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.
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.
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.
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.
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.