Here is a message from our friend Thayer MacClay, 18, of Warren, Vermont. Thayer is taking a year off before entering college (Colorado College) to put on 7 League Boots to explore the world and help people at the same time. I thought you would enjoy this. He is spending the fall in Ladakh in the Indian region of Jammu and Kashmir. I wish I were there in those high Himalays on the Tibet border!
Dear Friends and Family,
A lot has happened since my last update. Now, the VIS ( Vermont Intercultural Semester) group and I are well settled into SECMOL (Student Educational and cultural Movement of Ladak h) and it's way of life. A typical day starts at 6:30 for the Ladakhis. They tend to study in the morning and some milk the cows along with some other chores. Then, at 8:00 there is breakfast. Curd and tea almost always are available, accompanied by teemok (unsweetened, cinnamonless, and greaseless cinnamon buns) or chapatti (thick barley flour tortilla), and lentils
or some other vegetable dish. After washing our own dishes, we hang out in the morning sun until 9:00 when work hour begins.
At this time, everyone does some sort of work for an hour. Some jobs I
have done have included harvesting vegetables from the garden, raking
and storing leaves, digging trash pits, pouring mud to form new walls,
cutting and drying vegetables for the winter, cleaning up storage
rooms, and collecting dried cow dung for the composting toilets. All
of these jobs have been enjoyable as many people are working together
and there seems to be a lot of excitement.
Then, when work hour is over, we head to the main hall at 10:15 for
English speaking class. There, the foreigners sit around the edges of
the room and small groups of Ladakhis (1-3) come and sit by us. The
topic is posed, some including religion, politics, home life,
schooling, festivals, and we begin the conversation. Some Ladakhis
speak English very well were others don't, but all participate and
both foreigners and Ladakhis learn a lot. After a bit, the foreigners
rotate around the room to a new group and repeat the process. Finally,
we all come together in a circle and discuss what we learned and
different words that the Ladakhis may not have understood. Then it is
teatime at 11:15, always a sweet milk chai tea.
Then, the people of the VIS group have their own Ladakhi class where
we learn to speak Ladakhi, a very different and interesting language.
After our class, there is some free time before lunch at 1:00. Lunch
is generally a large pot of rice and then lentils and vegetables to go
on top. Again after lunch, there is free time for us foreigners. In
this time we have also helped with the construction of a solar water
heater that will be used for shower water.
At 5:00 we have responsibility time. Every SECMOL student has been
assigned a responsibility that they must perform in order to keep the
school running. Some include checking on the solar collectors that
power the whole school, and others clean up different parts of the
campus. After this, most of the boys gather on the soccer field, a
dusty grassless expanse that triples as a volleyball court and the
hockey rink as well. Two games to five are played, with much energy
and little finesse, stopping only if the light gets to dim. Then some
more down time until news at 7:00 and dinner at 7:30.
Dinner is one of the longer meals. First, some announcements are made,
and Ladakhis report on the news to the whole school. Then a break for
a bit, eating going on continuously, until it is time to sing the
song. Lyrics are passed out and the whole school sings together.
After, there is a speaker for the night who chooses what he or she
will speak on. Everyone goes. I, for instance, talked about my
hometown and what it is like. Then the speaker is asked questions.
After this, dinner is done, and the room clears.
At 8:30, there is an activity that is optional. Sometimes it is a
dance party or game night, other times it is a movie. After this, the
day is done and everyone heads to sleep.
But I haven't just been staying at SECMOL the whole time, and the days
aren't always the same. We had a few special speakers come. One being
a high lama and important Buddhist leader. He spoke to us on the Three
Jewels of Buddhism and other basic concepts. Another spoke of the
problems of modernization in Ladakh. Pointing to the thousands of
Ladakhis who had recently graduated from higher education that
couldn't get a job. He also spoke on the importance of maintaining the
traditions of Ladakh. And our latest speaker spoke about the history
We also went on an excursion to a few regions of Ladakh and have done
another two treks. Jumping into two cars, we headed north and east to
the Changton region of Ladakh, driving over the second highest
motorable pass in the world, a pass peppered with both Buddhist
symbols and prayer flags as well as a military outpost sitting at
17,800 feet above the level of the sea. Driving on, we descended out
of the snow and into a gorgeous valley. We stayed the night in a town
called Shachakul with a SECMOL teacher's family. Then, the next day,
we drove farther away from Leh to the Pangong Lake, a long skinny
beautifully blue lake that extends far into Tibet/China. We ate lunch
there and then headed back to Shachakul for another night, stopping at
a monastery under construction (mainly cement), and a large solar
power plant that supplied power to the surrounding 7 villages.
The next day, we set out for our trek. We drove a little ways back
towards Leh and then a river let us out. We followed the river
drainage for four hours up and up until we reached the village of
Relley this being the only way possible. There we stayed for two days,
exploring the area and tasting yak meat. On our second day there, we
got up early and walked outside to be greeted by several horses. Most
of us mounting up, we began on our way. Many hours later, through
breathtaking landscape, we arrived at the top of the pass which was
covered in snow and quite cold. There we left the horses with the
horseman and continued over the pass and down through snow and rock
fields. A lovely lunch was eaten and prospects of finding snow leopard
tracks followed with one very possible candidate. Down, down, down we
hiked finally arriving at our destination village just before dusk.
Our trek done, and our energy gone, we slept heavily that night.
The next day, we jumped back in cars and drove west across the rocky
and sandy river basin that is the Nubra Valley, a new region. After a
few hours we reached the Diskit monastery and the statue of the future
Buddha that stretched over a hundred feet high to the sky. After the
monastery and lunch we drove to our homestay for the night. On the
way, we stopped the car near some large sand dunes, there among them
stood an immense object, a camel. We ran down to it, slowly edging
closer until finally we touched it. The camel towered with its two
humps, over five feet above me. The next day, we set out for some hot
springs near the China/Tibet border. Finding just a small stream in
which we could do our laundry and splash bath, we returned to our
homestay, stopping right beforehand to ride some camels across the
sandy dunes. Then back to the homestay to drink chang (a sour beer
made from barley) and to make mok moks, a local favorite, similar to
the dumpling. Waking up the next day, we got in the car and began our
way back to Leh and SECMOL, but first we had to climb to 18,380 feet,
with death on either side, and slick snow beneath, to cross the
highest motorable pass in the world. With snap shots taken, bladders
relieved, and more prayer flags gazed upon, we continued on down to
Leh and SECMOL, there my project waited.
Now, back where I can work on my project, I have settled down again,
and begun my tasks. Since arriving in Ladakh, I noticed a lot of
trash in the streets and on our trekking routes. This bothered me and
was also quite peculiar. From what I read and heard about Ladakh, it
was a region where the people created little to no waste. The
traditional farming lifestyle used and reused everything. Nothing was
left to waste, and yet as I walked through the area, I saw a lot of
trash. So, for my project, I decided to figure out why this is
happening and try and address it. So far, I have been to a lot of
NGO's in the area and talked to a lot of people. My goal for my
project is to visit a few schools and present questions to the
students gauging their awareness about trash, from its origins to its
disposal. After looking over their answers, I intend to return to the
same schools and give a presentation about trash along with a bunch of
fun activities. At the end I'll hand our pamphlets to the students,
written in both English and Ladakhi, so that they can educate others
as well. I plan to visit the schools in the coming week.
Three days ago, we left for our third and final trek of the semester.
Crossed the Indus right near SECMOL and headed west and then south to
a small two-house village. There we got out of the cars and began our
trek up a small canyon with a small stream in the center. Shortly
after leaving the cars, our guide, Tashi Angchuck, spotted a rock with
an overhand. He ran up to it, smelled it, and then declared that a
snow leopard had marked the rock about a day ago. Sure enough, there
were cat prints in the sand right under it, and upon smelling, a
strong scent stung the nostrils. A small hole in the sand had been
kicked away by the leopard near by. Earlier in the trip, we had
watched a film in which motion censor cameras had caught snow leopards
doing this very same marking ceremony. Continuing up, we saw a large
golden eagle nest high up on a cliff, some blue sheep, and a flying
golden eagle. After three hours, the canyon opened up and we arrived
at our homestay in Rumbak, a large village. There we stayed the night.
The next day we set out early. Heading east and up valley, we hiked
for several hours. The slope increased and we realized we were going
to head straight over a large ridge ahead of us. Up and up we climbed,
zig zagging back and forth, stopping often. Finally, after much work,
we arrived at the top of the pass, with several more blue sheep
running in front of us. Will and I decided to climb up a crack in a
cliff to get a better view. We stayed at the top for only a half hour,
sitting by some prayer flags, before heading down and finding a nice
spot for lunch. After lunch, we reached a large sandy slope with a
path criss crossing down the hill. Our guide said we should just run
straight down the sandy slope ignoring the path, so we did. Excitement
filled us all as we gallivanted down the hill with great speed. At the
bottom, we continued our walk through more canyons for several more
hours until we arrived at the large village of Stok. There we stayed
the night, making more mok moks, and sleeping well.
And now, we sit and wait as the polls will soon open back home,
planning to find a TV to watch the election as it unfolds.
Pass this on to anyone who is curious about me back home.
Lots of love, Thayer