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I have just returned from an inspection visit to Ladakh where I visited the schools we have been helping. Fortunately we had two volunteers in place while I was there, and so I was able to meet them in situ before they ended their assignments. They were absolutely in love with Ladakh and with their schools, in spite of the fact that the conditions were less than luxurious! In both cases, the volunteers had stayed on for longer than the minimum two months, in one case nearly 5 months! The schools in their turn were delighted with the work that our volunteers had done for them. The volunteers are valued not only for the window on a wider world they can open up for the children, but also for the fresh ideas and methods they bring, which can rub off on the teaching done by the local teachers. Head teachers also mention the example our volunteers set to the local teachers by their professional approach with regard to preparation and attendance.
It’s important to rest for a couple of days after flying in to Leh, the capital, because of the altitude which is about 11500 feet. My wife and I suffered from headaches, and also from the effects of the very strong sun. Surprisingly, it never got very cold, even at night, but we needed cardigans when we went out in the evenings. Also, surprisingly for a country that does not get the monsoon rains, it rained several times while we were there.
After visiting the schools in and around Leh, I went on a trek, under the auspices of Himalayan Kingdoms , to an area north-west of Leh that is not on one of the main trekking routes, so I had the place to myself. The route followed the course of the Indus river, but the river itself was out of sight during the trek. The scenery is fantastic: barren mountains with bright patches of green wherever there was water. Most of the villages were, or were being, connected to roads, and in some new stone houses were being built with large attractive windows that the arrival of glass allows. But some remained untouched by development, and I was able to see people living in dark, traditional houses with tiny open windows, protected by no more than strips of cloth.
I have to admit I travelled in some style, with four men and six horses looking after just me. There was the cook, the muleteer, the general odd-jobs man, and my guide (a young lad who studies Geography at Delhi university when he’s not guiding!). The six mules carried everything from tents to gas cylinders and all the food for the trek. I felt a bit like a District Commissioner during the days of the British Raj!
This was a great experience, but I was slightly annoyed to hear that, in my absence, my wife and her sister had gone up in a car to a pass that was 18,800 feet high – higher than I have ever been, even on the Everest trek I did years ago. I believe it is the highest motorable pass in the world.
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