoo­ly­ard in Kalthse

Cul­tu­ral excur­si­on to the monaste­ry fes­ti­val in Likir

The colour­ful annu­al monaste­ry cele­bra­ti­ons are a spe­cial event for all Ladakhis. Accom­pa­nied by bass drums and horns, the dan­cers per­form their ritu­al mask dan­ces. The uni­que atmo­s­phe­re spreads out over the who­le monastic courtyard.

At the time of our stay in Kalth­se, a monaste­ry fes­ti­val was held in the near­by vil­la­ge of Likir. Sonam Dor­je allo­wed the pupils to go on an excur­si­on. They recei­ved a school-free day so that they could go to the fes­ti­val. In win­ter, the buses only run infre­quent­ly. This led me to spon­ta­neous­ly pay the costs for the bus out of the association’s kit­ty as cul­tu­ral events are not bud­get­ed as part of win­ter tuition.

Toge­ther, we first visi­ted the more than 900 years old monaste­ry site. From way down below in the val­ley, one alre­ady can see the Gom­pa on the hill. The snow-white nests of dwel­lings belon­ging to the monks with the temp­le com­plex on the hill­top offer a pic­tures­que sight. Today, around 100 monks live the­re. The novices recei­ve a good schoo­ling at the monastery’s own school.

After­wards, we were then able to free­ly visit the fes­ti­val. The wea­ther play­ed along. And so, the stu­dents enjoy­ed the spec­ta­cu­lar monaste­ry fes­ti­val with much enthusiasm.

Colour­ful mask dan­ces in the Likir monastery

On the way back to Kalth­se, we visi­ted the hydro­power sta­ti­on in Alchi. During the tour of the power sta­ti­on, the stu­dents found out lots worth kno­wing about the basics of hydro­power production.

The enthu­si­asm and the posi­ti­ve feed­back from both the tea­chers and the stu­dents have led us to bud­get such edu­ca­tio­nal stu­dy trips in the future.

News from Yul­chung village

During my stay in Kalth­se, I recei­ved news by satel­li­te tele­pho­ne from Yul­chung from the Head of the Vil­la­ge Jangdol.

Han­di­crafts room and school annex: room tem­pe­ra­tu­re above zero

The new­ly-built han­di­crafts room and the school buil­ding can now be used the who­le year through, thanks to the addi­tio­nal ther­mal insu­la­ti­on as well as the dou­ble gla­zing that was spon­so­red by the EAL asso­cia­ti­on. The pre­mi­ses are warm enough to be used even if, in win­ter, the sky is clou­ded: room tem­pe­ra­tu­re is com­for­ta­ble, as Jang­dol glad­ly infor­med us.


The quiet time of the year can now be used for arts and crafts work and for main­tai­ning soci­al rela­ti­ons­hips, as the rep­re­sen­ta­ti­ve of the women’s coope­ra­ti­ve told us. They had knit­ted many caps, gloves and socks. On their own initia­ti­ve, the vil­la­ge women set up a stand on the Cha­dar Trek win­ter trek­king rou­te which is two hours away. The knit­ted pro­ducts were sold to pas­sing trek­ker groups.

 Win­ter teaching

From mid-Decem­ber until the end of Febru­ary, win­ter tea­ching for adults and child­ren takes place. Twel­ve adults and seven­te­en pri­ma­ry school child­ren aged bet­ween five and thir­te­en years par­ti­ci­pa­te. Tea­ching is done in the new­ly built premises.

Learning con­tent com­pri­ses gene­ral edu­ca­ti­on sub­jects, the trai­ning of eco­lo­gi­cal awa­re­ness and pas­sing on the rich tra­di­tio­nal heri­ta­ge. EAL finan­ces the tea­cher for the adults and a tea­cher for the ele­men­ta­ry school clas­ses as well as finan­cing tea­ching materials.

The han­di­crafts room also ser­ves as a school­room for the adults